Sumita Vaid

Three Delhi agencies running without heads; is all okay?

Rediffusion DY&R, Contract Advertising and Enterprise Nexus are yet to announce new branch heads in Delhi

Three agencies are running without branch heads in Delhi.

Contract Advertising senior vice-president and branch head Mohit Hira joined The Times of India last month. The agency is yet to announce a successor. Enterprise Nexus, Delhi, is grappling with a similar situation. Sundeep Kumar, who was running the Delhi branch of the agency as director, recently joined Godfrey Philips India as director, corporate affairs, leaving the top slot in the city vacant. Months before these two moved out of their respective agencies, Charles Berley Jenarius left Rediffusion DY&R as senior vice-president and branch head, to be part of an emerging industry - telecommunications - in another country - Nigeria. All three agencies are yet to find suitable replacements.

We could be reading more into this development, but is this sheer coincidence or the indication of a pattern?

If the three agencies are operating without branch heads, the most obvious explanation, says an industry observer, could be a weak second line of defence. Does this mean that a branch head is not an important figure in an agency's succession plan? Mohammed Khan, Preet Bedi and Colvyn J Harris, national heads of Enterprise Nexus, Rediffusion DY&R and Contract Advertising disagree in unison.

Bedi, president, Rediffusion DY&R, argues that in a people-driven industry such as advertising, a succession plan, more often than not, tends to backfire. "Succession plan is not a simple thing," he explains. "In a service industry such as ours the choice is always between what is important today and what is important tomorrow. Today does take precedence over tomorrow. But that is not to say that we do not have a succession plan in place. People leave suddenly. So even if we have a succession plan in place, it really does not work. Trust me, an ideal succession plan is not an easy affair."

An ex-advertising hand, working with a multinational FMCG company, has a different take on this. "A succession plan is taken more seriously at the managing director level. In a mid sized-agency, there are not many layers. Thus, the gap between the number one and two is big. When a branch head leaves, the second in command may not be the ideal candidate to fill up the top slot."

Agencies face a Catch 22 situation here. While most agencies do rear a prospective number two, they, at the same time, are aware of the risk of losing him or her to another agency, for whatever reason. A long waiting period. A better pay packet. "When an agency invests in a number two, it is an added cost to the company. And the stakes increase in proportion to the cost. One cannot dismiss the possibility of the number one not leaving, or staying on indefinitely. That eventually frustrates the ambitions of the number two. He will grab the first opportunity to leave the agency, when he sees his ambitions being realised elsewhere," says an ex-advertising professional.

Whatever be the reason for not announcing their respective Delhi heads, all three agencies are faced with a queer problem, no doubt. "Our Delhi operations are big - around Rs 150 crore. No one can just walk into the business immediately," points Bedi.

Colvyn J Harris, president, Contract Advertising, echoes a similar sentiment. "Every one-down-level guy may not be mature enough or experienced enough to take the responsibility. While he may want to take the responsibility, it still is a very complex decision. For example, Sachin Tendulkar is a specialist, but he is not good as a captain. Similarly, there are people who are exceptionally good in specific areas, and in the event of appointing such a person as branch head, one runs the risk of compromising on his expertise," explains Harris.

Tarun Ahuja, vice-president, RKSwamy/BBDO, explains why it is a complex decision to appoint a branch head. "Advertising agencies are personality-driven and not people-driven. Agencies are not like any other organisation. The growth is fuelled by a personality more often and not a team."

That comment puts in perspective Harris' remark, "…a branch head has a fairly expanded role. He represents the company." Elaborating on this "expanded role" of the branch head, Harris says, "His role is administrative in nature - getting business, spotting talents, growing talent, managing the financial side of the business and more." To this, Mohammed Khan, chairman, Enterprise Nexus, adds, "And the creative guys may not be the best people to run the business."

Admittedly, finding such a multifarious personality is a trifle difficult. "There are good and bright people but they are not many. While the advertising industry has grown phenomenally in the last 10 years, the number of people opting for advertising as a career has not been encouraging. There are these other emerging industries such as insurance, telecommunications, IT, that are attracting talent," observes Khan.

This is also an observation agencyfaqs! has made time and again while talking about the attrition rate in the industry. Ahuja of RKSwamy/BBDO throws some light in why that is happening. "One reason, of course, is these companies are discovering and recognising marketing proficiencies in people in the advertising business. The other is since most of these industries are at a nascent stage they are looking outside for experienced people. They are taking people from related fields, people who have sufficient experience in handling similar businesses."

All said, a branch without a head presents a fantastic opportunity for rival agencies, which can use this vacuum to poach clients and, yes, people. But none of three agencies running without Delhi heads seems unduly worried about the prospect. "We continue to deliver the best creative and strategic inputs to our clients. We have very fine people and a very fine structure in place. So all's well," says Harris, more or less summing up how Khan and Bedi feel about the whole thing. © 2003 agencyfaqs!

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