Shreyas Kulkarni

What is buzzing at Schbang?

From multiple overseas investments to integrating its services to a massive hire spree, the agency is quite busy these days.

Entering its eighth year, Schbang’s expansion plans have taken shape in quite an eye-catching way. For starters, the agency which had 315 people in 2020 today employs 1,070 people (785 in Mumbai, 194 in Bangalore, and 91 in Delhi). That’s quite a hiring spree.

And to ensure these folks have space, the agency recently bought an entire floor in a building which houses its Mumbai headquarters. With the new space, Schbang occupies close to 28,000 odd sq feet in Mumbai and 45,000 odd sq feet across the country.

But, why so many people? The only answer is the agency’s bourgeoning client portfolio. Some of the names it added are Akasa Air, Absolute Barbecues, Tata Neu, CavinKare, and Britannia Industries.

“90% of our business comes from retainers,” reveals co-founder Harshil Karia. The agency welcomes project work too. Its recent work fast fashion giant H&M is one such example.

The difference between project work and retainers is not too much. Karia explains that clients who come to them for a project look for a specific output. Many such projects together form a retainer.

The size of a retainer, reveals Karia, “ranges between Rs 5 lakh to Rs 15 lakh a month… a brand may go over the amount. Sometimes it will do a film costing over a crore or it might do many small films.”

From the classic TVC and print ad to digital films, QR codes, and whatnot, a brand, to reach its target audience, has many pathways. It is interesting to understand whether it instructs its agency on what to do or does it ask the agency to help it choose the best of the lot.

On most occasions, a client’s brief contains the outcome and explains Karia, and it is the agency’s responsibility to decide what is the best vehicle to deliver this output.

Foreign shores

Schbang’s founders - Harshil Karia, Sohil Karia and Akshay Gurnani - are busy with the agency’s international foray. In September 2022, the agency expanded to the United Kingdom with an office in London. It will soon announce the acquisition of an office in Amsterdam.

“You get the best of design talent and cutting-edge work there and you can bring the skills to India,” explains Karia as one of the reasons for this expansion.

Schbang’s third destination on its international journey is the Middle East. “It is a natural step because a majority of global investment in marketing is happening in this region. our strong presence in UK and Europe will give us a significant premium over us being an Indian agency alone going into the Middle Eastern market. It's a skill and price play for us,” says Karia.

The integration attempts

One of Schbang’s main aims is to become an integrated powerhouse. “Everything rests under one name,” stresses Gurnani and says larger groups do not see a smooth integration process because different names do segmented work while working in silos trying to piece something together.

Karia says their agency has seen early success: Working with clients across media, creative, production, and technology.

“Where we have to improve helping clients decipher the amount of money, they will need to invest in marketing to see this much growth at a high strategic level.”

Thrifty spends

It is not a surprise that 2023 is going to be a tough year for the economy. India’s start-ups (the biggest advertisers of the past few years) have cut down spending and have resorted to laying off people. A cutdown in advertising spending is a worrying sign for any agency.

Schbang, cognizant of the upcoming chilly weather, feels prepared. Gurnani says India-headquartered companies will not face as severe a brunt as their western counterparts. He also feels companies which advertised during the pandemic and withstood the pressures will fare better even today.

“Brands will focus on the bottom line to push sales. Money will migrate to digital as a platform,” says Gurnani estimating how during times of stress.

Is a business worth its salt if it lets a client/customer go away because of pricing? Schbang understands this and that is why it has a Global Content Hub, a service which doles out affordable offerings. The objective is to do economical content in short durations of time for production plus a shorter duration of the content.

“If a client is not able to work with a large influencer, we go back with micro, nano, influencers; “the barrier to entry is Rs 1,500 to Rs 2,000 per creator. The client gets a volume of content to amplify at an economical price,” explains Karia.

When asked if the present guidelines around influencers from ASCI or the CCPA have influencer brand’s decisions, Karia replies in the negative. “The only thing”, says Karia, “brands are being more mindful of is if an influencer is advertising six different products in the same category, then they're staying away.”

Schbang will soon launch its talent management offering in collaboration with creator Masoom Minawala.

The talent games

An interesting aspect of Schbang’s hiring spree is the attention to senior hires. Rayomand Patell joined the eight-year-old agency as a chief creative officer — a year’s worth of dinners and meetings went into this — and he will oversee the agency’s creative arm and more importantly, its integration.

More recently, Kashyap Joshi, who’s known for writing the Mutual Funds Sahi Hai tagline, joined Schbang from Wunderman Thompson as an executive creative director (ECD), and joining the Delhi office was Manish Kinger from FCB.

All these senior folks' individual work experience easily beats the eight-year existence of Schbang, yet they choose to join this agency. It is because they “see its untapped potential and wish to play a strong role in the global network it is building right now,” explains Karia.

Upskilling the skill gap

India’s advertising industry is not a giant employer of talent. “It does not hire more than 3.5-5 lakh people. A single IT company hires those many,” stresses Karia, and while Schbang is welcoming a great number, the founder feels young people lack the skills needed for integrated brand thinking.

“Consumer work is lacking,” he says and filling these gaps is something he’s certain the likes of Patell, Joshi, Kinger, and other new senior hires will help fill.

What Kashyap rues the most is the lack of a central organisation on the lines of the UK’s Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) which is working towards skills standardisation.

Wouldn’t a course from an edtech firm work? He doesn’t feel so because each brand is selling what it wants and upskilling is becoming a commercial game rather than a skill development game.

Schbang right now hires a lot from local colleges in cities and Tier II regions. “We have an opportunity to bring in more production skillsets from rural areas,” states the founder.

Once the agency completes its integration in September next year, it will send teams of 7-10 going for three months to London or Amsterdam to work on live projects.

As the watch signalled the passing of 60 minutes since the conversation started, we couldn’t help but remember one major statement from Gurnani: This industry has not seen an India-headquartered global company. That makes a big mindset change in the people outside too. Headquarters means coming to Mumbai and not going to another city.

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