This article has been modified. Please see the clarification at the end.
After a long search, J Walter Thompson (JWT), one of the largest ad agencies in Martin Sorrell-led WPP, appointed Tarun Rai as the successor to Colvyn Harris in South Asia, including India.
While speculation about Rai's appointment at the helm of JWT was doing the rounds for some time, it gained steam in the last one month, culminating in the announcement on January 14.
Rai is expected to formally take over next month at JWT. The ex-Bennett Coleman & Company Ltd executive (he was the CEO of Worldwide Media, the magazine arm of BCCL, the publisher of the Times of India newspaper, for six years), had spent nearly two decades working at JWT before he quit in 2008. This familiarity with the JWT system is expected to hold him in good stead, persons in the know say.
Rai says of his appointment in a statement, "It is wonderful to return home to JWT. Being away for a few years has given me an invaluable 'outside-in' perspective of the advertising business."
Legacy of JWT
Besides being one of the largest ad agencies in the world, JWT also has the distinction of being the oldest. It celebrated its 150th anniversary worldwide last year. The agency entered India in 1929, handling clients such as Hindustan Unilever, which it continues to work on to this day. Incidentally, the agency had to exit India in the 1970s, owing to the cap of 40 per cent on foreign equity introduced by the government under the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act of 1974.
JWT quit the country, handing over the company to its Indian employees. The agency was then rechristened Hindustan Thompson Associates (HTA), a name it continued with for two and a half decades before reverting to JWT in 2002. In the seventies, HTA was led by the legendary Subhash Ghoshal.
Traditionally, JWT has been known as a strategic planner's paradise, with its creative fortunes dipping and rising from time to time. The agency hit a highpoint in terms of its creative output six years ago, when it walked away with the country's first and only Grand Prix at Cannes for the Times of India's 'Lead India' campaign. While the agency has tasted success at Cannes after that, it is yet replicate the magic of 2008.
An earlier version of this article was published with the headline "A steep road ahead for JWT's CEO-designate", which had mentioned that Nike, a key account, was up for a review. J Walter Thompson (JWT) has clarified that the Nike account is not up for a review, contrary to what was stated in the report. The report had also mentioned that JWT had seen both loss of business and employee exodus in the last two to three years, with over 100 people leaving in the last year and a half. However, the advertising agency clarified that there were only 3-4 senior-level exits in the last few months and that the report had misrepresented facts by stating that 100 people had left the agency across its offices in the last 18 months. The JWT clarification also adds that the agency has acquired the Tata Global brand and won back the Pepsico business in the last 18 months. We have modified the article and we regret the errors.