afaqs! news bureau

DraftFCB Ulka completes 50 years; thumps on happily

The team at the agency stands committed to the principles of DraftFCB Worldwide and Ulka Advertising, namely, to become trusted business partners to its clients and to continue to be a great place to work and grow.

The agency known for its strong planning genes, DraftFCB Ulka, completes 50 years of staying true to its founding principles of long-term relationships with its people, clients and associates.

This belief is reflected in the agency's enduring client relationships, many of which can be traced back to the first decade of the agency (read ITC, Zodiac and Nerolac). Several clients, such as Wipro, Amul, Tata Consultancy Services, Hero Honda, Agrotech and Blue Star have been with the agency for over two decades.

DraftFCB Ulka completes 50 years; thumps on happily
Similarly, the agency's top management has stayed together for over two decades; K S Chakravarthy aka Chax further strengthened the core management team when he joined as national creative director two years ago. Interestingly, the top 45 executives would have completed an average of over 10 years with the group.

"The induction of an NCD three years ago was a conscious call," admits MG Parameswaran aka Ambi, executive director and chief executive officer, DraftFCB Ulka. "We have never underestimated the need for creative to bring strong strategy alive."

On this occasion, Ambi also lets afaqs! in on his emotions. "No other agency can claim to have completed 50 successful years of operations at the top of the batting order. We have been able to preserve all our core strengths and values over the last 50 years, that is, to be an agency that clients can look at as partners, a place people can work, learn and grow and an associate that industry peers can look up to for support," he says.

Quick rewind

Ulka Advertising was founded on February 1, 1961 by Bal and Ann Mundkur. There were seven people who formed the first team, including the legendary RK Joshi, considered the father of modern typography in India. Bal's brother, Bhaskar Mundkur joined Ulka soon after, leaving Hindustan Lever where he served as head, marketing services.

The agency went on to build its business on strong strategy-based advertising, winning accolades from peers and media in the process. Interestingly, the agency won its first industry award for its own logo. When the Abbys (then Ad Club Awards) were instituted, Ulka was the first agency to win the Campaign of the Year Award for its 'Save Bangladesh' public service campaign.

Some of the agency's early clients included Gabriel, Crompton Greaves, Mukund, Godrej and Ciba Geigy, Zodiac, Nerolac, Ceat and ITC. These clients propelled Ulka into the Top 10 league within the first decade.

The agency moved into its new office at Nirmal, Nariman Point in Mumbai about 10 years after its inception, becoming the first advertising agency to move into the premier business district of India. It opened offices in Kolkata and Delhi in the first decade, and moved into Bengaluru and South India 10 years later.

Silver jubilee

Ulka celebrated its 25th anniversary in 1986 by organising a seminar on "Advertising and the Fourth Estate", in which four leading editors discussed the role of media and advertising in a developing economy.

A team of six professional managers, comprising Ambi, Arvind Wable, Shashi Sinha, Nagesh Alai and Niteen Bhagwat, led by Anil Kapoor joined the agency in the late '80s. The new team built on the successful foundation and took the agency into the Top Five league, the first Indian agency to break into the preserve of this exclusive MNC club.

In February 1997, Foote Cone & Belding (FCB) acquired a 51 per cent stake in the agency, which was then renamed as FCB Ulka. In 2007, Draft Worldwide and FCB merged globally to form DraftFCB. Soon after, DraftFCB acquired the remaining 49 per cent stake in the agency and the name changed to DraftFCB Ulka, a 100 per cent Interpublic Group company.

The last two decades

Over the last two decades, the agency has transformed itself into a complete marketing communication solutions provider with two mainline agencies -- DraftFCB Ulka Advertising and Interface Communications. Its other prominent arms include media house, Lodestar UM; direct, digital agency, DraftFCB Ulka Interactive; pharma agency, DraftFCB Ulka Healthcare; Nebula Films; Procyon Graphics; IO Design and Cogito Consulting.

Through these divisions, the DraftFCB Ulka Group serves well over 250 brands across more than 100 clients in sectors as diverse as automotive, consumer goods, consumer durables, technology, financial services and retail, in emerging and traditional media as well as healthcare. Tata Motors, Whirlpool, Zee, Tata Tele Limited, SC Johnson, LIC, IndianOil and the Mahindra Group are some of its key group clients.

Ambi explains that some decades ago, the agency was conscious of its strong leaning towards the consumer durables sector, with very low representation in the FMCG and services sector.

"Now we are much better balanced, but there are a few large categories that we are not well represented in. Hopefully, over the next 24 months, we will fill those gaps," he states, adding, "We will pick the right horses to back, and never bet too heavily on any single horse." He says that every year the agency looks at its portfolio and sees if it has sufficient "new" brands and clients in its roster.

Looking ahead

A host of events have been planned to celebrate the agency's golden jubilee, starting with a party on Founders Day (February 1) for both current employees and alumni, followed by celebrations with clients and business partners. Howard Draft, chairman, DraftFCB Worldwide and Laurence Boschetto, chief executive officer, DraftFCB Worldwide are expected to be part of these celebrations.

"Building a large agency group like DraftFCB Ulka is always a work in progress affair. There are several new opportunities that we want to strengthen. Our digital practice is great; we will scale it up and take it to many more cities. Our consulting practice is taking root well; we will invest in more proprietary studies, workshops and seminars, as part of our 50-year celebration," Ambi says.

He adds that though the agency has laid down human resources development plans, it will revisit them in order to strengthen the teams to think seamlessly, above the line, below the line and through the line.

The agency is confident that it possesses the right leadership to take it into the next decade and beyond, with success. It will be investing in new offices, new streams and new skills. "Going forward, we hope to strengthen these offerings, without getting into any speculative acquisition spree," says Ambi.

"We wrote a line for one of our clients many decades ago: 'Best means of growth come from within'. We truly believe in this idiom to live up to. Our best efforts have been driven by insiders. Our new divisions have been powered by our own clients who wanted new services. This tradition will continue," he signs off sentimentally.

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