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BW Businessworld

The GenY Of Advertising

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Identifying future leaders is always a shot in the dark. So when Businessworld began its search for future leaders of advertising, we decided to ask people who are likely to play a big role in the decision — current leaders of advertising agencies, past leaders and head hunters. What qualities would they look for in the cream-of-the-crop? They said they wanted someone with a clear view on the future of the business; someone who is passionate about life beyond advertising; someone who has knowledge beyond their own area of specialisation in an era when agency executives increasingly operate in silos. These initial thoughts helped us form a set of questions, which we posed to the nominees.

  • What advice would you like to give the current biggies of Indian advertising?

  • What is it that you take pride in? What have you excelled in at various stages of your life — till you were 15 years of age, between 15 and 20 years, and now?

  • What is it that you enjoy doing the most? How do you express your passion?

  • If there is one thing you had to get out of life, and there is a clear possibility of getting that, what would it be?

  • How would you see agencies value-add to a client's business?

  • What shortcomings do you see in the current agency structures?

  • What is it that you want Indian advertising: to retain, to change, and to initiate?

JOSY PAUL, chairman and national creative director, BBDO India

Senior executives from both media and creative agencies were asked to nominate executives whom they personally considered leadership material, in the 28-35 age group. The names could be from their own agency or the industry at large. In fact, four of the top five were nominated by senior people from other organisations. In some ways that explains why agencies continue poaching talent from rival agencies. Eighty nine nominations were received; 51 nominees responded to our questionnaire (two of them after the jury had pronounced its verdict).

The responses were vetted by a five-member jury: Lynn de Souza, chairman and CEO of  Lintas Media Group from the media function; Josy Paul, chairman and national creative director of BBDO India from the creative side; M.G. Parameswaran, executive director and CEO of Draftfcb Ulka in Mumbai brought in the executive point of view; Ranjan Kapur, country manager at WPP India represented the advertising network; and Sangeeta Talwar, managing director of NDDB Dairy Services, came as a client.

Considering that leadership is a multi-function quality, all respondents were evaluated on the same platform. Also, instead of work samples — which is mostly team effort — we relied on recommendation letters from clients.

Ultimately, it was Anshumani Khanna, creative director at McCann Erickson, who topped for her ability to think and speak with clarity through the maze of advertising. Yudhishthir Agrawal, manager of brand communications at Mudra, was chosen for going beyond advertising. Anto Noval, founder and chief creative officer at Hungry & Foolish, was picked for his ability to persist and win in trying circumstances. Arvind Krishnan, brand partner at BBH, was chosen for his ability to hop across boundaries, and Venkat Raman, creative director at Creativeland Asia, scored for being able to push the limits to extremes. Here's more on them.

At 13, during an inter-school debate, Khanna forgot her lines. After some time, she walked off the stage. Her school lost. Later, as she was sitting by herself, her teacher walked up and said, "It happens. And once it does, make sure it never happens again." Something changed that day, and Khanna went on to win every debate she participated in. "To know what you have, it is important to know what you don't," she says.

Her family of doctors wanted her to go on to become a cardio-thoracic surgeon. But Khanna, who could not stand the sight of blood, decided to become a copywriter. 

In 2008, Khanna, who was with Contract Advertising then, won her first Cannes Gold. According to Indian ad executives, it was also the first Indian gold for an only copy-ad. The germ for the ad in question was a photograph in a newspaper that troubled Khanna no end. It was a female foetus dumped in a garbage bin. The action came in the form of an ad for Aadhar, an NGO run by 80-year-old Leela Dave to prevent female foeticide. The details in the copy were so hard hitting that Khanna threw up twice before she could complete the ad. The ad drew protests from women's organisations, was slammed by the media, but the jury at Cannes, the Oscars of the ad world, thought otherwise.
In September 2009, Khanna joined DDB Mudra. Among the clients she worked with was Volkswagen, and one of the most talked about ads that came from her team was the talking newspaper ad for Volkswagen's launch of Vento (in September 2010). Now Khanna is back with McCann Erickson. Her earlier stint here (2004-07) saw her working for Microsoft, Master Card, LG, Dabur Chyawanprash, Reebok, General Motors, Perfetti Van Melle, Nestle, and others. Now, as one of the youngest creative directors in McCann, she is busy preparing for the revival of the agency's fortunes on the awards scene.

Khanna says she would like the agency business to retain its creativity and passion that does not allow business decisions to interfere. She does, however, wish that competition turns healthy, and the ad industry have open fora "that allow people to know what our world is like, so that agencies can attract the best talent".

What impressed Paul of BBDO India was Khanna's belief that advertising is an industry where a trainee can have a better idea than a creative director. "You can see leadership in a line like that," he says.

YUDHISHTHIR AGRAWAL, manager, brand communications, Mudra
"I would like to see clients understand their role in the communication"

Agrawal loves theatre. Then he found that there was more drama in advertising. "I like to carry this germ of questions and curiosity to work every day. It has taught me to listen more attentively, and to treat everybody and anybody as worthy of a hearing," he says.

But he realised that it was not enough to just be curious. Agrawal says that his engineering degree from R.V. College of Engineering, Bangalore, was a personal milestone, and becoming a strategic planner at ad agency Mudra was a decision of the heart.

The advertising stint almost did not happen. After his engineering degree, Agrawal joined Deloitte as a consultant. This "really pushed me to do something drastic", and he joined Mudra in Delhi. After an MBA from Singapore, he went to Mudra at Mumbai. "What excites me most about advertising is the physical act of ‘creation'. It is a tangible feeling to be able to roll up your sleeves and create or influence ideas and stories that can change lives of people, or at least their behaviour. And to do this effectively."


Now he spends a lot of time doing strategic planning for clients. Among his achievements, says colleagues, is playing a big role in swinging the Philips appliances business in Mudra's favour. He has also played a significant role in securing the Huawei account, and is a part of the agency's think tank on the Pepsi global business.

To bring in a holistic viewpoint, Agrawal is trying to think beyond just the medium of advertising by bringing in influences from other communicating arts — cinema, dance, political speeches and, of course, theatre.

Agrawal is all for a collaborative approach with clients. "Most clients present a formal brief to the agency, and then it is left to the agency to arrive at the single solution, which can hit the bull's eye or fly off-target." His grouse is that agencies do not involve the client often enough.

Says Sangeeta Talwar of NDDB Dairy Services: "The respondent would like to bring about tangible change, which resonates with the consumer and generates business value, rather than being just a ‘fuzzy logic right-brained pursuit' for its own sake."

ANTO NOVAL, founder and chief creative officer, Hungry & Foolish
"We not only have to come up with ideas, but also own them"

Noval worked as a bellboy at Taj Kochi when he was 17. After a salary of Rs 1,350 a month, and "some really rotten" tips from famous cricketers, he moved on to better jobs. In 2001, at 24, Noval entered advertising, with Grey Worldwide, and moved to JWT, which sacked him. From there, he joined Lowe Worldwide, where he is asked to leave. Unwilling to give up, he tried his luck with Rediffusion YR, where he not only stayed for five years but also switched from client servicing to creative. When his work began getting noticed at home and at festivals such as Cannes, Noval made an appearance on the big stage with ads such as the acclaimed Sugar Free ‘ants' ad.

Currently, Noval has an establishment of his own, called Hungry & Foolish — the name probably reflects both his own early struggle, and his respect for legendary Apple founder, Steve Jobs, whose speech to Stanford alumni had the now famous title, ‘Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish'. Noval may have several awards to his name — Cannes Lions, One show, Clio, Outdoor Asia, Big Bang, Abbys, Goafest — but the one that gets special mention is the Microsoft Web Excellence award that his agency got from Microsoft's Steve Ballmer. All this has not erased past memories — he  still recalls the name of the person who sacked him at JWT, and he still preserves the Rs 5-note he got as a tip from Sachin Tendulkar.

LYNN DE SOUZA, chairman and CEO, Lintas Media Group

As an agency founder, Noval now thinks agencies should get better compensation. "We may be a creative industry, but we operate and monetise as nothing more than a body shop or a call centre. If advertising is a business of rock stars, let's charge like one," he says. But he also says that the industry has to move up the value chain "and that will happen if we not only come up with the ideas but also own them". He believes it is time for the agency business to come up with creative solutions for most business problems.

Says Lynn de Souza of Lintas Media Group: "This response has an air of honesty without  being overly cynical. It offers truly constructive and practical suggestions."
Krishnan loves to zag, when the world zigs. As a young boy in Chennai, when his traditional family that plays Suprabhatam at 5:30 every morning enrolled him for music lessons, he ran away from the class after a day. And he could run very fast. As an athlete, Krishnan ran 1,500 metres in under four minutes — the world record is something like 3 minutes and 24 seconds. The dream run continued with a gold medal in sociology. After a pit stop at technology firm Allsec, Krishnan entered Mica. "Advertising was not an accident. Someone told me that I would like it. I believed him. I am glad I did," he says.

ARVIND KRISHNAN, brand partner, BBH
"We need to embrace more open structures that allow us to add value"

From the day he stepped into advertising —when he was recruited from campus by Leo Burnett — he started hopping silos. "I thrive by straddling management, planning and creative functions. My colleagues and clients encourage and sometimes even compel me to do so. That makes me believe, I can," he says.

"For his age and stage in the industry, Krishnan is one of the sharpest minds in the business," says Prem Kamath, executive vice-president and channel head of Channel [V]. Kamath had recruited Krishnan from campus at Leo Burnett and has known him all his professional life.

Managing key businesses such as TVS, Diageo and Channel [V], Krishnan believes that there is only one style of leadership that can work in advertising, "Thought leadership." He feels there is a radical need to overhaul the agency structure, which will help it participate in fundamental business, product and product design, and, of course, communication. "This is not just more profitable, but also more fulfilling," he says.

M.G. PARAMESWARAN, executive director and CEO, Draftfcb Ulka

He finds the current advertising framework inherently limiting. "We need to embrace more meaningful and open structures that allow us to collaborate and add value across the value chain, rather than wait for our turn at one end of it."

Krishnan adds, "Many predictions have been made about how the advertising agency structure needs to evolve (or else advertising will die a natural death). Some of these arguments have merit, some have entertainment value, some are baseless, and some naïve."

Jury member M.G. Parameswaran of Draftfcb Ulka says, "The next generation leaders of Indian advertising need to bring in the kind of energy, enthusiasm, creativity, adventurism, risk taking that this respondent has voiced."

VENKAT RAMAN, creative director, Creativeland Asia
"I love advertising, but not the way it currently works"

By his own admission, Raman was a mischief monger at 13 years of age, and a vandal at 16. But he was also a closet-writer who came out of the closet by the time he moved out of his teens. For someone who stumbled into advertising because his "father knew someone", Raman has done well for himself. At least, when he set out to do a six-month course in creative writing at Mudra Institute of Communications Ahmedabad, he never bargained for a future in the ad world. "I thought I would have a six-month vacation," he says.

Before he could even realise, he had worked for, for youth magazine Jam, for ad agencies SSC & B Lintas, David and Grey. He claims to have played a role in 40 of the 100 awards that the creative team picked up while at Grey. Some of his contributions that won awards include ads for Appy Fizz, Kiwi shoe polish and Calcium Sandoz.

When the former creative head at Grey, Sajan Raj Kurup started Creativeland Asia, Raman was among the first few to join him. "It has been one blast of awesomeness to another," he says, recalling his professional journey that started with writing spoofs to doing campaigns for one of world's most respected marketing company, P&G, while at Grey. While he still writes spoofs, it is mostly on Facebook. "Advertising helps me think disciplined. But I don't know about being disciplined," he says and admits that his colleagues have tried really hard to ensure that he gets to office in time.

RANJAN KAPUR, country manager, WPP India

But it is not always about fun. "I love advertising, but not the way it currently works." He echoes what most young people in advertising told BW — that too much time is wasted on petty squabbles and ego clashes (something that has been playing out in the Indian ad business from time to time).

While Raman romances both advertising and music, a third option may soon rule his heart — he hopes to be a publisher by the time he turns 35, seven years from now.

Says Ranjan Kapur of WPP India: "Here is someone who sounds like a maverick. I love mavericks. I call them visionaries in half pants. Mavericks challenge status quo.  They always create new paths to follow."


(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 03-10-2011)