The notion of second agencies in India is associated more with failures than successes. Second agencies just keep sprouting — the latest in the line is Pickle from the Lowe group. By no means is Pickle an anomaly. Following the merger of rmg david into Bates and Enterprise, Ogilvy promptly launched Meridian Communications. Mudra Group already has another second agency brand under its belt — DDB Mudra. Add to this Altitude, the new Indian entity established by Interpublic Group to handle the Jet Airways and JetLite business in India (Altitude will operate as a specialist function within McCann).
By no stretch of imagination is the concept of the ‘second agency’ new in India. Some like Contract Advertising and Interface have been around for a long, long time so long, in fact, that people even tend to forget the two shops began life as ‘second agencies’ to what were then known as HTA and Ulka Advertising. Others like Leo Burnett India’s Orchard Advertising are more recent.
But there are many more instances of second agencies that blossomed, basked in the sunlight for a while and then quietly disappeared, than one can care to remember. For instance, how many people today remember Lintas India’s second agency, Karishma Advertising, from the early 90s? Or Gaia, the second agency started by Enterprise?
And lest we forget, BBDO India is BBDO Worldwide’s second agency brand in the country after RK Swamy. In this case, the script and its motivations run a bit differently. All of this point to one simple fact: second agencies are back in business.
It is no secret that agencies start second agencies with one primary purpose in mind: handling conflicting business. More often than not, second agencies don’t manage building a distinct brand personality and philosophy of their own. Many second agencies fail to escape the shadow physical as well as metaphorical of the larger ‘mother agency’, and as a consequence, invariably get subsumed by the mother agency. So the question is, how does the fresh crop of second agencies plan to beat the system? Altitude is not Mc-Cann’s second agency in India that it’s just an arm created to service the Jet account.
It is important to define “what the second agency stands for. Nobody starts a business with the intention of not making it work, and whoever took the second agency seriously, made it work.” Pickle, which was launched a couple of months back, has its own board of directors and management team, and runs independently from Lowe. In fact, Pickle has taken up from where SSC&B left off, and its clientele includes Royal Challenge, Ruchi Soya, Canara Bank and Union Bank of India. According to Madhukar Kamath, MD & CEO, Mudra Group, DDB Mudra was incubated in Mumbai for a year before being formally launched.
The idea was to slowly build a strong second agency brand, for which they have been assembling people over the last one year; it is now ready to take flight. Apart from handling conflicting businesses , DDB Mudra will mainly handle global DDB accounts coming into the country. In Delhi, the agency handles two of DDB’s global clients — Wrigley and Philips.
Purely for the record, Interact Vision and Canvas are the other ‘second agencies’ in Mudra Group. The agency was started as “a second full-service agency of O&M with a proper team to head the creative and strategy arms of the business. It was not started to handle businesses that O&M could not handle. The agency’s clients include ITC and Himalaya and present across Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore.
Contract is one of the best examples of a thriving second agency: veterans in the business vouch that its success came from the fact that it was conceived to embody everything that HTA wasn’t at that point in time — small, nimble and creative-driven. Pickle, has a similar vision for his agency: “If you want to introduce a special philosophy or a different ideology in an old agency, it’s an impossible task. But with a new agency it’s much simpler.
To move beyond the shadow the mother agency has to support and create policies that may not be prevalent in the larger agency, offer complete operational independence, and not expect the affiliate agency to be a smaller me-too. Pickle’s point of differentiation, they say, will be looking at acquiring marketers who have not looked at advertising seriously.
There are many brands which have never advertised, they are not market leaders, but definitely have advertising needs. They want to tap them. The ambition to grow into something larger is apparent, but the challenges are daunting. Attracting talent is one very important stumbling block, especially when the agency’s credentials are yet to be proven.
Meridian has a 40-member team in Mumbai, and the agency has not had any problem getting the right people. For Mudra, getting the right people for DDB Mudra which presently employs 60 people in Mumbai is very important. To achieve our goal and to grow the business it is important to have the right kind of people. A lot of emphasis is laid on talent and have a LLC (Learning, Leadership, Change) policy which had been heavily invested in.
Second agencies also need time to establish themselves and succeed. They are expected to deliver stellar results in a short time frame. The mother agency has to be patient, must continue to invest and have faith. The ‘second’ agency should not become second priority.
The most successful startups in India are, in fact, the second agencies. Looking at Contract, Orchard and Everest, these are second agencies of big agencies, and today are the only ones still around. One cannot think of an independent startup that has been as successful as any of them.
Still, it would do well to remember that these three are the exceptions that make the rule that second agencies in India haven’t worked remarkably well. The new lot, though, have the opportunity of proving history wrong.