Contract is about a lot of action, very little talk: Rana Barua

A number of big wins, an ROI-linked model, growing the agency vertically and horizontally and changing the agency's perception - Rana Barua, CEO, Contract India talks about the highs of his tenure

e4m by Saloni Datta
Updated: Sep 18, 2014 8:39 AM
Contract is about a lot of action, very little talk: Rana Barua

Rana Barua, CEO, Contract India, took charge of the agency in February 2013, and since then, his efforts have been to stabilise and grow it. Barua talks about recent business wins, offering clients the variable model of agency remuneration linked to ROI and the challenges ahead

Your task after joining Contract was to stabilise the agency after senior exits, reassuring clients and focusing on developing its digital arm – how would you rate your progress in shaping the agency in the last year-and-a-half?

I am proud that we managed this resurgence, not just for Contract but for the industry, because it shows hope. As an agency we have done a remarkable job... a bunch of people coming together with the same vision, dream, alignment... We have been able to prove that if you get your act together as an agency, you can grow horizontally as well as vertically. Because we have opened digital in a very big way, we have hired many people in the creative department and added resources because of the client wins. Horizontally also, we have grown, with quite a few senior people in our team.

Contract has won clients like Tata Docomo, Acer, UTI Mutual Fund recently... What helped you clinch these wins?

A New Contract }

We have managed to put the pieces of the puzzle together over the past 18 months. Working in tandem, trusting each other’s capabilities, overlooking weaknesses and focussing on the strengths, and then getting the right kind of talent in digital, creative... It is the determination to go out and do the best.

What clients see is pure commitment from all of us, absolute clarity in terms of commitment to work. It is a lot of action, very little talk.

Talking to exchange4media earlier, you spoke about the variable model for working. How has it panned out – are there any clients on board for it?

Many clients are on board. But the variable model will only get accepted slowly. When you throw a client an open bait, saying that if you are worried about me charging you an X amount of money, I will earn my bonus through the variable component because I will deliver and you measure me on engagement or the kind of work I do, or the kind of value add I bring to the table, clients feel more comfortable because it is ROI linked. Quite a few international clients have moved to the ROI model, so you earn a hefty figure at the end of the year. I cannot mention the name, but one client has just paid us our first bonus in full.

The variable model actually puts a lot of pressure on us, to ensure that the work that comes out is excellent. The objectivity of the variable model has somehow helped us in the new business parameters because we challenge ourselves by saying what are we going to achieve through this.

How do you align your special units to understand the client’s brand purpose and deliver?

Our advantage is in-house integration, so you have Design Sutra, iContract and Core within the agency and the integration is perfect in terms of work style. We have grown rapidly in Digital, with a number of wins and we are looking for acquisition, which is the way forward. Design Sutra has become one of our key assets that works closely with existing clients or clients who approach us only for design. Core has always been entrusted to Rohit (Srivastava), and he chooses where he would like to work. Design Sutra and iContract are probably going to be extremely robust engines for us. People from these agencies have been working together for a while and things are all on auto pilot in a systematic and integrated way.

Talking of your personal contribution to Contract, how has your role evolved, now that you are CEO?

It has been quite a challenging phase. When I look back to January, 2013, I think of the challenges, pressures and expectations that were set in front of me while walking into this prestigious agency. I love it when I see so many new people, new clients, new conversations now... Growth is expected of us now. When I talk to JWT globally, they only ask me about the double-digit growth numbers they are expecting, better news, bigger news, happier news... It has not been a roller-coaster ride - once we tasted success, we just set out on the next one. We have also had misses, but that doesn’t deter us. Now we are being a little more selective about the pitches, not because we have become arrogant or conceited, but because we have to be able to deliver as we have tonnes of work on our hands. I see another growth curve coming for us. Our A-Team has gone from 16 to 36 people. Delhi is our largest office right now, and is growing in terms of size and people.

How do you see Contract contributing to the global business of JWT, and what is the synergy with JWT in India?

Contract has always been one of the success stories of a second agency or a conflict agency across the world. For JWT, it is the most successful story in India, because it has the reputation, awards, growth – naturally, it plays an extremely important and critical role. In terms of synergy with JWT in India, we actually work as a fully independent agency, because clients see us as a separate agency. Apart from any back-end processes and conversations that we have to align with because at the end of the day, we belong to the JWT network - and that is fully adhered to - to the world outside, it is a completely separate agency.

What are the major challenges you face in running the agency?

There were certain misconceptions about Contract which got thrashed over the last one year with the kind of changes and conversations happening. Good, bad or ugly, Contract is in everybody’s conversation. It is no more a has-been. One of the major challenges is to continue on the growth path because growth gets you clients, clients get you resources, resources get you great work. It is all linked. My hardcore challenge is to keep the momentum going. And to keep the evil eye off us. 

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