(Continued from yesterday)
One interesting thing about Agency Brands is that in the past, a handful of Indian agencies had acquired distinctive brand images - although largely by default. Trikaya was this scintillating creative outfit. Contract Advertising was this agency that 'built brands' (thanks largely to NIIT and Shoppers' Stop). Mudra liked to be seen as the agency that built strong Indian brands, courtesy Rasna, Vimal and HMT; Ulka was the agency that was 'sound in strategic planning', while Lintas was the 'Lever agency'.
"A lot of this image was client-driven," Marzin Shroff, executive vice-president - Bombay, Triton Communications, points out. "But today, many of these images are breaking down due to a new economic environment." So now, Mudra is perhaps best known for its work for the multinational McDonald's. Lintas gets a lot of visibility through an LG and a Maruti, while strategy-led thinking is the way of life at Trikaya (now Grey Worldwide).
Funnily, the fact that Grey is today seen to be 'strategy-led', or that HTA is perceived to be 'uncreative' (though no one has a suitable explanation for all those good Pepsi, Close-up or DeBeers ads), shows that even today, agencies do have an image. "Agencies have an image among their respective clients and employees," Sunil Gupta, senior vice-president and general manager, HTA, points out. "Some are built consciously, some not." It's mostly the latter.
"It's sad that whatever perceptions Indian agencies have in the minds of people, have been defined by coincidence," says Sorab Mistry, chairman and CEO, McCann-Erickson India. "After all, the fact that Lux is the soap of the stars was not decided by the public. So why do we let them decide what we are?" Pranesh Misra, director, Lowe Lintas & Partners, too feels the effort is lacking. "Agencies do not do agency-image building as much as they should. They do not practice branding as much as they preach it."
So what does an agency do to build image? "Agencies have to be proactive," says Shroff. "They have to prevent themselves from being driven by market conditions and stop being ad shops. As the market evolves, we have to create a distinct personality or identity. I would say that Triton is a 'challenger agency'."
It has to boil down to something like that, and Mistry agrees. "Post-liberalization, I decided that McCann's vision would be on gleaning 'consumer insights' for our clients. We want to establish leadership is this, do great strategic planning based on consumer insights and back it with creative."
One thing that agencies could do to manage image is get a reputation manager on board. "McCann Europe has what is termed an agency reputation management director," Mistry informs. "He is responsible for the Agency Brand - internal PR, external PR and client management." Targeted advertising is also an option, something Contract, O&M and McCann have done on a limited scale in the past. "Agencies should be advertising more in niche publications," feels Mistry. "And direct mailing is a great option as the target audience is so well defined." Interestingly, while there are no ethical issue vis-à-vis agencies advertising, the one thing that spears the idea is the agency's key number. Says Misra in a matter-of-fact tone, "The agency's work should be its best advertisement."
Misra points out that "visibility of key personnel is also important" in acquiring image. Which entails having a well-oiled PR mechanism and a strong presence in the media. This means from getting the key constituents of the top management quoted in the media to actually having contributory articles in publications. (In fact, most industry folk feel that this is one area where O&M and McCann have taken a lead.) Participation in industry forums is another. As are speaking engagements at universities and seminars. (Talking of PR, the irony is that while most Indian agencies have their own PR divisions, most PR divisions are thoroughly out of the loop vis-à-vis developments within the mother agency.)
For all this, the active participation of the agency CEO is a must - especially so with regards to media presence. And this is the one department where many Indian agency CEOs fight shy. "Most agency CEOs, with the exception of Piyush (Pandey) and Sam Balsara are maintaining a low profile," Misra points out. Gupta thinks they are broadly doing the right thing. "CEOs should be bothered about their clients brands, that's all," he says.
Of course, the CEO's image overriding the agency's image can be a threat. Many feel Trikaya's problem was that it was never able to come out of the shadow of the late Ravi Gupta. But that's only half the story told. No one takes notice of the fact that many Trikaya stalwarts duly left the agency, contributing to the slump. And this bogey of the CEO beginning to represent the agency is unfounded, as seen in the case of Lintas outgrowing Alyque Padamsee. After a point, the institution becomes larger than the individual. And when that happens, it is for the organization to provide its CEO with the kind of image that it wants projected.
Says Shroff, "CEOs could be a bit more proactive. Today's world demands vibrancy and visibility. We are in a personality-driven business, and though the organization has to go beyond the individual, the CEO's role is to communicate the agency's vision to the public and the client."
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