afaqs!

JWT's creative agenda: Phase One

By Shibani Gharat and Devina Joshi , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Advertising | November 25, 2011
In an interview with afaqs! Bobby Pawar, the newly-appointed chief creative officer and managing partner at JWT India, and the agency's chief executive officer Colvyn Harris, speak about the new creative structure at the organisation, the need for it, and goals set for the future.

JWT India's recent past has been an eventful one, with the agency having seen both gains and losses. The latest news is that of Mudra's Bobby Pawar set to join JWT India as its chief creative officer and managing partner, while three of the agency's ECDs (executive creative director) -- Teesta Sen, Senthil Kumar and Swati Bhattacharya -- have been elevated to the post of NCDs (national creative director). Surprising, as the agency didn't have a single NCD for the last several years, ever since the exit of Agnello Dias.

What's with the sudden spurt in creative leadership at JWT? What led to this kind of a creative structure, and how will it help the agency, as it moves forward? Bobby Pawar and Colvyn Harris speak to afaqs! about the new creative structure, the forthcoming challenges, and the modus operandi for the future.

afaqs!: What triggered your decision to join JWT India -- were you unhappy at Mudra with the recent Omnicom majority stake structure?

Bobby Pawar: It was not a case of being unhappy. There was no fear of a larger network taking over and there were several logical reasons to stay back. But, JWT is a once-in-a lifetime opportunity. The agency has a legacy behind it, it has done great work and has some of the best and the biggest brands in the country, that give you a great platform. The opportunity to add to that legacy, to bring in more creative lustre and point a way forward is what I wish to do.

afaqs!: What will be your mandate at JWT?

Bobby Pawar: My mandate here is to partner Colvyn Harris, and make the organisation a highly creative one. Collaboration, experimentation, getting ideas, and getting out of your comfort zone is what I wish to begin with. My job is not to be a class monitor, but to help everybody get better in what they do.

Colvyn Harris: As chief creative officer, Pawar will convert the entire organisation to a creatively driven one. He will be at the centre of ideas and creativity, but everyone has to participate in the process. His skill, his passion and his understanding of creativity is what I found most crucial.

afaqs!: From no NCD in three years to three NCDs in a day, what is the reason for this?

Colvyn Harris: We wanted someone to build our creative vision and set that bar, which can only be Pawar. But, we also wanted someone to execute that vision. We were initially structured in a way that we always had executive creative directors. The word 'national' was never given, because it signified small agencies with one branch office!

But, you need to start tapering leadership to a point. Even if you have a purpose, you need a structure that helps you deliver on that purpose. Hence, to service our agency's huge scale of operations, we decided that we need to relook at our talent strategy and have a multi-level talent strategy. There are multiple talented people across various offices, but there was a need for a seamless platform.

JWT is a huge ship. When you run a big ship, it is better to have more captains than just one. Bhattacharya, Sen and Kumar help form that apex.

Bobby Pawar: Elevating some people to the position of NCD is not really a reaction to the past, but a step towards evolution. Environment changes around us and hence, the organisation has to adapt to these changes. Our ECDs here run and control more business than NCDs in some other organisations! Hence, you need to give them that stature that even the outside world, especially clients, recognise.

The new designation gives them stature and more room to operate. In cricketing terms, an organisation of the size of JWT needs one captain, but it may need not one, but three vice-captains.

afaqs!: JWT has experimented with a twin-NCD structure in the past (Josy-Aggi), which seemed to have failed. So, what is the reason behind experimenting with multiple NCDs, once again?

Colvyn Harris: I am not experimenting, I am an innovator! (Smiles)

Bobby Pawar: It is unfair to say that they left. Josy Paul was always a start-up guy, and he got the opportunity to do what he wanted. Agnello Dias has always been an entrepreneur sort. Both of them got an opportunity and did what they wanted to do. JWT never lost accounts during their stay, so who is to say it didn't work?

afaqs!: What do you consider a challenge, right after you assume responsibility at JWT?

Bobby Pawar: I know what my goals are, right now, but I can only execute them after I get in and that is a couple of months away. My role would be to spot talent, to make sure that the best talent gets the best opportunity so that the brands that we are entrusted with get solutions. If I enter an organisation from the outside, with an opinion on what's wrong with it, it will not be a perception, but a prejudice.

Besides, the place will have to evolve in terms of being experimentative and trying out new things. That is also going to be my objective. That is somewhat similar to what I have done over the last four years at Mudra. My motto is 'Let's do one thing that scares us everyday.' This will also help us get out of our comfort zones.

Colvyn Harris: Our gameplan isn't just for India, it's global. We aim to achieve local admiration for our work, and this includes recognition amongst our peers and finally, we want to achieve fame and recognition at a global level by winning awards.

The other role that Pawar will play is to be a part in our global creative council. Hence, the work that we produce has to be at par with our global counterparts. After all, JWT India is an important part of JWT, globally.

afaqs!: The agency has seen several exits in the recent past. What according to you is the reason for this?

Colvyn Harris: Loosely, people say there have been so many exits at JWT. But, what people don't know is the reason for their exits. We have a concept called planned attrition. In a talent-driven organisation like JWT, when there are three people who perform similar kinds of jobs, and one of them excels, then you reward only that person, not all three of them. What the other two, however realise is that the organisation is not playing the same game, and hence they move out. From our perspective, what will we call it? It can be either planned attrition, eased out attrition, or JWT is 'losing people', we do not know.

afaqs!: Your agency had lost some of its key projects, including those for PepsiCo and Airtel, to other agencies such as Taproot India. Do you think it was because of lack of a unified creative leadership?

Colvyn Harris: When you play one-day cricket, you cannot always win. Hence, we did lose out on some large projects. Did it hurt us? Yes! Will we let that happen again? No! Are we relentless in our purpose? Yes!

A client needs solutions and is 100 per cent accountable to and his only priority is his business. A client takes the right decision for his brand each time. We have had our share of successes and failures like any other agency. But, by and large, a JWT client is usually there for life. But, our people outlive the brands. Brands and clients, at times, come and go. We believe that we own a brand as much as a client, because we are equal partners on that brand. Why do you think we are changing everything?

Bobby Pawar: You also need to have the thought leadership, and not just the numbers leadership.

afaqs!: There are rumours floating around that JWT owns a stake in Taproot, how true are they?

Colvyn Harris: (laughs) Just ring up Aggi and ask, how much percentage of stake does JWT own in Taproot?

You know, business loyalty works both ways. You must credit us in knowing when it is when we would like to keep a client.

Bobby Pawar: Besides, you have to continually look at what you are doing, what your flaws are and learn from them, rather than saying that some other agency took away your business. If you do great work, nobody can stop you from getting what you deserve.

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