Need to bring back the lightness in advertising: Theresa Ronnie, FCB Ulka

The new Head of Office for FCB Ulka Bengaluru on her vision for the agency, her role in shaping brands over 16 years, and why it is important to have fun in advertising

e4m by Neethu Mohan
Updated: Sep 18, 2018 8:59 AM

Theresa Ronnie has joined FCB Ulka as the new Head of Office for Bengaluru. A Brand Communications Specialist with over 16 years in the business of shaping brands, she has worked at agencies such as JWT, Rediffusion, Bates, M&C Saatchi and Leo Burnett. Some of the brands she has shaped in the past include Ford, Citibank, Swatch, MontBlanc, Volkswagen, PETRONAS, Heineken, Amstel, Kingfisher Ultra, and Ultra Max.
In an interaction with exchange4media, she spoke about her new role at FCB Ulka, factors that shaped her career and her vision for the agency. Excerpts: 
Congratulations on the new role, tell us about your vision for FCB Ulka as the new Head of Office for Bengaluru?

This is a fabulous set up, one where my seniors were particular of whom to bring on board and I hope I can live up to that. We have a fine crop of clients who are brilliant human beings and thinkers. They are in the game for the long run. I am very blessed because I have been given great people to work with; they are young, dynamic, self-driven, energetic and more importantly good human beings. There is a new vibrancy at FCB and my mandate here is to help bring the new and emerging narrative to Bengaluru.
It is said that advertisement is a young man’s game, I say it’s not true, a young man can create things based only on the clarity that seniors bring to the table. Clarity only comes with experience, high intelligence, ability to dissect and differentiate issues and challenges at hand. Importantly, FCB is apolitical, your work is your calling card.

Another key focus is to bring the robust DNA of FCB India to Bengaluru. I will also be looking to bring that to the clients here. Digital integration is something I am concentrating on. Our idea is to build a digital ecosystem for clients in Bengaluru and we are not talking just about digital media buying or programmatic. We are talking about clients who understand digital as a medium and recognise that audience on the digital medium need to be spoken to and engaged with in a particular way. There are pure-play digital agencies, there are agencies that have digital as a division within them and then there is FCB, which has an integrated team for digital. Everything is done together seamlessly, so, for the client it is one budget, one point of contact and one metric of effectiveness. These are things that FCB has already armed me with and as a result, we grow the office, grow the client base, and become a larger agency in Bengaluru so that we can command a better foot print in the city.
From a physics graduate to a brand communications specialist, tell us about this transition?

I grew up in Tuticorin in Tamil Nadu,  it is a small town with very little distraction. I recall my childhood when I would fight with my father for  magazines like India Today so that I could look at ads.
You had limited career options in those days. Engineering shapes your environment better with construction, medicine is supposed to heal you, but here was an industry with  a bunch of people shaping minds, giving dreams a tangible look and feel. Growing up in a place like Tuticorin, my world view came from newspapers and books. Then TV came along, and the explosion of cable revolution happened. Advertising seniors were telling me a lot more richer things. That captured my imagination and I knew that I had my calling in advertising and brand building. I owe everything to my father, not only did he give me the joy of learning, but he made me a student for life.  
Even today while I hire people, my key look out is where they are from and how much drive they have, it doesn’t matter how much of the world they know. 

You have played a major role in shaping brands like Citi Bank, Swatch, Ford, Volkswagen, Heineken, etc. Out of all this, which has been the most challenging one?
In every step of one’s career , challenges are different. Taking an example of my stint with Ford. I did something called Project Dragon Fly, which is a global website platform for Ford Global, which was rolling out in various regions. I was at the Indian hub for rolling out that website, so the learning of that was enormous. I also did an All India Roadshow with Ford during its centennial celebrations, which was an actual on ground learning. It was an augmented learning for me, so in that part of my career that was great. Likewise, I have had different level of experiences and challenges at different organisations where I have worked.

According to you, where does FCB’s creative strength lie?

FCB Ulka is full of great people who are great observers of people, fabulously tuned to client business needs. It is a magical combination. They are very careful of who they are hiring, so they hire people who have the same business acumen. If you are in FCB, it is akin to going to one of the Ivy League Universities, you have to earn your seat at the table.
Also, humility in a client is very rare and it is very valuable. If you have a client who is humble you can work magic together. A lot of times we forget that we are people first and only after that do titles follow. FCB picks its client roster well.
The quality of content for the clients, quality of internal conversations, the meritocracy that comes with doing things, that’s the culture here. If you have to strip it down, the strength of FCB Ulka is its people, they are razor sharp-people who are great human beings. Importantly, the FCB credo is “Never finished”, How wonderful is that!

Budgets are on a decline, how are you striking a balance?

The country has undergone a huge transition, from having one TV Channel only thirty years ago to the explosion of cable channels in India. Not only do you have Television, there is a huge layer of consumption that is happening in Digital too. With the medium growing the way it is, not only does your appetite as a client grow but also that of a multitude of people and you have competition that has come up. The way you could show margins in the past years, you can’t show it today. If you had a great quarter, you can’t guarantee that your next quarter is going to be fabulous too. 
It is a difficult game when you are a client. I can put this way, we all run families, inflation is real. Base line has gone up, just because of that you don’t stop buying provisions, but it can make your budgets stretch, which is exactly happening in the board room. 
An important question to ask here is, if something is essential to my life, will I slim down that particular essential? It depends upon how much value an agency is able to bring to their clients and how much value clients see in that agency.

Leading advertisers are taking digital media buying in-house. What are your thoughts on this?

So, let me try to answer this with an example. Assume that, you are a country built with a lot of defence mechanisms into your nation’s defence plans, let’s say your army is very good. You are under threat from a neighbouring country whose navy is very strong. So that particular country is attacking you from naval points. You can look at that and say I am going to build my navy now or you can say I have a naval ally and I am going to give them the charge of my naval base. The point I am making is that this is the market today.  In the past people have taken their advertising in-house, now they are building digital agencies in-house. Is it right or is it wrong? I think it is myopic. Digital ecosystem is building as we go along. It is a community of people who are hard-pivoting into future where the consumers are going to go. Now it is very dangerous to isolate yourself from the building process, a tertiary party like an agency is an ally.  We may be able to foresee trends that you may miss.

What is your creative strategy and focus areas for FCB Ulka going forward?

Clients are under enormous business pressure and it has passed on into the agency relationships. Hence, brands have stopped giving people something to enjoy. We have become very emotional as a country; every advertisement has become a tear-jerker. We are just preaching to the country, so we need to bring the lightness back because if someone is giving their time to you, you need to give them something that is fun, leaves them smiling and also conveys a message that connects with their heart. This puts your brand at the front and centre without being obnoxious. So, my agenda at FCB Ulka is to do that for all my clients. 

What is the legacy you want to leave behind as a woman leader?
I have met too many women who are men in skirts. I want women to be women and I want them to bring their unique ability as a fairer gender. Women inherently are more compassionate, nurturing, collaborative, and we are more protective, which is why they say they need 30% representative of women in the board room.
My legacy as a woman leader will be to make the work place a fun, collaborative, razor sharp, dynamic place, which will be able to attract the best talent and the best crop of clients.

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