Advertising agencies – opportunities in India

When professionals turn entrepreneurs, it’s akin to free falling from 30,000 feet. From a cushioned environ, the jump is into the deep unknown and without a golden parachute. All that drives these men and women is the adrenalin rush, a sense of freedom, adventure and the dream of greater glory.

Ad people, particularly the ones who have given up comfortable jobs and positions to venture out on their own are no different. “I have been creating the brand equity for my agency for a long time. It’s time to create my own and off course earn the moolah too,” confesses one ad professional, who will be going solo very soon. Small creative shops were once thought to be extinct but in fact are very much amidst all the action. And the ones that Brand Equity spoke for the story are quite satisfied with the progress they have made in a space dominated by giant global holding companies and their agencies.

How did they manage that? Most independent agencies ride on the back of partnerships with their clients. A case in point is Situations Advertising which has handled brands like Cello and Jyothy Labs for decades. Such is the depth of the relationship that clients like Jyothy Labs patiently wait for people because of Situations’ inability to devote more time to their brands, despite other agencies handling their brands within the portfolio.

Talk to the founders of these agencies and they maintain that business has been built on pillars of patience and a lot of persuasion.

For Luminous, it took the advt. agency two years to convince them to make a commercial. And it’s not just making the commercials or creatives the agencies extend their services too. So be it creating birthday invitation cards, meeting stockists discussing margins and even helping the client fight a legal battle, they have done it all. All this comes as a part of the package when working for indigenous business houses. Indian entrepreneurs can be the best and the sharpest. They will give you as much freedom as you want provided you deliver. You can’t just talk in circles with them.
Saints And Warriors haven’t lost any pitch of an Indian company that they have been to and there is a lot of work out there to be done. In case of MNCs, there are a lot of people within the system whom they have to appease and therefore are more reluctant to stick out their necks.

Then there are examples like Cartwheel, which by virtue of its performance has been able to net the bigger fishes in the pond. Reliance Communications which started working with Cartwheel for its VAS and network products has now shifted the entire portfolio of CDMA and GSM services to Cartwheel. Group head – brand found their approach quite refreshing and there is a visible hunger and appetite in the team to meet the client’s brief.
It’s this sense of independence which is the prime driver for ad men to start their own outfit. Most founders of these agencies have worked with network agencies in the past and have had different reasons for quitting, the common one being ‘need for space’.

The agencies are not very different from each other. They like independence, don’t want to be dictated by corporates and want to keep creativity alive which is what the world needs. Creative chairman likes the flexibility of walking into office anytime and being sure that his salary is not cut at the end of the month.

Besides the passion and the unique clientele that independents cater to, flexibility and nimble footedness are things that find favor with clients. When BR established Umbrella in 2004, he started as an advertising agency. But enroute he realised he was up against the Thompsons and Ogilvys of the world and therefore took a conscious decision to switch tracks and carve a niche in the space of design. There was no design agency in India who understood the nuances of design well. They have made presentations of up to 300 slides to a client who wants to change his corporate identity, just to make him understand what difference design can bring to the brand.

When Cartwheel Creative Consultancy was founded the founder was clear that it would not be restricted to only advertising. So Cartwheel has also dabbled into movie-making in Bollywood, a documentary and even launched a cricketing website. What they are doing is investing time and money to back the ideas. It may not be the right time, but they believe their time will come.

If Cartwheel is experimenting, Oxygen has started seeing the returns of expanding beyond advertising. Co-founder of Oxygen also a photographer has printed a book of his picture collection. Oxygen has in the past held exhibitions of photos and paintings done by its employees. They have created an online art forum where they upload work done by employees. This could be sold to hotels that have a need for art on a regular basis.

While it is not a full-fledged unit yet, it is certainly a revenue generator. The ability to juggle many hats also acts as cushion for these outfits given the prevailing tough market conditions.

Even as international creative hot shops eye India, the indigenous small agencies have their feet firmly entrenched to grab a bigger slice of the Indian ad market. Indeed, the so called bottom of the pyramid in ad land is buzzing and witnessing a lot of activity. It might not be too long before the adage changes to; ‘small is powerful’.