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I’m waiting for India to do a 10/10: Bob Jeffrey, JWT Worldwide

28-December-2011
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I’m waiting for India to do a 10/10: Bob Jeffrey, JWT Worldwide

In the last few years, JWT Worldwide has worked hard and consistently to build its reputation as a global creative house. And if platforms such as Cannes Lions and Spikes are benchmarks of any kind, JWT is amongst the agencies that have done well in the creative business. The year 2011 was a challenging one for JWT India with senior level exits and advertisers such as PepsiCo and Airtel adding another creative partner to their roster.

But on the business side, JWT India has seen growth and according to Bob Jeffrey, Chairman and CEO, JWT Worldwide, the agency globally has seen a good year.

We live in a two-speed world, observed Jeffrey, in a conversation with exchange4media, elaborating that there have been fast-growing markets such as many parts of Asia, including India, China, Indonesia and markets such as Brazil and Mexico. “And then we have the other speed that is North America and Europe. There has been a difference because there are divergent economies in those two parts of the world and that is reflected. But overall, JWT has had a good year. In terms of revenue numbers, we would have a growth year,” said Jeffrey.

He explained that JWT has been on track for 2011. “What everyone is concerned about is 2012, but we don’t have any way of predicting what that would be. There is still a question mark on what is happening in Europe and things look better now than they did a month ago. North America, I would argue, could be strong next year. If I look at our clients in the US, their business is solid. Take for instance, Macy’s, which is one of the largest department store brands in the world. They are very strong this year, more than they were a year ago. There is a lot of uncertainty, but I would not want to be the prophet of doom on what is going on.”

Sitting in his New York office, Jeffrey looks happy with the way the year has turned out for JWT globally. He pointed out that from an India viewpoint too, the year has been important since the agency has made some key appointments such as Bobby Pawar as Chief Creative Officer and Max Hegerman as the Digital lead in the market. These alone are reasons enough to set higher expectations from India for 2012.

Adding Bench Strength
Jeffrey agreed that the year had started off tough for JWT India, especially when two of the largest advertisers added creative independent TapRoot to their roster. But he also pointed out, “I will say this in a general way -- it is not ideal because, in a good way, we want to do all the work for our clients. But even when another creative agency gets on the roster, the scope of what we handle for these clients is so significant and so far-reaching that it is a capability unique to JWT. There aren’t a lot of agencies, let alone a smaller creative agency, that can take on that responsibility. Even in the cases that you mentioned - Airtel and Pepsi – we have significant relations with both of those clients that go far beyond just TV spots.”

Commenting on the JWT India ops, Jeffrey stated, “Colvyn (Harris, CEO JWT India) runs a great operation. He is very dedicated to the business. I am amazed with the energy level of people in India, and what we see with Colvyn. Now we have hired Max Hegerman, so we will see more digital coming up at the centre of conversations. We have made some significant hires in India this year.”

JWT India op is probably the only example, across JWT offices globally, that houses three National Creative Directors and one Chief Creative Officer. Taking the conversation away from designations, Jeffrey clarified that this would not be the right way to look at structure. New York, for instance, is a very big office that houses many ECDs. But India, as a market, is a “bit complicated”.

Jeffrey elaborated, “New York is a big office but everything is in one city. In India, you have Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai and it is all spread across. We have so many brands in India, that it is unbelievable. People don’t realise how many different clients we work with there. We work with global clients like Ford and Unilever, as well as with clients that are global but specific to India like Pepsi. We have Pepsi in India but we don’t do much work on Pepsi in other markets. And then we work with a ton of local clients. And all these clients have expectations and we have to ensure that we deliver. If there is competition even with creative start-ups, then we need to have bench strength. It cannot be just one person – that is not physically possible.”

Creativity beyond Advertising
JWT Worldwide has nine other brands in various markets. Jeffrey divulged that for now there were no plans to bring these to India. However, he was expecting the India agency to also look and focus on areas beyond advertising. At a global level, there are four disciplines that JWT is marketing aggressively. Of this, digital is “clearly number one”.

Jeffrey added, “Shopper marketing is a big initiative for us because that is a discipline relevant to every market around the world, though every market is different. The third is Mobile. Mobile is a part of Digital but to my mind it is huge by itself. My prediction is that when they look at what happened during the holiday season, especially in the US, mobile would be a big deal. We just did a mobile app for Macy’s that was identified as one of the most important apps for mobile this year. The other area we have been promoting with a lot of our brands is branded entertainment. So those are the four areas that we are focussing on outside the realm of traditional advertising.”

By when are we expecting these to take shape in India? Jeffrey replied, “India is a priority market for us and now that Bobby (Pawar) is there, we look forward to speaking to him for a lot of these things.”

If awards were a benchmark of creativity, JWT has done well and yet when there are conversations on a larger canvas, there are many others such as BBDO and DDB that are mentioned ahead of JWT. “It can be frustrating sometimes,” admitted Jeffrey, and added, “It is really only since 2005 that we have put huge efforts on our creativity. Other agencies have been doing it longer than us, so they are more top of the mind. But now, if I look at how we are perceived by clients, we are definitely more competitive than we were five years ago in terms of creative reputation. It is a competitive world we live in and every year, we have done so much better at Cannes and regional shows like Spikes and the Effectiveness Awards. Every year, there is more pressure to do better work that gets more recognition. People are very interested in the kind of brand work we had done for Macy’s that was ‘Just Believe’ and ‘Smirnoff Night Life Exchange’ and now Brand USA, which is a huge marketing programme for which we are doing the communication, that would launch in March, 2012.”

JWT is also focussing on training its people to infuse more of this new kind of thinking. The agency has propriety process that it had developed, and being implemented globally among all the people working on brands on how to get better work, how to get to innovative work, how to get to world class work. “We developed it in the last one year. We are doing a lot on training and educating our staff around the world. And we have standards. We have criteria on which we evaluate our work on a scale of 1 to 10. Ever since we have been doing this measurement and evaluation of our own work, there is a complete correlation between the work and our performance in award shows. A lot of the work falls in the 5 or 6 category. If you get 8-plus, we actually have a bonus system set up for creative teams across the world. We only have four 9s so far and we have never had a 10. I am waiting for India to do a 10,” Jeffrey stated.

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