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Creative people are not contract killers: Prasoon Joshi

Last updated on: September 10, 2012 12:03 IST

Creative people are not contract killers: Prasoon Joshi

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Sayantani Kar in Mumbai

Prasoon Joshi, president, McCann Worldgroup South Asia, says creativity can flourish irrespective of scale, but needs a culture of fluidity.

Have the definition and the parameters to reckon creativity changed since you entered the industry?

We are not in fine arts. Here, creativity is for business. The media landscape is a complicated one. The media clutter has made saying something, which will be remembered by people, a lot more challenging.

As a result, we have become more innovative because we and the client will have to survive in it. We, after all, help them to communicate and sell. So, the pressure on ideas to be more arresting has gone up.

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Image: Prasoon Joshi
Photographs: Courtesy, Wikimedia Commons

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Does this pressure take its toll? As agencies become large and unwieldy, they can be seen as less creative, flexible and way too institutionalised...

Not in India. Indian agencies, when compared to agencies in the US for size, are small. There people working on different floors don't even know each other. On such a scale, there could be concerns of lack of personal attention. Not so here. Also, successful Indian agencies are entrepreneurially run.

I am as hands-on as I used to be 15 years back. I can tell you about myself at McCann and Piyush (Pandey) at Ogilvy -- these are also the two agencies where I have worked. We are very entrepreneurial.

In fact, there is a great combination of multinational learning and entrepreneurial zeal. The fears of being unmanageable and not being spontaneous are not there.

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Image: Ad by McCann Erickson
Photographs: Courtesy, YouTube

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Is it then left to individuals to provide the spark as creative output becomes more mechanical with scale?

You can definitely create a culture but there is no substitute for talent. It is a talent-driven business. You are required to handle creativity on a scale. Also, let us not forget that in many countries, advertising still does not attract the best talent. But that is not the problem in India.

You need talented leadership to attract talent. There is no template or formula when these people get together to work but learnings. There is a mindset and skills needed to solve a client's problems.

Therefore, you will always hear names of those doing well. Even worldwide, we hear of names -- that is how the industry is. At the same time, it is important for companies to understand the requirements the creatives have. In fact, I keep answering the question of why I have not started out on my own.

The reason is that the company I work for understands that side of me and gives me that freedom. Plus, it also gives me an opportunity to work with -- and learn from -- other great minds by being part of a larger network.

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Photographs: Reuters
Tags: Joshi , India

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But is such an entrepreneurial streak allowed only to you, thanks to your power of negotiation or does everybody get to enjoy it?

I can't take the credit for this. I think it is good management on the part of McCann and its holding company, IPG. They have been intelligent to understand my needs. The only credit I can take is that I have been clear about what my needs are. I would be very transparent about the need to express myself as a poet and songwriter.

How do you end up creating such an enabling environment for each and every creative talent in an agency?

By building the creative culture, that is how. Because I am interested in so many things concerning creativity, I don't see creativity as boxed up. I hire people who are interested in something -- movies, writing, music or some quirky passion like gaming.

Advertising is a borrowed art-form; so we need people with such varied interests. We use various other arts to convey and such a motley crew brings in a palpable energy. So the culture will have to be one of interesting conversations, where work happens because people love it. Late nights, for example, should not make them feel over-burdened.

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Tags: IPG , Joshi , McCann

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Creative people are not contract killers: Prasoon Joshi

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How difficult is it to retain creative people when you are scaling up?

The creative tribe is very difficult to understand. They don't feel comfortable working with everyo#8800 they have immense self-pride. But if they respect and learn from someone, they are willing to take a good shouting from them.

Those in other professions might feel offended by that. I understand it because I have been there too. So, building an inherent respect in them is the first code of conduct. If you have hired the right person, then they will increase the circle of such talent. Then there is the transparency. I do not hide my vulnerability. If I am worried about a business or communication, I will tell it upfront to even the youngest person on the team.

Because once I have tested them and hired them, I respect their intelligence and now I trust them to understand. As I do that, eventually the people who stay will build a rapport and express their concerns to me as well. That is how the team becomes honest and calls a bad ad bad.

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Photographs: Reuters
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What are the ways to scale up then?

We are not a factory. A good bunch of minds together can do a huge amount of work. We work on great ideas and they can't be mathematically calculated -- if one person produces two ads in three days, then how many would 20 create? You need to have a working structure. We are not a creative hot-shop where five people will work on a project and move on to the next. When you are consistently working on a brand with many issues to handle simultaneously, it requires planning for the year-round activities.

You need creative people living and dreaming about their work. I think creative people are emotional, they are not 'contract killers'! You have to live through thick and thin with the client. Projects can make a creative person dispassionate.

A structure says how a team will work under a guide, what are the client's requirements, what kind of talent is required. But that in itself is not enough. The culture of fluidity matters. We are not territorial, for example. Even our global chief, Nick Brien, believes that a client, no matter where she sits, should be able to get the advantage of the talent McCann has across its network. So, a client in Bangalore can see talent from Delhi working on her brief if needed, without the Bangalore team feeling threatened because at some point, they too have done it elsewhere.

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Photographs: Reuters

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Creative people are not contract killers: Prasoon Joshi

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You mentioned hot-shops. Earlier, they were seen as lacking the gumption to service or win large international clients but they are holding their own now. Are they flourishing because creativity is difficult to scale up?

It is not that. There is a lot of business out there for everyone. I don't think the hot-shops are growing at the cost of bigger agencies. Yes, they have taken away projects from certain agencies but it is how things have unfolded worldwide as well.

Hot-shops will co-exist with large agencies -- like specialty restaurants with the full-scale ones -- but they will not be the ones providing the staples. Everyday work requires much larger coordination, and frankly, hot-shops are also not interested in that.

Independent agencies are not a new phenomenon. In India, there have been agencies like Nexus, which later became Enterprise Nexus, Ambience, Dhar & Boon and they became large. Some of them remained small and others sold out.

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Photographs: Reuters

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What's your reading: did they sell out because they found creativity difficult to scale up?

Barring a few people in India, everyone is creating an agency to sell. That does not build institutions. Hot-shops will flourish when they specialise. None of the smaller Indian agencies are specialists yet.

Look at what David Ogilvy did, or what Mark Waites of Mother (UK) did: they created a brand. They had philosophical reasons why they started on their own. Whenever that happens, the question of scale does not arise. Because they automatically attract more 'believers' and grow. It is very different from floating an agency, creating a stir in the market, make a quick buck and get out of it.

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Photographs: Reuters

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Personally, how have you been able to scale up your lyrics- and -script writing?

I have many things to do. If I am not able to crack an advertising idea, I will switch to a song, and if facing a block there, then I think of a short story. I will change my space but then, like they say, you don't choose ideas, ideas choose you.

Today's world is very conducive to someone like me, at least in communication. Today content is important worldwide and to build a brand, you require branded content. Across television, music, films, I have always felt I am doing the same thing -- addressing a communication task.


Image: Prasoon Joshi with Aamir Khan and Atul Kulkarni
Photographs: Pradeep Bandekar
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