Mumbai: They are in the business of brands and, for them, labels matter. Especially the ones that come after their names. The advertising scene in India has seen a line-up of new tags in the C-suite: CSO (chief strategy officer), CEO (chief experience officer), NCD (national creative director), COO (chief operating officer), CDO (chief digital officer), CIO (chief innovation officer). Plus, there’s a new set of prefixes and suffixes ranging from digital to regional ones such as South Asia and Asia.
“New, interesting titles lend greater weight to what a person does. A CSO sounds fancier than vice-president or planning executive. And accounts executives are now brand service supervisors,” says M.G. Parameswaran, chief executive officer, FCB-Ulka Advertising Pvt. Ltd. This new nomenclature is, however, not merely cosmetic in nature. It is a symptom of changing work -structures and new roles in the ad hierarchy, particularly in ideation, strategic resources and brand servicing.
Says K.V. Sridhar of Leo Burnett India, who was designated national creative director in 2003: “New designations are raising the value of a brand communications planner. Also, people who service clients are now strategic thinkers and project managers.”
The CSO, now in the spotlight, denotes leadership of the planning function and has evolved over the last few years, along with brand strategy, as a discipline, says Pranesh Misra, president, Lintas India Pvt. Ltd. Lowe India appointed global planner Brent Gosling as CSO for its Unilever brands. The CSO is often a global position in charge of a geographical area or brands. “A CSO is a typical example of global structures and systems coming into play in advertising,” says Mudra Group executive vice-president Ajit Menon.
Gosling’s role, for instance, is to take the “dirt is good” advertisement theme for Hindustan Unilever Ltd’s laundry products, and interpret it for different overseas markets. He also steers Lifebuoy and Fair n Lovely for India and globally.
The regional prefixes, on the other hand, reflect the increasing relevance of Indian agencies within their networks. Various Indian agencies are now hubs within their international networks, and that is reflected in the “regional” prefix to job titles such as creative director. These designation shifts are, of course, dependent on the multinational agencies’ structure and focus. For advertisers such as Unilever and Johnson & Johnson Ltd, India is emerging as a focus area. And, for an IBM Worldwide, Sara Lee Corp., or Procter & Gamble Co., the regional hub is still Singapore. So, their ad hubs would still be around this area, observes Misra. Still, more multinationals are setting up regional base in India, and regional designations will increase.
Raising the value of a designation serves another purpose: that of stemming the attrition rates, now hovering at 25% in the industry. Redefining roles scales up opportunities for promotions.
It is for this reason, perhaps, that all sectors and markets have seen a mushrooming of new labels. FCB-Ulka’s? Parameswaran?cites ?how telecom has a COO in each circle, earlier called regional officer or circle officer. His peer in manufacturing is now chief growth officer. Technology firms have new designations such as chief information officer or chief technology officer.
Advertising is getting top-heavy, since many agencies have multiple top-level positions as they diversify across various specialized areas. Madison World, for instance, has four units, each headed by a COO; JWT India has two NCDs; and Leo Burnett has six executive creative directors. “This dilutes the overall impact of that role,” says Misra.
Mudra’s Menon echoes the same misgivings. “If a company devalues designations, then it just gives a poor impression to the outside world. Rewarding under-qualified people will only steer away clients.”
There could, however, be merits to multiple designations. Sam Balsara, chairman, Madison Media Group, says this division helps “bring greater focus on the clients’ business, greater accountability, a sense of leadership.”.
Multiple roles can also ease intense work pressure. Sridhar recalls how, two decades ago, an NCD would only pay a cursory visit to the client’s office. “Today, clients want the NCD to be personally involved, but he/she cannot manage 30 clients or more. Hence, there is an emerging layer of executive creative directors who take over the mandate. Similarly, having joint NCDs and the like doesn’t devalue the position.”
Meanwhile, dual roles across disciplines and regions are in fashion. Leo Burnett’s Sridhar expects more new designations to pop up within strategy and ideation. “Who knows? Tomorrow, an NCD may double up as a managing director.”