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Ad agencies: Creative heads make it to the top

December 13, 2007 11:34 IST
When O&M India's executive chairman Ranjan Kapoor appointed creative hot shot Piyush Pandey as his successor in 2004, he wasn't aware that he may be pioneering a trend in advertising where agencies put their creative heads at the helm of their businesses.

R Balakrishnan, the national creative director at Lowe India, was appointed chairman of the agency on Wednesday. In the news for his recent spat with Lintas India chairman Prem Mehta and Cheeni Kum, his first Bollywood film as director, Balki, as he is popularly known, is also the chief creative officer of the agency.

It may have taken a while for others to follow O&M's footsteps, but agencies are increasingly appointing creative directors as heads. JWT's creative head Josy Paul has been hired by the Omnicom agency BBDO India as its chairman and last year, McCann-Erickson overlooked Santosh Desai to make its creative head Prasoon Joshi the chairman of the agency.

The reasons why creative directors are hired for the top job are not hard to find. "The advertising industry has definitely changed and the centrality of the creative product in the business sense is being recognised," says Santosh Desai, managing director of Future Brands in the Kishore Biyani-led group.

Subrata Chakraborty, managing director, Brand Curry, and former O&M employee, adds: "If advertising is the delivery of a creative solution to a marketing problem, then creative people must lead the agencies as they can convert consumer insights into a creative proposition." The premise is that since the top man sets the tone for the agency, the creative culture could percolate down.

The agencies also benefit from putting their creative heads in the driver's seat as these people are high-profile. The agencies enjoy the rub off effect and can command a premium on their services from the client.

Other changes in the industry have also led to the trend. Ad industry experts say that even clients have cut out the middlemen and want to talk to the creative guys directly. "To be sure, not all agencies are headed by creative guys. Two, there may be creative people who may be leader material and three, clients' expectations from creative are very high," says Prasoon Joshi, chairman, McCann-Erickson. But the fact is that the account management people in the business have disappeared.

"Its downside is that  creative people also have to bear the burden of managing relationships with the clients," says Desai. That may not always be a good idea since "not all creative people are like Piyush Pandey. Some are very shy and do not want to interact with the clients," says Ranjan Kapoor, former executive chairman, O&M.

While the pros and cons of the development can be debated endlessly, the brand is the biggest loser in the process, feels Desai. "There is no brand orientation. The brand is not key any longer. The creative is. The indices of success are awards and other things," he points out.

In fact, Kapoor is not too upbeat about the trend. "A creative person-led agency is not easy to manage," he says. "Appointing the creative guy as the head of the agency is not a magic mantra or a formula for success. Creative people are not good with numbers and bottomlines," believes Kapoor.

The finance function is critical to an agency and O&M's success was based on the fact that it had a very sound finance officer, he claims. "There have to be three legs in a stool -- so we had management function led by me, creative function headed by Piyush Pandey and the finance function led by SN Rane. Piyush Pandey could succeed as he had a platform to ride on," he adds.

Kapoor says that media is also responsible for creating this trend. "Media in India has given iconic status to the creative guys. This does not happen anywhere else in the world. So once they get the iconic status they get the leadership, too," he concludes.

Shuchi Bansal in New Delhi