Kunal Jeswani, CEO Ogilvy India, donned his new role in March last year, besides Ogilvy’s CEO, Jeswani also wears the hat of Bombay Head; a role which he confesses he enjoys as it keeps him grounded. Jeswani was earlier Chief Digital Officer, Ogilvy India.
“In this high churn, high burnout environment, where you don’t know what channels, what media is going to take over, what new agencies are going to challenge what we do; if I cannot make our people little happier, little more rooted, less confused, then I feel I am doing a bad job,” opines Jeswani, who is known to be very accessible and ‘non CEO’ like on Ogilvy floors.
“I need to get faster simply because there is that much work to do. I need to find a way to get deeper into things and be able to support our people more than I do right now,” he shares while talking about himself as a leader.
Jeswani lays a lot of emphasis on giving a sense of direction as the captain helming the gigantic ship called Ogilvy, and does this via communication sent to the whole company once a month.
Communication he sends out states how the agency is transforming, skill sets employees need to learn to get better and excel at the agency, as well as an acceptance of what is broken and what needs to be fixed from his lens.
Ask him about his take on competition today, Jeswani admits competition among traditional – integrated agencies has gotten tougher, whereas competition from players like Google, Facebook, any new mobile platforms, which are direct-to-consumer, is equally fierce.
“Today when we walk into a pitch, we don’t walk in with a sense of arrogance and say we are Ogilvy and we are going to win this pitch hands down. The truth is everybody is good. Our distance on leadership is narrowing, not because we are not as good as we used to be, but everyone is just making significant effort to get better. There is a lot of fire in the industry. The degree of competition from traditional agencies is increasing as well,” notes Jeswani in a matter of fact manner.
Any plans of getting somebody else to head creative to help Rajiv (Rajiv Rao, NCD Ogilvy India)?
No.. Rajiv is hands on; Piyush (Piyush Pandey, Executive Chairman and Creative Director for Ogilvy& Mather India & South Asia) is hands on. Most people are unaware of how much work Piyush does, but the truth is he does whole lot of work. We have really strong ECDs. If you look at creative, there is Piyush, who is fabulous, hands on, locked-in with clients; he does everything that he needs to. There is Rajiv who plays a strong supervisory role, gets in, directly when he needs to with clients. In Bombay we have got 8 ECDs, any of whom could walk out now and run an agency on a national level. Kinu and Rajiv’s roles were created because they were ready for it. They were fabulous and Piyush felt at that time that they were right for the job. When Piyush feels somebody is ready for that job, may be, right now, no.
You have completed over a year as CEO, Ogilvy India. How different has the role been from what you perceived it to be?
To be honest, I had underestimated the volume of work that I would have to do. It is a whole lot more than I expected, it’s a lot of different things. If I had to go back a year, I would have done it better. Maybe, I would have delegated more or I would have found different people for specific roles that I now think are going to be important going forward.
Honestly, the feeling that I started with was- this is a fabulous agency, and it is in a fabulous place right now, the moment which I am taking over. What it needs is gentle nudges in many places and what I underestimated is the number of places and the number of nudges it needs. It’s a massive, beautiful ship and it’s powering ahead, it has a fabulous history and fabulous achievements in the last decade, and a lot of that is to continue. I have no intention of turning this to a digital agency; it’s not that, it is a fabulous, mainstream, communications agency.
Are there any senior hires you are looking at?
We are possibly looking at a Digital Strategist for now. From a creative perspective, we have very strong talent. Digital strategy, digital consulting are areas where we are looking for talent.
How much do you have to push for digitisation within the agency?
There is a degree of push I need to do and there is a degree of pull already happening within their teams. Honestly, if I put my hands up today and don’t do anything, it will still happen, but it’ll happen much slower.
What drives any creative person is a degree of recognition to say I have created work that everybody loves and everybody is talking about, and that works for clients and brands too. Increasingly, that kind of work, which may not necessarily be award winning work, but stuff that people talk about, is stuff that has more than mainline television, and they all see it already and everywhere. They see it at the award shows they go, they hear it in the client conversations when they talk and hear it from their peers as well. So, there is some natural push to each of their teams to get better at this stuff, that’s at the top end.
At the bottom end, anyone new who is coming to that team, including all the youngsters, are in any case thinking digital because that’s what they operate on mostly.
What I am trying from the top is to facilitate. I am facilitating through training and messaging.
Are there times when digitisation within the agency is not going the way you want it to go?
In fact, it is the reverse. There are days when I wonder does it need so much attention, am I over pushing it? Is there a risk of people losing focus on the great work that they are doing now, and doing so much that may or may not be the big stuff. Worldwide, there is an emphasis on digitisation which is at risk of losing the creative ability to tell great stories. I think if you lose that in chasing digitisation, then we are lost. We need to be fabulous storytellers first. I don’t want people to get overawed by technology, chasing technology more than the idea, story, craft and the skill. Our strength is our craft, storytelling and our strength is showing you something that captivates you.
What are your priorities going forward?
It boils down to two things, reputation and digitisation. When I say reputation, I mean getting better at doing things we are good at. Encouraging the team and facilitating the right environment, because reputation is driven by fabulous people.
It is important to know who these people are, keep them motivated, protected, and ensure they have a clear career path and they know and understand where we are going as a company, as well have clarity on their own role in the company.
Now, when we say reputation, for us it is also our two pillars of creativity and effectiveness. Creativity is measured on the awards we win at the places we enter, and it is the measure on what our clients think of us.
Piyush always says, “When people on the streets talk about you and your work, you cannot ‘not’ win.” No judge will be able to resist it. So, that’s the creative side of it. The effective side of it is really something Madhukar has built over many years, a culture of effectiveness and accountability. It is part of our work to track how our work is doing. And it is part of our culture to have intent and objective. And again, it is measured on so many things. The awards that you win, how excited your clients are in the market. Factors like your growth, revenue and retention of clients are all sub-sets of your reputation. If your work is great and effective you will grow, your clients will love you and stay with you.
The second side of it is digitisation. It requires hard work, not just on my part but on every individual’s part.