only thing as old as the advertising industry itself is the tussle between its two departments, the creative and account management. Over the years, the account manager has usually assumed the role of managing the accounts, and with them, the agency - an unwritten rule that wasn't questioned for many decades, but perhaps resented by his creative counterparts.
This rule no longer exists globally, but India has only just begun to wake up to the possibility of a creative person presiding over an agency. Creative stalwarts such as Gerson daCunha, Alyque Padamsee, Piyush Pandey, Sonal Dabral, Elsie Nanji and Prasoon Joshi are fine cases of a creative person fighting his or her way to the top. Now, with Lowe's current chairman, Prem Mehta, presumably handing over his post to R Balakrishnan (Balki, as he is known, is currently Lowe's national creative director), it is pertinent to question whether creative leadership is the way to go for more Indian agencies.
Since there's no denying that the creative product is the heart and soul of the business, Khan feels that the direction, philosophy and vision for the agency should come from the creative department. But this does not mean that account managers have no importance - all the work must be done in tandem with them.
"But the reins should ultimately belong with the creative folk," he says. In fact, Khan goes so far as to say that if creative people are not made to lead an agency, they should feel free to start their own creative shops. "Look at the younger lot of agencies such as Creativeland Asia," he points out, "which are run by creative brains."
Priti Nair, national creative director, Grey Worldwide, is in agreement with the changing status quo. "Times have changed, the business is more dynamic now," she says. Client servicing is no longer the face of the client (in the agency), nor the face of the agency (for the client). Furthermore, creative people are no longer a protected lot locked away in a studio. "They are very articulate and understand a client's business well... they even go for pitches nowadays!" she says.
Nair says that, yes, earlier, the account manager's job included selling the agency's product, but that role is gradually moving out of his portfolio. "Now, clients like to interact directly with creative folk as there's no time for a filtering process any more, the pace of the business has stepped up so much," she explains.
Seconding that is an ex-adman turned client, Santosh Desai, currently managing director of Future Brands. "Today, clients don't simply want to, but insist on interacting directly with the creators, as they don't want any middlemen interfering," he says. This is because, ultimately, the creators add value to the client's business. "The shift of power is good news," says Desai.
Sonal Dabral, Bates David Enterprise India's soon to be executive chairman, and regional executive creative director, Bates Asia, is all for the change. "Earlier, agencies were run according to the management style of the leader," he says. If the manager was pro-creative, the output was great, and this led to great management-creative partnerships. Cases in point include Ranjan Kapur and Piyush Pandey. If the manager was solely business led, then the agency's creative reputation was at stake.
"Today, if an agency is headed by a creative, then the agency sends out clear signals to all its stakeholders, including clients, about its strong belief in the creative product," says Dabral.
Where does this role reversal leave the servicing types?
According to Nair, account management's job of understanding the brand and spotting opportunities and touch points in the market is still their domain. Khan, too, doesn't play down the importance of client servicing: All work, he says, must be done in tandem. For him, Saatchi & Saatchi (globally) is the ideal example of how an agency should be run. "Two brothers - one looking after the business aspect and the other taking care of creative," he explains.
For Khan, a mix of marketing, finance and creative persons is what forms an ideal leadership structure. He says nostalgically, "I found my ideal partnerships with Ajit Balakrishnan and Diwan Arun Nanda at Rediffusion, and even when starting Contract, I found my other half in the strategically inclined Sam Balsara." At Enterprise, Rajiv Agarwal and Elsie Nanji were Khan's partners
Balki says, "If you ask me, the battle of management and creative is passť. It's just a battle for good ideas." Spoken like a true creative soul, but one can't deny the traditional way in which agencies in India continue to run. "Yes, nothing has changed," he says. "In India, advertising is evolving despite the structure, and not because of it."
MG Parameswaran (Ambi), executive director, FCB-Ulka, and Pranesh Misra, president and COO, Lowe India, tread neutral ground. For them, it's not the discipline that matters, but the leadership skills. "The quality of an agency's product depends upon the quality of its leader, irrespective of which department he hails from," Misra says tactfully.
Desai of Future Brands goes so far as to say that the battle isn't restricted to creative guys and management folk; account planners also make excellent leaders. Desai himself led McCann-Erickson Delhi as its COO and president before joining the Future Group. Suman Srivastava of Euro RSCG and Pranesh Misra of Lowe also have account planning backgrounds.
However, others such as Nair of Grey are sceptical about whether planners are well placed as agency heads; they feel they are more the 'behind the scenes' type.
Steering the debate back to creativity versus management, the last words belong with Prasoon Joshi, executive chairman, McCann-Erickson India, and regional creative director, South and South East Asia. "Agencies have evolved and moved away from the traditional straight-jacket structure," he says. "It's a game of talent now, not one of seniority or hierarchy." Joshi says there are many account managers who come up with great ideas, just as there are many creative people who make excellent managers.
Interestingly, Joshi himself obtained an MBA degree from IMT Ghaziabad in 1992, but chose to be on the creative side. "Yes, my management training has helped me to a certain extent in understanding the managerial aspects of an agency," he says, "but really, it's talent and a good sense of the business that matters at the end of the day."