Advertising Interviews

D Rajappa

President,Rediffusion Y&R (India & Sri Lanka)

N Padmakumar | 27 May 2011

D Rajappa: We believe ours is a business of collaboration. The co-creation process that Paddy was talking about does not begin and end within the agency, but actually moves on to the client end. So, whatever great piece of work that you see today across brands, I think the client has an equal stake… We are not operating in silos. So, our entire DNA is about furthering the collaboration and making it seamless.

D Rajappa, President, Rediffusion Y&R (India & Sri Lanka) is a Rediffusion Group veteran, having served the group for over 15 years in various capacities. He started out as an Account Director in 1995 and went on to head the Delhi branch of Rediffusion. He later moved to Rediffusion Sri Lanka as President and CEO in 2003. In 2006, he returned to India as President of Everest Brand Solutions.

Rajappa has worked on many Indian and multi-national brands – Airtel, ACC, CNN-IBN, Ericsson, Emami, GPI, LIC, Maruti Suzuki, Parle, Pepsi foods, and Tata Housing, to name a few, and has been associated with memorable and result-oriented communication for them.

As National Creative Director, N Padmakumar leads the creative forces at Rediffusion, having taken on the role in December last. Prior to joining Rediffusion Y&R, Paddy, as he is popularly known, was National Creative Director at Everest and a key player in its resurgence as a creative force. His campaigns for Parle products, ACC Cement, IOB, Emami, and Tata Housing, among others, have unfailingly yielded rich dividends in both share of market and share of heart for the clients.

In conversation with exchange4media’s Tasneem Limbdiwala, Rajappa and Paddy speak about the various changes in the agency, the philosophy, the agenda, the creative process and why both are so media shy…

Q. Post your taking over as President (D Rajappa) and NCD (N Padmakumar) of Rediffusion Y&R in December 2010, there have been quite a few changes in the management and teams. Could you throw some light on these changes?

Rajappa: It’s been about six months now that we have been on board. I think in terms of changes, there have been changes at the top level. If you look at the East and South command, we have Amitava Sinha. He has been an old hand at Rediffusion and has contributed to the agency in the eastern markets and is a respected professional. Thus, he has taken a larger role, which is more in terms of unified command of East and South. We have a lot of synergies in these markets. We are a force to reckon with in the East, where we already have a fairly large and good quality operation and are working on some of the best brands and strong client relationship.

As for South, it offers immense potential for growth. Coming back to Amitava, he has a proven track record and we believe that we are going to leverage our strengths in terms of unified command. Also, while bringing in better resources, we are not looking at each office as separate entities, but would like to bring forth the strong points that we have as a company to the larger clients in our respective offices to give them better value. So, I don’t think there are any more geographic boundaries per se. However, in the same way we have Neville Medhora heading Mumbai, while Gautam Talwar has taken on the role of Chief Strategy Officer.

Q. Post the restructuring, Rediffusion Y&R witnessed a lot of talent attrition out of the agency (some old hand have quit too). How has this affected the agency’s growth and its reputation?

Rajappa: Rediffusion is a large company and works on large businesses across different markets. We have an employee strength of over 500 people. There have been changes, but those changes have been limited and not too many. When you look at a few people moving, that is quite natural because whenever you have a change, you start aligning with a certain vision and philosophy. Rediffusion believes in getting the best person for the best job. When you are doing that, you are able to bring in talent and give them an environment that is empowering, and when that is there, professionals perform and grow, thus adding value to the clients’ businesses and thereby look at your own growth. Thus, in that last many years, I think Rediffusion has fostered that kind of a talent pool.

Q. In what ways has this change affected the individuals and the organistion?

Rajappa: We have got people in leadership position today who have been within the Rediffusion system. I have spent 17 years within the group. Every three to four years, I have taken on different roles and that is the growth opportunity within the organisation. Thus, I believe there is an opportunity for every member of this team to aspire to take up a leadership role.

Q. Both of you come from Everest Brand Solutions. How different is the current role from the previous one in terms of style and agency culture?

Rajappa: When we look at the similarities in both the agencies within the group, the group really fosters talent. It has an entrepreneurial drive. So as an organisation, those values don’t change. We believe in a transparent approach to the business, thus adding value to our clients’ business growth. I think both of the agencies at every point of time have believed in creating great work and enduring brands.

What possibly defines the changes is in terms of the scale. Rediffusion is a much larger entity, thus the canvas is much w bigger. But our values are by and large the same.

Paddy: Rajappa speaks for both of us when we are talking about philosophy or approach towards work. We’ve been working for five years, so there is no difference in outlook and it is the reason why we’ve been together for so long and will continue to be. There is a huge amount of synergy and matching vision in terms of where we want to be and the place where we would want to go. So, in terms of direction, he has spoken for both of us and I think to large extent, the work that is going out of Rediffusion will actually define where we are exactly coming from. The agency is known for its devotion to the brand and building them from inception as in the case of Airtel, Eveready, Colgate and Maruti, all of which have been success stories.

These success stories have been the DNA of the agency and we are not seeking to change that DNA, but are seeking to augment that body of work. There are certain philosophies to adhere to, and in my view, advertising is not about attention grabbing but affection grabbing. Thus, putting these philosophies into practice, there has been some good work coming from the agency on Tata Nano and MTS, and there is more in the pipeline. It is about matching our work to the client vision and ambition. So, all of this is about co-creating.

Q. In regards to the National Creative Director, there has been a dual structure. Now with N Padmakumar taking up the responsibility, does the agency continue to have a single NCD or will look at having a dual structure?

Rajappa: We believe ours is a business of collaboration. We are an industry which really thrives on good quality talent. It has nothing to do with the individual. The co-creation process that Paddy was talking about does not begin and end within the agency, but actually moves on to the client end. So, whatever great piece of work that you see today across brands, I think the client has an equal stake. Thus, the stakeholders today in creating enduring brands through great communication are really out of a collaborative process. Coming back to your question, these are all contextual. This was nothing to do with the way it was or it needs to be. It has all to be with circumstances and the kind of context you are into. So, most of the plans that are drawn for the brands or the organisation are done in terms of where we are today or where we want to go and how we would approach our thought processes.

Paddy: There is no hard and fast rule for this. We have seen an art and copy partnership and if there is creative partnership on the top, then it could be a team of NCDs, but if there is none – and it doesn’t exist for the moment – there shall be no reason to have one. So like Rajappa said, it’s all contextual.

Rajappa: As I explained, it’s all about collaboration and collaboration not just within one discipline. We are talking about a team, and I think the entire creative team works in that similar direction and vision. We are not operating in silos. So, our entire DNA is about furthering the collaboration and making it seamless.

Q. We have seen a lot of creative talent moving out of the agency in the junior and senior levels. Have you completed creating your team or are you still in the process of getting new talent?

Paddy: No agency has done something like creating a team. This whole process itself is an evolutionary process. The idea is, however, to create a consortium of fertile minds together. It is true that there has been news about hiring new creative directors, but within the agency too there is great creative talent, which is doing very well. The idea is to leverage the best talent that we have so that every one of our clients have access to the creativity that comes from these minds.

Q. Rediffusion Y&R saw some important businesses like Colgate and Airtel moving out in 2010. As President and NCD, how pressured are you to turn the tables again and get some important businesses for Rediffusion?

Rajappa: Let me just correct the perception for you. I think while two of the brands may have moved out during the course of 2010, the year has been good for the agency in terms of overall growth. Even if you look at the first four months of this year, Rediffusion has had a very healthy first quarter. First, we have got organic growth among many businesses that we are handling. There have been existing client brands that are handled nationally and all of them have grown. Today, India as a market is a growth market. True, there is the classic pressure of dearth of talent and attrition, but there is significant growth too in the market. So, looking at that scenario, I think there is enough growth potential in each of the categories and industries that we handle. And most of the brands that we handle are fairly consequential brands across different offices. Like in Delhi, Airtel may have moved off, but we have MTS, which is looking at very rapid growth in the telecom industry. Similarly, in 2010 end we picked up PepsiCo’s new development brand and recently bagged the Emami business. We have been working with Berger and Nitesh Estates out of South. There are many more in the pipeline, which we shall announce at an appropriate time.

Q. What has been the growth rate for the agency?

Rajappa: If you look at just the four months, we have had excess of 20 per cent growth with the addition of new businesses, while the organic growth is around 40 per cent and up.

Q. You moved to Everest in 2006 from being a CEO at Rediffusion Sri Lanka and now you have the mandate for Rediffusion India. What are your ambitions regarding Rediffusion Y&R?

The DNA of the agency has not changed in anyway. Rediffusion always stood for building great quality work and enduring brands. The ambition had always been to do that and I don’t think that’s going to change. In the cultural context, people have moved, their attitudes have changed, so in a way we are looking at that empathy.

Q. How helpful has been the association with your global partners Y&R and WPP?

Rajappa: Our associations and strengths with Y&R have been very strong. So when we are looking at Y&R, we are not only looking at them for clients, but for knowledge, processes and tools as well. Thus in terms of that we collaborate effectively. However, I would choose not to comment on this. All I would say is that the market is large enough to really take on all this and more.

Q. It is well known in the industry that D Rajappa is very choosy with brands, especially when it comes to pitching. And now with a larger mandate and a portfolio entrusted, how aggressive are you and your team going to be in terms of pitching?

Rajappa: All I would like to say is that we believe in operating in a completely transparent manner regarding what value we can bring in our clients’ business. There are absolutely no agendas that cloud this, because we are professionals. As far as pitching is concerned, we would pitch, but not mindlessly for every business that is available. There has to be chemistry between the client and us as we will help them to grow their business too.

Q. Both of you have been considered media shy, and now heading the operations of a larger portfolio, has this media shy attitude ceased to exist?

Rajappa: I would say that we would like our clients’ brands to be famous and we would love that to be the single agenda. Paddy: I think advertising per se is a small industry, which does generate a lot of visible work. But it’s not about stardom. If your work is great, the success of the work is much greater than the profile that you present or command.

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