‘The idea for the brand is the most important’

‘The idea for the brand is the most important’

Lowe India’s national creative director (NCD) R. Balakrishnan (Balki) has been appointed chairman and chief creative officer for the agency. Prem Mehta continues as chairman for Lintas India Pvt. Ltd, the incorporated or legal entity under which Lowe functions. Charles Cadell has been appointed CEO for Lowe India, while the current president and COO of Lowe India, Pranesh Misra, has taken on a new assignment as global director of marketing accountability for the agency while remaining ex-officio member of the Lowe management team. Balki has spent more than 17 years in advertising and has worked on brands such as Pepsodent, Surf, Saint-Gobain and Bajaj. He began his career with Mudra Communications and then joined Lowe in 1994. He shares some of his plans for Lowe with Mint. Edited excerpts:

Prem Mehta continues as chairman of the overall agency group Lintas. Won’t that cause confusion and curtail your powers especially after the two of you have had a fallout recently over proceeds related to the agency’s sale of shares to Lowe?

In the day to day workings of Lowe India, Prem Mehta will not be involved, though he will continue to mentor and guide us. Lowe India directly reports to Lowe Worldwide. There’s no duality of function here. Lintas India Pvt Ltd is the overarching company because it was registered that way, and for legal, accounting matters etc. Prem Mehta’s involvement would be more in terms of North Point (our knowledge centre) and new divisions that may come under IMAG.

Why is it for the first time that we have a chairman for Lowe India? Are there changes ahead for Lowe?

Lowe India, Lintas Media Group, Lintas IMAG all started out as small companies within Lintas, but have all emerged as entities of their own. As an advertising agency, Lowe Lintas uses the services of group companies but treats them as separate companies.

I am heading the advertising agency Lowe India, which is about ideas for any media—we are the brand building centre. Areas like media and Lintas IMAG (non-traditional businesses) are separate. That said, 70% of ad revenues come from the main agency and about 90% of the ideas for our brands come from us. Ashish Bhasin continues to head Lintas IMAG (as before).

Some changes are due at Lowe. We are starting a digital unit, a design unit and a retail unit and these would all be self contained units within Lowe.

IPG (Inter Public Group, the marketing communications conglomerate of which Lowe is a part) will have its global specialist units such as Momentum and Future Brands coming in, which will work across IPG companies. They could share resources with all IPG Group companies.

At Lowe, I’d like some things to be done faster. I’d like bureaucracy to get cut off.

I would like to bring in a better environment at Lowe which would help generate better ideas. Ideas need to be simple, why complicate it to make it sound like we’re talking of the United Nations.

We’ve heard that Lowe India is in serious dialogue with Leo Burnett India’s national creative director, K.V. Sridhar (Pops) to take a very senior creative role at Lowe? Your comment?

Well, we would love to have Pops over. Could you ask him to call us? (laughs.) And yes, we’ve been in dialogue…but over Andhra food.

There is talk that you intend to ‘revitalize’ or relaunch group agency SSC&B Lintas?

We are going to revitalize SSC&B in some way. It will be a reformation of what the brand stands for. One way to do it would be to bring it up as a strong second agency. It would steer conflicting businesses. It could just focus on a specific area of specialization like retail clients or financial clients. The third way is to make it such a localized agency, handling lots of localized clients, almost like a Café Coffee Day which is everywhere.

I have ideas to start new ad agencies under Lowe. Assuming we bring SSC&B as a strong second agency handling conflicting business, we could have a second agency for retail clients or financial clients and so on.

You are an Ideas person. Are we going to see initiatives related to content creation?

I am hoping to finish a new movie project Pa by next year end. But at Lowe, we will get into ideas which use content better. We aren’t getting into content creation.

TV and print are huge players right now. All this talk of new media is fine, but the fundamental thing is—what’s the idea? The idea for the brand is the most important.

There is talk globally about IPG aligning its creative and media agencies closer together and media agencies collaborating better...

There is still some time for that. The model is that you collaborate on tools, systems and processes. If an ad agency is coming up with ten ideas, and a media agency used to come up with two, then now, maybe they are coming up with three. Media agencies pitch ideas for the medium. They are medium driven. “Feel like God" for Avenger was a creative idea. But the fundamental thing is: what is the idea for the brand? That’s our (the agency, Lowe India’s) domain. Usually, we create the ideas, and implementation is with IMAG etc.

Isn’t there a danger of you being seen as having a bias for traditional media?

I will push digital, but when it’s relevant. I cannot push a brand like Wheel digitally. But a game for Pulsar was an idea. However, I would still have to think of a brand idea for Pulsar. Today, TV and print are hip and happening in terms of ideas. A lot of this pomposity (new versus traditional media) is created by new media, but it only accounts for 5% of the overall ad spends.