Insider vs outsider: the pros and cons

Insider vs outsider: the pros and cons

Meanwhile, Agnello Dias, JWT India’s celebrated chief creative officer, or CCO, who joined the agency as executive creative director a few years ago and in time became CCO, is leaving to set up his own agency.

Churn at the senior levels will continue in ad land, given the scarcity of star talent, but such movements raise obvious questions. Is it better for an agency to promote an insider, as in the JWT example, or an outsider (such as the creative star from another agency) as the creative head?

Does the insider have more staying power and perhaps even compatibility with the agency culture?

Actually, there are benefits to either approach. Creative superstars such as Piyush Pandey of Ogilvy and Mather India, R. Balakrishnan of Lowe India, K.V. Sridhar of Leo Burnett India can be called insiders who made it big, while Prasoon Joshi, who joined McCann Erickson India as creative chief from Ogilvy and Mather India, where he was already a star, is a good example of an outsider who has worked for the agency. The biggest dividend of appointing an insider as creative chief is the comfort factor since he understands the agency’s culture and won’t ruffle feathers, says Sridhar. An insider can save time since he already enjoys a good working relationship with clients. This could lead to stronger backing for good creative work and even heftier spending on ads by clients.

On the flip side, says Sridhar, the insider is in danger of being taken for granted and not being seen as a leader. He could face some resentment from peers over his promotion, while some clients could see themselves being saddled with someone who’s still not quite the star or veteran they were used to.

In contrast, the creative star from outside usually brings fresh insight, talent, even business to the agency he joins and can quickly earn the respect of clients. He is the proverbial new broom that can clean the system. Creative people, however, are not known to be the best people managers and outsider chiefs in particular could either face cultural dissonance in the new agency or make enemies by wanting to reinvent the wheel in a hurry, says Sridhar.

Obviously, there is no single recipe to recruiting a good creative helmsman. A lot hinges on how well the creative chief becomes a central part of the organization.

Scott Goodson, founder of StrawberryFrog, the independent global communications agency set to enter India, says a veteran can be the right choice if the agency is a legacy brand with big traditional clients. Alternatively, a star will typically bring a new approach to the company. Both can build a business; it all depends on the culture of the firm in question. Everyone has to believe fundamentally in the culture of the company—no culture, and there will be no loyalty, no meaning, no purpose. Creative stars and rising stars want to be a part of organizations that have a very well-defined purpose. “Most legacy agencies today—the huge corporate shops—are playing catch-up and are in a very difficult position because the majority of their revenue is based on traditional marketing but the future is about innovation," says Goodson. “An innovative veteran is a good solution but this may shake traditional clients to the core."

In the context of the insider versus outsider dilemma, it must be mentioned that designations such as NCD gained currency in recent times due to the organic evolution of advertising which places a greater onus on the creative and planning functions. K.S. Chakravarthy, NCD, DraftFCB+Ulka, who could fit the bill of an outsider since he was recruited from outside the agency network, tells me how there used to be executive creative directors in charge of the Mumbai office, as well as each of the other regional offices, respectively. Now, with more pressure to produce clutter-breaking work, it’s vital to have one single person to take a call or the rap on decisions related to creative judgement. “The problem is that many agencies today have no clear idea why they have an NCD (irrespective of if it’s an insider or outsider)," he says. “Is it for the name, awards, to send a message to clients or the local or international network?’’

We will see more of the insider emerging as the creative chief, as top talent becomes harder to find. Agencies need to create a sound succession strategy in the creative function, so that there is a good home-grown pool to tap.

Marion Arathoon is Mint’s advertising editor. Your comments are welcome at

Also Read Marion Arathoon’s earlier columns