It’s not about looking at the whole account and doing the full thing. The way BBH works is that we tend to work on the high end of the brand idea and like to work closely with the client in cracking that big idea. We could well bring in other partners to work on different areas, for instance, in the area of specialist design or direct marketing… It’s more of a collaborative model and I think collaboration is the future mantra.
Subhash Kamath has been in the advertising business for 24 years. He had started his career with Ogilvy, before moving on to Trikaya Grey and then Ambience Publicis as the Chief Operating Officer.
Kamath’s last assignment was as Group CEO of Bates 141, where he led the management team in making Bates a top 10 agency in India. This included overseeing three mergers and acquisitions in just 24 months.
He joined BBH India as Managing Partner in January 2009 and has been busy for the past two years in kick starting the ‘dream agency of the future’.
Over the years, Kamath has been associated with many well-known brands and their subsequent success stories. These include Nokia, Lakme, Saffola, Parachute, Britannia, Arrow, Lee, and Virgin Mobile, among others.
Extremely passionate about brand building, Kamath loves to be closely involved with brand strategies and creative development.
In conversation with Tasneem Limbdiwala of exchange4media, Kamath speaks at length about BBH India’s growth story…
Q. It’s been more than a year since BBH India started its operations. How has the journey been for you as a Managing Partner in terms of business?
The journey has been fantastic. It’s been now 18-19 months since we started and like any start-up, it’s been exciting on various fronts. First and foremost, we’ve been absolutely thrilled by the kind of people we’ve been able to bring on board and that is something that BBH believes in, which is getting the right people doing the right work and then the profits will follow. So, our focus has always been to get the right people, and I think in India, we have been fortunate and happy to create a fabulous team. In such a short period, we are already up to 52 people. So, it’s been a fast growth with outstanding thinkers and great young talent. That’s been our first high at the agency.
Secondly, we have been very fortunate with the trust our clients have placed on us. We have signed on a variety of clients, categories and brands. We are not focused on only one kind of thinking or on a certain category. I think, for us the biggest challenge is to get the right cultural compatibility with our clients and would like to partner with clients who will give us an equal status on the table and clients who are clear on building brands. It’s not just about creating campaigns, but to see where the brand is going…And that’s always been the BBH mantra. It’s about effectiveness and building brands, not just creating ads. As long as you keep doing that well and every year keep adding the right building blocks, that’s when the monument gets created.
There is a huge amount of work that has started to happen now. This year, we will have a lot more of work that is going to be released as opposed to last year, when we were still building the team. Ultimately, it’s going to be about good work coming from BBH India.
Q. What are you views on digital in India and where is India headed in terms of digital?
I don’t think India has a choice. It is inevitable. But it is not about 'going digital', but creating solutions for a digital world. Everybody is digital; we are on the phone, Facebook, Twitter and so on all the time. So yes, India may have been slow to come on to that thinking, but now it’s going to move very fast. I think with mobile phone, Internet accessibility is going to go through a complete change, and hopefully the Government will continue to invest in more broadband, and with more broadband you will find that the Internet accessibility experience will change. So, these two things will jumpstart the whole digital revolution.
But digital does not mean that you have to knock the television commercials. In a mass country like India with a large geographic reach, there will always be a large need of television and print medium. So, that’s where engagement planning comes in. It’s not about either or, it’s all about how you are able to use all of these from under the same brand idea. It’s now fashionable to knock traditional media, but you still need that.. In the new world, at least for some years to come, traditional media will continue to flourish. But we'll have to think of newer ways of using television etc. It’s just how you execute the idea that may be very different from just putting a commercial on air.
Q. When you say cribbing, what issues exactly do you mean by that?
When I say cribbing, I mean everything. They crib about awards, scams, talent crunch etc etc but nothing has been done about it. The amount of creative pitching that the clients are forcing the industry to do, the amount of negotiation and lowering of the agency fee, the margins getting eroded is what the industry is just cribbing about. But what are we doing about it besides cribbing… Nothing!
So, when we started BBH, we were clear that we are a premium brand and we will not work on such conditions. We are happy to walk away from the negotiating table if our level of premium is not met. So, we won’t compromise on our quality. We do not pitch creative work as much as possible because it is very speculative. We believe strongly in the power of strategic solutions. We don’t do scams. We don’t have 25 designations and false sense of achievements; we have just two designations – Managing Partners and Brand Partners. We don’t have departmentalised ways of working. So, in many ways we have tried to break away or change what we felt the rest of the industry was suffering from. So rather than crib about it, we decided to be the change!