Benita Chacko

Clapboard was born out of a need to disrupt current revenue model of ad agencies: Varun Katyal

Founder and CCO of the full-stack creative services platform shares how it aims to address the inherent challenges of the advertising industry through its offering.

After over 15 years of working in the advertising industry, Varun Katyal had a ringside view of agencies and their workings. He could clearly see the problems they were facing. Finding the time ripe for disruption, he launched Clapboard, a full-stack creative services platform, in 2023 to address these issues.

“The agency revenue model needs disruption, ideally from within, but this change hasn't occurred,” Katyal, founder and CCO at Clapboard says.

Typically, agencies engage in a particular campaign for around three months or longer and earn a certain amount based on the idea. At the end of the three-month period, the output usually consists of a presentation or script. In contrast, production houses earn significantly more in a 15-day project. Katyal feels this disconnect between agency output and final execution, which is beyond their control, leads to inefficient spending. 

Add to it, he noticed that many were leaving their agency jobs for more lucrative opportunities. With many brands creating their own in-house advertising agencies, the advertising folks receive better-paying offers. He, himself, quit Ogilvy in 2020 after a three-year stint. “Most of my peer group have moved on to the client’s side or have started their own boutique shops. Many are leaving due to work pressures and better opportunities elsewhere. Agencies face pressure to cut costs while ensuring employee well-being, leading to challenges in sustainability.”

Brands rarely pay agency pricing for social media posts. Typically, a separate social media agency handled this work after the ATL agency developed the main thematic campaign because clients are reluctant to pay premium rates for adaptations. The work gets passed around to various vendors. As a brand manager, managing multiple agencies for a single campaign is cumbersome and unsustainable. 

Katyal says the current agency model itself is broken. Agencies have historically pursued an acquisition strategy for expansion. However, this approach has led to fragmented operations, with agencies charging separately for services despite shared resources. 

“The trend towards consolidation is evident, with bigger agencies absorbing smaller outfits. Business imperatives often prioritise unified profit and loss statements,” he says.

It is these issues that urged Katyal to launch Clapboard. During his last stint, as the senior creative director at Ogilvy, having worked with several lifestyle brands and having shot ad films in various international locations, he felt he had experienced the big agency life. The natural progression would have been to become a creative lead of an advertising agency. But he decided to start a venture of his own.

“I had this idea. I invested my money in creating this app. I designed the entire app on my own. And now I see the whole hypothesis falling into place,” he shares.

Clapboard’s first solve was to streamline ad film production. Ad films encompass a broad range of talents. However, the market for these talents is fragmented, making it challenging for clients to navigate. Clapboard seeks to streamline this process by aggregating profiles, curating portfolios, and pre-negotiating prices. Its app guides clients through selecting talents based on project needs, providing transparent cost estimates in minutes. 

“This process of assembling a team typically takes a week to ten days for agencies. Ultimately, Clapboard aims to simplify decision-making for brand managers and innovate within the industry,” Katyal says.

Clapboard has already onboarded 37 creatives, of which 17 are creative directors. It slowly wants to evolve into a full-stack service. While it started with production, it began offering creative services in January. While it initially serviced agencies as well, with the launch of its creative services, it is now competing with them. 

“Building on our core idea of assembling film crews, we are now introducing ‘assemble an agency on demand’.”

Traditionally, brands engage agencies either on a project basis or through retainerships, often paying for services they may not fully utilise. As a creative director, he observed the inefficiency of needing an entire agency for every task that came its way. Instead, it could assemble small, specialised teams within the creative department for specific projects.

Clapboard’s new approach involves creating nano teams of freelancers, many of whom are former agency professionals. It has already onboarded 18 creative directors and around 30-38 creatives. Negotiating pricing with this talent pool was a crucial step, and it has already pre-negotiated rates for various tasks, such as website design, content creation, and SEO services. 

“Our platform streamlines the process of assembling these teams, offering pre-negotiated pricing and efficient management of projects according to the client's needs,” he adds.

Clapboard created a hyperlocal campaign for Ozone in five languages.
Clapboard created a hyperlocal campaign for Ozone in five languages.

Clapboard’s initial business has come from startups. For instance, it handled the UAE launch of Make My Trip, producing films for them at half the cost they would have incurred with an agency. These films featured a full international cast and were shot in a simulated airport terminal in Mumbai. Another project involved a hyperlocal campaign for Dentsu's client, Ozone, where we produced multilingual films with vetern Bollywood actors. 

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