Advertising Interviews

Agnello Dias (Aggie)


Co-Founder & Chief Creative Officer,Taproot India

Santosh Padhi (Paddy) | 25 Feb 2011

Aggie: The question is whether Indian advertising can be called an industry? An industry is a group of companies, which while operating independently, are actually creating some common thing.
Paddy: Everybody is biased about their own needs and wants, especially when it comes to awards. Whichever official is in charge of a body makes sure that his agency benefits the most. This is not how an industry operates.

Agnello Dias has spent two decades in the Indian advertising industry with agencies like Lowe, Leo Burnett and JWT, before moving out to set up Taproot India.

He was AAAI Copywriter of the Year in 2004, NDTV’s Creative Director of the Year in 2007 and also led Leo Burnett India to its first Agency of the Year recognition in the network. Besides local award shows, his name has featured multiple times in award books like The One Show, Clio and Cannes, D&AD, AdFest, New York Festival, Media Spikes and Media Magazine.

In 2007, he made Indian advertising history by winning the country’s first ever Grand Prix and Titanium/ Integrated Lion, besides leading JWT to the best ever Cannes performance by an Indian advertising agency and the No. 1 spot in the WPP network. His spot for Nike Cricket won an unprecedented four D&AD nominations – the most by any Indian commercial. He also won multiple Grand Prix’ at GoaFest and also the Grand Effie in the same year.

Last year, his Teach India campaign won a double Grand Prix at the Media Spikes. And this year, he was on the Taproot team that won Asia’s sole gold at the Clio Awards.

Popularly known as Paddy, Padhi started his advertising career 16 years ago with Mudra (DDB) Mumbai. Completing an eventful 10-year stint at Leo Burnett Mumbai, where he was Executive Creative Director and National Head of Art (India), two years back he left the Leo Burnett network to start the new creative venture Taproot India, along with Dias.

He has worked on some of the prestigious global brands like McDonalds, Johnnie Walker, Heinz Tomato Ketchup, The Times of India, Hallmark Channel, Hitachi Air Conditioners, Fiat India, P&G Tide detergent, Luxor Writing Pens, and Perfetti Van Melle, among many others.

Besides being part of the team that led the creative renaissance at Leo Burnett, Paddy’s creative leadership took India to bag ‘Agency of the Year’ title twice in the global Leo Burnett network in 2003 and 2008. In 2008, he also managed to make Leo Burnett India the No. 1 creative agency in India in the local awards shows.

He has been a judge on various international advertising festivals like the Clios in 2010, the Dubai Lynx in 2010, AdFest Pattya in 2009, New York Festival 2008, London International Advertising Awards in 2008, Adstar Busan (Korean) Awards in 2010 and many local awards shows. Currently, he is set to judge for New York Festival and Cannes Lion 2011.

In conversation with exchange4media’s Tasneem Limbdiwala, Aggie and Paddy speak about the progress of Taproot India so far, running a start-up, client portfolio, being part of international juries and more…

Q. Taproot India is now a known name in the advertising fraternity. Though a start-up, both of you as co-founders have managed to work with some leading brands already. What according to you has helped the agency in such a good start? Is it because of the names Agnello Dias and Santosh Padhi behind the agency?

Paddy: It’s not just the name, but about the work that we produce. The name can help the agency only after we do that kind of the work that we have been producing. I genuinely believe it’s our work that has helped us in achieving awards and clients.

Aggie: Whenever we go to a client for a business proposal, we have a lot of work and this work is proposed as Taproot India work and not as our individual work.

Paddy: Well, I shall agree somewhere with the point because we are the co-founders and there is obviously success to be contributed along with our team. But the core principal is that we have to do work that will meet the client’s problem and help in gathering some recognition for the creative agency that needs to stand out and talk about our agency.

Aggie: Maybe the agency is founded by Aggie & Paddy, but the agency works because of the people that it has. An agency is not a factory that has only machines, people make up an agency, who run and create recognition for the agency.

Q. What is the current staff strength of the agency?

Paddy: When we started off, we were only three of us, now we have strength of 30.

Q. Who was the third person to have been with you in the initial set-up?

Aggie: The third person is Manan Mehta, who had joined us during our start-up stage.

Q. Is there any kind of a hierarchy structure that Taproot India follows?

Paddy: Initially, we decided that instead of hiring three group heads, we rather hire 15 art and copy talent who are passionate about their work. With our supervision, we can control them and create better output. Guess that’s what that has really worked in our favour for the last two years. However, gradually we are planning to get a structure in place, where the horizontal growth ends and the vertical growth shall start.

Q. When you started off, we remember you telling us that both of you were somewhat apprehensive about whether the whole venture would work out. How did you overcome these fears?

Paddy: Actually, it can’t be termed as fear. We both have done well in our past agencies. We both are workers and like to get involved in the work from scratch. So, from our past work experience, we were rest assured that the industry would have absorbed our work after a year or two. Yes, on a personal note, I was a bit hassled in regard to our families and other perspectives. We shall not deny that.

Q. What is the current creative agenda for Taproot India?

Aggie: I think it will be great if we get two or three big campaigns.

Q. When you mention campaign, you mean businesses or sheer campaigns?

Aggie: I mean campaigns! Campaigns like the Pepsi World Cup project. The tricky part about creative is getting a great idea, but for whatever reason it may not come out, and whenever it comes out, at that point of time it may not be a great idea. So, for both to come together is a tricky game to play! I hope that it happens two or three times in a year.

Q. What is more important for Taproot India – retained business or project-based business?

Aggie: Both are important. My point is even if you get a business, but there is no good campaign coming out of it, what is the point? Paddy: What we mean by campaign is a visible campaign like Pepsi. Basically, half our money comes from retained businesses and half from projects. Anything that allows growth and gain momentum to the business, we are open to that format.

Q. The agency has managed to create a good client portfolio with recent wins like Conde Nast and PepsiCo World Cup Campaign. Could you further brief us on your current client portfolio?

Paddy: Nat Geo, Fox, TOI, Conde Nast, and DSP BlackRock are some of our retainer clients, while others like Nirma, Pepsi, ITC’s Vivel, Bloomberg UTV, and UTV Bindass are some of the project-based business that we are working on.

Q. There have been news about both of you being on international juries – be it Cannes, Dubai Lynx or New York festival. How does participating in international forums help the credibility for you as individuals and for the agency per se?

Aggie: You get to see other international work. As co-founders, we get a chance to interact with a larger group of creative people than in one’s country. From the agency’s perspective, we go and attend lectures and seminars and carry forward a lot of international feedback for our businesses that we are working upon.

Q. How open is Taproot for awards? Are we going to see some entries from your agency at GoaFest 2011?

Aggie: If you are specifically asking us about GoaFest, frankly we have still not decided yet. But otherwise we are open for awards, and if there is good work from our end, we will definitely send in our entries.

Q. What has been the growth rate for the agency over the last two years?

Aggie: In the first two years, we had a growth rate of 50 per cent. However, for our target growth, our agenda will always be that we do better than our previous years.

Q. Start-ups were always there even before both of you started your own venture. For instance, Sandeep Bomble with Palasa, Pushpinder Singh with SAW, and Raj Kurup with Creativeland Asia. But the trend kind of picked up post your venture. What according to you led to this trend?

Aggie: I think it is the confidence in the economy.

Paddy: Recently, it has been noticed that there is a bonding between the client and creative professionals. Somewhere, the clients are more open to partner the creative professionals than what they have been expecting from an agency 5-10 years’ back. The Times of India is such an example. Thus, I guess clients nowadays are more comfortable with an individual than the creative agency per se. Hence, small agency formats are getting even more highlighted recently.

Aggie: Basically, it also depends on the marketing community mindsets. Today, marketing professionals and marketing groups in corporate India are far more confident of trying something more adventurous or being more ambitious about their plans, because they seem to be sure of growth. However, in the case of MNCs, their India operations have had a stronger part in their global structure as they have become far more important. Thus, they have probably been given power of decision making authority and are allowed to not go as per the global alignments (not just in advertising, but other businesses as well) and have their own preference, because they will deliver the numbers, which is very important to the MNCs’ global structure.

One of the prominent instances is the Indian team playing an integral part in the decision making when big companies call for a global pitch.

Q. What are some of the industry issues that as a creative entrepreneur bother you?

Aggie: Which industry? The question is whether Indian advertising can be called an industry? An industry is a group of companies, which while operating independently, are actually creating some common thing.

Paddy: Everybody is biased about their own needs and wants, especially when it comes to awards. Whichever official is in charge of a body makes sure that his agency benefits the most. This is not how an industry operates.

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