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We sell, or else…we have more options

September 27, 2013 1 comment

I just read this article by my friend David Mayo. A good read as usual but the following piece stayed in my mind.

“At around 9:30 am that first day, the phone rang, and it was the Guinness client calling to say that they didn’t like the kazoo music on the end of the commercials we had just aired and could we please change it?

I told the client that I would put a call into my creative partner and get back to him sharpish. After a couple of rings, a velvety voice answered the phone. It was a voice with which I was to become very familiar over the coming months and years. “Hello, Strawberry,” said Neil. I explained how the kazoo had to go, but the melody could stay, so we had to find another instrument.

“If the kazoo goes, so will you”, said the voice, as the line went dead. And so began my creative baptism by fire. (The kazoo stayed.)”

Reminded me of my brief stint at Trikaya Grey in its hey day. The rules of the agency were quite simple. Creative creates. Account management sells. Once account management ‘bought’ a piece of creative from the creative team they HAD to sell it. Till they bought the work, account management was free to ask as many Qs they wanted about the work to be convinced. I remember once being engaged in a discussion about a typeface choice and understanding the reason for the same. Clear roles and responsibilities.

As I look around at the state of the business in recent times, I find that everyone gives in far too easily. Creative is happy with their first idea. Account management is happy to take it and agree to any changes that client asks. Clients slowly start dominating the agency relationship. Work quality suffers. And then procurement steps in.

Early on I saw clients like P&G, Coca-Cola etc spend a lot of time on the science of communications. Their view seems/seemed to be ‘Once you understand the science, we can perfect the art’. A bit like knowing that if you mix blue with yellow you will get green. Once an artist understands that, he is free to do the most dazzling painting ever.

Agencies typically leap to perfect the art first. Then when faced with clients that ask the ‘hard’ questions the resultant interactions are less than pleasant. Even Van Gogh used certain colours for a reason.

As David says in his article ‘ We need to make time for the work’. I believe once agencies take pride in their work, not just the potential Cannes winners or in December of the year, but all work we will have raised our collective game.

Then we can collectively live by what the other David said..’We sell. Or else.’

Image

 

What kind of boss are you?

One of may favourite stories of a good boss is of when I started in my career.

A brand manager at a large MNC sent a 13 page hand written complaint to my super boss. He was a Vice President, in the days when the title meant you were number 2 in the organisation to The CEO. I was an Account Executive.

I know what some of the people I have since worked with would’ve done.

But this boss brought the sheaf to my table and said ‘I don’t believe any of this to be true. Can you please help me respond to this?’ and walked away.

Theory Y management in practise.

I have been blessed that through large parts of my career I’ve had such bosses. The fact that they were all at Ogilvy, probably also says a lot about its culture.

I have since then tried to practise this style as much as possible. No one comes to work with the intention of screwing up. But they do err.

Whether you decide to stuff them for it or offer a helping hand shapes not just your relationship with the person, but also what kind of leader they become.

The choice really is between Image and Image

Oft times this is supported by what people have read as behaviour of other ‘successful’ leaders.

Steve Jobs was, by all accounts, no easy person to work with. And he worked 7 days a week. He was rude. He was obnoxious. He was a genius.

I have worked with creative people in my previous jobs who were tough, arrogant, threw tantrums but were brilliant.

Poor managers, or leaders, selectively cherry pick the bad behaviour components, conveniently leaving out the genius elements.

Thus we are seeing the growing ‘bully’ bosses who play the player, and not the game. After all if it was good for Steve, it is good for them.

A junior team member is like a child in your family. She/ he learns from what they see as acceptable practise from their seniors and will take that with them everywhere they go.

So the next time you are faced with a challenging situation caused by your team members, pause and ask yourself : Will I use this opportunity to teach or will I teach him a lesson that will scare him for the rest of his life.

That will define whether you will be remembered as a boss they look up to and write about, or just another irritant in their professional journey. After all it’s an old adage, “people don’t leave companies, they leave bosses’.

 

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Corporate budget balancing

November 23, 2011 Leave a comment

This is the season for budget planning for the next year. (Companies that follow Jan- Dec planning cycles).

It is a season of tizzy and many hours and resources are spent on creating the plan for the following year. It will go endless revisions as the first submission is never good enough. Margins could be better. Costs could be lower. etc.

Knowing that this dance will take place, most offices plan their initial submissions accordingly.

What I have found generally is that a large part of the discussion takes place around the numbers itself.

I get, that budgets should be largely about numbers. However, this is also the one time that senior managers of most companies get to together and discuss overall company plans for the next year. Set some objectives or goals.

I have done many a budget plan and done the objectives and goal setting as well. But somehow the discussions weigh heavily on the side of the numbers.

And it increases as the year goes by.

Let’s say for example a goal is to win a specific piece of business. And the investment required to make that win is a specific talent. In the goals we say that the win will happen, say, in Q2 of  the year and the talent will be secured around the same time.

Everyone agrees with this goal and the investment, and the green light is given.

The year starts and then come Q1 you find that some other client who was expected to spend $X in Q1 will now only do it in Q3 because their product launch got delayed.

Guess what..now the Q1 numbers will not look too good. So to ensure that the quarterly numbers are met, expenses are frozen which typically is new hires. And that talent required to win that other piece of business which is part of the goal gets pushed out and so on.

Clearly I simplify,(and talk service firms than all corporations), hugely to make the following points:

Quarterly focus. I think enough ink and pixels have been spent on this subject. Given that earnings need to be issued and the role analysts seems to play in company valuations the pressure to ensure quarterly numbers are met, even if it means that long term goals are sacrificed, or compromised, is significant. I was reading recently an article that some top companies have stopped issuing quarterly guidance or have amended what they issue in these reports. This article even gives evidence that the quarterly focus is bad for long term company health. Perhaps the time has come for all companies to have a uniform system of taking a long term view of the business and managing earnings accordingly.

Numbers or Product : Companies seldom get into business to make money. They get into business to provide a service or a product. By selling enough of that product they make money. As long as that sequence is always maintained money will flow. Being the best at something ensures you get the margins that deliver the profits that makes the company valuable. 2 examples of this come to mind. One is Apple. If you’ve read the Sculley/Jobs articles.. Very simply speaking Sculley wanted to cut the cost of the product to sell millions. Jobs wanted to get the perfect product that cost more and sell millions. The Apple success is there for all to see. I also want to talk about a company I worked with. Ogilvy in India. It was always a great agency and a financial powerhouse. Then a creative genius took over who had a maniacal focus on the product. Literally within a year the company was producing the best work in the country, if not the region/world. And guess what.. it became an even more powerful financial juggernaut. Focusing on the money leads to cost cutting, short cuts, delayed investments etc which seldom show up in the near term but start the slow slippery slope downwards.

I am not decrying the financial aspect of the business by any means. Having run businesses myself I know that all the great product on the world, without money to pay the rent is of no use at all.

I seek a better balance between Quarterly numbers and Annual numbers. Between Numbers and product.

In the festive season upon us that is a wish I have for all.

 

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People like these…

February 9, 2010 7 comments

Last couple of weeks have stirred deep emotions amongst many of us from Ogilvy India. Two unrelated events, but yet connected.

The first was when we felt that due credit was not given to a piece of work done by one of the greatest copywriters of our times, Suresh Mullick. (read my post on this under ‘whose copyright is it any way).

And yesterday the former CEO, SR Ayer passed away in Chennai.

The outpourings of emotion have been huge and the Facebook pages to these two reveal just a small portion of the private feelings we have.

And that got me to think a bit about these two individuals.

Let me start with SR (Mani) Ayer first. He was the classic, feared CEO. Stern face, strident voice and ‘rubbish’ was one of his favourite words. Being called to see him was a traumatic experience.

That was the one side.

On the other was a man of supreme intelligence. He seemingly knew about every subject under the sun, including your client’s business and what you did on the account. While we were a national agency and had 5 offices, a copy of the minutes of every meeting anywhere in India went to him. And he read it. I have got notes back asking specifically about projects that I’d hoped were sufficiently buried in many other words.

He personally conducted an annual “Account Management Strategy’ workshop outside Mumbai. It was the most valued workshop we ever had. People fought to get on that list of invitees. (I never made it!!). Ogilvy was known for its training programs and people joined just to learn. And they never left.

His ability to dissect a problem and get to the core of the issue were legendary. No problem seemingly took him more than a few minutes to solve and you left the room shaking your head!

He saw the potential in people. He hired and supported people who would be giants. Ask Sridhar, Piyush,  Vijay Bhat, Sanjeev Lamba amongst the many many others for starters

He was a no non sense leader.

And a wonderful human being. The contradictions of Mr Ayer.

He genuinely cared for us. You just need to read the facebook  posts or talk to anyone who was there at that time and you’d hear stories of his quiet attention to his people. Be it Muthu the office ‘peon’ to a Vice President (which used to mean something in those days!) we all felt his watching eyes and supporting hand.

At the other end of the spectrum, in some senses, was Suresh Mullick.

Mr Ayer and Suresh were the yin and yang of the agency.

Suresh was the fun guy!. He’d enter the office at around 10 whistling or singing a tune that was buzzing in his head at that time. He’d walk around the entire agency cracking one liners.

He loved to tease the media folks! Roda was his ‘favorite’ person.

When I first saw him in March of 1988, walking by peering through his thick glasses , walking with a slight shuffle and singing a song, I thought he had lost his way in the agency! And then slowly I was exposed to his genius. The talent to write, the talent to listen, the talent to inspire.

The talent to relate to people.

Everyone called him Suresh. He had the air of a naughty child and you always expected him to disrupt an extremely serious meeting with a joke or a sarcastic response to something someone said. And he often did, to Mr Ayer’s angst!!

All that hid a very serious and sharp brain.

He did a ton of great creative work but the ones that I will always remember are the Titan campaigns.

India had not seen work like that. Delicious watches to the use of Mozart’s 25th symphony that even today is hummed in many a household.

And of course the Mera Bharat Mahan..Mile sur mera tumhara film. Another pioneering film in Indian television. Using a rapidly growing medium like TV, integrating  it with a remixed version of the national anthem and the use of celebrities created such a national sensation.

None of this affected Suresh in the least. He was over it and on to the next brief or the next project.

Mr Ayer and Suresh the unlikeliest of partners, but the greatest of friends. Mr Ayer saved Suresh from the misery of running an office and made him one of the finest creative directors the country ever saw.

They were united in their love for gin and tonic! In the afternoon they would sneak off to the Ritz for their GnT lunches. Not long drawn affairs. 90 minutes. And if you were spotted along the way, you were invited too. It was not a very hierarchical place you see. After the first few minutes of tongue tiedness you were part of whatever conversation they were having!

And the jokes. They loved telling jokes. At a party, the same Mr Ayer you tried to hide from in the office, lest he asked you about that project you were working on, was the centre of a lively conversation about crazy stories.

His favourite was ‘my ding a ling’!!! And at every occasion he’d be asked to recite it and we’d all join in.

Mr Ayer. Suresh.

These were not office managers or agency heads.

They were great leaders. And even greater people.

People we admired, respected, cherished and loved.

People like these…

We are the poorer. I certainly am.

God bless them.

Harish

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