Mumbai: Many advertising agencies in India are seeing an exodus of top creative professionals. Recently, the chief creative officer of JWT India, Agnello Dias, left the agency to flag off his own set-up?with?Santosh Padhi, who was executive creative director at Leo Burnett India Pvt. Ltd.
New course: (left) Agnello Dias, former chief creative officer of JWT India, quit to start his own agency with Santosh Padhi (right), former executive creative director at Leo Burnett India Pvt. Ltd. Madhu Kapparath / Mint
Earlier, Grey Global Group’s national creative director (NCD) for India, Priti Nair Chakravarthy, quit the agency within a year and is now joining BBH, the UK-based global agency due to launch here. Before this, Ambience Publicis Advertising Pvt. Ltd got itself two new NCDs. And TBWA India’s vice-president (creative services) Sean Colaco recently quit to start his own agency.
This musical chairs in creative leadership could be the result of a multinational culture increasingly spreading its mantle over Indian advertising, since most of the top Indian agencies have been taken over by global networks and come under their management diktats and their way of doing business.
Attrition of creative’s upper league could also be the offshoot of opportunity—since even in these troubled times, there’s enough scope for top-rung creatives to start their own shops, or get even better offers from other agencies, explain ad executives such as Aniruddha Banerjee, president and chief operating officer, Ambience Publicis.
Either way, agencies are increasingly facing the prospect of a vacuum at their upper creative echelons, as the expected arrival of foreign agencies, such as Naked, Strawberry Frog, BBH, etc., will only take more treasured talent away.
Some admen believe that some multinationals, with their focus on quarterly results and margins, can swamp lateral creative thinking.
Banerjee says that many global multinational networks have been known to push for profit margins and growth; creativity often plays second fiddle to that. He explains, “Too many great ideas are killed at the altar of business, and most ad agencies don’t even allow these to be presented to the client for fear of losing the account. Some accounts may need global or regional approval, putting restrictions on creative chiefs here.”
Multinational ad networks have much higher expectations from this market when their own home markets are slumping, and are scrutinizing this market a lot more closely and this puts pressure on local creative chiefs from global offices, says a former ad chief, who did not wish to be quoted.
Complex structures and designations, quite the rage within foreign-owned ad networks, can sometimes send wrong signals to creative leaders. For example, some ad networks have joint NCDs instead of only one, to maintain balance of power, or when the set-up is too large, but this could result in ambiguity in roles and internal competition. The power structure can get tougher when local creative chiefs have to answer to global creative officers.
Anil Nair, president, Law and Kenneth India, says?the?strategy of putting two NCDs in one agency doesn’t make sense. “Do companies hire two CEOs? There has to be one individual responsible for the creative culture of the agency. It is his vision that is carried out by the others.” He cites how successful agencies are ones that have one overarching creative personality such as Piyush Pandey at Ogilvy and Mather Pvt. Ltd. Having multiple heads in place of one not only leads to ambiguity in roles between the people concerned, but also lowers down the rungs, says Nair, adding that it’s up to strong creative chiefs to balance out the global networks and their scrutiny.
Creative leadership structures are definitely getting more tiered, with all sorts of permutations and combinations, such as one NCD (Dentsu Marcom Pvt. Ltd) and one chief creative officer (Dentsu India group); joint NCDs (JWT India and Rediffusion DY&R Pvt. Ltd) to multiple executive creative directors, etc.
“We at Grey have always had one NCD and multiple creative directors, which seems to work for us,” says Nirvik Singh, president (South and South-East Asia) at Grey Global Group. “I have always believed in an organization you need a leader to guide you, to take those important decisions and to ensure smooth running of work.” Josy Paul, chairman, BBDO India, however, feels that this is a cultural and not a structural issue.
What’s undeniable is that a mindset change is happening in Indian advertising, which will leave some top creative chairs at traditional agencies up for grabs. “There are far more people who are willing to experiment and take a risk today than ever before,” says Raj Kurup, founder, CreativeLand Asia Pvt. Ltd.
Some creative stars are either setting up their own agencies, as they’ve done through time, or are joining the creative hotshops coming into this country—though as partners with equity stakes, a carrot that few multinational networks are willing to offer.
“When it comes to money, agencies can play for a while and offer enhanced pay packets, but in time, they put their hands up,” says Banerjee,
This flight of top-rung creatives could also be the fallout of the ‘unbundling’ process that agencies began years ago, separating creative, media and specialist communications, says a former ad chief.
“Agencies have very less left with them and creative heads often feel that they come up with the idea for the brand, but the same idea is then taken by the client to 10 other specialists. When you start off your own venture, the advantage is that you can do it all in-house,” the former ad chief says, requesting anonymity.
A crisis in creative leadership is coming up in advertising, which sounds a clarion call for agencies to develop a strong second-tier creative leadership and a succession strategy.