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Jishnu Sen

President & CEO | 24 May 2013

Grey was synonymous with Nirvik Singh, hopefully that needle is moving, which is also because Nirvik had never stopped me from doing anything that I wanted to do. Nothing prepares you for the role of a CEO; a new dream or nightmare walks into my office every few minutes. I am aware of the legacy I have inherited. Hopefully, I will not just raise the bar, but clear it.

Jishnu Sen joined Grey India in 2007 to head the agency’s Mumbai office. Under his stewardship, Grey Mumbai grew significantly to establish itself as the flagship office in India. In 2009, Sen was appointed COO of the entire Grey India operation. In May 2011, he was promoted as CEO and President of Grey India.

Sen has built a terrific new business track record, which includes wins such as Reliance Communications, Honda, Network18, SpiceJet, Ferrero, Muthoot, Fox International Channels, Dell, Fuji Film, and Reliance Broadcast Network, to name a few (all won under Sen’s sole leadership).

Prior to joining Grey Group India, Sen held various positions with JWT and Y&R across India, Singapore, Hong Kong and the US. His diverse portfolio includes brands such as Colgate, Pepsi, Pizza Hut, ITC, GlaxoSmithKline, ESPN, Star Sports and the Indian Army.

In conversation with exchange4media’s Priyanka Mehra, Sen speaks about Grey India’s focus areas, nurturing talent, leveraging digital media, awards and more...

Q. Could you share with us the significant business wins in the last quarter?

2013 has started very well and has seen us win the Big FM business and all the big channels to go with it, which was a close win and a fight with JWT. A whole bunch of other business, including IndianOil, which may not be a glamorous piece of business but is a high revenue piece of business. We won the Integrated Grand Prix for Killer Jeans at Goafest 2013. On the other hand, we lost SpiceJet; losing any client, big or small, always hurts.

Q. What are the focus areas that you have indentified?

We need to reignite a certain DNA and be focussed about the work. Yes, we will pitch for new business and growth is a target, but we also have to come out with good campaigns. The entire organisation needs to realign itself behind being ‘famous and effective’ everyday; we had launched the ‘Famous and Effective’ tagline three years ago and I am not saying it is faded, but it needs to be reignited. We have a lot of new people in the organisation and they need to be behind it; it cannot be only Amit, Malvika, Dheeraj and Jishnu talking about ‘famous and effective’, we have live and breathe it every day. Dheeraj coming in is a fabulous thing that has happened, we really need to rebuild and recharge the planning; we’ve had a couple of exits and it gives us an opportunity to restructure. I want to do proprietary research, which we used to do two years ago, which is basically take one area, spend your own money, do game changing research on it, and share it with clients.

Q. Is it a revisiting of the drawing board strategy?

The board is written, it is about getting a new batch of students back into the classroom. I am not reinventing Grey’s positioning; Amit, Malvika, Dheeraj and I have no doubts about what we’ve set out to do. Maybe over a period of time we may have taken it for granted that everyone is clear on the agenda, rolling it out to everyone is the focus.

Q. How does Grey nurture talent in light of the constant drain of creative talent in the industry today?

We are working on nurturing talent – there is training, ideas on mentoring and career planning ideas. If you were to ask me what I have failed in the last one and a half years, I have failed in the juniors of this company – they need to see a clear career path. I need to set a clear agenda, whether it means working within the region and working on an exchange programme, since some of these kids want a shot at working abroad. Our focus going forward is on creating opportunities and learning experiences across brands first and foremost; how do we create an atmosphere that is fun.

Q. How does the agency leverage digital media as part of the creative process?

We are probably the only truly integrated digital company amongst the top 10 agencies. It has been organic for us and not an acquisition; when we pitch for digital, we go as one team. It is not that we go to the digital team after we have cracked a mainstream idea, digital has a right to ‘let’s not pitch’ as well. There have been instances where we have won pitches because of digital.

Jishnu Sen, Grey India

Q. Given the issues that cropped up at this year’s Goafest, do think there will be a positive shift in the advertising industry?

It is a wakeup call; if we are really blind, we will hit the snooze button and go back to sleep.

Q. What is your view on awards? And would you endorse the fact that this race for awards is fuelled by clients since they benchmark awarded agencies. Also, how true is it that the pressure on agencies to win awards is also led by networks?

Awards are important, it is important for any professional to be rewarded and recognised. I genuinely believe that if you are an award winning agency, you get more work, which is where ‘Famous and Effective’, Grey’s tagline comes in. Thus, Sensodyne has been the best ever toothpaste launch, thanks to the work done by GSK and Grey, the ‘famous’ part of ‘Famous and Effective’ is not about only awards, but about making our clients’ brands famous as well.

Q. You have been with Grey India for six years now. When you took over Grey, it was an agency synonymous with Nirvik Singh; what are the some of the turning points in this journey?

I started as the Mumbai Head, then COO and CEO. Nirvik took a bet on me for which I am eternally grateful. Grey was synonymous with Nirvik Singh, hopefully that needle is moving, which is also because Nirvik has never stopped me from doing anything that I wanted to do. It has been a fabulous ride, nothing prepares you for the role of a CEO; a new dream or nightmare walks into my office every few minutes. I am aware of the legacy I have inherited. Hopefully, I will not just raise the bar, but clear it.

Q. What have been the highlights of this journey?

The first three weeks after Raj (Kurup) left with his entire team were a nightmare; Parle left with him, there was no creative department, it was a bizarre 2007, and yet, we ended doubling our business in 2007; 2008 and 2009 were not great years either. Amit, Malvika and Bindu (Sethi) coming on board were the turning points. Winning Reliance was fabulous, suddenly everyone looked at us. The Ferrero account was big as well; suddenly the game changed and we were being called for different kinds of pitches. The Grand Prix was a culmination point. We have a lot of spark, we need to be able to harness it and lead the team well.

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