Can an Indian independent emulate Mudra?

By Devina Joshi , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Advertising | November 01, 2011
In every market, there is an independent agency that keeps the local spirit up and running - a role played by Mudra in India. Now that it's part of Omnicom, can another Indian independent agency step into its shoes?

Omnicom has upped its stakes in Mudra, and now owns a majority share (51 per cent) in the agency of Indian origin. In the light of this development, one comes to understand that Mudra, the agency that gave several network agencies tough competition with its core Indian school of thought, will perhaps be more network-operated than earlier. We ask agency heads in general whether they think any other agency of Indian origin can emulate the core Indian-ness that Mudra was rather famous for. Some interesting responses in the report that follows:

Arvind Sharma
Chairman, Leo Burnett, Indian sub-continent

To say that Ogilvy or Leo Burnett are not Indian agencies is to hold a view despite facts to the contrary. These agencies have produced more popular work in India that appeals to Indians, than the so-called Indian agencies.

The issue of local versus international agencies is relevant in some markets, as for instance, in China. There you see a sharp contrast between the work produced by agencies run by Western expat leadership, and agencies with Chinese leadership. Apart from work, the ability of the two types of agencies in dealing successfully with local business culture differs.

In India, all agencies are run by talented local managers. They have all grown up, having imbibed Indian culture. They have grown up as young executives dealing with both MNCs and Indian clients. This influence is far deeper than just the ownership of the agencies they work for today. The difference in India, therefore, is not between Indian agencies and the non-Indian agencies. It is between very good agencies and agencies trying to be good.

Colvyn Harris
Chief executive officer, JWT India

I don't think so. If you ask me, with this development, Mudra becomes more of an Omnicom agency, but it will be business as usual, for it. The benefits will include gaining into Omnicom's global philosophies and methodologies, and the agency will be better able to imbibe these as a part of the network in a more consolidated manner. But, businesses are essentially made by the people who work on them, and if you have a good thing going, there need not be too many changes made.

Now, if an agency aspires to be the next Mudra, it needs to be as large in terms of scale, and its school of thought, else it will land up looking like its pale shadow. And, if one lists out the top 25 or even 35 agencies, one will see that the eco-system doesn't give any of these a platform to 'become Mudra'. I don't think another agency can even begin to be a semi-Mudra. If you ask me, the Omnicom acquisition of a majority stake in Mudra is the larger story here.

Ajay Chandwani
Director, Percept Limited

Mudra has always been Indian by nature and culture. I think the top 20 agencies are mostly network agencies. There are very few agencies that can scale up to be a Mudra in the near future. I would imagine the Ambanis weren't interested in parting with the stakes earlier, but I'm sure reasons are in place that has led to this important development.

The fact is, Mudra remained an Indian independent for a very long time, by choice, or by design. And currently, even agencies of Indian origin probably have a little stake from some international partner. Only when a majority stake comes in, the benefit of an international network truly seeps in.

It has its advantages and disadvantages. Being part of a global network implies losing the freedom of being an Indian independent, and the people to revenue ratio is more rationalised by the network. Possibly, an agency could lose its style of functioning. But, you also get to borrow on the best practices.

That said, I don't think there are many large agencies that can be the next Mudra by choice, not for a very long time, as they don't match up in terms of scale or school of thought. Creative boutiques will continue to flourish. Some will sell out to international networks in the next five years, or make a killing by doing so rightaway. In any case, Indian entrepreneurs in general, are always waiting for the right time to sell, just like in Mudra's case it happened rather late -- it happened now.

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