Mumbai: Need proof that Indian ad agencies are well and truly under the control of the global headquarters of international advertising conglomerates?
Meet Charles Cadell, recently appointed chief executive officer, or CEO, of Lowe India, or Shiv Sethuraman, who has taken over as CEO of TBWA India. Then there’s Takashi Koyanagi, who moved from Dentsu Inc.’s headquarters in Tokyo to Dentsu India as executive vice-president and now heads the Japanese ad company’s digital joint venture Clickstreamers India Pvt. Ltd.
They are all part of a new, expanding and highly influential breed of top leaders in Indian advertising called the “network men”. They are not just expatriates working in Indian ad agencies, but top executives hired directly by international ad networks or holding companies to help drive their India operations in which they now hold complete or majority equity.
Charles Cadell has been recently appointed as the CEO of Lowe India. (Photo: Harikrishna Katragadda/Mint )
“Ad networks tend to appoint their own man within agency offices so that they can get the real picture of ground realities without the salad dressing given by the Indian management,” says Chandradeep Mitra, president of Mudra MAX, an arm of Mudra Communications Pvt. Ltd.
As equity gets transferred to global networks, it’s a sign for the market that there’s a new authority. “The new man reflects a change of guard. It’s a signal to clients that the ad network is more involved at an operations level. Also, if he’s a global planner, it reflects category expertise and best of global practices,” Mitra adds.
Many network men will be rainmakers, driving expansion and revenues across various communication platforms. Sethuraman says his immediate goal is to make TBWA India—reportedly on the verge of being bought over by TBWA Worldwide—the third or fourth agency in India within the next two years.
Takashi Koyanagi heads Clickstreamers India Pvt. Ltd. (Photo: Harikrishna Katragadda/Mint )
He also hopes to bring TBWA’s global philosophy of creative disruption in a big way here, and deploy it to maximum advantage, both in strategic thinking and in creative products.
Sethuraman will naturally be tapping into his extensive experience in the agency as well as interactions with clients in India and abroad. His last assignment was with Ogilvy Paris, where he was managing director. Prior to that, he was a global business director at Ogilvy Paris, leading teams on Nestle SA and Louis Vuitton.
After Interpublic Group of Cos. Inc., or IPG, bought the entire stake in Lintas India Pvt. Ltd, it brought in Charles Cadell as one of the top guns at Lowe India. Cadell was previously chief executive of Leo Burnett Malaysia and president of Asia Pacific for Arc Worldwide.
As the new CEO of Lowe India, Cadell hopes to be part-pupil and part-coach. “During the years ahead, in essence, I see that my task is to maximize the effectiveness of the current talent within the company while seeking to initiate new services and competencies that can better build our client businesses,” he says.
Marketing communication holding companies such as IPG and WPP Group Plc. already hold complete or majority stake in their India ad agencies, while Omnicom Group, the parent company of TBWA Worldwide, has upped its equity in member agency TBWA India.
These groups are etching ambitious business projections for their Asia Pacific operations, particularly, the China and India markets.
Some holding companies expect a third of their total revenues to come from this region in a few years. In fact, the Asia-Pacific region contributed 21% of all global advertising spending in 2007, a total of $96.2 billion (Rs4107.74 crore) according to online business management research company Info Edge (India) Ltd.
“Most of them are putting in resources here (India) because it’s a high growth market. There will be no (economic) meltdown here for the next 10-15 years,” says Shashi Sinha, CEO of Lodestar Universal.
A huge talent crunch in the upper echelons is also encouraging networks to bring in their own people.
Sam Balsara, chairman and managing director of Madison Group Inc., says that networks sometimes find it convenient to fill top positions with global talent or Indian-global talent for this very reason. “India’s an exciting place to work and Indian agencies are certainly paying well enough. Our growth rates are healthy,” he says. He says the increasing influx of network men does not really stem from client demand.
Network men are, nevertheless, making inroads. And, along with providing a direct link back to the global head office, they are also bringing global insights and client relationships to the local table.
“TBWA has a worldwide initiative called 10x10 which is basically about the 10 things we need to get right by 2010. I will be driving one of these initiatives globally along with a couple of other people. I fully intend to use this initiative to further integrate TBWA India and our key people in the global scheme of things,” says Sethuraman.
Sinha points out: “India will take time to understand global processes. A lot of these global recruits bring in detailing (professional processes).” He says that Indians have been isolated from global advertising for a long time.
That exactly is what Lowe Lintas wants to change. Cadell says that as the market matures in emergent media options, he will ensure that Lowe Lintas stays on the front lines in offering clients the best of thinking across these disciplines.
“Our business is no longer just advertising; it is content creation, and that means having an ability to generate big ideas that engage wherever brands meet their customers,” he says.
India is certainly not a cakewalk, especially in terms of work culture, for the expatriate network man. There have been creative luminaries such as Bruce Matchett, of the Singleton Ogilvy and Mather Group, who was appointed creative chief of JWT India by JWT Worldwide, but could not stay long enough to make a significant mark.
Most network men (more so if they are expats) need to be blessed with good digestive systems in order to make a mark here, quips Balsara of Madison.
And, that’s where global Indians score as network men. For example, Ranjan Kapur, country head for WPP India, returned home to head O&M India after a long and successful innings on the international O&M circuit.
Creative star Sonal Dabral was appointed by the Bates Asia management as regional executive creative director, Asia Pacific, as well as chairman, Bates David Enterprise India.
George John, chairman, TBWA India, says that global experience alone will not make a difference in India. “India is a large country with a lot of complexity in the form of language and culture. Most of the expats in agencies here have not had a good run,” he says. “It’s different for Shiv (Sethuraman) because he’s had experience in India as well as abroad and he is an Indian.”
He also doesn’t believe that network men are here because global headquarters distrust local management. “If they send in people, they do it to complement local management in the smooth running of an agency.”
Still, where the network goes, expect its men to increasingly follow.