Advertising Interviews

Rahul Sarkar

COO | 27 Jan 2012

I think agencies should not fool around with clients. Everyone in the industry is talking about a GDP growth of 5.6 per cent or 5.7 per cent. If there is a crisis, then we all need to adjust to that – agencies as well as clients. Clients have a certain budget, and agencies need to understand that. Hence, there needs to be far better co-operation between clients and agencies to tide over slowdown periods.

Rahul Sarkar started his career with Birla Group as a designer in 1991. He stepped into the world of advertising in 1992 with Grey, Kolkata. Having a fair bit of understanding of the fraternity, he moved to Mudra in 1994 and clinched his first international award. In the same year, he picked up a Gold from Kolkata Ad Club. Sarkar then moved to Equus in 1996 as Art Director. There, he started off with Cielo, the first imported car India had ever travelled in. He became a key part of Equus, handling businesses like Coca-Cola, ITC, Park Hotel and ABP, to name a few.

After spending 15 years at Equus, Sarkar ventured towards another challenging task. He joined Goldmine as COO in 2011. His vision is to strategise the organisation and create a separate wing that will exclusively handle corporate clients.

In this interaction with exchange4media’s Suraj Ramnath, Sarkar talks about Mine, focus for the year 2012, the major account wins and work done in 2011, the anticipated slowdown in 2012 and more…

Q. It’s been three months since Mine was set up. How is the business shaping up? What have been the recent wins?

The first big win is the Durian account. We have been working with other private clients as well, including Alcon. The last three months have been hectic and we are hoping for the best.

Q. What was the thought behind setting up Mine, when Goldmine Advertising has been handling creative duties since 1988? How are you maintaining the business synergies?

Goldmine is well known in the PSU segment. In terms of corporate segment, we have a task and want to explore this segment more, that’s why Mine happened. Though Mine is a separate entity, it still belongs to the Goldmine family and the name itself gels well with Goldmine. For Mine, the thrust is on brand building and corporate, while Goldmine is more PSU based. So, whatever experience we are getting from corporate clients can be shared with the PSU clients and vice versa. Thus, it’s an exchange of thought, an exchange of knowledge, an exchange of process and much more. PSUs are the innovators in the segment. They are the first to come up with ideas and corporates follow them. The two complement each other.

Q. There is the threat of a second slowdown looming large. Have you seen any cutbacks in clients’ ad spends?

People are expecting the year 2012 to be even worse, but I think they are all assumptions. I don’t think things will be as bad as in 2008, because frankly speaking, India had never seen the recession before. Given the current situation, if I have Rs 10 in my kitty, I will only spend 0.2 per cent of that. That’s what everyone would do in a scenario where the market is being conservative in terms of spending, keeping in mind what has happened before. That’s the reason why they are keeping that extra buffer in their kitty and not spending. Every client I am facing is keeping its buffer.

At the same time we need to keep in mind that the agency-client relationship is not just about money, but something beyond that. So even during tough times, you cannot opt out, but strengthen this relationship. We are here for the long term and so are the clients. So you cannot fool around with the clients.

Q. How did you tide over the slowdown period of 2008-09?

The overall market was really bad and we had to understand the situation and undertake initiatives. It was a joint initiative to sustain because at that point of time, a lot of clients reduced their fees, a lot of small agencies shut shop and survival was the main issue not just for smaller agencies but for mid-sized agencies too. However, we didn’t face too much of a problem since most of our clients are PSUs, and they have a budget allocated for a year, which they adhere to.

Q. Please share with us some of the memorable work done by Goldmine in 2011.

We did some decent work for IndianOil, couple of Independence Day related ads for Gujarat, environment poster for IndianOil Mumbai, a campaign to encourage people to donate their eyes. We did some good work in the Railways segment. Whenever we find an opportunity to do a good job, we do it. The opportunities to create are very few, and there is no point in creating a fake ad. We have to work within the brief and do the best that we can.

Q. How was the year 2011 for Goldmine? What were the most noteworthy developments in the agency last year?

The year 2011 must be a benchmark for us as after 30 years we decided to create a separate division for PSU and corporate clients. It is huge for an agency in terms of strategy, development, hiring people and creating our silos – all these happened in the year 2011. There are some ups and downs, but it was decent year for Goldmine. We tried to create a differentiator in the PSU segment as well. People generally try to avoid PSUs because there is not much creativity or ideation involved, you will be surprised how they think. Earlier, one of our clients used to send us the brief on mail, instructing us what to do. Now they call us for presentations and ask us to come up with ideas and how to take them forward. It goes beyond placement of an ad. Now they want to know what else can be done in that space – leveraging digital media, BTL activations and the works.

Q. What have been the major account wins for Goldmine in 2011? Which have been the clients that you lost during the year?

In the year 2011, we won UIDE and Central Bank accounts. These are some of the big accounts that we won during the year. We didn’t lose a single client last year.

Q. Going forward, in 2012, what would be the key growth drivers for Goldmine?

Primarily, the thrust will be in the corporate segment, though we will continue adding value to the PSU segment as well, since there is so much to do there now – be it digital marketing or other initiatives. In 2012, our focus will primarily be on growth and getting more corporate clients on board. Moreover, the PSU segment needs to be nurtured properly as that is our bread and butter. Corporate clients would be the add-on benefits. A lot of good work can be expected from us this year.

Q. What are the best possible ways in which ad agencies can tide over slowdown periods?

I think agencies should not fool around with clients. Everyone in the industry is talking about a GDP growth of 5.6 per cent or 5.7 per cent. If there is a crisis, then we all need to adjust to that – agencies as well as clients. Clients have a certain budget, and agencies need to understand that. Hence, there needs to be far better co-operation between clients and agencies to tide over slowdown periods.

In the current scenario, I don’t know how severe the slowdown will be this time. Some people are saying it will be worse than what it was in 2008, but since people have faced the situation once, this time they are more prepared for it and know what to expect. Spends will be more conservative. People are looking to what steps the Government will take to strengthen the economy. In this space it is very difficult to say what will happen tomorrow. If an earthquake is to strike, it will strike, but you can’t live in fear. Things will go on. You will have to guard against extra expenditure. Moreover, the bond with the client has to be strong, which will reflect on the business.

Q. Goldmine had further plans of expansion. Is it going to happen in 2012?

It could happen in the year 2012. We are looking at the Bangalore market as it has a good potential and is growing not only in terms of the size, but creative standards as well. In 2012, we might explore the Bangalore market because that is the only market left for us to explore. Kolkata might be a good market 2-3 years down the line, but not now.

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