Ashwini Gangal

"Clients choose you for your work, not your name": Raj Kamble

When Raj Kamble was named managing partner and chief creative officer of Strawberryfrog India in 2012, the question on everyone's lips was - How much stake does he hold in the agency?

Few weeks back, Kamble announced his decision to take over the India operations of Strawberryfrog, re-name it Famous Innovations and move out of the licensing model such that the agency is no longer associated with Strawberryfrog, globally.

We caught up with the founder and CCO of Famous Innovations and asked him a new question - Why did he go independent? Of course, that's not all we asked him.

Edited Excerpts.

Edited Excerpts

Why did you decide to buy out Strawberryfrog India from Scott (Goodson, the agency's founding partner)?

Lots of events led to this decision, including the shutdown of SF's Amsterdam and Singapore offices and some changes in SF's relation with its global investors. But what matters is that we are here today and are very positive about the future.

How did he react when you told him you wanted to take over the agency in India and severe ties with his global agency?

That's not how it happened. The decision was taken after months of discussion. Several options were considered. Finally what happened was what was best for both of us. Scott, himself a successful entrepreneur, understands the challenges and responsibilities of this task better than anyone. After the initial setup phase, Scott was not involved in the Indian agency anyway.

This wasn't the plan all along, was it? When you launched Strawberryfrog India, what was the plan at the time - and what changed?

My plan in 2012 was to do some cutting-edge creative work that works for my clients. I have had the same plan my whole life. Whether my agency is called Strawberryfrog or Famous Innovations doesn't affect my intentions and passion for the business. So, nothing has changed. I have learned that it's all about work - not the name.

Post BBH, if you wanted to start an agency of your own, why didn't you just launch one back then? Why get into the licensing model with Strawberryfrog and then go solo?

Strawberryfrog India was my agency too; I was the majority stakeholder. Post BBH, I didn't want to just start an agency of my own, I wanted to do something game-changing in the industry. After working in London for four years and New York for ten years, I was looking for an opportunity to use all my learnings along with a likeminded partner. That's why I got into a relationship with Strawberryfrog.

Scott and I had wanted to do this for a long time and finally in 2012 we decided to take the leap. But, as I said earlier, after the shutdown of the Amsterdam and Singapore offices, things changed. I shared my concerns with all my partners and we took this decision together.

People assume you didn't have to face any of the teething problems founders of startups typically do, as initially you had the backing of a global name and now you have a healthy clientele to fall back on.

I guess it's easy to say that in retrospect. But today's clients are more discerning than that. They don't choose you because of your name and the work done by some head office in London or New York.

If clients were choosing agencies based on a name, then the Ogilvys and JWTs of the world will always be better names than Strawberryfrog. And Strawberryfrog is not as well known in the Indian market as it is in other, international markets. So it really came down to our team's efforts in India. Look at Taproot or Creativeland Asia - they have proven that you don't need a big, foreign brand name, that you're only as good as your work. Similarly, there are so many big, foreign agencies that come with a ready-made client list in India, but are not doing so well.

And who said we didn't go through the teething problems of a start-up? We started out in a five by five feet room. We then pitched for 12 businesses, of which we won nine. In every pitch, we put our hearts on the table. No global alignment, connections or undercutting was involved. It was nothing but work.

Is it possible that your clients feel slightly short-changed because they awarded their businesses to Strawberryfrog and now the agency has nothing to do with this name and everything it stands for?

I remember Enterprise changed its name five times. And Lowe India has changed names three times. Even clients like Orange have changed to Hutch and then to Vodafone. Did you cut your phone service because they changed their name?

Today, all people care about is work. I don't think any client gives you a business because of the name of your agency. World over, clients move with people, they never move if an agency changes its name.

At the end of the day, Strawberryfrog is back to not having India operations. Did Scott get the short end of the stick?

That's not how it works. I don't think people care about these things today. Strawberryfrog had an office in Brazil, which shut down. In Amsterdam they opened twice and shut down. That doesn't mean anything. Scott's ties with the Indian market were strong before Strawberryfrog ever entered India. He is a brilliant creative mind and a very good friend. His clients care about the work, not about how many global offices he has. Also, ceasing the India operations was as much his decision as it was mine.

What's the next step for Famous Innovations? Going global in a few years? That would be ironic, wouldn't it?

Yes, we do aim to go global and have an office in Madison Avenue in a year or two. But right now we're focused on delivering on the promises we made to our clients. If last year was about winning new business, this year will be about proving our mettle by doing effective work on those accounts.

We have to stand by our name and our belief in innovations.

The agency's clientele includes brands such as Raymond, Titan Industries, SAB Miller, Lakme Lever, Vadilal, Spykar, MassMutual USA, Total Environment and Piramal.

Related Stories