Advertising Interviews

Sanjeev Bhargava

Managing Partner | 29 Jun 2012

Relationships don’t get built over cocktails, they get built over work. Every employee in JWT Delhi has an attitude of doing the best for their client. So there is a commitment, purity of purpose, intent which is not coming from a short term goal. Our clients have appreciated our work and we are proud of that. We will continue to win and lose campaigns – it’s part of the business. But we will continue to be on the growth trajectory and do better than other agencies.

Times were tough when Sanjeev Bhargava took over the leadership role at JWT Delhi in September 2011. Not only had the agency lost business, but also key people. Everyone waited to see what will happen with the third largest office in the JWT network with Bhargava at the helm. Nine months on, JWT Delhi ship seems to be on a smooth sail and Bhargava is now on his way to bring the old sheen back.

He interacts with exchange4media’s Deepika Bhardwaj and shares his journey so far, challenges that still lie ahead and things that are on his top priority going forward…

Q. It’s been nine months since you took over the reins of JWT Delhi. How has the incubation period been?

It’s been fabulous. Being one of the largest offices, serving some of the most prized accounts in the industry, JWT Delhi attracts great talent. Coming from a relatively smaller agency, it was a great education and sort of growing up interacting with this bunch of talented professionals. The task in front of me when I joined was to bring the office together with these talented, smart, powerful individuals, understand their perspective, make them work together and get the best out of them. For the first four months all that I did was to start building ourselves as a cohesive force. I think we have achieved that now. That I would like to believe has been my success. Once you have togetherness, you are unbeatable.

Q. After all the commotion, things seem to have settled down a bit. How did you manage the negativity that was prevailing at that time?

Where does negativity come from? Negativity comes from uncertainty. When I came, leadership that had been rock steady and had taken the office to great heights was moving out. People had their own concerns about who will take over, how the equations will change, how their careers will grow, impact on client relationships, etc. The idea was to demonstrate they were in good hands, and the hands are theirs not mine. There was a need of reassurance, re-empowerment, making people realise they are an important part of the system. People rallied around once they realised that the efforts were genuine. It was a people exercise and it had to be done that way. I like to believe we have retained our best people. They are committed to the cause and are doing a good job.

Q. But there were movements even after you joined.

Statistically speaking, attrition rate has gone down by 20 per cent. There are lesser people leaving than before. I have let people go if I have not been able to provide an apt opportunity. I think a leader has to be extremely mature in understanding the aspirations of people and can’t cramp their growth. But I have also invested time and effort in retaining people who are good and were leaving for something, which in my evaluation, was a bad opportunity. I have made sure the person stayed and not by throwing money at anyone’s face, but by making them understand why this place is better than the other.

Q. Things were patchy on the business front too. How have you managed the relationships outside the office?

Yes, there were external issues when I joined. But those have been resolved. Results speak for themselves and they have spoken for us. There is respect for our work. I see optimism in most of our clients and I am saying this for all, including Pepsi Foods, Airtel, Nestle, Pizza Hut and Hero Motocorp, not anyone particular. That’s what we are proud of. Relationships don’t get built over cocktails, they get built over work. Every employee in this office now has an attitude of doing the best for their client. So there is a commitment, purity of purpose, intent which is not coming from a short term goal and gets immediately translated into quality of work. Yes, we will continue to win and lose campaigns, that’s part of the business. But we will continue to be on the growth trajectory and do better than other agencies. I am very proud of what we are today.

Q. What’s keeping people motivated at JWT now?

I think our success. We have seen tremendous success in the last few months. The entire summer campaign for Pepsi has been done by us, barring Mountain Dew. There has been amazing work on other clients as well. All campaigns we have done have been successful from a business stand point as well as from an image stand point. Clients are happy, we are happy. I am keen to make sure that advertising that comes out of this organisation is business building for our clients. We don’t want to do empty advertising.

Then the leadership here is fantastic. I am happy Swati (Bhattacharya) has become NCD. The entire creative community looks up to her and she lives up to that role. Bobby (Pawar, Chief Creative Officer and Managing Partner, JWT India) is an amazing support. Bindu (Sethi, Chief Strategy Officer, JWT India) is here now and she is bringing her own vision on what strategic planning is supposed to be. We are strong on digital too with Max (Hegerman, Senior Vice President & Digital Head, JWT India) leading the charge. No other agency has this kind of leadership.

On the business side, we have been on target for the first five months. We are expecting a 10 per cent growth this year. Many campaigns are in the offing, with a lot of work planned for many clients. Clients haven’t increased spends due to economic conditions, but there is lots to be done.

Q. How tough is the situation due to the economic instability?

It is bothering, but we were expecting this. We were conservative in terms of growth predictions, but it is slightly worse than what we had predicted. Most of the clients are refusing to increase budgets on advertising, given their own constraints. So, new business acquisition is critical for our success this year. We are hoping to aggressively work on the same in the coming months.

Q. You lost the Sony account also, which was a big client. How has it impacted the business?

It has impacted us for sure as it was a large business. I think they made a wrong decision. And I know people in Sony camp, who think it’s a wrong decision too. But the fact is that it went away and we were not able to hold it back. So it has had a financial impact.

Q. Why did JWT lose the pitch then? Do you think there are still some doubts in the market?

I don’t think so. I don’t feel it was an issue with the team at all, I think they did a tremendous job on the business. Every piece of communication we have delivered from JWT has had an immediate impact on the business. Even in the pitch we showed tremendous work, which demonstrated the kind of work that is required for a brand like Sony. I am not sure about the work that is going out now.

Q. So things seem to be in place. What are the challenges from here on?

Many! I have huge businesses. And to deliver to them, I need to have great talent. The industry is not very rich in the kind of talent I would like to have, so identifying the right people is a big challenge, getting them on board is a challenge. Another challenge is to make sure that I deliver quality to the expectations of my clients. We also need to do some cutting edge, award winning creative work that can be a milestone in the advertising industry.

Q. Bobby is spending significant time in Delhi. What is on top in both of your agendas?

It’s been a pleasure partnering with Bobby. He comes across as a Casanova, but is a great listener. He picks up the right things and salient points and has a view on them. Everybody gets along with him like a house on fire. The first few weeks after Bobby joined were about creative talent. That’s been sorted out. We have identified people for various responsibilities, created a structure in which they have their own space and get guidance as well. Now it’s about day to day quality of creative work, looking at big campaigns and how we manage them. I am saying if by the end of the year, we are able to sort out all the issues that we had, we will be in a fantastic place. When you are in a hurry, you make mistakes.

Q. JWT has recently picked up stake in Hungama. How are you looking at Digital?

We all understand that digital is the future. Digital needs a certain kind of creative - interactive in nature, technologically feasible, fast download speeds, perfect targeting, etc., and Hungama is an expert in that. While we would operate at strategic and content level, Hungama with its vast resources would help us put all that in place. Digital is a culture; it is a way of thinking. To be able to activate it for our brands, all our people need to understand digital, whether it is creative, servicing or planning. So there is a lot of investment that JWT is making on training. The hope is that the entire body of people who run this organisation at a national level have a strong clear perspective on how digital is relevant to any brand that we work on. We want to become the leaders in this space.

Q. Despite being the largest office, JWT Delhi hasn’t done too well on the awards front. Are you working towards it?

Awards are important. They are important to us from ego and business perspective as well. Yes, we have not done so well in the last two years. But we have been on the top and we know we can do it again. We have the conviction and we have charted out a road map for it. This year our focus is on consolidation, let’s see what happens next year.

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