Ashwini Gangal
Advertising

"Rediffusion will be the George Clooney of advertising by the year-end": Sam Ahmed

Rediffusion's recently appointed vice-chairman and chief creative officer Sam Ahmed on how he plans to bring back the agency's lost glory.

Sam Ahmed was brought in from Y&R Dubai last month to man the creative as well as business fronts of Rediffusion as vice-chairman and chief creative officer. Interestingly enough, he is neither a B-school graduate nor a communications major. "I've studied people," says the proud college drop-out.

"Rediffusion will be the George Clooney of advertising by the year-end": Sam Ahmed
After spending 14 years at Y&R Dubai, he started his own studio-cum-production house, Studio Central, in 2007. After two years, he returned to the agency system. This is his first stint in India. afaqs! catches him during his sixth week at Rediffusion Mumbai.

Excerpts:

Q: What part of your mandate is more challenging -- filling in Rajappa's shoes as the business head or Padmakumar's as creative head?

I've not met either of these gentlemen and don't know their shoe sizes (smiles).

It's about setting a creative tone for the agency first. So, right now I'm busier with crafting the work. The management will then fall into place. Focus is on the creative product.

Anyway, the distinction between creative and management is part of a very archaic format. Conventional wisdom says you have to be a numbers guy to run the agency from a management perspective. I don't agree. I'm going to change the format of this agency by reducing the creative-management divide. I sensed it when I first came in but it's disappearing slowly.

Q: What was Diwan Arun Nanda's 'brief' to you when you came in?

He really wants to bring the glory back. Rediffusion is perceived as a 'has been' agency. He wants the agency to be recognised as a creative force. The brief was: "Can we make it to the top five?" I replied, "I don't do top five. I only know how to be No. 1."

Everyone's always asking about the recent past during which people have quit and we've lost accounts but that's just 10 per cent of the time this agency's been around. I don't believe Rediffusion hasn't done well in the recent past; it has just taken a step backwards to re-evaluate the future.

Q: So, what does being No. 1 mean? Awards? Pitch success? Or, simply more revenue?

No. 1 means being the sexiest agency in town. It means being the coolest shop in town, whatever your measure of that is. I'm no banker but I have a plan to make this agency richer by doing great work. And that will make this the fifth agency I'll be turning around, so I know what I'm talking about. I've done it with Y&R Dubai (twice), Wunderman and Intermarkets (now part of MENACOM, a WPP group). By the end of this year, Rediffusion will be the George Clooney of Indian advertising.

Q: How different is the work culture in Mumbai from that in Dubai?

Overall, India is a lot busier and more dynamic than the Middle East. .

One difference I realised immediately was that here, your boss is 'Sir'. I want to get rid of that here at Rediffusion. I'd rather be the legs of the agency than the head. Internationally, advertising is 'first name basis only' thing.

Secondly, Dubai houses about 150 odd nationalities; so agencies there represent various different countries. Here, we're all Indian. But yet, what's a 'national campaign' here? You do it in Hindi, then in English, then you do it in five other languages, then there's the South... I find this fascinating.

Q: The leader sets the tone and eventually the culture of an agency. For Rediffusion, now you're 'it'. So, what is the 'Sam way'?

When I came in, Rediffusion was more like a 'nine to six' kind of place. Now we're open all 24 hours. I don't have any time restrictions because ideas don't come at a specific time each day. I don't care what time people come in. In the next few months I will set a culture without any rules. Rediffusion will be a '24 by 7' shop. My first car was a Porsche; I was 28 years old. My second car was a Ferrari; I was 30 years old. How does one get there? By putting 18 hours a day into advertising. That's my way.

Q: Rediffusion is set to re-brand itself soon. How would you like to see it positioned in the days ahead?

The upcoming re-branding exercise is actually an effort to answer a lot of questions, including: "How much does Sam understand Indian consumers?"