Dentsu Aegis Network’s global creative agency and one of the largest creative agencies in the world, mcgarrybowen, finally entered India through the acquisition of Bangalore-based Happy Creative Services last year. The new entity Happy mcgarrybowen brings a different perspective to the industry, a view based on doing “work that works” instead of concentrating on winning awards. We caught up with Gordon Bowen, Co-founder and Chairman of mcgarrybowen to talk more about his ideas about creativity and his vision when it comes to India. Excerpts.
What is the potential that you see in India?
If you are a global company, you cannot really globalize in any way if you are not addressing India given the size of the market. There is a middle class here whose population is larger than the population of the US.
So, if you ignore this market then you are ignoring a huge potential today but there is no doubt, given the industry, given the intelligence, given the tech savvy of the market and the fact that you have the fastest growing market right now; to ignore all this would be ridiculous. We serve a number of clients like P&G, Mondelez, etc. who have products and services all around the globe so we needed to be in India. It was one of the last holes in our global expansion that had not been filled.
Why did it take mcgarrybowen so long to come to India?
I wasn’t just going to go out and get something to just get something; that would not work. If I had a global network and I just went out and bought an agency to plug a hole and if they were not the right fit for us, here is what would happen; if I do not trust you then I am not going to introduce you to the head of my client companies. It has taken me many, many years to develop those relationships. I have to trust that you would give this client the same level of work, the same respect that we would if we were handling them ourselves. We have looked at a lot of companies but in the end, this is the first one that really grabbed me. You cannot put a timetable to that, it just happens when it has to happen.
It was very important for us to find a company that believed in what we did and could represent us well in India. We have been looking very, very hard for a very long time.
What attracted you to Happy Creative Services?
I did not go to Cannes last year and look at who is winning the most awards or has the most Lions. I have been looking for companies who somewhat grew like we did at mcgarrybowen. We were very passionate and we had a certain belief about how clients should be treated. We were all very well trained at larger institutions and learnt from some of the best and the brightest and then went on our own to try and do even better. So, we have that common. If you are going to build a global network, it is not really a network but a family of like-minded men and women. To do this you need to know the leadership and what their values are. There are not enough laws or values to make people 2,000 miles away do what you want them to do. So, the best way to control it is to have people with the same values that you do. This is what I was looking for in this market.
What I particularly liked, which I have to say was probably more evident here than in some other markets, is that even though these guys are extremely talented and have trained in bigger agencies, they do not approach their work just to win awards. I am not against creative people winning awards, that is completely fine, but if you start off with that then that is what you end with; work that wins awards but does not work in the marketplace.
Apart from this, when I saw their work, they treated the client with compassion, respect, love and optimism. The product was at the centre of the story and they had done all this not just in electronic media. This is important because today you cannot just work within the 30 seconds that a TVC gives you. Your work has to fit everywhere. They also had a very robust design practice, everything from package design to product design.
What are the key focus areas in India?
There are three ways and they are not sequential necessarily. The first thing I need to do introduce these guys (Happy Creative Services) to our clients who are looking to expand to this market. It is both good for the clients and also for them. I have a particular belief that because of the freedom in the nation, because of the emerging middle class and because of certain enthusiastic optimism being seen right now, there are going to be a lot of companies in India that are going to be the next Ubers of the world. You have a robust Silicon Valley in Bangalore and there will be products coming out of there which are going to go to the West. We would like to be a part of servicing them when they do. The third thing is that the notion of creativity in the global market has changed. Everyone thinks that everything will happen on the mobile, and yes, it is true that we have to wrap our heads around digital. But there is another side to this too, which is design and what surrounds our customer in terms of the product, package, the store, etc. depending upon the product category. These guys have an incredible design aesthetic and do a lot of design work that is not just two dimensional.
I am hoping that there is a cross pollination where we bless each other. They get to do more exciting things creatively and grow their business and we get to have a more robust, global product.
How do you plan to differentiate the work being done by Happy mcgarrybowen and the other agencies present in India as well as within Dentsu Aegis Network?
When we started off mcgarrybowen, no one was looking for another agency, especially to service these large, giant brands. What we decided was that there was a better way to do things. We wanted to have the best of an entrepreneurial culture with the best of a boutique kind of sense while approaching problems with big agency thinking or a big agency strategy and bring the two together with personal service. We have been pretty successful.
So, the same thing that happened for us should happen here with these guys (Happy Creative Services). These are really smart, talented and passionate guys and they have created a culture that mirrors that. Most importantly, all their work is designed to ‘work’. The most vulnerable person in the world is the CMO who is hiring you. I cannot speak about this market but in the US, CMOs change almost every 18 months and if the work does not show results then no matter how many awards it wins, the CEO is going to be like, “Next”. So, there is huge pressure on the CMO to deliver.
Any agency that can successfully demonstrate that they can deliver results consistently will have no problem getting business. In Dentsu Aegis Network, we have Taproot and then we have us. Unlike the holding companies, like the WPPs of the worlds, we have compatible companies that can work together but we are not competitive. We have one P&L and if these guys have need of some expertise that they do not have, they can go into DAN and ask for it. So, we actually get to surround the client with compatible companies with one P&L.
Do you think digital is getting too much attention?
Once upon a time, radio was the same as digital and then television was the new radio. There are always new ways of reaching the consumer which keep coming to the market. Digital is compelling is because it is one to one. This is the promise of the digital world that we have been talking about for years. Whether it is necessary or not again is a different question. The problem is that it is (digital world) still not a reach and frequency world; it is an impact world.
It is not that digital is not important. It is just that digitization is just a way of carrying ideas. The question is, who can formulate the big, organizing ideas which can then be transmitted one to one to reach the consumer through whatever medium is chosen. This puts a different charge on things.
It is an exciting time to be a creative person. We talk a lot about digital and content. They are both wrong. The winner is going to the one who can create branded content. Just because there is content that is engaging doesn’t mean that I am going to come away with any thought or feeling in my heart about the product. The winners are going to be the ones who have the time tested ability to bring the brand to the centre of the communication.
With the amount of information now available for agencies, how do you work to not get bogged down under all the data and actually create campaigns that work?
There is data and there is medium on one side and there is the consumer on the other side. You have mountains of data coming in. The trick is going to be who is going to take all of this data, boil it all down to the next phase, which is always the forgotten stage; i.e. planning of the strategy. Then the job is making sure that all the creatives are based on the strategy.
There are a million ways to skin a cat. So we take a look at all the various strategies that the data gives us and select the one which gives us the most chance of breaking through the clutter. At mcgarrybowen, we call this the big organizing idea. It is not only about a piece of music in the ad but about where the sticker should go, which shelf the box should be placed at, etc. It has to be a big enough idea to hit me at the heart and head level. Then you showcase how it works on different media because just because it works on one thing does not mean that it will work on every media.
The people who win in this age of technology are not those who can assess what people can do but what they will do.
Do you feel agencies are getting too focused on winning awards rather than creating worthwhile campaigns?
There are whole agencies that have divisions just concentrating on winning awards. They craft a lot of entries and a lot of videos simply to win awards. It is just the wrong emphasis. I think when I talk about looking at the consumer with a lot of respect, you have to look at the client with a lot of respect too and that means your responsibility towards them is to build their business; that is your job. Training creative, account and strategic teams to start thinking that their responsibility is to help the client build business is a huge responsibility and a huge opportunity. I am not saying this is across the board but if you create a culture where the creative talent is happy to stay then they are incentivised to hang on to the client. If your incentive is to get an award and then jump ship and get a 20 per cent raise and then jump ship again then that creates a whole different type of economy.
I guess what we are trying to do is to help solve client problems and hence grow with more client wins as well as grow client business. The clients should say about us that “No matter what, these guys will solve your problems”. That is the kind of reputation that I want with clients. We are in a field where clients talk to each other so very soon you do not need a business generating machine, you already have one; very happy clients.