What keeps independents awake at night?
Independent ad agencies have a lot of creative liberty & freedom but this does not come without a few challenges
Happy Creative Services cracked a breakthrough idea and tried to fence the fear of online shopping through ‘No kidding, no worries’, giving the consumers ‘Shopping ka naya address’. Zarvan Patel’s ideas@work celebrated the first anniversary of Groupon through rib-tickling commercials and Scarecrow Communications changed the rules of the game by getting buyers and sellers quicker through a quirky mix of missed call and Bob Biswas. There is one thing common among all these ads – the celebration of the rise of these independent young ones.
This trend started in 1965 when late Kersy Katrak started MCM (Mass Communication and Marketing) with some of the best minds such as Arun Kolatkar, Panna Jain, Mohammed Khan, Kiran Nagarkar, Arun Nanda, Uma Da Cunha, Sudarshan Dheer, Ajit Balakrishnan. In late ’90s, Alok Nanda & Company Communications and Vyas Giannetti Creative were created and 2000 onwards saw D Ramakrishna’s (Ramki) Cartwheel Creative, Agnello Dias’ TapRoot (now bought over by Dentsu), Raj Kurup’s Creativeland Asia, Zarwan Patel’s Ideas@work and Law & Kenneth. The last few years saw the emergence of Scarecrow Communications, Curry-Nation, Bang in the Middle, Happy Creative Services, The Company, From Here On, Yang, February, The Page, Kettle Communication, etc.
Some say independent agencies get the creative liberty to craft their own ideas, while some believe that such a scenario helps in fast decision making and implementation. It is also observed that some big ticket clients have chosen independent agencies by awarding a part of their business to them, rather than going for big network agencies.
But an intriguing question is what are the nightmares faced these indies, keeping in mind today’s aggressive competition.
“We are actually trying to achieve many things simultaneously – be it financial stability or investing in people. So achieving a strong balance sheet is a big challenge,” said Raghu Bhat, Founder Director, Scarecrow Communications. He shared that unless there is a partner on board, the ability to invest in various divisions becomes limited. “Attracting talent is another issue,” he added.
According to him, some clients have very specialised requirements so they want more manpower assigned to their accounts. These clients think that a bigger agency is more capable because of the manpower that can make a lot of things happen simultaneously.
Scarecrow has operations in four cities: Mumbai, Kolkata, Delhi, Bangalore, and has bagged some big clients such as Religare Enterprises, Kohinoor Speciality Foods and Quikr. However, Bhat said that they have taken a few baby steps, which have been good, but they have to keep running in this dynamic industry.
Kartik Iyer, Chief Executive Officer and Co-founder, Happy Creative Services said, “In the initial stages the issues are all common – money, opportunities, getting talent and managing to get paid for the work you have done at the end of it all. Once you start growing, these issues start becoming unique depending on the path each agency takes. Each basic problem begins to evolve itself in different staffs. For example, getting the right talent is the first hurdle, once they come the next step is to expect / develop great work out of them; once that happens the challenge becomes about the individual’s growth and if you pass that, then it becomes about retention.”
The happy-go-lucky agency’s first account win came within two weeks of starting work, which was Lee and the agency launched its first multi-media campaign in India. The agency also won the Diesel account and participated in the Effies for the first time and won Gold for its Flipkart campaign.
Iyer said, “We would be lying if we said the journey hasn't been wonderful; though we constantly tell ourselves that we have a very long way to go. The best part of the journey for us as founders is that setting this business up as two creative people has exposed us to the little nuances of life in general. We dream to build great brands and we have been consistently taking little steps in that direction.”
Bang in the Middle, the new-age marketing communication company, has clients such as iYogi, Dulux Paints, VEEN Waters, Vimal Fabrics, Knoxx Global, BigFlix, among others. After just three months in the business, Bang in the Middle began its operations in United States. The agency has its presence across Chicago, New York and Los Angeles.
Naresh Gupta, Managing Partner, Bang in the Middle said, “The biggest problem is of the size and geographical representation. You don’t have offices in every market and apart from that a lot of clients may not want to work with you because they feel you are small. I don’t think otherwise there is a problem. Problems related to administration and salaries are a part of growing pains and not much of a problem.”
According to him, there are a lot of medium-sized clients not going to the large agencies because they think they will not get the right attention and they opt for smallish independent outfits.
Another buzzing independent agency is the Mumbai-based Curry-Nation, founded by Priti Nair with a portfolio of clients such as Weikfield and Emami’s three brands – Fast Relief, Hairlife and Lalima.
She shared that balancing the bottom line and resources are a big challenge. Many clients want a large agency set-up and a lot of clients also want to work on project basis that doesn’t allow partnerships to happen fully. She believes that there is a need for partnership to begin.
“At the management level you start getting your hands dirty in admin, plumbing and leakages that you haven’t done before, but that’s a part of setting up something on your own,” added Nair.
These independent agencies surely have a lot of creative liberty and the freedom to pursue their goals but they also have to face a lot of challenges including financial stability, hunt for right talent, business acquisition, etc. Speaking to these entrepreneurs revealed that they don’t consider these as obstacles but take them as part of a beautiful journey.
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