Bates India has lost one of its senior-most hands, Dheeraj Sinha, in a top-level churn that has been on for the last few months at the WPP-owned agency.
In January, it had lost India chairman and regional creative director Sonal Dabral and chief executive officer (CEO) Sandeep Pathak in quick succession.
Now, Sinha, regional planning director at the agency, has called it a day. Bates had only two days ago named Sanjay Thapar, group president (north & east), Ogilvy India, as a replacement for Pathak. Thapar takes over as the CEO in July.
It was widely believed that Sinha — the chief architect of the agency’s new philosophy, Change-Engage, which involved identifying changes in consumer behaviour and then using new codes of engagement to communicate with them — would be the CEO after Pathak’s exit.
In a recent interview with Business Standard, Bates India’s new chairman, Ranjan Kapur, also country manager of WPP, had acknowledged the contribution made by Sinha, especially in the wake of the exit of Dabral and Pathak. He had said, “Dheeraj brings continuity and knows all the clients. They love him.”
Sinha said he was looking for a change since he had spent seven to eight years with the agency. “I am passionate about the business of creating ideas; of bringing together people and brands. I hope to continue with this in the future.”
While Sinha refuses to be drawn into a conversation about his new assignment, persons in the know say that he has offers from a number of agencies. Unlike many other high-profile executives who quit to set up their own ventures, Sinha is not likely to go down that road, they say.
Top-level churn is not new to the advertising industry in India. The trend is most pronounced in those agencies where there is a crisis — either the agency has lost significant business or is struggling to find a place under the sun or has been acquired by a new entity. Rediffusion, for instance, saw top-level churn two years ago, when it lost some high-profile accounts such as Airtel and Colgate. Dentsu India and its group agencies saw significant churn, when they were fully acquired by their Japanese parent in 2011.
In the case of Bates, the problem has been its inability to prove that it is a strong creative-led agency. Kapur had admitted that 60 per cent of Bates’ revenue came from work done outside of advertising. The agency, in fact, had restructured its operations and teams, following the appointment of Kapur as India chairman in March. People across disciplines were encouraged to sit together and work, and more importantly, come up with media-neutral ideas that could be used across platforms. “We do not want to fall into the trap of being a TV, print or digital agency,” Kapur had said.
But the question is: will it work? Industry observers say in India, print and TV advertising are still dominant — comprising 42 and 46 per cent of the advertising pie, respectively — in contrast to the scenario abroad, where new media has made significant inroads into a client’s budget.
“So, an agency in India is considered strong when its print and TV work stands out of the clutter,” said a creative director of a Top 10 agency.
How tough the competition is among ad agencies in India can be gauged from this: All the big names such as Ogilvy, JWT, Mudra, Lowe, Leo Burnett and McCann-Erickson have a strong creative product. In the last few years, even smaller agencies such as Taproot and Creativeland Asia have come into their own.