Prabhakar Mundkur Published: 22 Oct 2019, 11:15 PM
Guest Article

"How a prospect poached my idea...

We were feverishly getting ready for a pitch. This client was a reputed one, and we wanted it very badly as a digital agency. After struggling through the lower rungs of marketing for over 6 weeks and two tortuous rounds of social media creative presentations, we were being prepared for the meeting with the senior management of a large company.

The big day arrives. My team and I arrive a good 30 minutes before the meeting at the prospect's reception. (I am still old fashioned when it comes to punctuality). We are summoned to the top floor of a building in Mumbai's new business district. Once upon a time, this was promising to be the business district wonder of Mumbai, but no longer. The cycling lanes have now become parking spaces for auto rickshaws, and careless motorists also park over the cycling lane. There are chai shops and cigarette shops around the corner. Our civic standards are still low as a country compared to the West.

We finally make our way to the top floor. This is the big day. Six weeks of hard work finally come to an end. We either win it or lose it. Suddenly we are told by the lower echelons of marketing management that there has been a major policy change that has been announced by the government and our senior prospects are occupied with the Chairman of the company but will be with us shortly. I sit and ponder on whether this is a typical Indian failing. Does it have to do with companies? Or does it have to do with an Indian management habit? Not the first time that I have been kept waiting a career spanning 39 years. Or is this a really genuine case? I think about it.

Because even senior executives in Indian promoter run companies are servants. They are just very well paid servants, that's the only difference.

Having spent the last 10 years of my career in an Indian promoter run company, I know that when the boss beckons, you leave everything aside and run! Because even senior executives in Indian promoter run companies are servants. They are just very well paid servants, that's the only difference. And you can't dare to tell them that you have a previously scheduled meeting when you are being summoned.

The wait then starts. The first 30 minutes is small talk with brand managers. The next 30 minutes gets a bit tedious. The next 30 minutes I find people are twitching around the table. There is a sense of nervousness. Should we leave or should we stay? I know my uncle, the late Bal Mundkur, ex-Chairman and founder of FCB Ulka would have left the meeting in the first few minutes in a huff. He would not have been proud of me on this day. Just as I feel that I might be letting down the whole industry, the prospect arrives.

Relief, frustration.

The meeting starts with a brief apology. No introductions. So we don't really know who we are speaking too. Or they are so important, that it is assumed that we know them. But they are not expected to know us. Anyway, it's getting late, we are hungry since its past lunch, so we carry on and we think we did a good job.

Four days later we are told by the brand manager that they would take at least a month to decide on the pitch. We know what that typically means. We've been through this before. It's a 'no'.

Another three days later, we find that our social media idea (both text and graphic) are showing up on my creative director's Facebook timeline. Oh no! Our creative idea has been plagiarised and executed. What can we do?

Also Read: Ogilvy's Brand David takes Vivo, Dentsu Impact to court

I write to the marketing director saying that our idea has been plagiarised. He responds to me 2 days later saying that they had used the same mnemonic (graphic and copy) in their social media posts a few months ago. I say fine, but how come the brand manager allowed us to present to you an idea that had already been executed by you a few months ago? Our tech teams then go overdrive and find that no such posts as claimed by the prospect were ever made.

A few days later, we find that they are trying to poach our social media expert who was one of the presenters at the pitch. She's gone through two rounds of interviews, the second one with the client's HR department.

A few days later, we find that they are trying to poach our social media expert who was one of the presenters at the pitch. She's gone through two rounds of interviews, the second one with the client's HR department. We try desperately to keep her back and I think we have succeeded.

I finally check with my corporate lawyer friend, how we should have handled it better. She asks, "You must have an NDA, to prevent prospects from poaching your ideas and people?" I feel a little silly. Seems like a pretty simple solution. I think ad agencies and digital agencies are sometimes too trusting. They are still quite innocent. It's us who are always signing up NDA's with the clients to meet the client's requirements on confidentiality. Never the other way around. Lesson learned.

That is one story of Indian business. No ethics. No sense of propriety. No guilt. No courtesy. Just pure business. Are you surprised that some of the biggest firms in the country are breaking up because of corporate governance issues? Are you wondering why Indian managers are saying that performance and success are more important than ethics? Is it a wonder why we are seeing scams such as Nirav Modi?

Maybe it's going to take a long time to change the basic moral fabric of India Inc.

The author is an independent brand strategy advisor. The article has been reproduced with permission from his blog on LinkedIn dated February 28, 2018.