Every time a creative person leaves an ad agency to start his own, the reason cited is that the agency has become too large and too ‘corporate’ to continue producing bleeding-edge creative. If size stood in the way of creativity, why would Mumbai-based Taproot sell off 51 per cent stake to Japanese advertising company Dentsu Inc within four years of launch?
National creative director, Ogilvy & Mather
It is always about the philosophy and the people who live it. It is a challenge but it is doable. We have been doing it for the last 15 years
I don’t think size determines the creativity in an agency. It is the culture, the value system and the philosophy that decide how creative an agency will be. In India, as is worldwide, some of the best works that come out, including both popular and trend-setting ones, are done by the largest networks.
You have got big shops, which do great work and small shops, which do dud work and vice versa. So, it is always about the philosophy and the people who live it. It is a challenge to keep the philosophy alive. But it is doable. We have been successfully doing it for the last 15 years.
For example, 13 years back, when we were much smaller in size, the kind of work people know us for, would have been seen for a few of our brands. But what is satisfying is, pretty much every year, we have added on at least one or two brands to that list, which see spectacular work done for them. That is a mark of creativity even on a larger scale.
To do increasingly great work on just one brand or good and effective work for a brand for two or three years, and then peter off; that would be wrong as well. Since Ogilvy & Mather adopted the philosophy of becoming big through creativity and earn laurels for its creativity work in the last 13-15 years, there has, thankfully, never been a bad patch for any of the brands that began their journey with creative work with us.
As a large agency, it is not possible for Ogilvy & Mather to hit a six off every ball. Of course, it is easier to do braver and more creative work on some clients but the hallmark of good creative leadership is to convert an increasing number of clients to more creative and effective ways of communication.
Every year, the number of clients for whom we do great work increases. When Piyush (Pandey) had taken on Pidilite, it was not seen as a brand conducive to creativity by other creatives. But he had seen that as an opportunity to partner with a client who wanted more creativity. All of us have learnt those lessons. I have been able to convert clients with time — from a few months to a couple of years — by persisting with them. We have told ourselves that it will not be a six off every ball, but creativity will slowly add up.
We also ensure creativity is alive by having a transparent relationship with the client. If they want work of a certain kind with which we don’t agree, we will, of course, partner with them but tell them that we hope next time they would also give our recommendations a try and persevere with our suggestions.
Similarly, our teams too have an even spread of clients — both spontaneous and process-oriented ones. As for being small fish in a big pond, the onus is on the seniors on how we build our teams.
We make sure that there are opportunities (award ceremonies, conferences, meetings with clients) for everyone on our teams to shine. The nurturing is done on the job. After all, all of us are as creative as are our teams. Ingraining the creative culture of Ogilvy is through the examples set by seniors.
Selling a creative idea is an art, needs trust-building and time from the creatives too. So, just as I have learnt from Piyush and other seniors of mine, I and my counterparts try and pass on the same values on to our teams. The seniors realise that only by letting them shine creatively, will we benefit.
When a kid comes to us with an idea, we make sure we don’t turn them back with just saying, ‘It is not good enough’ or ‘Mazaa nahi aya’. We have to point out why we are saying so, to give us clarity and them a sense of direction. Scale also ceases to have an impact on creativity when egos are reined in. Young employees in creative agencies should be encouraged to disagree if they feel so and we should back their work when we go ahead with their ideas. Scale does not stifle creativity. If managed well—as scale, anywhere, calls for—it can nurture creative talent who are coveted by other agencies and create work that blaze a trail for the client.
Preeti Vyas Giannetti
Chairwoman, Vyas Giannetti Creative
Success and growth also bring along many hazards, which have the potential to stifle creativity of an ad agency
Does scale have the potential to destroy an organisation’s creative DNA? Yes indeed. Does it have to? No. But honestly, it is hard. Success and growth also bring along many hazards, which have the potential to stifle the very reason of your success as an agency — creativity.
Some reasons are rather obvious. But first, picture this. You are a small and tight organisation, probably run by a handful of like-minded guys, thriving on entrepreneurial zeal and creative passion. Chances are you have been part of a large and frustratingly hierarchical organisation where remarkably, you have managed to make a mark with your talent (probably by winning a lot of awards and, thereby, feted by media and worshiped slavishly by young greedy creatives).
At this point you begin to have aspirations of a different kind. You want to start making a difference within your organisation. This noble thought soon runs into several speed bumps of ‘managementese’, leading to great frustration. To cut a long story short, you leave and start your own shop.
Your passion carries you through the first phase of your fledgling organisation. Now this is important; at this stage your little outfit is being run on your steam and possibly a few like-minded people whose driving force start seeing a lot of initial success. You win clients and get busier. You start employing more people. You need a bigger office. Your financial responsibilities grow. You are now equally worried about your creative reputation as you are about sustaining a growing infrastructure. You juggle more balls, not just the creative one anymore. You are on a treadmill now. And getting off is not an option. So, you continue growing your little shop which is now a mid-sized organisation. You have, now, all sorts of issues to deal with internally and externally. You have a P&L to sustain, HR policies, accounting and administrative stuff. Meanwhile, you need to do continuous marketing and of course creating great work and servicing a larger portfolio of clients. You have to work very hard to sustain your creative DNA whilst juggling all these issues.
So you hire more people. Herein lies the single largest issue, which is a hurdle to a growing organisation’s creativity. It, frankly, is not the growing administrative and accounting issues (they are a bit of a pain but you can handle them). At the end of it all, your success or failure is only because of the lack of the right kind of people. No matter what your scale.
However, as scaling means hiring more people, the issue does willy nilly become one of scale. If you look really hard, you would be lucky to find a few good people who are benchmarked the way you are. We have all heard of the dictum that 20 per cent of the people do 80 per cent of the work in any organisation. However, staffing that 20 per cent in this industry too is an absolute uphill task. This is made even more difficult because few people want to join a small organisation when they have an option of being part of a large multinational agency. The torch-bearers of your organisation no longer stand for the same things as your early organisation did. You need to continue to sustain your creative benchmarks, just as you need a team to understand and uphold those benchmarks. Which is extremely difficult. And soon, compromises start creeping in. And you start eroding the very values you stood for. Before you know it, you are an organisation full of suits, dining out on the equity of yesteryears, forgetting, or rather, not knowing how to sow the seeds of creative excellence to reap a future harvest of rewards.
Very few agencies, even worldwide, have managed to do this. Those closer home that have met with a semblance of success, have done so by replicating a small ‘studio’ of talent within the large organisation, which is shielded from the organisational mediocrity and processes. These, then, do work for either select clients or ghost clients for awards. This helps them protect the creative reputation of the organisation by the awards buzz and leaves the rest of the organisation to get on with the humdrum business of creating mediocre work.
To sum up, talent combined with entrepreneurial zeal brings success. And with it comes the opportunity to grow. While you wish that your growing team, too, would want to share and invest in your vision of growth, you realise that they really only want to share the glory.