J. Walter Thompson India announced the appointment of Senthil Kumar as its Chief Creative Officer last week. Kumar, who was earlier NCD at the agency, will now be partnering Tarun Rai, CEO, J. Walter Thompson, South Asia, to lead the overall creative mandate for J. Walter Thompson India, across its six offices.
J Walter Thompson has filled the role of a CCO, after a gap of two years after the exit of Bobby Pawar, and Kumar seemed the most apt fit for the role, the formal announcement infact seemed just a matter of time.
A few excerpts from a brief chat with Tarun Rai, CEO J. Walter Thompson South Asia and the newly minted Chief Creative Officer Senthil Kumar on the new responsibility, the future strategy of J. Walter Thompson, the need for the new age CCO’s and more………..
Did you consider anyone from outside the agency for the Chief Creative Officers Role?
Tarun: We did evaluate, and I did ask around. The first six-eight months after a gap of seven years to me is the best time for being objective. I don’t have any baggage of other people’s reputations. We did look at probable candidates, not just in India, but outside as well. After doing all the evaluation, I still thought Senthil was our best bet.
So, the time that I took to get Senthil on board was just to make sure that when I go with my gut feeling, I have evaluated the parameters the job requires. Parameters like: Is he the best?And it is not because I like him. I think it is time for the new generation of Chief Creative Officers to take over. The new age of CCO is here, and I think a person like Senthil might be starting a trend.
Does Tista Sen now report to Senthil?
Tarun: Literally if you ask me, he is the CCO and Tista is the NCD. If you ask technically, yes he is the one who is accountable.
Senthil: We are like captain and vice-captain. And, I think I don’t take it as ‘reporting it to me’, it is a team that we put together.
Are you looking at hiring more NCDs, given that JWT had a three NCD structure earlier?
Tarun: We do not want to fill national positions, we had a three NCD structure earlier, but we are not rigid about continuing that. We are not ruling out anything, but we are looking at young, good, creative talents at all levels. Designations, organization structures and all are subservient. We will worry about that later.
Also it will never be a reporting structure, it will always be a process structure for idea to flow in and go out. That’s how we are looking at.
Senthil: We are not looking at NCDs, but we are looking at senior creative people who can lead groups and brands.
What are the key areas that you are going to focus on together?
Tarun: We need to improve and do fantastic work across the brands and across platforms. We want to lift the entire work to a new ‘world class’ standard. We need to get young people from within and outside the industry. We need to have big ambition. One of the reasons why I wanted Senthil on board was his highly ambitious outlook. His ambitions are not limited to merely winning awards, but to do work which is trend setting.
Senthil: There is no doubt that we want to be digital first, as an agency you want that to be an advantage. I have increasingly seen that clients are now looking for creative stewardship. I have always maintained that there is one brand message and there is one consumer and between that there are many platforms,and those platforms are being serviced by many agencies. Therefore, if an agency like JWT can provide the creative stewardship, the client would welcome that.
Can you tell us how you are going to create this ‘digital first platform’?
Senthil: Firstly, I will change the way our team of300 people in India, across our six offices think. The shift from thinking ‘film first’ and the need for greater collaboration will be some key aspects of this change. We will get the right people to create a melting pot of talent.
What are the changes that you have planned for the bigger landscape?
Senthil: I think as a creative person in this new era, you have reputation to make everyday. Leadership is only possible if you lead by example. You can’t sit down and put your feet up and ask everyone else to work. Over the years, I have learnt that you are as good as your last idea. You will lose respect if are a backseat driver. I just want to challenge my team and say, if I can do this, you have to do it better.