Advertising Interviews

Bobby Pawar

Chief Creative Officer | 25 May 2012

We can’t be too focussed on people’s expectations. It is great they have it but we need to see things with our final objective in view - what are our strengths and shortcomings, where we want to be and how we will get there. I would like to just go about doing my work and do it in the best way possible. Things like awards are an outcome of the work you produce. This is a very competitive place but I am not worried about that. I want a mindset of beating what we did yesterday. Our competition is our immediate past.

Simply put, Bobby Pawar is the Chief Creative Officer and Managing Partner of JWT India. But the task assigned to him was to revive the creative prowess of India’s largest creative agency that it had lost, or was perceived to have lost, in the last three years. Quoting Colvyn Harris, CEO, JWT India at the time the agency hired Pawar earlier this year, “Bobby’s appointment was to give JWT India the creative muscle and leadership it needed to deliver on the highest ambition of our clients and categories”. Prior to joining JWT, Bobby Pawar was the Creative Chief for Mudra before which he had spent seven years in the US market with BBDO, Chicago and O&M, New York.

In this interview with Noor Fathima WarsiaM, Pawar speaks on his perspective of the creative culture in JWT India and what he thinks of competition and the Indian creative industry.

Q. Mudra, now DDB Mudra Group, is large in its own right but JWT is the single largest agency in India. How has the experience been so far of the sheer scale of work?

It has been very exciting. There have been moments but high and low are expected in the beginning. The idea was to get in, understand the place, how people operated, the mood, morale and benchmarks. Having done that, the objective is to evolve the creative culture and chart out the course ahead.

Q. What does that include?

Over the last few years, I have never liked the term advertising agency – the sooner we get out of it, the better it is for all of us. Everything we do today is to create experience. If you see a commercial or a print ad, you try and see how you can deepen your conversation by leading it to another engagement form. When we are able to do that well and consistently, we would play a bigger role in the client’s life. An example is what we have done for Nokia with Channel Me. It was an idea borne out of technology that could be downloaded on your new Nokia phone and that let you broadcast whatever you were shooting, Live on a website. It was changing a nation of viewers to a nation of broadcasters. This is not what typical advertising agencies do and that is the direction we need to take more consistently.

Q. Do you think like that for all the businesses you work on?

Not all, but increasingly that is what we will do. It is a journey and we need to practice. Digital needs to become a mindset for all of us and that won’t happen so soon. Colvyn (Harris) and JWT believe in this idea and that is why you see someone like Jeff Benjamin, who is essentially a digital talent, become the Chief Creative Officer of JWT North America – that is the way of the world. We want digital from the inside because then you know how to treat it correctly. You cannot be thinking about media but solutions and then you go wherever it takes you. Sometimes it will start you in a completely different place. Digital is cool, but each medium has to have its purpose and that is the thinking that needs to come at the core of every individual of the agency.

Q. But are marketers already thinking media neutral and the fact that even within digital, so much has changed?

Marketing practices have not caught up with technological behaviour. That is traditionally the case – people move faster than marketers. It is only great marketers who keep pace or are a step ahead of consumers. The obsession with buzzwords is difficult to shake. People say things like ‘let’s do something viral’. What they mean is let’s spend a few lakhs of rupees and get millions of free hits -- it doesn’t work like that. There are billions of videos uploaded everyday and most of them die a silent death. Social is big but people don’t know what to do with it. You need to have a purpose; you cannot flirt with social media. You need a long-term strategy to manage the content you start. Most importantly, while people need to take chances they have to do so sincerely – you cannot dip a toe and think you swam the river.

Q. What is the progress of building digital capability across JWT India?

All of us have to become digital and we realise that is the only way it will work but the challenge is digitising an agency of 1100 people – that will take time. We have started with people who are on relevant businesses and are ready for it. But there is no crash-course that will make this happen. The only way people will learn it, is by doing it. We want to create evangelists, who will percolate the thinking down.

Q. Let’s talk about how you are looking to evolve the creative culture of the agency. JWT has a global system that rates work and India is an active part of it. How does it encourage your team?

Any system depends on how it is used. We need to populate it further amongst people and make sure everyone knows how it works. We have some understanding of it but we need to make it better. Bottom line however is to do good work regardless of systems. You need to have a culture that recognises, encourages and rewards excellence. People need to push themselves to be brilliant every single day and for that you need a team of great individuals. It is not something for a single person to do.

Q. In addition to a CCO, which is you, JWT has three NCDs who in their own right are forces to reckon with. How does the system overall work?

It works by forgetting titles. All of us are dedicated to make the work better. You cannot do that by being disconnected. While I have an A-team of three great creative directors, it is not about creating hierarchy. Instead, I would want to flatten the system as much as possible. All of us should be accessible to anyone at any given time. That does mean we are working the whole time, but so be it. We are doing some very simple things to up the creative quality such as meet and review things we are doing regularly. We have created a group who comes together and reviews everything happening in the company – things we did well, opportunities missed and what we should do next. The idea is to get everyone to work together. We have about 17 people in the group and the membership to this group is dependent on merit and not titles or seniority.

Q. JWT Delhi was a problem area for the agency last year. How are things now?

Things are good. There will always be challenges somewhere or the other, that need to be looked into, but that doesn’t change the fact that JWT Delhi alone is still larger than most agencies in India. I spend three days of the week there because those are the kind of opportunities in that market and for JWT. When you are pushing work, you have got to know why you are doing it. If you have to make brands you work on successful and famous beyond ordinary, you need work that is brilliant. We have great teams in these offices and my objective is to try and help them raise the bar and connect with key clients to work more closely with them.

Q. There are high expectations associated with your appointment that includes not only winning great businesses but also big awards. How do you view this?

We can’t be too focussed on other people’s expectations. It is great they have it but we need to see things with our final objective in view - what are our strengths and shortcomings, where we want to be and how we will get there. I would like to just go about doing my work and do it in the most brilliant way possible. Things such as new businesses and awards are an outcome of the work we produce. Awards are important and we want to win, but we are not going to get stuck on that. We would like to make our work great. This is a very competitive place but I am not worried about competing agencies. I want a mindset of beating what we did yesterday. Our competition is our immediate past.

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