Taking India's prowess to the world: Harshil Karia on Schbang's first outpost in UK
e4m interacts with Schbang founder Karia and Martin Vinter, MD, Schbang UK to understand the agency’s global plans and why the UK was the perfect first outpost
Could you think of an Indian name in the list of top five, ten, twenty or even fifty global agency networks? Despite being one of the biggest markets for the advertising industry, India really hasn’t created a global agency network on its own. But now Schbang has started its journey to change this status quo. And as the first step of its global expansion plan, it has recently started operating in the UK with its centre in London.
Speaking about the move, Schbang founder Harshil Karia said, “It was probably four years ago that we first talked about making Schbang a global powerhouse. Our idea is to take the best of India to the world and get the best of the world to India. And Schbang UK is the important first step we have taken in that direction.”
Karia launched Schbang in India in 2015 along with co-founders Sohil Karia and Akshay Gurnani with a 60-member team, headquartered in Mumbai. The idea was to create an independent agency shop that served all mediums, at a time when most new-age digital agencies were being acquired by the giants. The trio itself was among the founding members of a digital-first agency then, which was rumoured to be on the way to being acquired by a big network.
Schbang started as an agency with digital at its heart with an outlook that merged creative advertising and marketing solutions. Within a few months of its launch, Schbang started working with a vast repository of clients including Asian Paints Royale Play & Nilaya, Good Knight, Garnier Skin Naturals, Sequoia Capital, and Firstcry.com.
Over the last seven years, the agency has worked with around a hundred clients, providing all-around marketing solutions and creating some path-breaking creative works. The team has grown to more than 1000 members.
Karia feels that it was the right time to realise their global dreams, “It’s high time that we did that because the world is finally realising the potential of Indian talent, not just as a technical IT resource but also the softer side of it – be it digital or creative. India is now recognised as a credible global challenger on a global scale.”
But why UK?
“We work with the Indian philosophy of 'yagya'. That means we are making collective efforts to work in places where there is a gap that we can fill. If you look at the UK market currently, the demographic trends tell that there is a larger older population. The replacement rate for talent is low. They need talent and more skilled brains. For us, it is a growth market that could benefit from the expertise of our Indian talent. Nextly, the relations between India and the UK are great when it comes to trade and business. The country is very friendly to the Indian business community and when you are opening your first global business, that’s very important. Finally, the UK is just the first step in our global expansion plans. We want to expand across Europe and take the business to ME, SEA and other regions. Having a strong presence in a country like the UK helps in better acceptance in these regions. So, strategically, the UK was our first pick,” Karia explained.
To kickstart the UK business, Karia has got on board Martin Vinter as the managing director of the Schbang business. Vinter comes with more than two decades of experience and has worked with the world’s biggest brands including Publicis, WPP, Dentsu, Ebiquity, and Brainlabs.
On his association with Schbang, Vinter shared, “I have done a fair bit in my career working with the biggest of agencies and for the most popular clients. I think I was at a point where I wanted to do something different, and more impactful. And while Schbang is quite an established brand in India, it is a startup in the UK. That thrilled me to join the team. I could see the potential and an opportunity to build something new.”
But how is the duo planning to strike a balance between the Indian style of working and the UK market? As India has a younger population and the UK has a more mature demographic when it comes to age, it could be tricky to get UK-based clients on board with a repository of previous work.
To this Karia said, “While Schbang has this image of a young creative agency, we have done a fair bit of serious work in India as well; be it creating solutions for finance clients or very targeted marketing solutions for others. Moreover, we are giving the UK office the complete liberty to establish their business in the manner they want. Having the right set of talent is key and Vinter has an open hand to choose his team as he wants to. We have a centre of expertise in India with which we will be helping in business development and PR, the rest we are relying on the UK talent.”
Vinter added, “We are establishing Schbang UK as a local UK agency and not just the first outpost of an Indian business. We are investing in the right insights, strategies, and market research to help us develop marquee solutions for the UK businesses. While India would remain a key delivery centre for us, helping us strategically, the work will be done here in the UK. We are going to entwine the strategic prowess and talent outpour from India and the skillset and market understanding from the UK to serve our clients the best.”
The team has already started working with a few clients in the UK, including a few Indian clients that have a presence there. As per Karia and Vinter, the response from the clients has been so far quite positive and encouraging.
On being asked what are the challenges they are facing, Karia replied, “For any new business venture, you need to have a business plan that is spot on. We are lucky to have found Martin who is helping us in developing that. The main challenge that I now see is how we are going to build deep relationships with the market there. And I think the accuracy in business plans is going to solve that for us. We have great support from the London mayor’s office, the IPA and IMRB associations etc, which is greatly appreciated.”
Vinter responded, “I think we will have to go into the future and work more to identify challenges and opportunities. Right now, it's about explaining to a cluttered UK landscape, which is also one of the best markets for advertising in the world, our vision and proposition. We are putting our best foot forward in differentiating ourselves from what exists in the UK already and bring out very local solutions for the clients.”
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