He is without doubt one of the finest thoughtleaders in Media, Marketing, Advertising and Corporate Leadership,having traversed a wide spectrum of verticals and sub sectors in an intensely competitive space with illustrious success. Leaderspeak is proud to feature Sunil Lulla, Chairman & MD – Grey Group India, who, in his inimitably well-spoken and direct way, shares some of his learnings and insights from his enormous experience, and from his beliefs and vision as a professional who has been a distinct and unequivocal proponent of positive change in the industry. Leadership gives you Distinctly Sunil.
Craft is our biggest opportunity: Sunil Lulla
Before anything else, tell me who is Sunil Lulla. Tell me about the person that he is.
There are so many people floating with that name that sometimes I do not know who that person really is. (Smiles)
OK, let me rephrase that. Tell me aboutSunil Lulla – Chairman and MD Grey Group India.
I’m a non-entity. To me, who I am is irrelevant. I have worked for more than 34 years of my life, and in all of these years, I have always worked for somebody else’s money, not my own, and largely speaking, as a corporate person, you land up wearing the garb of the corporate. So, here I am with Grey, there I used to be with Times, then I used to be Sony or Indya, or JWT or MTV, right? So you land up being the garb, by and large, most part of the day, of what you are representing.
Let’s break that down.
So if I break that down, I think I’m a person who intuitively enjoys the conversation in and around marketing, in and around businesses and in and around challenging positions — the three thingsI like doing. As a person I have different interests and my key interests change every few years, so I’m always on the move. I have good friends like you and I always have good people to work with. I think thatwhat’s very important is just to keep your head down and focus on the task ahead.
When you say my interests keep changing, you’re referring to the professional space?
No, I think both — professional and personal. So if I look at the spectrum of my career, I have done different things. There is similarity in a lot of what has been done. But there have been different content platforms, there have been different consumer groups, there have been different markets that one has had to look at. At a personal level also I find different things to do. I run now; sometime back I was an active sportsperson.
Did you always want to be in media and marketing?
No, I wanted to be a pilot when I was a kid. (Smiles) And I feel my dream has come true — I’m on a plane every week; only thing is I’m not flying it, right? So you shouldnever ask for something you’re going to regret and I did. That’s only lesson I have learnt.
As I studied and as I got educated, I had a greater sense of interest in two subjects — one was management, the other was marketing. And this is many years back — the early ’80s, when India was not what it is today. The economy was still tightly controlled, demand-supply was at an imbalance, there were not more than 2 or 3 players in a category. Advertising was very different, marketing was very different from what it is today. But that interest has not waned; it has only grown. I get much less time to read, I get much less time to think about these subjects, but I continue to enjoy and vicariously learn from everything that I do.
I have an undergrad degree from Bombay University, HR College and that is in management. There were very few students who get management, most students do accounts, right? There was no BMS etcetera as we know now; it was largely management, or accounting — most did accounting. I took a year’s break, I worked in a factory for a year.So I can use a welding machine, a lathe machine, a drill machine — I can do all of that. And then I did an MBA from SP Jain. It was not so well-known then; I was in the first term of the course actually; today it is at a different position and has grown. I focused on marketing over there. And after that, I’ve been working.
Education has been less about attending class and more about learning from life. But I think that because I had a deep interest I always picked up articles. Those days there was no Google; you had to print them, you had to find printed copies, so I always picked up theories in and around consumers, marketing, brands. Those articles still stay true today. And to me, that is the essence of what I do.
When we talk about traditional marketing or digital marketing, the pillars are the same — content, communication and technology. Both use the same three legs to stand on. So from the days when you started with perhaps the first batch of MBA in Marketing at SP Jain, till today, across all your experience of working with and leading so many top brands… how would you say marketing has evolved over all these years?
I think there are three or four perspectives on what happened with India. One: there’s more data available today than there was 30 years back. With more data available, there’s more confusion too. Because while the data does show up some clarity, it also throws up a lot of confusion because more people have more access to it and therefore more people have a point of view and more people offer a point of view on it. Two: The consumer has seen great evolution. Fifteen years ago you would not think that somebody in Nasik would have the same taste as a person in Bombay. You can’t have this elitist view any longer. So I think elitism is changing. What is value, what is premium, what is discount, is also changing because there are different consumer groups.
I think the sad part in India is that you know one third of the population doesn’t get covered in anything — they don’t even have money to eat, right? It’s sad that you cannot find a way to market out hunger and market in knowledge; that’s where this country has failed, that’s where we all have failed, we’ve not been able to take hunger off the table, we’ve not been able to put education into every household, even though of late there have been programs under way for this.
Why do we need a programme on cleanliness? It’s noble to do it, but why should you have one? Why should doing it not be intrinsic to what we do? So I think as we unpeel in this country we are learning that I think what’s not changed in a way is that the big metros still remain important consumers, important consuming markets.
So what has changed, that you find significant?
What has changed is that there is a lot more media available, there is a lot more diversity, there are better measurement tools, there are better ways to do things. There’s a lot more transparency and clarity in what you achieve. Decisions are also on the financial side of every business — it has become far more focused around business results in the short term. I think there is — to borrow from Theodore Levitt — a lot more marketing myopia coming in, a lot of shortterm-ness which is seeping in.
I remember 30 years back, the chairman of Hindustan Lever would say that the shareholders have bestowed upon me to the responsibility of being the custodian of the brand. So I cannot let a brand manager with five years’ work experience make decisions on behalf of the shareholders. I can allow them to participate but the decision rests with me and my immediate team. And that is true for any promoter or owner — they get involved in the brand because the shareholders own the brand. And I think that part of marketing still remains rock solid. We see a lot of young people participating, I seea lot of short-term decisions, but I also see some astute, bright marketers who are making waves with what they do.
How is marketing changing?
Today, product has become a lot bigger part of the marketing. So, for examplewhen there is an Ola app or an Uber app or a Book My Show app, it’s the product which does the talking – you wanna watch a movie, you can book it on a phone or an internet connection and your experience is reserved for you. I’m just picking up an Indian example of Book My Show because I think it’s grown very successfully, and it satisfies a great need, that you don’t have to stand in a line, you don’t have to worry about, what used to earlier be called black marketed tickets, right? You are not disappointed when you go to a theatre, so they don’t need to do marketing,they haven’t spent much money in marketing. The product has done their conversation for them, right? So I think that’s one big fundamental change that technology is driving.
Technology can make the product do marketing. So if there is an app you can ask for them to pick up food for you from the restaurant, that’s also a product doing marketing, that’s which is technology-driven. I think those are some of the more recent things, but I would like marketers to address themselves to actually eradicating hunger and enabling knowledge across, that is the biggest challenge this country has. We do that and the entire economy of the country will change, the entire sociography, as it exists today, will change.
Take us through your career path. What was it like?
I started in a sales job with a company called Forbes Forbes& Campbell which made alcohol. It was a company owned by Ratan Tata in those days. It did a number of things — shipping, textiles; also made spirits. I worked for one year in charge of Bombay as a market. It was exciting and scary because I’d never had responsibility of that nature before. I knew every single store that sold alcohol, there were 420 of them.
It’s true, in 1984 there were 420 authorized liquor stores in Bombay, you can go and check it. And numerous bars. So I think that’s what the great experience of selling downstream into the market, learning how to sell in a restricted environment. I don’t think Forbes had great ambitions for that spirit business, they eventually sold it, that time to Vijay Mallaya’s group. I moved.
That was when you entered the world of advertising, right?
Yes. My passion was brands, so when I got an opportunity with JWT, I took it. I worked there for close to seven years in advertising. Won JWT its first Campaign Of The Year award for VIP — after a 13-year drought, so that was bigfor JWT Bombay. The previous two years back it had been won by Maggie but JWT Delhi, right? So I think that was the great period because you know, at that point of time everything sat in the same building, media, creative, there was no planning as an example; account management was a partner with the client. I worked on VIP, of course, I worked on a Goan company which brought out a Handyplast which used to challenge Johnsons, but I principally worked on Unilever, soaps and haircare. So that was a good learning period for me.
Then I decided I’d done enough of advertisingand wanted to do something else. Through somebodyI knew, HMV approached me. The company had just been taken over by Goenka family a few years earlier and it was a BIFR company, which meant that through the Board for Institutional Financial Reconstruction the government had loaned it money to get the company back on its feet because the government considered it important enough to support to keep in business. Because it had the entire treasure trove of Indian music and was going under, the government had to save it.
What was it like at HMV, and what did you accomplish there?
There were seven of us involved at HMV. I was in charge of marketing, somebody was in charge of music, somebody in charge of technology, and of sales. In three years the company turned around, they went from red to black, I grew really rapidly in that space. I am tone deaf, yet it gave me a huge opportunity to actually get involved with music and the purchase of music, so I was involved in a large part of the acquisition. And the company then started making profits.
I joined them as a senior product manager, I left as general manager and then in 1992-93, my daughter Ayesha was born. Those days you didn’t get housing loans. And we wanted to move to a place where we could stay and I had a friend in JWT who called me from Taiwan and said look, I need somebody here to actually come and run planning. I have never run planning in my life. And it’s Taiwan, nobody speaks English over there. So I said this should be good fun, right? So we landed up in Taiwan.
Never run planning, ‘no speak Taiwanese’?
(Smiles) I lasted in planning for only one year, before I became in charge of the entire office, which was unfortunate because then the holiday was over very soon.
Relatively.From the business pressures of day to day. But Taiwan was great fun because I was there when Hong Kong was separating out of the UK, I was there when the first democratic election happened and I was there when the Chinese threatened to invade Taiwan, so it was really historic to be there. And it was an economy which was very very rich.
When did MTV happen?
By 1996 India had started turning around, the economy was changing. At that time, MTV was in big trouble in India. It had launched, it had failed, it had misfired and they needed rescuing. So given what I had done with HMV, what I had done otherwise in my life and because of my music experience, my brand experience, I was invited to join MTV in India. I was 35 when I took charge of MTV in India, we didn’t have an office, we set up one, hired people, and MTV went from nowhere to become the hero of the youth, an iconic brand. It still is, in my view. I was with MTV for many years, and then came the internet in 2000.
Yes. I got a chance to start Indya.com. It was the first time that the Times of India allowed anybody to advertise on the front page. We took a whole jacket. We actually originated the jacket, it was interesting — Josie Paul at Lintas, Balki at Lintas. It was Initiative media, Lintas, Indya.com.
The first time when the Front page of Times of India was used foradvertising. In fact it was a jacket — and with the front ad page being numbered as Page 1, it was the most noticeable of campaigns of 2000. It was created by Josy Paul of Lowe, and Initiative Media.
It won the campaign of the year. It was of course gracious of the Jains to agree to do it. It wasn’t just the money, it was the manner in which we approached them. So, I actually wrote a small note in the front of the ad, acknowledging their graciousness.
A lot has been said about Indya.com — how strongly it arrived and the impact it made…
We were too early for the internet, you know, first generation. Incidentally, even now today, I think out of the 300 people who used to work there at that time, close to 180 or 190 people are entrepreneurs now. And everybody stays in touch. From my entire career, perhaps the best networked group. Everybody knows everybody and is still in touch.
It was early days for the internet in India, right? It was a VSNL line, you dialled it and it made those funny soundstoget through.
From Indya.com you moved to Sony Entertainment Television.
Yes, those days Star was ruling – it was Balaji and all their K alphabets from seven or eight in the evening. Sony was a good channel, but it had dropped, and Zee was even lower than Sony. If I remember the GRP statistics correctly, Star was somewhere close to 200 or 275 I don’t remember that number. Sony was close to 30 and Zee was close to 15 in GRP terms. So it was a washout.
The first year Sony wasn’t very encouraging because nothing turns around in the first year; it takes time to kind of steer it.
So what did you do?
I went back to the DNA of Sony, which was good story-writing. And somebody had spotted this Colombian show in our US office which was Yo soy Betty, la fea , and we decided to convert that to a more positive-oriented Jassi Jaisi Koi Nahin. Jassi is the only second fictitious character to be on a postcard after Mickey Mouse. The Indian government actually issued a postcard in her name. And a first day postal cover in her name
Jassi drove Sony’s fortunes. After that came Indian Idol and it did well.
I moved out of Sony — I had done three and half years there, I had done what I had to. And the Times of India group was looking to start a television business, where I spent nine years built five channels, number one in every category, and my hair has turned grey and so have I.
You’re actually in Grey…
(Smiles)So you’ve worked across so many areas, genres, responsibilities – having had such a rich vein of excellent seminal work. What kind of convergence learnings did that offer you, and how does it help you in your work now?
I think what I learn reading Theodore Levitt, Philip Kotler, Daniel Yankelovich and Everett Rogers on marketing, still holds true. They may be different names, different books, and different models, the theory of the custom of focus, segmentation, positioning, Al Ries and Jack Trout to that extent, still hold true. So you, so now when we look let’s say at advertising, right and we use this line, Grey uses this line, which is ‘famously effective’ and the way it uses it, it studies the culture, the environment you are in that category and what can you push in that culture, right? How hard can you push the consumer and what are the stimuli that will push that consumer, and then that’s what becomes famous because people talk about it if it’s unusually different and that’s what makes the brand’s communication effective and the brand becomes famously effective, right? So that’s I think is the very simple application of deep consumer logic, right? To me, it stays the same.
You’ve been associated with several industry bodies and initiatives that have helped shape policies and set policy standards, industry practices, several years. Can you share the most satisfying experiences those involvements?
I think the lessons I have learnt in television are ones where the big players of the game got together to change the economic value of the pool. So the big players got together because subscription had to be charged. Piracy was not going to be tolerated. Improvement in content and control in advertising standards was important. And if you look at 20 years of television business, they have done all of that.
If you look at their economic value today – it’s a 55000-crore business, advertising and subscription put together, you go 20 years back, it would have been an 8000-crore business, 5000-crore business, and that’s because the industry focused on the right tools and collaboration happened despite competition because the entire economic pie was going to go up, not his share, or her share, or my or anybody else’s share. The economic value goes up, it becomes that much easier to grab share. I think that’s the success of the television industry collaborating.
BARC happened as a consequence of that, you wanted a more robust measurement system, you want one in which all the players had a part to play in it, you wanted to be transparent, you wanted to reflect modern times, that’s what happened.
Advertising Standards Council of India? I think it addresses the same thing. It understands that they have to be much harsher on ads these educational institutions because they make claimswhich fools students, pharmaceuticals or consumer products which make claims that can fool consumers, and I think there has been a fantastic evolution of those standards and it works in a manner in which everybody believes that there is a civil way of doing things.
The News Broadcaster Association had a similar thing. In 2008, when everybody showed what was going on in the Bombay (terrorist) attack, which shouldn’t have been shown, that was a turning point, to reset those standards and say that we should not do this.
So I think the key thing is any industry um is: is it going to have an economic effect on everybody? And then the big players are really important to push that agenda, because everybody will have very narrow parochial interest, but if there is positive economic effect the industry, everybody will participate. And nothing beats self-standards. Self-standards to self-regulate. You got to set your own standards – any industry runs well if it sets its own standards.
The DAS III rollout. Broadcasters were always wanting CAS and the rollout of DAS. But why, today, are many broadcasters not pulling off analog signals even in markets or states where there are no cases filed to delay the mandated rollout?
My friends in broadcasting will shoot me because I’m no more a broadcaster , but I think what’s happened, and I’m speaking as an outsider now to the industry — I feel what’s not worked out is that the government had to play a part in ensuring compliance, and they haven’t played a part in ensuring compliance. They have turned a blind eye towards it. You can’t keep raiding people’s houses and MSOs and cable operators. It’s got to be what’s legal or what’s not legal. Like what’s happening now with piracy, where if somebody pirates a movie or a sound, there is action because now everybody realizes something can be done. But if you look back at the history of music piracy, it was started by the movie and music industry. It wasn’t started by the consumers.
One of the biggest music labels started it.
Yeah, I am saying it was started by the industry and today it bites them on the back. So I think it’s in the interest of broadcasters to realize that what they want to do about it.
See India has a very skewed market, nowhere else in the world is free to air such a big number, like it is here. Nowhere else in the world are cable fees as low as they are here, right? Nowhere else in the world is there so much advertising on paid channels. There should be that balance like in the rest of the world, right? I think to that extent, broadcasting has failed to be able to regulate itself because if you’re free to air which means you will have less opportunity to earn money, you should be allowed to have more advertising, and those who are not free to air should stay with the limit, but nobody stays within the 12-minute limit. I mean, you and I both know it as consumers, correct?
So they will need to auto-correct in time, otherwise the industry will flatten out, because you will not be able to take up subscription prices year on year at such a high level.
Ok, now the question older than the hills and one asked at every B2B event: What are the problems ailing the advertising industry that you wish would vanish instantenously.
I tunately don’t go to B2B events of this nature. I think I don’t look at the problem, I look at what are the opportunities, because you can’t fix a problem, you can chase an opportunity. I think the opportunity is to realize that advertising is still less than 1 per cent of GDP. That’s a big opportunity, our GDP growth itself is a low number and there is growth over there. So the next 30 years, in my view, is an opportunity. Now if you enable brands to do what they have to and to grow and to build, then that’s the opportunity. I think to that extent people are chasing the right opportunity.
People say that you know you should have social and digital and content and I mean those are mats. You should have what you need to have. I think the big thing to know is that the base of the industry is craft, if you don’t know how to write, if you don’t know how to imagine and if you don’t know how to position or place or see, then nothing much is going to happen that.
So I think the opportunity is to be able to pursue this craft, be proud about it, don’t be negative about it. It’s today the low earning category of business, it perhaps does not have the same lustre that they had 20 years back. It’s up to us to bring it back.
Should media buying happen basis a common buying matrix of cost per number unit?
How would it matter? See at the end of the day, it is buyer and a seller balance that’s taking place and it keeps correcting. If you look at what’s happening, agencies are earning less in terms of buying income, and planning income, but they are earning fees in terms of specialisation, when they sell a sponsorship package, when they see you through an opportunity, they create branded content, they do different things. So I think the industry is innovating, fast enough.
Yeah, correct. We should stop blaming each other this stuff. It’s our credit and our fault, so accept responsibility. There’s nothing wrong with this business. There are many companies which are challenged to make great revenues or great profits, that’s part of the ecosystem the entire industry is going through. Now marketers don’t want to pay high quality brand communication, their brands are going to suffer. So the big brands or the smart brands, the brand which really believes in the power of communication, they invest well in the agencies.
How important is an understanding of and indeed education in digital behaviour of target audiences traditional advertisers? strategy and execution through plans, creative, communication?
There are three things to it. So let’s go with what they probably don’t know is what are the tools, protocols and the ways of calling out certain instrument measures and change on the digital platm. Because that evolves very fast, right? So you may not know how Instagram works, but you may now know Facebook works. So that’s just the brushing up of skills, knowing the technology.
I think what is happening in the terms of consumer behaviour is one thing — the instantaneous culture which exists on a digital platm. I must now instantly post ‘I am with so and so’, ‘what a cool ice-cream I am eating’? That’s the instantaneous culture. You taking selfies. I think this all is expressionism of yourself which is coming into play, but if you put a veneer of advertising into this, that same consumer may not buy. Because as long as got no advertising in it and it’s my own expression I will do it the way I want. But if you tell me to put a logo around it, do something else it as a brand I’ll start thinking twice about it.
But now you know that people do like causes, they are looking causes, they are looking a purpose, so brands start building themselves on a purpose. It’s become easier in my view to do a promotionthan it’s ever been bee. It’s never been easier because now you can do a promotion at any place, any time.
A lot of people would be more in the traditional mould of marketing even today.
By logic, yes. By count itself, there are so many people who advertise, there are more traditional advertisers, but digital is increasing fairly rapidly. So some people put a lot of money behind YouTube, some people do a lot of Facebook, some do a lot around Twitter, some do multicampaigns, so it’s where your consumer is. Usually speaking, if your consumer is young or much older, digital in the natural place to go to. Your consumer is in the middle, it’s a tough one to do.
Public opinion completely proliferates on digital…
So if you’re a brand that really has a reputation you want to manage, and if you want to do things well, then you got to dedicate your resources to doing it because you know people will respond or they will react. That’s the instantaneous culture that exists. You don’t like the experience at a restaurant, you go out there and you tweet and you go out there and put something out there saying ‘it’s terrible’. Somebody has to naturally manage this. I think what sometimes tends to happen is that the response that comes out is ‘thank you, we’ll come back to you’, that’s not a response. That has to be native within the company. I within the company must be able to manage this, myself.
How do you ensure this thinking is inside every cranium in Grey?
I can’t. To be honest, I can’t, right?
How do you encourage it?
Talk about it, share it, the nature of the work that we do. We don’t do every kind of thing we can possibly do because if we don’t get paid it, we aren’t gonna do it. It’s the basic economic model. So the services we have, if the clients pay, we manage the social aspects, if the clients don’t pay, they manage on their own.
How are digital marketers battling the two biggest obstacles, adblockers, and fraud?
I think there’s enough technology to go around ad blockers. People who have got set-top boxes and can record programmes, they fast-ward the ads, that number is a single digit percentage, most people are reached out through other mediums. Times of India when I last checked still serves ads, it had them this morning. People aren’t turning the pages away. What does that tell you? There is an enabling process, you have to understand, fundamentally people enjoy advertising, the average consumer enjoys advertising. Because it tells them something knew, it shows a different perspective, it has a message that maybe relevant to them or may not be relevant, right? It’s constantly changing, unlike the television programme that they are watching. So I think that the larger part of the pool enjoys advertising and yes, there’s a percentage of people who will skip and who will do that, there is enough technology to work around. You should be mindful of what you buy and you should know that if something has been engineered by a robot, then why are you buying it? I mean Google will not cheat you, right? So it depends, what to buy, where you buy. Credible businesses will not cheat you. They will deliver to you what they promise.
You’ve said earlier that discounting is the worst way to make a pitch? Would you support an industry-wide initiative where no agency should pitch or be expected to make a pitch without a pitch fee?
We’ve done a few pitches where the client’s prospect has paid us a pitch fee. But it’s not often the case, it’s rare, so it is very occasional. This brings us to the point: what is the economic impact of actually doing this exercise? Is there an economic benefit to it? The only economic benefit to it is that a client is paying a fair price to get ideas. Now sometimes after a few pitches you learn that there are some prospects who steal your ideas and use them, so we, as a practice, don’t work with them. So I think you need to choose where you need to pitch. That’s a conscious decision you have to make. We get invited x pitches, we don’t do them all, we do a percentage of the x.
So if you’re making an investment of time, money and eft into that, that’s part of your business development process that you would do. I have not heard an argument to say how this benefits us economically as a business. We should earn a better fee and we should be able to establish that there is a certain fee a certain service, and there should be measures around that. That’s economic progress. But business development trying to save a few bucks or trying to make it… when a client is saying they’re going to pay you a pitch fee, it means that they probably have the right to take the ideas that you present to them.
I think the economic impact we make is that we help brands appeal to consumers better and more effectively and if we can find a better way to have yardsticks that enhance our economic remuneration, I’d rather invest my time and eft in the industry lobby there.
You want to pitch, you don’t want to pitch, that’s the decision you need to make. And there are clients who constantly change agencies and there are clients who’d be loyal, we have both, right? We have more clients who are constantly loyal to usthan we have those to change. We also win some businesses in the short term, we win businesses new m clients. It’s how you maintain a client relationship that becomes really very important.
How involved are you in that process?
That’s why I’m on a plane every week. It’s a constant business to grow your business, constant need to grow your business, right? It’s an important part of an agency’s growth.
So how is working an agency different what you were doing?
It’s like being in a sauna bath 24 hours. It is very hectic.It’s very transactional, it’s also great fun. Because I think the people are cooler in terms of the fact that you can crack a lot more jokes, you can enjoy life a little more, you exchange a lot.
One big advantage is the horizontality you get in terms of learning — across categories. At least me, I now understand 20 categories better than understanding five, and that is a great insight across consumers. And you learn to solve problems, you become a better problem-solver. I think much has been written untunately about advertising people, in a way, but you eventually become better people because you’re humbler in my view. All businesses with deep customer focuses make you more humble.
Today a radio network has a crack creative team radio spots. Some creative agencies reach out to radio creative teams and pass on the client base to them to creative iterative of solutions. What constricts the ability a creative agency to invest in quality creative teams creative and ideation radio?
We used to handle Big FM, we did a great campaign Candy Class Radio City right here. So I am saying that, to me, we have done good work on radio over the last three and a half year. Whether you write a radio spot or a TV spot, or you write it a print ad or digital, that’s a creative skill. I think the economic value of our business is under pressure, right? The big four agencies have enormous economic margins to play with. The next 20 of them have some challenges, so it’s about how you’re able to sustain that. Today given the fact that you can be a hairdresser, a podcast person, a stand-up comedian or work in a radio station, as you said, is where the talent that used to earlier come to advertising, is going. So we’ve just got to make sure that our creativity shines, people will come. When I ask creative people what they want to do, they just want to do good communication. They want their creativity to solve a business problem, and do it in a way which is memorable.
So how does the creative agency outside the top 4, 5 to 20, increase its monetization?
I thinkthere are 2-3 campaigns in a year that can make you. It’s finding those 2 or 3 campaigns. Every year you may not have them. It’s finding what’s memorable and then be able to sustain themacross and that gets goodwill across to more clients. It’s getting that focus of what’s possible and what’s not possible.
The availability of talent, and the industry’s ability to invest on it…
I think that’s the challenge if you ask me honestly. Today, like I said, you could be a high-profile hairdresser, smart, very talented; you could be a chef, an entrepreneur, a podcaster, could be a stand-up comedian, God knows what else. So people came to advertising because there was a great creative funnel, which led to a creative output. When there are now many more funnels available, we have to be mindful of the fact that we’re not the only funnel left people to channelize their creative energies in. There are many others. When you’re mindful of the fact then you need to find the people. If it’s a hot creative company or a company that’s constantly creating great new ideas, it’ll attract the right creative people. So if you have a vision of ambition to be able to really tell stories differentlywhether you use technology, whether you use content or whether you use classic advertising tools but to tell stories differently, I think you’ll be successful in getting people. But churn will happen; it’s becoming part of life. Accept it.
You’ve been with Grey close to two years now, right? What was Mandate
I don’t know how close or how far. I think the key thing Grey to do is to be able to tell stories to consumers differently. We’re still on that journey. tunately by events of the last two years I have reasonably a full new team. A new creative officer, a new digital person and a new digital team in play, new HR person and CFO, some of our business leaders are different. So I think there has been a lot of change and that change is a part of a design to createimpact by creating stories which are told differently, which stand out what they tell and certainly deliver results the brands that they are meant to deliver.
We’ve started doing that. I think at the quality of creative work of two years, it’s improving. We’ve not yet got to where we want to get. We are far more collaborative. Grey always had a number of services within it. We’ve now bundled it together. So a client can get digital expression, a TV spot, a radio spot, a menu card, can get people to work across. Or can buy any one thing that they want to buy. So I think we have a range of services available.
I think quality of our creative product is getting better. We’ve held on to some stellar brands that we’ve worked with over the years. Obviously PNG and GSK come with an alignment across Grey. Dell, ITC, Ferrero, Indian Oil have been with us a number of years; they continue to be with us.
We’ve added younger and newer brands into our portfolio, we’ve added Samrat Atta which is the Parag Agro family. We’ve added more of the tis business. We’ve added bits of Mondelez only the digital serviceonly our digital service because we have Ferrero in the mainstream. We’ve added Usha, we’ve added VLCC, in Delhi we have done a lot of work the government. So that recruitment campaign the Army, the Air ce, the Navy has largely been done by us.
The cleanliness campaign Swacch Bharat was largely done by us, initiated by us.
I think I wouldn’t like to count on my fingertips what has happened or what has not happened.
I think the key thing is can we change the culture of this agency, so can it get to be amongst the top five agencies known creating content that is always fresh, always on, and always memorable. So that’s the agenda, that’s the goal. Are we there? No. Will we get there? Yes.
What has your journey with Grey been like so far?
In a plane! I think what is good about Grey is thatit is very resilient. It takes knocks, it takes big business movement — inward, outward whichever way it is — really well. It has a lot of loyalty of people. It has the loyalty of people, right? It has the ability to produce great greater work. It has an ability to produce even during times of scarcity. And it continues to attract good talent. There have been a number of young people who have joined us recently and continueto join us.
How do you keep NDB pipeline growing?
You focus on it. If you produce good work in your portfolio, the new business pipeline remains open. We get requests everyday prospects outside wanting us to work with them. We can’t entertain all the requests. Sometimes there are competitive brands, sometimes we think that we can’t do justice to it. We’ve got to pick and choose our battles. We can’t do everything. It could be commercial, it could be somebody wants something really small and it’s going to take us a lot more to make that happen. There could be conflicts, there could be repetitions, so we don’t want to handle any and every business, we want to work with brands which are going to grow. So it’s not necessary that the brand is Number 1; it could be Number 2, Number 3, Number 4, but we’ve helped brands grow. We’ve helped Sensodyne grow, we’ve helped Dell grow. We’ve helped Ferrero as a business grow. B Natural, which was a company that ITC acquired, is growing rapidly and successfully, right? So we’ve seen that growth.
You have some inspiring hobbies and interests – pretty varied too. playing the tabla to Drawing, sailing, learning mixology and…
Right now, it’s running. It all changes every few years, I change it.
How long do you run every day?
It’s how much I can do in a week. Every day is not possible. I travel far too frequently to run continuously, to run with consistency.
You’ve run four half-marathons, clocking less than 2 hours?
Ten races less than two hours.
Wow! How does it help you?
I think it gives you focus. It gives you disciplineand it makes you a more interesting person. I run with people, we talk while we run, we have very interesting conversations. Every day is a new conversation. Today was diamonds, debts and diets.
When you hire someone what are the qualities you look ?
What is very important me is, is the person hardworking? And will she or he work harder than anybody else, will s/he work harder than anybody else because most of the times, 99 per cent is perspiration. Genius is only one, right? Is this person passionate about he does. And will this person be able to constantly create new ideas — doesn’t matter whether you’re a planner, account executive, finance person, creative person. And are you someone who will work, who’s a team player… that’s really important. In a team player, the key role is to listen. If you listen first, everything else will happen.
And which values…?
I think the WPP guidelines pretty much ensure that you will never ever choose someone who is not correct your company and we, as individuals, pretty much conm to those guidelines. Advertising is aplace where, if you choose people with bad values, you’ll know in two months.