Almost everywhere in Asia, there’s a great deal of cultural mix and a fair amount of whites in advertising. Brand Equity was doing a story on the growing number of expats in Indian advertising.
On the face of it, there still aren’t very many expats working in the brand communication business here. But the truth is that their numbers are swelling gradually. Let’s take Fitch, for starters the retail design and branding specialist employs some 30 people in Mumbai, seven of who are expats.
This is a far cry from the eighties, nineties and even the early years of this millennium, when the sight of white skin and blonde hair in Indian agencies told you someone important in the network had come in on a whistle-stop tour. But the tide really started turning when Ogilvy appointed John Goodman as CEO, India & South Asia. Not much later, JWT imported Matchett from Singleton O&M as its NCD.
All three Hayward, Goodman and Matchett have moved out of the country, but the number of expats are growing. And there is every indication that this will be the trend for quite a few years to come.
People outside India are keen to know what it’s like working in India. Expats no longer look at India as a ‘punishment posting’. They’re really keen on coming to India. When an agency issued internal circular announcing openings for its China office, very few staffers were interested.
But when the circular on Indian postings went out, there was lots of interest in Wieden (agency) offices. Even the non-Wieden expats we’re talking to are excited about working in India.
In fact, quite a few of the expats currently in India haven’t really been posted or ‘deputed’ they’ve come on their own volition, some even chucking seemingly better opportunities and interests. Gosling, for instance, closed down his own six-year-old boutique research agency, Gosling Research, to join Lowe India.
His clients and projects stretched across the UK, the US, Europe, Asia and Lat-Am , and included BSkyB, Burger King, Carling /Coors, ICI Dulux, Kimberly Clark, Mastercard, Masterfoods, Nestle and Unilever. He was interested in working in a big, emerging economy, so he naturally started looking at China and India. India offered better opportunities for growth and learning, so when the Lowe offer came along, he took it.
Ogilvy-Lenovo’s Vallis — who had quit O&M Sydney two years ago to write a screenplay was on the verge of starting an NGO brand when he got the offer to head creative for Lenovo. He had offers to go to other countries, but he was not interested. But when Piyush Pandey, executive chairman & NCD, Ogilvy India called him with the offer he saw it was a great chance to live and work in a country like India.
It doesn’t take much imagination fathoming the expat’s fascination with India. There’s the growth story, for one. Lowe’s Cadell, who has spent a lot of time in China and South East Asia, was on the verge of signing up with an agency network as president when he got the India offer from Lowe Worldwide CEO Steve Gatfield. “He called out of the blue, and I immediately said yes,” says Cadell.
The network he was about to join also had an India-China angle, but as he had no India experience and India is growing fast, and the development status presents a huge opportunity in India. There is no place on the planet today that provides as much opportunity to make a difference to the business. India is on a cusp of a revolution, and it gives you the leeway to do things that agencies elsewhere would fear doing.
Many expats look at India as a Petri dish for experimenting and learning. Here you get to work on start-up projects that demand time and attention from scratch. It’s something you’d never get in mature markets. Clients in India are more open to new and fresh ideas.
In developed markets, clients are getting more conservative. In India you are free to try out new things. India offers the entire spectrum, from very smart and savvy consumers to those who’re at the starting point of the consumption curve. How many markets can offer this range?”
There is a great disparity between what the top management wants in India and what the labor that can deliver in quality, skill and deadlines. But one has to learn to be more flexible. Anyway coming to terms with cultural quirks is particularly hard in initial stages.
Indian idea of time flexibility beats them. They can’t understand why a deadline can’t be met. Similarly, power distance where the junior-most guy can call the senior-most guy by his first name is huge in India, though not so much in advertising. Also, they find it hard when clients here ask for options. They think the job of a specialist is to provide only one option: the best option. Clients here won’t buy that.
What is also hard on expats, particularly in a city like Mumbai, is running a household. Finding property here is a major hurdle. This place is more expensive than London. In fact, property cost is the one factor that still makes it prohibitive for Indian agencies to hire expats.
The expat you’ve hired is fine; he is in the middle of it all, learning. But the wife plays a massive part. If she isn’t happy, the deal fails. The local management misses the family angle in all countries, but it is more true of India.