Overdose of NCDs

By Ashwini Gangal and Anushree Bhattacharyya , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Advertising | November 24, 2011
Several agencies today are appointing two, sometimes three, NCDs, not all of whom have national roles. Has the title lost its meaning? afaqs! finds out.

In the early days, the creative structure was such that there was one NCD (national creative director) who managed a challenging national mandate. Gradually, there came the co-NCD structure, wherein two equally adept creative professionals were at the helm of affairs and shared the national creative mandate.

However, agencies are today appointing more than two, even three NCDs. Still other agencies are appointing separate NCDs for different verticals, sometimes even three or four such professionals. And, then there are those who play by the twin NCD-cum-CCO (chief creative officer) creative structure. The catch is that not all these NCDs have national roles to play in their respective jobs. Many are given a regional role as the mandate is divided geographically. Yet, these creative heads, who have branch-level or regional mandates, are designated NCDs.

Are NCDs today so commonplace? Is the title losing its inherent meaning, or importance? afaqs! explores.

"Titles mean nothing if the person on whom the title has been conferred does not live up to it," seemed to be the knee-jerk response of most industry veterans when quizzed on the matter. Sure, that's a given, but won't the term 'national' lose its meaning if the person carrying the title has a regional role?

Arvind Sharma, chief executive officer and chairperson, Leo Burnett India, clarifies the basic mandate of an NCD. "Going by the dictionary, the word itself explains that it is all about playing a national role. Therefore, ideally, that role is meant for only one person. However, today, there are examples of agencies having a multiple-NCD structure, and at the end of the day this kind of structure makes the nomenclature and how you are managing your agency look slightly odd."

Piyush Pandey, executive chairperson and national creative director, Ogilvy India, responds, "A designation has no meaning unless you mean it. I have an APAC role, for example, but I feel that's merely in recognition of my years of service. Do I go and help the Vietnam office on a day-to-day basis? The answer is no." He insists that if one calls someone 'ECD India' instead of NCD, it's a mere superficial change in terminology.

Although Pandey wouldn't make a sweeping statement and say that the title NCD has lost all meaning, he will, however, agree that the title is being given out all too freely today. "Yes, it is being given out too freely today. Is every Tom, Dick and Harry being called an NCD, though the agency might not even have a national presence? Yes! That is happening, and that makes very little sense," he opines, adding that the title is not meaningless if the person knows the expectations that come with it, and if his agenda is clear.

Safety in numbers? Not quite!

Some feel that by virtue of too many NCDs in a single agency, the job role gets diluted. Just like the once-coveted job title of 'vice-president' (VP) is now dished out to every second senior person in an organisation (not to mention how the title is plagued by prefixes such as 'senior' VP or 'executive' VP), the title NCD, too, is losing its charm.

For M G Parameswaran (Ambi), executive director & CEO, Draftfcb Ulka, it is a matter of semantics and what an agency does to attract people. For some, it's money. For others, it's attractive titles. He says, "Titles by and large, in any service organisation -- be it a chartered accountancy firm, consulting or an advertising agency -- are evolutionary and keep on changing with time. A bank may have eight managing directors, but that doesn't mean the title is de-valued."

Ambi adds that at the end of the day, advertising is a very flat industry as finally, one serves clients. Every agency really needs one very senior creative person, one very senior planning person, and one very senior servicing person. Once the basic structure is in place, the number of titles within each of these barely matters.

According to D Rajappa, president, Rediffusion-Y&R, it largely depends on what kind of arrangement suits an agency, though, in his opinion, usually the role of NCD is at a national level. "In an agency that has a multiple NCD format, the leadership role is then taken by a chief creative officer. But then, in this kind of arrangement, the designation of NCD is misunderstood as it's more to do with playing a regional role," he says.

"The idea is to look at the businesses at a national level and come up with creative ideas and solutions," he argues, adding, "Many times, large businesses require quality attention and therefore, agencies need to have large resources. We work on this principle of collaboration wherein our senior national team supplements the regional team and our clients have access to the best minds across creative and planning without any geographical boundaries." Rajappa believes this is a vibrant model to add value to client businesses.

Designation versus responsibility

Arvind Wable, executive director and chief executive officer, Draftfcb Ulka, tells afaqs!, "I do believe in the fact that designations should have significance and meaning. Designations should be appropriate to the level and responsibilities given to the people."

Subhash Kamath, managing partner, BBH India, concurs and adds that to him, designations have no meaning unless the responsibility with it is clearly defined. "Whether you call it NCD (national creative director), ECD (executive creative director), CCO (chief creative officer), CEO (chief executive officer) or MD (managing director), none has any meaning unless the responsibility that comes with it is properly defined.

Once the responsibility is defined, it's just a matter of the structure. For me, it's all about the responsibility, not the designation."

The question still persists, though. Is this a desperate attempt to keep everyone happy? Well, maybe. Or perhaps the best digression from this question is a philosophical one.

As Pandey says, the bottomline is that if you are the guiding source of creativity in your office, then you are an NCD.

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