Every ad agency head will tell you that one of the hardest jobs in the business is to attract talent. As it turns out, talent is even harder to retain. Through the latter half of the 2000s, young creative people many of whom were apparently being groomed to take over as the next set of NCDs and agency leaders upped and left.
In some cases, they got tired of waiting; disillusioned with a ludicrous system of promotions and designations, where real power and responsibility remained tantalizingly out of reach. In others, the disillusionment was with the industry itself and the certainty that periodic re-inventions notwithstanding, the old advertising model was doomed to failure. The result: a whole clutch of independent marketing communication firms launched by people who, at least for the moment, are affiliated to nobody but themselves.
These companies are united not by approach to work or business models but by a fierce desire to strike out on their own. And by the path they’ve chosen ever since their inception. This is especially true of agencies headed by marquee creative talent, regular winners at most advertising award shows. Their peers and ex-bosses expected their agencies to be creatively driven boutiques at best and shops that relied on a judicious mix of freelancing and scamming at worst.
“It was becoming routine and I wanted to do something different. Both MK and I had seen how a big agency works, so we got together and said, why not try doing something on our own,” says BE, co-founder, TapRoot India. The creatives as well as the suits quietly applied themselves to the task of building a viable, in some cases, even a differentiated business. The fact that many of them have been doing very well for themselves through challenging times make them bonafide India rockers.
But let’s focus on the differences for a bit. If Law & Kenneth is sticking to the traditional advertising model, Raj Kurup, founder and creative chairman, Creativeland Asia bristles if his firm is even inadvertently referred to as an ad agency. Within a span of four years, Creativeland, he says, has made a transition beyond just creative into design and even motion pictures.
The differences run even deeper when one considers their approach to getting business. Scarecrow was founded earlier this year by NC and SC, a veteran creative team who’ve been in and out of O&M, Ambience, McCann Erickson and Contract. They confess themselves game for any business that comes their way and even businesses that don’t.
Cold calls and pitches are very much a way of life at Scarecrow. Its first pitch to Reliance Macquarie was made at a coffee shop long before the agency had an office to call its own. Size and scale were very important from day one to co-chairman and managing director of Law & Kenneth. The agency pitched relentlessly but was often dropped by marketers who felt it wasn’t big enough.
Today, we choose to walk away from discussions that hover on the size of the agency. We say hire us for the right reasons for over the years we have acquired a reputation of an agency that creates brands from scratch at the agency. For four months, initially, we didn’t do any business as we said no to brands that wouldn’t allow us the platform to grow.
At Creativeland Asia, the marketing communications business is only part of what the firm is all about. The agency’s business has been obtained via a combination of meetings to determine what the firm could do for brands or via positive word of mouth from existing clients.
Being independent has made these entrepreneurs venture into several parts of the business that they would otherwise have been shut away from. Some of these are aspects that the creative folk could have lived without.