Draftfcb, Indonesia, is run by an Indian-origin advertising professional who moved out of the country two decades back. Lowe & Partners, Thailand, has an Indian as its managing director. Ajit Varghese, who is to oversee Maxus' operations in all Asia-Pacific countries from January 2014, will relocate to Singapore and report to Mark Patterson and Vikram Sakhuja. These are just a few instances of Indian advertising professionals who have relocated with plum international postings.
The country's information technology (IT) sector has been a breeding ground for top managerial talent for decades. Now, the Indian advertising sector, another segment of the communication industry, is keeping it company as a major export hub and gaining recognition internationally. What seemed an on-off trend until about a decade back has lately become a regular feature of the Rs 27,000-crore advertising industry. Better opportunities, meatier roles and exposure to work on a larger canvas are all reasons prompting the country's advertising fraternity to look beyond Indian shores. Some of the popular advertising names to have exited the country for other locations at some point include Sonal Dabral (O&M, Singapore), Raj Kamble (BBDO New York), Bobby Pawar (O&M, New York), Sanjai Srivastava (Lowe & Partners, Thailand) and Ashutosh Srivastava (GroupM, Singapore). The slowdown hasn't stemmed the flow.
Vice president and creative director,
Lowe & Partners New York
From: Lowe & Partners India
Managing director, Lowe & Partners Thailand
From: Lowe & Partners India
APAC CEO, Mindshare (based in Singapore)
From: GroupM India
APAC CEO, Maxus (based in Singapore)
From: Maxus (South Asia role based in India)
Account director, Leo Burnett London
From: Leo Burnett India
APAC regional director on P&G business, Leo Burnett (based in Singapore)
From: Leo Burnett India
"Indian advertising talent got spotted as multinational clients and agencies saw the real talent that existed in India - soon after the liberalisation wave swept the country over two decades ago," says M G Parameswaran, executive director and CEO, Draftfcb Ulka. "In fact, the entire marketing research industry in the Asean region is driven by ex-pat Indian talent. This is partially true for media planning as well, since Indians are seen as good with numbers."
The reason for such shifts runs deeper. While working in India, an adman typically deals with multiple languages and cultures. In a way, he is already used to working simultaneously across diverse markets - a big plus for international clients looking for people with heterogeneous backgrounds to can tackle their advertising across markets. According to Sagar Mahabaleshwarkar, chief creative officer, Bates CHI & Partners India, in an average local train compartment in New York, you will find a global village - a good mix of migrants and locals. So, diversity is, definitely, the order of the day.
"Most Indians are comfortable with at least three languages - English, Hindi and a regional one. This makes it easier to migrate," says Samit Sinha, managing partner, Alchemist Brand Consulting. Indeed, so far as proficiency in English is concerned, most Indians have an upper hand over the rest of Asia. Therefore, this proliferation has happened in English-speaking markets, such as the US, the UK, Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore, which, with their with global appeal, are fast emerging as advertising hot spots. Ad folk are also turning to the UAE to earn fame and fortune through awards - the market there seems to be on an award-winning spree, as pointed out by former Publicis national creative director, Ashish Khazanchi.
Other key reasons for moving abroad include bigger ad/media and production budgets that spell greater scale and exposure and a more global sphere of influence, particularly in the US. Mostly, the executives moving abroad also feel there's more equitable distribution of work and a better scope for work-life balance in other countries. As Indians are regarded hardworking and ambitious individuals, they pocket higher productivity score than their foreign counterparts, who are used to fixed working hours and shifts. "We sent Anurag Trikha to Leo Burnett, London a few years back and he now looks after emerging markets at Heineken. Chaitan Rao from Leo Burnett India is now running P&G's regional business for Asia-Pacific out of Singapore for the agency. It is true that India is a source of talent for networks, which are now more open to exchanging talent within countries and regions," says Arvind Sharma, Leo Burnett Chairman & CEO for the Indian subcontinent. Of course, many, such as Bobby Pawar and Sonal Dabral, decided to return home after a few years.
While Indians are gaining acceptance and respect abroad, only a few - such as Piyush Pandey of O&M and Prasoon Joshi of McCann - have found places on global boards of large advertising agencies. And, it's even rarer to see an Indian running a large operation in the US or Europe - unlike at large financial services firms and even consumer marketing companies. But the industry remains optimistic that professionals from the country and their talent would soon be acknowledged for these roles, too.