I was not going to admit it, but something was indeed different about Colvyn Harris (CEO, JWT India), when I saw him coming out of the session hall in Singapore yesterday. Colvyn made it to the Festival on the second day and the conference was half over by the time we ran into each other. In short, the time and place was just about right to for a long pending coffee.
As we were looking for the strongest possible coffee, I had to ask him – how is life.
After all, one is hearing all kinds of things about JWT India, specially the agency’s Delhi office. With TapRoot getting on PepsiCo’s roster and handling the ICC World Cup campaign for Pepsi, there were some conversations of discomfort at JWT Delhi. Then there was a whole other set of conversations of Bharti Airtel being unhappy with the agency and in just about the same time frame, senior people from the agency exited. Cannot sound right for any company, even if it is the size and might of JWT.
Perhaps the juiciest bit for “industry observers” came up when the most talked about Airtel film of – Har ek friend zaroori hota hai – was done not by JWT Delhi. TapRoot was commissioned this one project, but one has to say the response Airtel is getting for this film can make the telecom major rethink its approach of working with any one agency.
A very senior creative director had pointed to me earlier that TapRoot working on a few films for Airtel should not be seen as a business loss or a revenue loss. TapRoot did this film after JWT had done 12 films for Airtel in the year. And ‘Dil jo Chahe, Paas Laaye’ is JWT’s platform creation.
But another agency working on the client does affect the team working on the business. Creative people are often seen as the more sensitive lot, to some, even the more egotistical set of advertising professionals.
So I ask Colvyn – how is life… And he says, lots happening as usual. Pressure? I ask, and he says, Pressure on its own is a flat tyre! There is growth pressure. The world is looking at India, so we are in the centre of the proverbial storm.
But it does appear that the Delhi office was facing more than the usual share. Colvyn smiles, “Of course it is – there are 400 people there, and the dynamics of our business is managing talent. And it is this talent which ensures we succeed or fail. I can assure you there is never a dull moment and our roller coaster is working well.”
Ford has moved completely to Delhi under the Global Team Ford banner, and according to Colvyn, the auto major is working in the most evolved manner with all communication custodians – media, creative, direct, digital, PR – under one roof. And don’t forget the kind of clients we have in that market – all market leaders, be it Nokia, Sony, GSK, Hero, Frito Lays, Pepsi (apart from 7Up and Nimbooz) and Airtel.
I needed to point out that the agency was getting some help from another agency on Pepsi and Airtel at least, and Colvyn, making normal conversation, said, “There are two ways to look at that, but on a broader level, it is becoming more complex to own an entire market anymore. Advertisers are facing new challenges and they are experimenting to reply to those challenges, including following this open source way of working that people seem to be talking about at national and international forums. That is one thing, and there is nothing wrong with that, but that is not going to take away the role an agency of record will play, because end of the day, that is the agency responsible and accountable for the brand.”
Specifically to Bharti Airtel, he reminded me that JWT was the custodian to the brand in various domains – retail, DTH, broadband and mobility being some of the key areas, so the relation with the advertiser was deeper than it looked to some from the outside. As Colvyn spoke further on some of the things JWT was doing for its advertisers, it was clear the agency was leaving no stone unturned in the face of new competition – from established creative entrepreneurs to young kids waiting to make a mark.
He said, “We are in the business of building brands, and we are here to ensure we develop the entire mix, right up to that golden last mile, for our clients so that they achieve their goal of market leadership. Advertisers can give projects to other agencies, but who is developing the strategy at the end of the day. Who is developing the brand? That is an important question. There is no substitute to developing the ambition of a brand. It is the relevance of creativity to audiences, which make brands big or small. We understand that and which is why most of our brands are where they are. We are not a short term partner - the larger brand agenda is the client’s success.”
Going by market feedback, this is JWT’s best growth year, and on that base, the challenges can only increase. From Colvyn’s perspective, they operate in six markets with the “world’s most admired and India’s finest brands – all of them with giant ambitions. So that is the role every day, to come and help our clients deliver to the highest set of objectives”.
I asked him about whether the awards front was bothering him. JWT had gone slow on that too, and once again, he replies as politely. Well, look at some of the winning work – how many are you seeing from India that you thought made a difference to the brand. With that, the coffee concluded, and Colvyn dashed off to buy a new tuxedo for evening today, clearly indicating JWT is expecting a Gold on the awards night.
JWT Delhi may well be facing pressure, but with a new boss there and with Colvyn being Colvyn, there is still time before we see pressure get the better of them.
And yes, by now I also realised what was different --- I was having coffee with a clean shaven Colvyn. Indian heroes may be bringing the moustache back in, but our advertising heroes – first Shashi Sinha (CEO, Lodestar UM) and now Colvyn Harris – are clearly setting a different trend. Not my place to comment on that though…