Mumbai: Craig Davis grew up in a small town called Dubbo, a six-hour drive west of Sydney, Australia. Despite being so far from the coast, Davis learnt to sail on a nearby lake and his competitive nature drove him to win national championships and represent Australia internationally.

Stints as a barman, law student, busker, finance broker, turf cutter, biscuit maker, fruit picker, producer of fashion shows and truck driver all preceded his graduation from AWARD (Australian Writers and Art Directors’) School in 1987. Over the next several years, Davis developed his own agency which became one of Australia’s most awarded independent shops.

In 1999, Davis left Australia to become executive creative director of Saatchi & Saatchi Singapore and in 2000 was promoted to regional executive creative director based in Hong Kong. Under his leadership, Saatchi & Saatchi became the most awarded agency network in Asia and was named “Creative Network of the Year" in 2002. The following year, he moved to London to join JWT as the creative leader for Europe, West Asia and Africa, and in 2005 was made JWT’s chief creative officer, worldwide. Since his joining JWT, the network’s creative reputation has improved significantly and the Cannes tally has more than tripled. JWT is part of the conglomerate WPP Group Plc.

In 2007, Davis became the first guest editor of The Gunn Report, stumbled through three triathlons and was inducted into the Campaign Brief Hall of Fame.

Davis will be the president of the Cannes Film and Press juries for 2008. He now lives much closer to the sea, in London, with his wife and is teaching his three children to sail. He sat with Mint to talk about JWT’s plans. Edited excerpts:

Various agencies are talking about rebundling creative, media and digital once again under one roof. Would JWT worldwide look at rebundling in any way?

Craig Davis, chief creative officer, worldwide, JWT

I have no idea about the proposition of other agencies. But convenience cannot be a reason. Neither is cost. I don’t want to talk about ours just yet, but we will have a rebundled model that will aggregate services whether they are a part of WPP or some of them are external. It will be a JWT model for delivery and will come in by early 2008 in India and outside. Our way of aggregating services will be done in a way that’s valuable for clients. Whether everyone lives in the same place or not or it turns into another business structure, is another question.

My point of view is that clients get to see some value in rebundling. The value is that all the bits should add up; all the activities (parts to the solution) must add up and contribute to the brand and business. You can confuse being busy with being good. A big concern is that as marketing becomes more sophisticated and complicated, you have to ask yourself whether it has also become just as efficient?

How will this new model be different from Publicis Groupe’s rebundled agency Insight Factory which will rebundle creative, media and digital into one shop?

Synergizing around what is my question (in general). My view is that it needs to be aggregated around something and that should not be just convenience. You need to aggregate services around a value proposition for clients. You cannot bolt it together with B grade talent. Whether everyone lives in the same space or not, our model will be of value to clients. Aggregation must be around business value to a brand. You don’t have a prayer of doing it without talent. People, who succeed in doing it, have more than their fair share of talent in the business.

So, best practices which will be exported from India to JWT?

We celebrate examples as a company, because these aspects/disciplines are new and in their stage of infancy. I saw a couple of interesting things in India that I intend to take to other offices within the network. One is about dual price tags (a point of sales technique) for Shopper’s Stop. The idea was to encourage people to donate to charity. So you have one price that’s the normal price and the other that comes with the amount that would go as contribution. Again, Suzuki in India had virtual showrooms. Another example is the Sunsilk Gang of Girls website that spins the brand around a legitimate online community. One of the things we need to improve is sharing best practices within the network. It’s all very new.

It’s (building brands via blogs, social networks) not the same as giving control, which is the reflex reaction from clients and from agencies. I am not convinced of that. If you moderate such behaviour, or editorialize it, people simply say, “We don’t want to be gagged here. It’s boring."

Can you give us examples of viral/digital work that were challenging for the brand?

Some two-and-a-half years back, we relaunched HSBC as the world’s global bank. It was decided that the Web would be in the centre of the campaign, and we created a forum where people could express their point of view. In the beginning, HSBC was reluctant to let people express their views freely. With time and the evolution of chat forums, HSBC opened up the forum and people could post whatever they felt against subjects put up.

With Ford, we had a Web-based documentary series in 30 parts about their real time turnaround. The documentary was shot inside Ford, and the website had high-level access to Ford facilities, meetings, etc. It offered a point-counterpoint editorial and was posted/edited weekly. It was challenging for Ford because if you need to make complete use of this environment, you need to release restrictions that you previously had. In addition, it was pitched at Ford employees, dealers, etc. The end result, however, was that it was viewed by mainstream press as a progressive and appropriate thing.

What has been the impact of digital technologies on agency structures?

It has had impact both worldwide and in India. We’ve got skill sets residing inside agencies today that weren’t there before, like data analytics. Everyone’s talking about it and that makes me concerned that it’s fashionable to talk that way. The watch out is that digital is where CRM (customer relationship management) or direct marketing was 20 years ago. Digital practitioners feel that they are undervalued and disrespected in an agency environment. People in agencies believe that they are more creative/important than digital practitioners. It was the same with direct marketing earlier. They were stuck in the basement until the last minute, and then before the presentation, the agency would say, “Five minutes and we are presenting. Can you put something down on paper?" We need to make sure we are not doing that with digital all over again.

I think that the best technology created is the round table. There is no head of the table and when you are talking about flatter structures, the round table doesn’t just symbolize but also changes the dynamics in a room. The Nokia pitch was won that way. You are only as good as the contribution you make on a round table. Best thinking for digital can came from someone who’s grown up on an entirely digital diet. I?don’t?believe?in?360. Creativity, in this age, is massively decentralized. You can see this on Facebook for example. Nobody has a monopoly on it, which is why; you have people all over knocking out great applications for Facebook.

Any mergers and acquisitions ahead for JWT?

We have been very ambitious with acquisitions. We are looking at digital, activation, globally and India. The new assets WPP has acquired will be joined within the network.

Will India be one of the hubs for high-value thinking, creative, etc. for JWT network?

Absolutely yes. Most networks have been de-positioned by independent distribution systems. In any other industry, networks hold tremendous value. Exportation of thinking across offices is critical to us. Other industries (such as technology companies) are good at this, but not advertising. For advertising, it’s a psychological problem of ‘It’s not invented here’.

But it’s already being done within JWT. The global campaign for Kleenex was born out of Kuala Lumpur, developed further in New York and travelled to the UK and other markets. Parts of the global campaign for HSBC came from West Asia, Brazil, the UK, the US and Canada.