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Talent drain: Why is the ad industry losing its CEOs and top guns? – Pt 1

19-February-2007
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Talent drain: Why is the ad industry losing its CEOs and top guns? – Pt 1

Is advertising finally losing its shine and glamour? 2006 was a turbulent and watershed year for the industry, with some agencies losing their CEO or a key top management member to other professions. The industry is still recovering from the shock departures of Santosh Desai who has moved to the retail industry joining Future Group; Rediff boss Preet Bedi moving to Percept Picture Company; and MAXUS’s highly successful Asia Pac MD CVL Srinivas who swears never to return to the advertising/media agency business.

Many top creative talents moved to the marketing communications business, a major case in point being Ajay Ahluwalia of Publicis and Ravi Narain of Bates. Some others are planning to explore other creative fields like Bates ECD Radharani Mitra who has joined BBC World Service Trust. And there is MAXUS’ Delhi Head Debraj Tripathi has switched to the client side joining as CEO of Sieger Solutions, the ad sales arm of Deccan Chronicle.

The fact is that advertising, once considered to be the playground for creative minds and a much-sought-after profession, has lost some of its sheen. With options galore, insiders feel that the industry badly needs to do some introspection to reinvent itself before the problems plaguing it become irreparable.

Lack of challenge:

CVL Srinivas, who was MD of Maxus India and APAC, feels that after being in the media for 13 years, the challenges left are not many. “People who are close to 45 and have spent a larger chunk of their career in advertising, find that after a certain point there aren’t many challenges left except maybe an increase in the geographical responsibility. Realistically speaking, the job per se remains the same. If you’re amenable to just float along, this situation might be agreeable, but if you are a true professional who seeks challenges, then you’d find the set-up limiting,” remarked Srini.

Santosh Desai, who quit as McCann Erickson MD recently, has even gone to the extent of berating the advertising profession publicly, claiming that the opportunity that advertising offers to professionals who have been in it for long is narrow.

In fact, this limitation is not just restricted to media planners, client servicing people or account managers, but surprisingly those in the creative side as well. Ajay Ahluwalia, who was a Creative Director with Publicis and has now moved to marketing communications, says, “My decision to move out is defined in one word: boredom. The lack of challenge, or rather the fact that the only challenge is exactly the same as yesterday's, or coming up with a nice idea and then trying like mad to get account management and the client to go through with it is too limiting in scope. Why spend today and tomorrow handling exactly the same thing that I was doing yesterday?”

In fact, Srinivas does not mince words when he says the media industry has reached a dead end and is probably on its last leg. “If it were to survive it must re-invent itself,” he observed.

Preet Bedi quit advertising after spending close to two decades in the business. Currently CEO of Percept Picture Company, Bedi is a man who’s seen the advertising business at close quarters. He echoes Srinivas when he says agencies talk about reinventing themselves but stop short of doing so. “Agencies think that they’re into the business of brand-building, but in reality their job is to monetise the creative product. No agency can look me in the eye and say they’ve increased their revenue in double-digits. The truth is that they’re losing margins and there’s a disconnect in what agencies are meant to do and what they’re doing now,” Bedi said candidly.

Agency compensation:

Compensation for agencies is a major issue that is coming to the fore of late. Agencies feel that the remuneration that clients pay isn’t usually in line with the requirements and effort that agencies put in. Clients look at agencies as mere vendors. As Srinivas puts it, “Most clients aren’t mature enough to see the big picture. I think the business model of agencies is faulty, and agencies themselves are to be blamed for it. It’s the onus of the agency to add value to the client and it’s the onus of the client to make full use of the skill and talent of the agency.”

Related to the compensation issue is the inability of the advertising industry to attract talent. Debraj Tripathy blames it on two factors: the existing payment structure and the inability of agencies to show a long-term career graph to its people, especially to youngsters.

So, are these men repenting that they quit the industry or is it a case of sour grapes? If Srinivas is to be believed, the truth is far from it. “When I decided to quit, I never felt any fear for my future. On the contrary, I feared for the people I was leaving behind,” avers Srinivas.

(To be concluded)

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