In a chat with Campaign India, Philip Brett, president,TBWA Asia Pacific, explains that having women leaders is very much a part of the agenda for the year ahead.
While India doesn’t have one yet, he explains that the rest of Asia Pacific has already got women holding senior level positions. “Creating equal opportunities was a very important topic for us last year. It goes on with our ‘take the lead’ program. As time goes on, we have to attract a diverse group of people into our industry. In India, what we don’t have is a senior woman leader. We have close to 30 women right now (out of 100) in the team, but what we are working towards is getting a woman leader. We want to offer them opportunities all the way to the senior level. It’s very much on our agenda for 2017,” says Brett.
The Asia Pacific leaders he’s referring to include Renuka Marshal (president, TBWA Sri Lanka), Kimberlee Wells (CEO, TBWA Melbourne), Joanne Lao (CEO, TBWA Greater China).
Brett was in India last week on a two-day visit to spend time with the team and meet clients. His last visit to India was a year ago in 2016, when the agency had just roped in Govind Pandey as CEO. And Brett believes the office is in a much better space currently.
He says, “In terms of people employed, India would have around 100 now (Mumbai and Delhi combined). We have really big offices in Singapore, Australia, China, Korea and Japan. Then comes Thailand, and we’d have around 200 people there. India would be comparable to Philippines and Malaysia and would be in the top 10 among our 13-14 offices in Asia Pacific.”
“I don’t think it was any secret that until a year ago we were punching well below our weight. TBWA in the rest of the world would have perhaps been indexing higher than our brand in India. That’s what Govind (Pandey) and I have been working on to change. We have had flashes of good work over the years, but we weren’t constantly doing what I would say ‘disruptive and differentiated’ thinking that I would say India demands. This is a market that has a very strong advertising culture, and I don’t think we were constantly delivering that,” adds Brett.
But what has changed now is the team. The additions include Abhinav Tripathi who joined the agency in October 2016 as creative head Mumbai; Ashwin Parthiban (as creative head for Delhi), Arun Sharma (as planning head for Delhi). The recent additions are another reason for Brett's confidence.
He says, “It’s very different now. The chemistry between the teams and online-offline space is well knit, and what we’re looking for as a network team is a strong Indian operation. We have the momentum now. This comes from within. Having been a visitor here for many many years, I really feel the chemistry between the individuals and their motivation is incredible now. The work will now follow. I can tell you from first-hand experience that when I came here in 2015, this office was an agency and not what I call a TBWA office. Now, that’s a 100 per cent different. Last year, when Troy (Ruhanen) and I came, our goals were very clear –not to suddenly throw work in the market, but to look at the fundamentals of what this business needs to be. We wanted to look at the talent that we wanted to bring in, get them working well together and see what flows from there.”
For Brett 2016 was about input – getting the machine right. That was compounded with things the agency did globally. "We had a big network meeting in Cape Town. We started to look at the network as a whole and Troy did a very big piece on how we want to operate. If I look at that, 2016 was year one as TBWA proper in India. Our goal wasn’t to simply grow. That’s obvious. But, you cannot start looking at the growth agenda or the creative agenda without looking at the fundamentals of the business. That’s what we addressed first. The business wins, I think are evidence of that work. We looked to bring things right, and then picked it up from there,” he says.
The wins Brett is referring to are Modern Bread, Cipla Health and a new venture from the JSW Group. He explains, “So, to a certain extent while we didn’t have a high growth agenda, we started growing. We didn’t have a very heavy creative agenda, we started to get recognition there too.”
The appointments of Parthiban and Sharma were in sync with the agency giving importance to its Delhi office. “We re-opened our Delhi offering which looks after Nissan and Datsun. We launched the Datsun Redi-go through that office. We are also now well positioned for pitches in the city. If I look at the to-do list for 2016, pretty much all of the boxes were ticked. The new business wins came in eight weeks at the end of the year. So, it was almost like the product and people were right, clients liked it. I can see that from the work that was presented to clients that recently came on board, there are fresh ideas in there. We are already seeing some, with Snap Counsellors. We are not going to measure ourselves by metal. That is something that’ll come when we are producing work. Our motivation should be clients first and last. When we get that right, I believe we can produce some great work.”
The agency was in the news for various award wins last year. These included Brett winning the Asia-Pacific Agency Head of the Year (Creative). While he believes awards are important he adds that they shouldn’t be the motivation.
He explains, “The first criticism we get from clients is ‘why are we doing this’ or ‘what is your motivation behind something’. We have to look at work that is of value to our clients. If it’s of value, it’ll be recognised. Whether it’s recognised in creative or effectiveness category, we’ll wait to see. It’s a goal but not a motivation. We attribute the wins to the people. I’m very lucky to have a fantastic group of people. There’s something I’m very proud of and always said that ‘TBWA is strong in every market and if you go to the performance of last year, even the people who didn’t walk away with anything last year, I know they’re top three.”
He surmises, “If I look at Japan winning seven years in a row or Philippines, that has been agency of the year six years in a row. We focus on that as a way of saying, ‘let’s look at our CV for the year. Have we been a good agency?’ We need to be strong in creative, people, industry contribution, creating momentum, attracting and retaining clients. You need a balanced scorecard. It comes back to the quality and chemistry between people and then how they work. I really believe the way everyone works as a region – we try to behave like a large group of people rather than as a collection of offices.”