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Advertising Interviews

KS Chakravarthy

NCD | 05 Aug 2011

50 years was a great landmark – but an emotional landmark more than a real one. The truth is, the agency has been constantly evolving over the years, and will continue to evolve. But having said that, the 50th year was a great occasion to restate in a new and ‘ownable’ way what we have always believed in – we build BrandWealth. Or put another way, we make brands famous – and clients rich. You will see a whole range of events and initiatives taking this forward through the year.

KS Chakravarthy, aka Chax, brings 30 years of experience in advertising to the table. He had joined DraftFCB Ulka as National Creative Director in June 2008. Prior to that he was with Rediffusion Y&R as NCD.

In 2001, Chax had moved away from mainstream advertising to pursue his interest in ad filmmaking when he started a production house called ‘Persistence of Vision’. However, he returned to advertising in 2004, joining Rediffusion Y&R.

Chax has worked with an array of agencies over the past three decades, including Enterprise (now Bates 141), JWT India (then HTA), Lowe Lintas (then Lintas) and Leo Burnett India. In fact, it was during his tenure as National Creative Director at Leo Burnett that Chax, in association with KV Sridhar (Pops), led the agency into hyper-creative mode with widely-noticed campaigns for Bajaj Caliber, Bajaj Boxer, Fiat Uno, Reebok, Thums Up, Ariel, Complan and Standard Furukawa. It was also during Chax’s time that Leo Burnett claimed a Bronze Lion for the ‘battery-operated toy’ film for Forte India.

In conversation with exchange4media’s Tasneem Limbdiwala, Chax speaks at length about the road ahead for DraftFCB Ulka after completing 50 years recently…

Q. What makes a team headed by you at DraftFCB Ulka different from the teams who have been a part of in your previous stints? What is the current creative agenda for DraftFCB Ulka?

The legacy of DraftFCB Ulka is one of effective advertising that works to solve a marketing problem. We don’t chase awards as the final goal – we just try to turn strong thinking into clutter breaking, memorable creative ideas. Because if you don’t get both parts right, you aren’t going to get anywhere. That is the creative culture we are trying to create – where everyone across functions recognises that strategy is as the creative does. Thinking is what you do within the agency, fresh, unexpected ideas is the only way to get the consumer to look at you.

Q. In your previous interaction with us, you had mentioned that the agency had created a Creative Council comprising five key creative leaders from across Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore. Kindly elaborate on the operation of the council and how is it panning out for the agency? Also, please name the members of the council.

These are the functional heads across our major brands – and who can make the real difference to our work. But these five – Indira Das from Bangalore, HareshMurjani and Kartik Smetacek from Mumbai, and Shiveswar Raj Singh and Sanjay Sharma from Delhi – are just the core leadership team. We move our quarterly meetings across the offices so that we can be joined by our other key creative leaders. The Council is focused entirely on the work – the only agenda is to look honestly at what we have done, and figure out what we are going to do better till next time.

Q. Ulka recently completed 50 years and you have been an integral part of the celebration. Going forward, as NCD of the agency, what is the next step for the agency?

50 years was a great landmark – but an emotional landmark more than a real one. The truth is, the agency has been constantly evolving over the years, and will continue to evolve. But having said that, the 50th year was a great occasion to restate in a new and ‘ownable’ way what we have always believed in – we build BrandWealth. Or put another way, we make brands famous – and clients rich. You will see a whole range of events and initiatives taking this forward through the year – the book of case studies by Ambi and Kinjal , released in March this year, and the ‘Building BrandWealth’ seminar we conducted with Welingkars for marketing professionals from various client organiaations, are just the first two. And, of course, since it was an emotional landmark, as I said, it was kicked off by a party we threw for every past and present employee of the agency.

Q. It goes without saying that for the growth of an agency, balancing between existing clients and new ones is necessary. How do you do it?

If anything, we have been more focused on growing our current businesses and have been growing at a very healthy rate as a result. In fact, this is something we take a lot of pride in – the true partnership we have built with our clients over the years, and sometimes over decades. But yes, of late we have started focusing consciously on actively going after new business as well. I don’t want to talk about specific new businesses that we have won because I never know which ones we are not supposed to talk about, but this year has been very good on that front so far.

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

Hmm, that sounds rather grand. The central issue vexing most senior professionals is the same old one –our ideas and inputs are not accorded the value that we know they deserve. And that, over a period of time, is going to start impacting the quality of talent the industry is able to attract. But that, unfortunately, is too many quarters away for anyone to care about.

Q. It is said that the level of creativity is declining in the industry. Would you agree with that?

Are you kidding me? It has been growing by leaps and bounds. Scams do divert too much creative energies into convenient ‘patli galis’, but enough still gets applied to real problems to produce some great ideas. Gilette’s Women Against Lazy Stubble, Pepsi’s adroit acceptance of the ‘Official’ tag, albeit with tongue firmly in cheek, initiatives like the Green TOI that Lodestar won a Gold Lion for – creativity is alive and partying, thank you very much.

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

Wrong guy to ask, though I do know that people have been looking happy at bonus time every year for the last three years.

Q. What are some of the ideas that you have for new business development for the agency?

Not really appropriate to answer that here, but I can tell you one thing – we will never go after a business that does not regard brand building as a key ingredient of its success, and we will not accept businesses that don’t pay us enough to provide a certain level of professional inputs.

Q. Being a veteran in the industry a lot is being expected of you. How do you react to expectations?

I think as long as your own expectations of yourself are more than the world’s, it really doesn’t matter.

Q. Please name three ads in recent times that have impressed you with their creative work.

Idea’s latest avatar – though they don’t really need the school-boyish word play in the end. Pepsi’s World Cup work. And I suppose I would include Ranbir and KISS for Tata Docomo, it hides a complicated strategy rather well, like good advertising should.

Q. What kind of a boss are you perceived to be?

Perceived, I don’t know. I try to be tough, but fair – and I am very happy to delegate if someone can do it better.

Q. In one line, what is your personal funda at work?

Better sorry than safe. Sorry at least means you tried something new. Safe means you copped out of trying at all.

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