Business Today

Small agencies big pitch

The hot-shops are back. And, unlike in the nineties, there’s plenty of restless talent going around—and plenty of business for the taking, too.

Shamni Pande | Print Edition: Dec 02, 2007

They’re small, thinking big. they’re young, but not exactly novices. They’re lean, though not necessarily mean. In other words, they’re everything that their Goliath-like peers in the advertising industry—the big agencies—are not.

And, yes, unlike many of the big boys, these independent hotshops find it easier to be creative and result-oriented at the same time. Look around, they’re all over the place: Players who started three years ago, why even those that are just six months into operation, are pitching against the big guys in the game and coming up winners. Young creative directors— many of them with stints at the big agencies in their quivers—are coming into their own. “There couldn’t be a better time than now for anyone with even a little talent wanting to start off,” says Pushpinder Singh, who started Saints & Warriors in January 2006. These agencies are shaking up traditional structures, even as a few of them prepare to launch overseas. They’re also pondering mergers— not necessarily for size but to create a deeper creative pool: A, a Delhi-based individual agency, has amalgamated with the Portland-headquartered Wieden+Kennedy, an iconic hotshop that’s known for its brilliant creative work.

Business Today has shortlisted six such creative shops that are bagging big-bang accounts and matching that pitching zeal with brilliant work, to boot. But these six are just a microcosm of the revolution that’s taking place across the country. There are numerous other agencies with names like Brand Curry, Brand Prophet, One Point Size, Cartwheel Creative, Black Coffee, Be Positive 24… they’re all on song, in demand, and in the money.

Hotshops’ patron saint

Saints & Warriors
Founder and creative director: Pushpinder Singh (36)
Billing: Rs 45 crore
Clients: Amul Macho, Frankfinn, Piramyd, Elf Lubricants, Staples (world’s largest office stationery brand), Apna Loan, Lokmat Group and Galaxee

Trust Pushpinder Singh to christen his agency Saints & Warriors. The 36-year-old Founder & Creative Director of this nearly two-year-old outfit, who is accustomed to courting controversies with as much élan as he does accolades, has a simple and logical explanation for the name: “In business, you have to be both,” quips Singh.

In this business, it also helps to be provocative, and Singh thinks little of doing work that sections of society would duly label offensive. His infamous TVC for Amul Macho (innerwear for men) attracted exactly such a response.

To its credit, however, S&W has done well to make brands such as Frankfinn noticeable. Singh is possibly among the most awarded creative persons in Indian advertising, with at least 33 Abbies to his tally in the last four years, in addition to wins on the international circuit. S&W, says Singh, will close 2007 with revenues of Rs 45 crore.

He’s roped in his core team on the basis of their “intuitive street-level understanding of the India around them. They are people who don’t always need a graph or chart to understand a communication challenge.” There’s Pankaj Acharya as a Partner and MD, who’s been an entrepreneur all his life; and there’s Mahendra Parab (ex-Triton), who’s heading Art; Manish Arora and Amitabh Dutta are with the Business Group, whilst Trilokjeet Sengupta, Samir Gohale Vijay Subramani, and Raja Haldankar handle the creative aspects of business.


Founder and creative director: V. Sunil (40)
Billing: Rs 90 crore
Clients: Incredible India, Indigo Airlines, Royal Enfield, HCL
Technologies, Sally Hanson (cosmetic brand), A1GP & Wave Cinema

A Was started by V. Sunil three years ago. A’S now integrated into Wieden+Kennedy, in India and will be called W+K, Delhi. “We are not selling out, but Mohit (Mohit Dhar Jayal, Director Brand Strategy) and I are profit-sharing partners.

If we wanted to, then we could have done that (sold out) to WPP earlier,” says Sunil, 40, who quit O&M to follow his dream. The agency will handle Nokia’s business in India; the Finnish mobile phone major is £175-million client globally for Widen + Kennedy.

Dan Wieden, Founder and Global Executive Creative Officer, W+K, says: “It is always our goal when opening a new office to find talent in the local market that would embody the culture of Wieden+Kennedy. From the first time I chatted with both Sunil and Mohit, the synergies were obvious.

Their success in India is unprecedented, and coupling that with our commitment to developing groundbreaking creative for our clients is what makes this union so exciting,” he said in an official communication.

Nokia might have just been the bridge between A and Wieden+Kennedy. Sunil began working on the Nokia account soon after he set up shop in 2004, including the much acknowledged N-Gage series. A is also credited for being the brain behind the Incredible India global campaign, although many other agencies were part of the Ministry of Tourism’s empanelment.

The association, which is being termed as a ‘merger’ by Sunil, will give W+K the launch pad and scale that it’s obviously seeking to open its innings here. A also brings to the table some very interesting businesses such as Indigo Airlines, Royal Enfield, HCL Technologies, Sally Hanson (a cosmetic brand), AIGP and Wave cinema.

Fun @ work

Ideas at work
Co-founders & chief creative directors: Prashant Godbole (45) & Zarvan Patel (43)
Billing: N.A.
Clients: Reid & Taylor and

It may not be a great opening line to start an interview, but I push ahead and ask Zarvan Patel if he’s heard of an agency called: Yes, Yes, Why Not? Patel laughs. “No I haven’t, but there should be—it sounds good,” he says. That’s a pretty fun sort of attitude, coming from someone who’s just teamed up with his ex-colleague at Rediffusion DYR and friend Prashant Godbole, and launched an agency barely five months ago.

The duo is known for its awardwinning ‘Talk to Me’ campaign for Colgate, which got international exposure and appreciation from the client, and the ‘Express Yourself’ series for Airtel. Patel and Godbole ascribe their discipline and rigour for creative excellence to their fairly long stint with Mohammad Khan at Enterprise-Nexus. “When you have experienced dedication to creative results, then you cannot settle for anything less. We were feeling hemmed in by the traditional agency ways that are more driven towards management. It takes the fun out of work,” says Godbole.

Ideas At Work recently bagged mandates like that of Reid & Taylor—not bad for a team that’s working out of a makeshift office, which is actually Godbole’s old home in Mahim. “We have put our own capital and actually have talks on with 12 people who would eventually join us,” says Patel.

Young trurks

Creativeland Asia
Founder and creative director: Sajan Raj Kurup (31)
Billing: Rs 75 crore
Clients: Café Coffee Day, Parle Agro (Appy Fizz and Frooti) and Diageo’s range of wines

It’s a fledgling that’s raring to go. Creativeland Asia (CLA) was flagged of by Sajan Raj Kurup, a former creative head at Grey, six months ago. Kurup has brought on board Vikram Gaikwad (also ex-Grey) and Ajay Nair (ex-Leo Burnett, as CFO) as partners in the new venture. The office was brimming with 27 team members, at last count. What’s going on? A lot. CLA has already begun scouting around for overseas alliances in four countries: Dubai, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok and Shanghai; alongside, it is also looking out for regional business (read pan-Asia).

“We are focussed on communicating with youth. Over 59 per cent of Asia is youth. Most brand custodians come over to me and say ‘make my brand young’,” says Kurup, who was in Khandala with his entire office for a workshop last fortnight. The agency is in the process of conducting exhaustive research across Asia on youth. And Kurup is clear about the value, shops like his bring to the table. “Traditional agency structures are not built around nurturing the creative process. They are more about managing accounts and have less people thinking on them. In our case, 70 per cent of the client money goes into the creative-thinking process,” he says. What’s making Kurup upbeat is the trend of large advertisers such as P&G actually looking outside the agency network partners and opting for independents.

Deep thought

Thought Blurb
Founding Partner & Managing Director: Vinod Kunj (39)
Billing: N.A.
Clients: Baskin Robbins, Godrej, Government of Maharashtra (Forestry Department) and TV Origin (IPTV provider in Hyderabad)

Thought blurb, started by Vinod Kunj in Mumbai, has been around for a little over six months. It marked its entry by bagging the Baskin Robbins account from incumbent JWT.

While naysayers may argue that the account is hardly a big spender, Kunj has a point: “This is big account in terms of its stature; the brand is globally very established and is counted among the finest names in ice cream. We also handle the brand in West Asia,” says Kunj. Many other small brands have come rushing in, even as the agency works for Godrej without being formally signed on. The core team includes Kunj’s wife Razia (ex-Ulka), Jayesh Upadhyay (who’s an RJ with FM Gold and has taken a weekend slot now), Vikrant Chikhal (ex-Rediffusion DYR), Rateesh Menon (was previously with a web design house, RDX Interactive in Cochin) and Nidha Luthra (ex-Leo Burnett), are all people who have had varied exposures, outside of advertising. So it’s not surprising, when Kunj says: “We prefer working with lifestyle brands as the space is growing and they also allow for freedom of expression.”

Small shop, big picture

Brand Portrait
Co-Founder & Managing Director: Raj Narain (42)
Billing: Rs 40 crore
Clients: Verizon, Apollo Hospitals, Dhanus Technologies, TVS Infotech, Chaitanya Group, Hallmark Infrastructure, Pepe’s (for online), Best of India (a re-seller for Rupert Murdoch’s DirectTV, a US account)

The canvas has already grown beyond Indian shores, with this three-year-old agency already setting up office in the US. But here’s the news: it’s not Madison Avenue, but mid-western town Texas that Brand Portrait is gunning for. “We already have a client, Dhanus Technologies, who we work for out of India.

This client gives us a footprint into servicing the entire East and West Coast,” says Raj Narain, Managing Director, Brand Portrait, which at last count had 40 people working for it.

Narain quit Chennai-based Fountainhead (another independent agency) to launch his own dream and has three founding partners that form the core team: Venu Gopal Nair heads Creative, Subhas Bhokre heads Art, and C. Taffline heads Client Servicing.

“Here the shareholding and management is structured a little differently, and as part of the core team, I seek to drive strategy and new business development for the company,” says Narain. The agency is working on setting up offices in Singapore and West Asia and is also looking at launching a “unique” digital product that promises to optimise costs for clients. That’s something to look forward to.

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