How often do we pause and ponder about industry issues that have a bearing beyond just our rigmaroles? Share insights that can further the common understanding? Or, at the very least, point at things that need to be set right. View Point - an exchange4media platform, will fill this void and become a source of understanding, action and perhaps some inspiration.
The Lintas saga: Why Prembhai is not Anilbhai or Mukeshbhai
Ramanujam Sridhar, CEO, brand-comm
Advertising agencies and, if one may add, their CEOs have a very poor understanding of public relations. Agencies still believe that the best way to get coverage is to send a press release along with the release order of the ad to the newspaper that they want coverage in. They believe that journalists will get cowed down by the power of their advertising budgets and also believe that public relations is getting their mug shot in the advertising supplements that business newspapers seem to bring out every week. (They don’t seem to realize that the client hardly ever reads these as she has recognized that these are examples of media massaging the egos of agency and creative heads).
They also believe that just because the journalist talks nicely to them, she is their friend. And worst of all, they believe that because their clients seem to manage the media relations maze with such dexterous ease, they are confident that they can do it too.
One of the greatest examples of media management that one has seen in recent times is the battle between the Ambani brothers -- Mukesh and Anil. Two brothers who had done so much together, who had lived under the same roof for so many years and who had both grown up in the shadow of their illustrious father, had a small (!) difference of opinion which ended up as the mother of all media battles. Anil and Mukesh did not talk to each other. Anil talked to The Economic Times while Mukesh spoke to Business Standard. This was one of the greatest examples of a proxy battle using pink and white sheets.
I am not sure if Prem Mehta of Lintas was inspired by Mukesh or Anil Ambani but he followed in the footsteps of the warring brothers and spoke first to the media instead of speaking to R Balakrishnan (Balki), Executive Director, Lowe, his Creative Director, when there was a fair amount of confusion (amplified by the media) about Consultants not getting any money after the recent payout to Lintas India and its employees from the proceeds of the stake sale to Lowe.
It’s not the money, silly!
Creative guys, no offence meant, are clueless about money. Barring a few most of them earn a lot, but probably spend more than they earn. They need help in structuring their salaries and filing their tax returns. They often submit their travel statements late to the irritation of client servicing types. But they are clued in about communication and consumers. They produce television commercials that make people sit up and take notice and also make the cash register ring.
The better managers know this and protect their creative stars. Let’s face it. Whether you like it or not an agency’s core competence is its creativity. Agencies get business on the basis of outstanding creative and lose it because of poor servicing. So any agency that wishes to grow will hold on to its creative for dear life and not do its darnedest to upset it. I do know that top-flight agencies handling prestigious multinational clients have account planners who help in getting nuggets of information and understanding that can lead to a consumer insight.
Insight notwithstanding, creative needs to take a leap that will take advertising out of the ordinary. Balki has done that over the years and made a demonstrable difference to Lowe’s creative product. And yet it does seem that Balki and a host of others have been discriminated against if media reports are to the believed. A select few have made crores of rupees whilst many creative types are fuming or so the newspapers tell us. The only crores agency types normally see is in their client’s budgets. Take my word for it. I have been there, seen that!
Having said that, this issue is not about servicing versus creative. Nor is it about money. It is about who matters and whether they should be ignored. Not surprisingly, Mr. Gatfield, Worldwide CEO, Lowe, told the media that Mehta has been the biggest beneficiary. He also said that a very narrow definition had been used to distribute the money.
Consultants? Who created them?
One of the greatest challenges that the agency business has faced and will continue to face is how to compensate its people. God knows that agency renumeration has lagged way behind clients’ and the salaries in other industries. Lurking in the shadows was the “taxman” that the Beatles song so prolifically about? Well, the song might have been penned specifically for agency types. Then smart managers discovered the power of retainerships and consultant renumerations. This did not in my view make the consultant any less an employee. She probably delivered more, was more committed and did more to put the agency on the creative map than several employees on the payroll who were probably marking time. The smart manager, however difficult it is, has to in my view, at least be able to discern. Not hide behind the letter of the law. Who is contributing? Who matters to clients? Can there be a solution? I hope there will be one soon.
Shooting oneself in the foot
Today the agency business is at the crossroads. Clients are dividing and ruling. Agencies are bending over backwards to accommodate clients and reducing their retainers without any thought of the value they are providing or what they are worth. They are struggling to get talent. They are low involvement as a source of employment. They are losing business to specialists whether it is identity, packaging or positioning. The agency business needs a serious makeover. It is sad that a major agency head has chosen this particular time to become high profile. Instead of securing the agency’s future he has divided its core constituents and made its people suspicious and wary of each other. Lowe’s clients must be squirming at the unnecessary publicity the agency is getting even as its competitors are gloating. While it is common knowledge that some agency personnel have become rich, I think the only person laughing all the way to the bank is The Economic Times!