Friday, November 17, 2006

Patli Gali (Agencies' Accepted, Chosen Short Cut to Fame)

Click on image to see in a separate window to manipulate resolution and size.

An extremely insightful piece on how agencies chase awards...

Reproduced with grateful thanks to Euro RSCG...

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

10 things to look for to hire winners

Like most industries, ours also is a talent-deficient industry. You do get people, but it is always a challenge to get just the right person for the right job.

Now, who's the right person for the right job? Besides the usual stuff like relevant experience, etc. there's a checklist I use for figuring this one:

1. Is the person really hungry for the job? How needy is he? Does he live with parents and hence has little need to retain the job? Or is he the 'just-married' variety, who has to ensure that the home fires continue to burn? Is the candidate's spouse also working? If the spouse is the wife, then this is a good sign, because, mostly, the husbands are unlikely to live off their wives, but if the spouse is the husband, then you need to explore further for other signs; though exceptions too have come my way. There's this young-ish copywriter who's worked in gulf, and had joined us. He came in one day, and didn't turn up the following morning. When explored, we figured that he's done this repeatedly, and subsequent to his not reporting for work, his poor wife makes the call to the husband's office making excuses for him. Other similar cases where the candidate is not hungry, they end up wasting your time by first accepting the offer and subsequently not joining.

2. Is the person ambitious? Is he considering change because he's not being given a clear understanding of which direction his career is headed? Is he leaving because he's doing the same job over and over again, and hence the learning has stopped? These are interesting signs to look for.

3. Has the person bothered to read up about the company he's wanting to join? What's his level of knowledge, and how clearly or vaguely does he articulate it?

4. Is he curious to find out what he will be expected to do/deliver in his new job role? Or is he just looking for a new job, for the sake of moving on from one place to other, as a means of increasing his remuneration?

5. How willing he's to learn, in case he doesn't know something? Is he the types who is more prone to remaining in his comfort zone, or is he open to taking on newer challenges - challenges which go beyond what he's already done till now? Does he have conviction to follow this through? What he's done in the past which reflects this trait? For such people, I sometimes make an exception of not even looking at relevant experience.

6. Ask him for a few things he's proud of during his entire professional stint. This is a sound reflection of the kind of things he will be good at. Some candidates are proud of doing some operational job well, while the others are proud of more cerebral stuff. Gives you a good fix of where you can slot him, or whether you can slot him.

7. Ask him for things he done during his professional stint, which he wish he'd done better. Beware of those who don't have anything to share. This is one disconcerting question which gets the candidate's true self to emerge - his candour, his nervousness, his confidence or conviction in himself. Of all the things mentioned above, this one probably reveals the most about the candidate.

8. Does he ask questions? You need to wary of those who don't.

9. Does he turn the interview into a chat, or does it remain an interview? How well does he pick up the conversation strings and builds on them to his advantage? Such articulate people will always remain an asset in our business.

10. And last but not the least, trust your gut-feel. There are enough seemingly-sound candidates I have rejected because the gut-feel told me to, and I have discovered later that they weren't as sound as they were coming across as. And similarly, there are enough candidates I have picked up on gut-feel, which some other would have rejected. And more often than not, such gamble has paid off. Reason - if such candidate's credentials don't seem right, and he knows it, just the faith you show in him makes him start to deliver at near-100% efficiency. This is near-100% fail-safe observation. Try it, and you won't regret it.

Happy hiring!

Sunday, November 12, 2006

These Images Represent the Industry Behaviour Today!

Paucity of Good People in our Industry

Click here to read about it... (You can also read it in The Brand Reporter of 16-30 Nov, 2006)

My dream's all a-shattering! (or in good ol' hindi - Sapna mera... toot gaya)

"Live Life King Size"..."Relax, Have a Charminar"..."Only Vimal"... "Gold Spot, the Zing Thing!". These are some of the lines I had heard while still in college.

The imagery was vivid. Cool dudes, with babes wrapped around them, or just a macho loner blowing smoke into nothingness, happy teenagers freaking out in amusement parks, or desirable looking men and women walking the ramp!

These were the images which came to mind when I first walked the aisles of an advertising agency. Mind was working overtime about how, very soon, yours truly will be hob-nobbing with all these desirable women. Further, it was thinking, once this hob-nobbing begins, who knows what may happen next (these were still the times when all you sought from friends was an intro to that girl with curls, with the cool airs of being able to handle the rest yourself with panache - all you felt you needed was a cool bike!).

Starry eyed, I walked into this industry. First few weeks were all about understanding how the industry functioned - inane things like creative, account management, production, studio, and even more inane things like how we make money here.

All this just didn't seem real. But then, I consoled myself that I am new. Surely, once you put in some years in the industry, all this will change, and magically all that I imagined will just appear in front of my eyes.

While all this was happening, some more cool dude imagery was making its way to the idiot box. And that was further reinforcing the belief, that surely the dream I had when I joined the industry, was lurking somewhere just around the corner.

The wait of weeks turned to months, and then to years. Every passing day was filled with increasingly drier stuff like customer insights for mosquito repellents and baby soaps. I came across all kinds of things - like the Capfarer model, the P-Snap, the ABC, and the NRS. What kept eluding me were the models, who were shapely. Not that I didn't go for shoots, or auditions, or events, or recordings; but then, all such visits to locations and studios were filled with extreme stress about deadlines, budgets, approvals, continuity, props, etc.

Though I can boast of a decent IQ, but the thought never crossed my mind that probably this industry is really all about such stuff, and not about glamour. I continued to wait for the next turn, where the scenery will change, and suddenly the cool climes which I had always associated with this industry, will sooth the otherwise stressed out default life one lives, being a part of this industry.

But while I was waiting, something strange started to happen. For some masochistic reason, I started to enjoy it all. The little dream hadn't died, but while it wasn't coming true, I started to enjoy just the wait, and all that was happening during the wait. I became an ad-world junky.

The next campaign, the next award, the next insight, became the things I started to wait for, and not the next comely lass! And believe you me, these became more fulfilling than the dream that brought me into the industry in the first place.

Now the dream seldom recurs. And the hope of that dream coming true has completely vanished. A new dream has replaced it. The dream of understanding the customers even better, creating even more single-minded, even more persuasive communication, a dream of creating a unique strategy for some unique problem some brand is facing. And strangely, I am a lot calmer, as a result.

Working hard at achieving this new dream has become extremely rewarding - both literally and figuratively. And now, when someone asks me that if I had a choice of making my choices all over again, my answer is - "My choice will be the same, albeit for different reasons."

I am telling this personal story for the benefit of all those young, starry-eyed people who possibly are wanting to enter, or have entered the industry for all the wrong reasons. Enter they must, but they should do so with their eyes wide open, and making their choice with an eye on the right reasons. And, most certainly, they will be rewarded!

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Ad Agencies or Saree Shops?

"Bhaiyya, show me that yellow one with red border." Surely, we would have come across something like this at some point in our lives - be it while shopping with our mother, sister, wife, or in some cases with our girl friends. I am not being sexist, but typically women do this when they go out shopping. It is not uncommon for them to go out and spend an entire day rather fruitfully doing just window-shopping!

So what am I saying? I am saying that those in agencies have another set of women in their lives - their clients. A similar refrain happens while the agency blokes are interfacing with their clients. "Guys, can you pass me the option with larger logo and the woman in pink? the one with hammock, but the one with the traffic light."

Isn't there a rather uncanny similarity between the two situations?

Let's take the case of these women. The only thing they are clear about when they go shopping is that they may want to buy... say... a saree. They wouldn't know which shop they want it from. They are not clear about why do they want to buy it. Nor are they sure about the colour they want. Ask them whether they want a Kanchipuram (Kanjivaram), Chanderi, or a Banarasi, and they are likely to be mostly clueless. If you check the occasion for which they are wanting it, they just might know the answer to this one. And budget? Well... just forget it. They just might say Rs.1000, and end up spending Rs.10,000, or vice-versa.

Now let's check out the traits demonstrated by a typical client. They may brief all their agencies about some communication they wish to do. The objective of this communication may vary in vagueness from 'building awareness' to 'coutering some aggression of the competition'. Do they want a TVC or a press ad - well, go figure ("Whatever is likely to work the best, please suggest. We'll internally discuss and finalise!"). And the budget? The typical answer will be "Budget will be need-based."

So, what does this lead to?

In case of these women on a shopping spree, it might lead to a huge amount of frustration for the people manning the saree counter. Women might leave a trail of opened sarees of various hues in their wake. They may even critique the wares shown to them. And a common refrain you might hear is - "You don't have a lime green saree with olive green border. I was only looking for that combination."

And the clients...? More often than not, they are likely to be parroting similar sentiment - "Your approach doesn't address the issue;" "The competitive move is aggressive and we don't want to come across as reactionaries;" "Why haven't you shown us the option with waterfalls;". In short, agencies don't seem to be able to deliver to their 'brief'.

Frustrations galore!

Creative and servicing alike, get absolutely frustrated with such repeated window shopping sprees by these women in their lives called clients, and start to drift away to other, more attractive women, or get a sex-change done and become women (clients) themselves.

It is a fact that clients get the advertising they deserve. With every such shopping spree, they make their chances of getting a path-breaking communication solution even more remote. Not only do they end up doing disservice to their own company or brand, they also add to the brain drain in communication industry.

It is time they realised that ad agencies are not saree shops, and actually started to think before they ask their agencies to show them the wares. Or else, they will be the ones who will be left standing holding the lemon.

And as far as agencies are concerned, they also need to put their foot down and resist such exploitation which is continually leading to exodus of talented folks from the industry. They need to strongly raise their collective voice against such adhoc behaviour of their clients and stop any further erosion of their value. It is commonly known that no one can insult you till you choose to feel insulted. It is time the agencies chose the path of building self-respect by refusing to be treated as Saree shops!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

What hides behind the brief?

Normally our private parts, which in US slang, when used to describe people, are not very complimentary.

This piece is not a litany of the servicing people's woes, but is a clarion call to the creative people in agencies to stop hiding behind briefs.

KKDY Briefs

Not for a moment am I defending the lazy servicing types, who wouldn't think through a problem before briefing their creative team. I am no subscriber to the KKDY (Kuchh Kar De Yaar, or Please do something Buddy) school of briefing. But at the same time, I am not for the creative people who use briefs or lack of it as an excuse for not being creative.

"This brief is not very inspiring;" "I don't understand the brief;" "Can you be specific in your brief?" Oft-used, seemingly harmless comments, which more often than not reflect a lazy mind not willing to stretch.

Our industry is today plagued by such people who would much rather while away their time, than think laterally about what imaginative solution would lick the problem that keeps the client awake.

If you've got it, flaunt it

There are enough examples where creative people have accepted the challenge of a sodden brief and have come out tops! Let's recall one such creative piece. This piece may not have won creative awards, but has stuck in my mind as a brilliant example of work where the brief would have been innocuous. This was an ad released a few years ago for Virgin Atlantic.

The ad shows a caricature of veteran Bollywood actresses Jaya Bachchan and Rekha sitting in an aircarft next to each other, angrily looking away from each other (it is alleged that Jaya is not very kindly disposed towards Rekha, because there was a rumour of her husband having an affair with Rekha). And the tongue-in-cheek headline mentions how the travellers can now choose who sits next to them, as they will now get a free ticket for every ticket they bought.

The most likely brief for this would have been - "Hey guys, Virgin is giving a free ticket for every ticket you buy. Can you do an ad for this promo offer?"

Now this is what I call creativity. Putting two dissimilar, apparently unlinked facts together, and creating a memorable communication out of it. And I am sure, before this communication got created, the normal creative-servicing dialogue would have happened - what are the insights, who is the target audience, what is the response we seek (what do we want the audience to think, feel, do?), etc. But, here, the creative team decided to rise above this dialogue, and delivered a completely lateral piece of work.

By definition, creative people are expected to look at the challenge posed to them, well... creatively. They are expected to look beyond the obvious. They are expected to find ways in to the cosnumers' minds. Not delivering that, is tantamount to failure.

It is regrettable that today, in our industry, we are faced with a lot of such failures. They blatantly hide behind briefs given to them. If they were genuinely non-creative, I would understand this. But, they are extremely aware, extremely articulate and extremely intelligent. And still they creative excuses to avoid being creative. The only possible answer seems to be laziness. They would much rather dissipate their creativity in finding reasons for not delivering, than actually deliver.

Superman wears his brief on the outside

It is anecdotal that once upon a time a brief was given by servicing which actually was used as is, in a piece of communication. This brief was for Allen Solly (remember the 'Friday Dressing'?). The brief goes - 'a week according to Allen Solly - Friday, Friday, Friday, Friday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday'. Now, while this is an inspiring brief, such briefs are one in a thousand.

The creative people have a choice - they can either keep waiting for such 'once in a blue moon' briefs, or pull up their socks and start to deliver creativity, which by the way, is the very reason for their existance in the industry.

It's time they shed their laziness, and start to be creative. It is time they stopped to look at the glass as half-empty, and call it half-full instead. It's time they stopped cribbing, and start to crow. Or else, they will be the ones who will be squarely responsible for the value erosion that is plaguing our industry today.

Friday, October 13, 2006

APAC Regional Offices or APAC Marginal Offices?

Possibly I am a sucker for brickbats. This is one Pandora's Box, which once opened is likely to lead to lots of gall flow! This slightly acerbic piece is dedicated to all those affected by their very own APAC Regional Offices.

In our corporate lives, we would surely and invariably have come up against APAC Regional Offices. These could be located variously at Singapore, Hong Kong, UAE, Australia, and in some rare cases, even in India. These offices are separate from the local office in that market. Their ostensible role is facilitating coordination between local country offices and the global office.

There is a set of 10 rules they operate by:

1. Local country offices are babes-in-the-woods, and cannot even blow their own noses without barrels of help from these Regional Offices;
2. If someone points out that things are going wrong (whether or not they actually are), then surely the Local Office/s would have goofed up;
3. The key to acting as a flawless conduit between Local Offices and Global Office is to bury the Local Office under reams of reporting. Such reporting has only one parallel - a Country's Bureaucracy and the red tape that results there from;
4. Huge amounts of meaningless data must be sent in response to any request for help from the Local Office/s - in fact, the effort the Local Office/s must put in to get any meaningful stuff out of this should be approximately similar to that of getting 10 gms of gold from almost a ton of ore mined in South Africa;
5. The clients are always right;
6. Corollary to that - the Local Office/s are always wrong;
7. Global Office is always right;
8. When Global Office or client asketh, you are not to reason why;
9. Activity and work are not necessarily co-related (almost no work may get done while the activity generated by them may fill many a 150 hours-a-month time sheets for multiple resources at Local Office/s);
10. And last but not the least, processes and SLAs take precedence over deliverables.

With such clear set of rules, they naturally generate the same level of frustration amongst the Local Office/s as is experienced by a typical gamer while he's trying to master the newest version of his/her favourite game just after its release.

If Global Office crowd is 'Gods', the Regional Office crowd is no less than 'Demi Gods'. Their visits lead to hurried purchases and gifting of books/DVDs on the Local Office location. Many a times, ATG happens (those in Hotel Industry must be familiar with this TLA - for the lesser mortals, it means 'Aarti-Tika-Garland', and while we are at it, TLA means 'Three Lettered Acronym).

Whoever mentioned that corporates don't have any sense of humour, just need to take one quick look at the modus operandi of these 'Regional Offices', and I can bet my last dime, their view will hurriedly change.

Since this is supposed to be an objective viewpoint, let's take a look at why these Regional Offices behave the way they do.

These Regional Offices do not handle any clients on their own. More often than not, they get somewhat euphemistic job roles, and even more nebulous appraisal criteria. They are required to visit and be helpful to the Local Offices in their region. When they do, chances are they may end up impinging upon the Local Office/s' time. Lest it is seen as an unwelcome infringement, they need to invent ways to make their visits come across as important. While they are not travelling, they need to come across as busy and delivering to the larger organisational vision and objective.

These are no small challenges - and hats off to the smart guy or guys who contributed to creating this robust list of rules which all these Regional Offices live and die by.

These rules have led to assignation of such lovely descriptors for these Regional Offices as 'Watch Dogs', 'Dogs in the Manger', 'Wet Blankets', 'Stooges', 'the set that doesn't know its a** from its elbow'.

But let me remind you - these Regional Offices are a necessary evil. We, by now, have deliberated enough over the 'evil' part. But what makes them 'necessary'?

Surely, those of you you who have come across these 'Regional Offices', also have their Global Offices tucked away in some remote (or not-so-remote) corner of Europe or USA. All such sufferers would have also faced a perennial phenomenon called ConCalls (wonder why they have stopped calling these 'conference calls'). Typically, these calls happen with a blatant disregard to the time gap between the Global Office market and these Local Office markets. Willy-nilly, the Local Offices end up holding on to the short end of the stick. This is where these Regional Offices play a crucial role. Enough and more times, you can depend on them to attend and debrief you about what happened (or didn't happen) during these calls. You don't have to be on these calls at all kinds of odd hours. This is ONE important role they play for the Local Office/s which justifies their existence.

Another smaller, but still significant role they play is that of being the first punching bag for the Global Office. As everything else, even these punches get diluted by the time they travel from the Regional Office to the Local Office/s.

I am positive that the readers of this little piece will have a thing or two to add to this. For doing so, kindly do write to me and I will definitely make an attempt to incorporate as much of that feedback as possible.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Behind every Innovator Organisation, there's a DM-reading CIO

With every passing day, creating differentiation is becoming increasingly difficult for any large organisation. Hence, processes have become the key to staying ahead.

An interesting fallout of this is the role of Chief Technology Officers of these enterprises has metamorphosed into Chief Information Officer.

How's that different from the past?

If earlier, 75% of their thrust was on technology, today, it has reduced to 25%. The balance is focused on helping the CEO with the organisation's business objectives.

The CTO-turned-CIO, hence today is more a business manager than a technology manager.

Interestingly, by training, these people are groomed to manage technology. Managing businesses, hence, is a role thrust on them - because of compulsions of emerging business dynamics.

CIOs or CBSSOs (Chief Business Strategy Support Officers)?

Though CEOs would like to believe otherwise, the companies that wear the enviable tag of innovator, do so predominantly because of their CIOs who have managed to learn and master the ropes of managing businesses.

You may ask, what's the correlation? Well, let me repeat some of what I said earlier - since the only differentiator in today's day and time can only be the processes that give these organisations and edge, and CIOs have a large role to play in understanding this evolving business compulsion, and the faster they master this situation, the faster the companies adopt the processes that put them on a fast track. That, really, is the secret behind the innovator organisation. Hence, it would be prudent to re-christen CIOs as CBSSOs.

Technology Trained to Business Savvy - A Conundrum

So, how does the CIO play catch-up in this new business scenario? As we can see, by training he's not meant to perform this role. Still we do notice the likes of Jay Menon (Bharti CIO who was entrusted with market creation of the phenomenon called BlackBerry in India). What makes them tick? How do they adapt?

The answer interestingly lies not within, but outside

To help CBSSOs to perform their new role well, the technology companies are falling back on a still emerging discipline in India - Direct Marketing. Interestingly, even for the Chief Information Officer, the key to his own success is information - on new products, new technologies, new developments, new processes…

Here's where Direct Marketing plays the key role. The role of providing sound business logic to the CIO, and strengthening his hands by giving sound reasoning for technology adoption. The better DM agencies perform this role, the larger the number of CIOs who would be able convince their organisation's management about technology adoption. And naturally, more and more companies will join the 'Innovator' bandwagon.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Whither Great Client Servicing Professionals?

I was perplexed when a prospective account management candidate asked me what his key result areas would be. It set me thinking about a role I have been performing for the last over 2 decades (As the saying goes, no matter which level of agency management you get into, you can't wish away being an account executive).

We have all heard of postmen in account management, and we have also heard of mavericks who go beyond the call of duty and almost perform the role of the marketing head at the client organization. Since both are extremes, and since both are not the mandated roles that an account management professional is supposed to perform, surely the answer lies somewhere in between.

So I started to look into the repository of homilies shared by some of the who's who of Indian advertising. One of the first was a teaser shared by R Sridhar, a Partner with Ideas-RS, a consultancy specializing in opening creative windows of the mind. He had posed a question to all the fresh, green-behind-their-ears recruits - 'what in their view was the role of an account management person?' Many chickened out and didn't answer, and many fell back on their management school learning and came out with witty, text book jargon. And as expected, they were all wrong. The simple one line answer was - 'The role of an account management person in any agency is to get his client promoted'.

Cynicism apart, the above role definition actually sums up the reason-for-existence of an account management person. It is all about understanding what keeps the client awake at nights, finding simple solutions to all such tricky issues, and ensuring these are implemented flawlessly. Once done, the client gets promoted, and so does the account management person.

The next key role that an account management person must perform is to get his client to recommend his agency to his friends/acquaintances/wife/husband/dog… and get their business for the agency. And this, as we can see, flows from the first key result area. After all, the account management person also has a business development hat to wear. Net-net, he is the bread winner of the agency.

While he does the above, the account management person also needs to wear his creative hat and point his client towards newer ways of using their services. Though there's a famous saying that everyone knows 2 things well - one's own job and advertising, we all know that this statement has been made in jest. The account management person needs to either have or needs to develop the ability to see beyond the obvious. Naturally, this does good - both for the client and also the agency that employs these people.

It is not for nothing that they say - "advertising is people's business". This brings us to yet another role that the account management person needs to perform with panache. He needs to get his team to love him. For these are the people who in good times or bad, will make him come out on top.

Believe it or not, getting your team to love you, also helps them do justice to their next important role - getting the best ideas out of their creative partners. Creative people are known to be emotional, and if they see their account management partner as an ally who prepares well to present their creative ideas, and has a reputation for getting the creative ideas through unscathed, they go that extra step and deliver their best ideas to such people.

This by no means is a comprehensive list of desirable traits in an account management person, but these certainly are a good start. I welcome you to add to/critique this list. All such efforts will only go towards fine-tuning this ready-reckoner.

This isn't just an exercise at listing some idealistic traits. But an attempt at driving a bigger point. All of the above seems simple, and yet, unless you look around at some old-school advertising professionals, these traits are hard to come by. It is not that such people don't exist any more, but just that they don't find it worthwhile to come to this industry. As an industry, not only we have let our value proposition get diluted in the eyes of the clients, but we have done the same amongst prospective bright recruits who, in an earlier day and time would have given an arm and a leg to join our industry. It just might help if we take a fresh guard and make a new start, and begin by making a strong attempt at getting the industry's self respect and desirability back. And there's no better time to start, than NOW!