Mumbai: In February, Manish Bhatt and Raghu Bhat invited friends, marketers and the media to an art gallery in South Mumbai. Amid good spirits, and an exhibition of artwork themed Scarecrow, the ex-Contract Advertising India Ltd duo launched their ad agency of the same name. And with that, Scarecrow Communications Ltd became the newest kid on the block.
Getting in 19 artists for the launch was no mean feat. But the task at hand is bigger. But the founding team, which also includes Joy Sengupta (ex-Contract) and Vivek Suchanti of Concept Communications Ltd, has already signed on four clients, including Religare Macquarie Wealth Management Ltd and Shriram Transport Finance Co. Ltd. Two more are expected to come in by April.
At play: The 38-strong Saints and Warriors that launched in 2006 claims to have revenue at par with any midsize ad agency.
Independent agencies are not only growing in number, they are also picking up big brands. The 38-strong Saints and Warriors Communications Pvt. Ltd, which started in January 2006, claims to have revenue at par with any midsize agency. Its biggest win to date has been the Skoda account.
Some, like Amul Innerwear and Frankfinn Institute of Air Hostess Training have been with the agency since it started. While it is mostly entrepreneur-led businesses that seem to have taken a shine to the agency, according to founder Pushpinder Singh, multinational companies have just started coming in. The 38-year-old, who honed his copywriting skills at Ogilvy & Mather India, says, “They understand that India is different, and hence the people who really understand India make a lot of sense for them. Our agency has a strict middle-class structure. So it helps connect easily with brands, with clients, and most importantly, the masses.”
Meanwhile, TapRoot India celebrated its first anniversary last month. Led by the Cannes Lions Grand Prix winner Agnello Dias (ex-JWT) and Gold Lion winner Santosh Padhi (ex-Leo Burnett) the agency now has 18 people looking after 14 projects—a sixfold rise since last year. Dias, who created the Lead India campaign while at JWT, opened the TapRoot kitty with The Times of India account; and that relationship is going strong with the recent Aman Ki Asha campaign. While clients believe that big name creative minds such as Dias and Padhi are client magnets, Dias says that size can be a mental block for a client. He says, “For most clients there is a certain hesitancy or a fear about not having a 300-strong agency on your brand, even though in reality the whole agency won’t work on it.”
For others, like the four-year-old Cartwheel Creative Consultancy Pvt. Ltd, independence is about a new outlook that goes beyond advertising. Positioned as a “creative lab”, the 35 employee strong agency dabbles in documentaries, runs a cricket website (www.holdingwilley.com) and is now looking at music production and publishing. All this, says director and founder D. Ramakrishna (Ramki), was possible because of the success and stability the agency achieved with its biggest and only regular client, Reliance Communications Ltd.
“We’ve been growing so fast with the Reliance part of the business that it hasn’t really given us much time or room to look for other business. And nor do we feel the need for it. We were able to define ourselves, get our act together, and understand ourselves much better with this one client. And as an account, telecom being the kind of animal that it is, really it doesn’t feel like one account, it feels like four to five accounts,” he says.
What began with the contract for R-World, Reliance Communications’ VAS (value added services) portal in 2006, went forward when the telecom firm called a pitch for its GSM venture in early 2009. As Sanjay Behl, group head, brand and marketing, Reliance Communications, says, perhaps it was the simplicity, flexibility or the freedom that Cartwheel offered which helped it become the lead agency, over Leo Burnett. “They’re a lot more opinionated as opposed to a larger agency. They offer conventional wisdom, they challenge us on briefs and they do come with a lot of work which they are very proud to own,” says Behl.
In large agencies, there are typically 40-50 accounts and a team of 300 creative people. But not all accounts are active at any one given point of time, leaving enough people free to work on new pitches. The small agency, since it runs a tight ship, has to juggle people around if pitches come up. So while agencies like TapRoot do get called for pitches, says Dias, they largely take up work that’s offered to them directly.
Some marketers believe that the size of an agency is not material when it comes to inviting an agency to pitch. Ajay Kakar, chief marketing officer, financial services, Aditya Birla Group says, “The bigger the agency, the less you are likely to benefit from the people who have actually helped build that agency’s reputation. You may end up as a small fish in a very big pond. What is critical, as a marketer, is the team that will actually work on your account. And therefore agencies set up by creative hot shots become a strong alternate.”
The advertising industry is slowly changing. Clients say a whole generation of client servicing people is awakening to the need to grow professionally and financially and for them the client side is an obvious stepping stone. The creative talent, meanwhile, is either setting up shop for themselves or getting lured by Bollywood. Like Kakar says, “I believe that the advertising industry has yet to accept and awake to a reality that is staring them in the face.”