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Reinventing agency jobs

Manu Kaushik     May 14, 2008

Last year when Mukul Shrivastava, 38, left his forensic accounting job at KPMG to join Publicis Network, an advertising agency, as Finance Director, he was consciously looking beyond a hardcore finance job. “So, I landed up here. While I knew that this job would certainly require excellent finance skills, at the same time it demanded strategic and business development skills,” says Shrivastava. In his previous job, more than 95 per cent of his work was finance related. “Today, almost 85 per cent of the time is spent on non-finance-related issues,” adds Shrivastava, a chartered accountant by education.

New order: (Sitting left) Partho Sinha, Chief Strategy Officer; and (sitting right) Mukul Shrivastava, Finance Director, with the Publicis Network team
Partho Sinha (sitting left) and Mukul Shrivastava (sitting right)
Shrivastava’s job profile is symbolic of the changing character of the ad agencies themselves. Silos are giving way to a horizontal organisation where the emphasis is on collective decision-making. “The whole planning of which market to pitch to and which client to cater to is a collective decision and everybody in the organisation is very much a part of it,” says Shrivastava.

The advertising and communication industry has traditionally been led by people from client servicing. Now, there appears to be a change in the traditional structure with chief financial officers, chief strategy officers and chief planning officers—in addition to the existing chief operation officers—being recruited by many agencies. But, hang on, hasn’t the advertising industry been down this road before? Nakul Chopra, CEO & MD, Publicis Network, says a vehement no. “As the management techniques across companies are getting more sophisticated, there are several aspects of a client buying into your service. This includes both people and cost angle,” says Chopra. The question, he points out, is that agencies are now required to bring value to the clients while ensuring the service is provided at the cheapest possible cost without quality compromise.

Brand builders

Advertising agencies are looking for...

  • Strategy officers

  • HR executives

  • Creative officers

  • Business managers (i.e., client servicing heads

  • Integration officers
And that has translated into tweaking of the traditional structures. Conventionally, the role of a CFO in any advertising agency was restricted to number-crunching and cost-controlling functions.

Nakul Chopra, CEO & MD, Publicis Network
Nakul Chopra
The finance head was seen as the person who sat in a corner of the office, worrying himself over accounting issues. “Their job was largely to ensure that things got done within the budget,” says Madhukar Kamath, CEO & MD, Mudra Group. Obviously, that part of the job still stays. However, it appears that agencies want financial heads to deliver much more than traditional CFOs have. “In fact, they have transcended from their conventional role to embrace responsibility for improving operations, driving revenue growth and executing big acquisitions. A few years ago, no one would have heard of it,” says Kamath.

So, what exactly are the ad agencies looking for in people before hiring them? “If I talk about strategy officers, strong academic background is essential. And if you top it up with clarity of thought, then you are the right candidate for the agency. That’s why, instead of picking management graduates, we are picking freshers from reputed undergraduate schools having right kind of exposure,” says Partho Sinha, Chief Strategy Officer, Publicis Network, adding that agencies have become more solution-oriented than output-oriented.

Explaining that, Sinha says that his agency no longer creates a piece of ad for its clients but a communication solution, “which may require us to wear multiple hats—creative, finance, and planning, among others”.

Ambi M.G. Parameswaran, CEO, DraftFCB Ulka
Ambi M.G. Parameswaran
It’s a similar story at other leading agencies. According to Kamath, the ideal combination to run an advertising agency includes people, product and profit. “While people and products do form the biggest assets, profit, however, is ensured by either maximising the profit or rationalising the cost. For that you need a smart CFO who has overall understanding of how an agency operates. I believe the finance head should have skills of business development and the ability to partner with business heads,” says Kamath.

Agrees Publicis’ Shrivastava: “Today, the ad world wants partners and not mere employees. Being a business partner means that a person should be able to visualise challenges in advance. Also, if you are acting as a key support to the management, the agency expects every department to give useful inputs to the top management. In short, we need people who can sit back and think independently and offer outof-the-box ideas.”

Ambi M.G. Parameswaran, Executive Director & CEO of DraftFCB Ulka, has gone one step farther. He has put in place processes and forums for all teams to meet to work together.

“It is understood that no single division can improve anything on its own. Best advertising comes when all hands work together, be it creative, planning, media, direct, interactive, etc.,” says Parameswaran.

Hands-on clients

The reinvention of work profiles is also because client needs are evolving. “Good creative stuff should be the demand of every client and they must accept nothing less than the best. They have gone much ahead of advertising agencies,” says Dilip Upadhyaya, CFO, Mudra Group, explaining that the best clients recognise that advertising is one of their key weapons and he sees the top managements getting involved in the advertising of the healthiest of brands. “In these changing times, it has become impossible for client servicing executives alone to understand the client’s demands. It no longer works like one client servicing goes to the client, takes down the brief and delivers the job. It has become a team effort,” says Upadhyaya.

Madhukar Kamath, CEO & MD, Mudra Group
Madhukar Kamath
Adds Nisha Singhania, Executive Vice President, Rediffusion DYR: “Clients want a seamless experience with your agency—something that’s difficult to deliver if you and your colleagues in other functions are separated by silos. To give clients what they want—and bring in the cash your firm needs to stay healthy—managers must break down those silos and replace them with cross-functional collaboration.”

Industry veterans also think the role of finance officers has expanded after the clients started bringing in their procurement and finance people to negotiate the deals with ad agencies. “Agencies are increasingly confronted by client procurement officers (purchasing agents) who have been empowered by clients to take cost decisions on their behalf. As a result, agencies needed people to negotiate withclients’ commercial officers and there is no one better than the CFO and his team to do that job.

Broadly speaking, it is mirroring the development on the client’s side,” says Kamath.

New flavours

That’s not all. Increasingly, ad agencies are looking at a melting pot of emerging media—internet, mobile, and television. Some are expanding their existing digital media units and others are even spinning theirs off.

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Says Brent Gosling, Chief Strategy Officer, Lowe India: “As clients get more discerning and demand greater accountability, the advertising industry is gradually fragmenting into specialised units. The new managers of media services are those who have dealt with clients and are trained to balance client’s self-opinions with agency service.”

With the growth of new media opportunities, the demand for new types of talent has also grown. Points out Parameswaran: “Not only do we have the traditional creative and servicing teams, we have had an increase in the strategic planning and campaign planning teams.” People with interactive skills and database skills have an edge over others. “Going forward, we will see areas like events, activation, and promotion planning become important,” says Parameswaran.

For those executives who are probably tired of their stints at, say, cement or steel companies, this may be just the perfect time to jump over to a more creative—perhaps, even glamorous—industry.

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