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National Creative Directors: Are two heads in an agency better than one?

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National Creative Directors: Are two heads in an agency better than one?

In advertising, being the National Creative Director (NCD) means the responsibility of shaping the creative standards of the agency. The examples of Piyush Pandey (O&M), R Balakrishnan (Lowe) and Prasoon Joshi (McCann Erickson) indicate that a strong creative talent at the helm of affairs decides what the agency stands for. An interesting trend seen in 2007 was agencies settling for two NCDs, and hence, allowing a division -- or collaboration -- in the creative vision of the agency. Such a structure was not seen in creative agencies in India before this.

JWT was the first to go in for a two-NCD structure when it elevated Agnello Dias as NCD and hired Josy Paul in the same designation in April 2007. Soon to follow was Rediffusion DY&R with the appointments of Sagar Mahabaleshwarkar and Ramanuj Shastry as Chief Creative Officers. Next was Publicis Ambience, which appointed Ashish Khazanchi as NCD and simultaneously elevated Prasanna Sanke to the same post.

With Josy Paul now moving out, at least one of the agencies is out of this structure, and JWT officials haven’t yet decided on whether they would follow this structure going forward.

Industry analysts see both advantages and disadvantages in this structure. The argument for this structure is that agencies have become far too large to be handled by just one NCD, and that the structure allows the housing of more creative talent. However, the points against a two-NCD set-up are that it wouldn’t work until it was a pair that had always worked together, like Naved Akhtar and Freddie Birdie, and that it made the CEO of an organisation the adjudicator in case of disagreements between the NCDs rather than a partner, as many believe it should be. Industry heads ask that if you divide clients or geographies between the two NCDS, is the NCD really a NCD? And if you don’t, isn’t it too many heads on the same business?

Another point that comes across is that the creative talent at the top is limited, and this is one of the industry’s ways to begin recognising new and younger talent, and giving them more responsibility.

Industry speaks

Speaking on the viability of the two-NCD structure, Piyush Pandey, Executive Chairman and NCD, O&M-India & South Asia, said, “It is too early to pass judgment on whether the structure would work in the longer run. There are enough examples to show that the advertising industry has created partners who have excelled in their work together -- it is the compatibility of the two that really matters. You cannot put people from two different backgrounds together and expect that to work. Agencies should build talent from within their structure than just hire -- most heads you see today were nurtured at Ogilvy.”

K V Sridhar (Pops), NCD of Leo Burnett, agreed with Pandey and also stated that the industry was not doing enough to give greater responsibilities to younger talent. “There are only a few truly good NCDs, but agency heads have to start seeing the potential and give younger talent a chance. Before Prem (Mehta, Chairman, Lintas India, now Lowe India) made Balki an NCD, he was just a CD of an office in Bangalore! Today, people are hiring two ECDs, and then designating them NCD.”

Pops is clear that a two-NCD structure is not really being true to the task of a NCD. He said, “Creativity is nothing but your point of view. This structure will not work in the long run as it doesn’t give the NCD the authority to run the agency the way he wants. Who will solve the issues of the NCDs? If they go to the MD or CEO, they make him the boss. They are supposed to work with the MDs, not under them. This is a bad strategy. Worldwide you have single heads who run entire businesses.”

Mahesh Chauhan (Mash), President, Rediffusion DY&R, brought in another point of view when he said, “You have to have the right team that can work as virtually one when there is need for that, yet can split forces and lead the agency if necessary. We have six offices in India. Just one guy would be caught up between Mumbai and Delhi, and wouldn’t have time for Chennai, Kolkata and Hyderabad, so it makes tremendous sense to get two people who are compatible, like-minded and can add value across the spectrum.”

Mash believes that while this was what a duo could do for an agency, they also helped each other. He said, “At a very fundamental level, they provide each other a shoulder. There is a symbiotic relationship which if nurtured correctly would see these individuals deliver their best. My role is to keep motivating both of them so they keep challenging each other and keep improving the creative product.”

For him, this also is an indication of the fact that the time for the next generation has come. He said, “Agency heads have to now look at the next line of leaders. Gone are the days when you had NCDs at 40, and the moment you look at things from that perspective, there is no scarcity of talent at all.”

Prasoon Joshi, NCD & Executive Chairman, McCann Erickson, has a more neutral line on the structure. He said, “An NCD is like a capsule which you can give to any agency and everything would be fine. That said, the NCD is only a designation, and just having a designation is not the answer. Whether you have two or five, one or none, everything eventually boils down to the collective talent that the agency has. There are things like a proven track record and what that talent can do for the agency. That really is the crux.”

R Balakrishnan (Balki), NCD, Lowe, too, is of the opinion that different agencies would have different styles of working. He said, “There is no particular definition or type that an NCD has to be, and there is no stated number either. Each agency has its own requirements and different ways of tackling it, but at the end of the day, it is about the strengths of its people. NCD is just a designation, if more creative people can work together and produce results, then why not? In the industry at present, you would find the top three agencies having a majority of the talent because of their size -- and the fact that they can afford it. You need great talent for great work, but you need great work to attract great talent! Just because some agencies have two NCDs, it doesn’t mean that there is enough talent, and despite the dearth, smaller agencies would also see their share, somehow.”

Aniruddha Banerjee, President & COO, Publicis Ambience, explained that for their agency, the NCDs were not being divided between geographies or clients, rather it was about leveraging each other’s strengths. He said, “It’s always better to have an additional point of view. In fact, we have been working on a system where everyone, including me and the other members of the top management, has a view on all campaigns. When you are working on something very closely, you can miss out on minute details. Another view is good for that. Sheer energy in work doubles when there are two people leading a function as critical as creative.”

Colvyn Harris, CEO, JWT, said, “It’s not the term NCD, it is the role and the responsibility that a person should fulfil. If someone can, there is no reason why you shouldn’t have two or more in that role. It’s like surgery, which is not a remote control function. The system works when you have good people to take a position, but in their absence, someone else would be fulfilling it anyway.”

Suman Srivastava, CEO, Euro RSCG, said, “It is more about what the team gives you than the number of people in the team. The Euro structure has four people heading the global management. Even if it is two NCDs, it is more about how these guys can work together and what they can give to each other.”


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