“I got into advertising by choice. All along I felt an affinity with advertising. I wanted an existence in advertising, and I feel fortunate to have the right base through the right people,” says Dhunji Wadia. The base and the people have been more than just ‘right’ though as Wadia is president of not one, but two advertising agencies – Everest Brand Solutions and Rediffusion Y&R.
He recounts his journey, which as he clarifies hasn’t been very ‘flirtatious’. He says, “I started with Hindustan Thompson Associates in 1982. Then, the company became J Walter Thompson, before becoming JWT (and is now J Walter Thompson again). I worked with them till 1988 before joining Everest. I worked with Everest till ‘92 before moving back to JWT and then returned for my second chapter with Everest. I haven’t been very flirtatious.”
Wadia thanks his mentors for a career as long and successful. “Starting off, there was a person called Shashi Dethe, he was the head of LPE Ayers and I started working with him. Then came Sattar Khan and Anil Bhatia at JWT. I’m fortunate to work with Arun Nanda and Ajit Balakrishnan as well. These people have helped through various stages as mentors,” says Wadia.
‘Better being a salmon than a shark’
Wadia joined Everest for his second stint in 2010 from JWT Mumbai, where he was managing partner. Now, in 2015, he’s got the additional responsibility of helming Rediffusion Y&R as well.
On the difference between the working styles of the two agencies, he says, “When I came to Everest (in 2010), the big recognition was that today the size of agency, geographical location and history doesn’t make a difference to clients. What they are seeking is the calibre of people who work on the business and the value they add. On that premise we saw that Everest was pretty well positioned. We feel it’s better to be a salmon than a shark. Given my experience of working with a large agency, we found ways of giving personalised solutions to clients. I was fortunate to work with Rahul Jauhari as national creative director. Together, we’ve been a good team.”
Wadia attributes his success to an approach of meeting clients directly versus attending multi-agency pitches.
He explains, “We’ve been more successful when we get briefs from (new) clients directly and we’ve identified issues and addressed them. Such conversions (of new clients) have been better and faster than looking at multi-agency scenarios. This is a better and more serious ways of looking at client issues. This makes them see us also in a better light. Most of our wins -- Sab TV, Kotak Mutual Funds, Aditya Birla Retail and Crompton Greaves to name a few, have followed a discussion with the client. In these cases, the client has given us a brief and we have gone back to them with solutions and how we can help. So, it’s much more deeper than pitches. We are ambitious and do attend pitches too, but not at the expense of starving our current clients.”
He adds that this approach is a result of a personal belief and something that he’ll look to implement at Rediffusion Y&R as well.
When it comes to pitches, there’s a theory around that agencies have been offering services at lower fees in order to bag accounts. On that theory, Wadia says, “I’d rather walk out than sell ourselves short. We’ve heard about discounting. We’re not cut out for it. I don’t want only revenue coming from clients, we need profitability as well. There have been instances where our teams have walked out of pitches because of the client wanting us to cut profitability.”
While Everest may be the ‘salmon’, Wadia claims that Rediffusion is ‘a large but caring’ agency.
On his dual role, he says, “Working and checking two P&Ls isn’t an issue. I’ve done this before. When I was at JWT, I used to check Fortune and RMG’s P&Ls also. Rediffusion is large and at the same time it is caring. I’m going to foster that and take it forward. Let’s see how we can write an exciting new chapter.”
‘Digital could be stronger’
When it comes to digital, both the agencies of which Wadia is president, aren’t exactly top of mind. Wadia informs that Rediffusion Y&R has a 20-member digital-only team. Everest, meanwhile uses Rediffusion’s resources or looks externally (at other agencies) when it comes to digital campaigns.
He cedes, “Yes, there’s a perception that we’re not too strong on digital. This is where conversations are happening and we would want to be stronger. We’ve worked with Sab TV on Saburbia.com, Tata Housing on Tata Home Buying Day, Volini for Women’s Day and more. We’ve won awards too on some of these campaigns. So, we’re present on digital. We should do much more on digital and activation.”
On growth for 2015, Wadia says, “Creative is everything in an agency. Of course there’s the strategic planning input which is imperative, but the consumer only sees the output, which is what the entire agency is about. This is what agencies are working towards and all agencies should be working on. Once you get the creative right, brands will get healthy, revenues will go up and you’ll be able to pay bonuses and more talent will want to work with you. So, a healthy creative serves all elements. Given that today there’s recognition of building on creative and activation, we want to make sure that we improve with these offerings to provide holistic operations.”
Another area of importance and one that Wadia wants to address is the overall perception of the agency.
“Rediffusion has a very good set of people within the company and are doing healthy work, but we’re not able to project it outside. They’re happy doing their work, but we need the rest of the world to know about it. We want to empower these people with all the resources and opportunities to shine,” explains Wadia.
Rediffusion bagged Silver and also received a finalist certificate in the recently concluded Effies 2014. Wadia believes that awards are of importance and claims that he’d like to see the quantum of wins improve over time. He says, “Awards are important. It shows that you’re recognised by your peers and the industry. We’ve got a few of them at the recently concluded Effies and got a couple of them last year as well. We’ve won at Goafest, among others. The quantum hasn’t been that large, so we need to see how we can improve. I think the work has to be created for clients. In the process if you can send it for awards, it would be a good thing.”
It’s difficult to discuss awards without Goafest poping up. Wadia is a strong believer of the festival and wants it to succeed. “As a body, you’ve got to respect it. I really feel that this factionalism doesn’t help. There are issues across all forums. Even building societies have issues. We need to come together and sit to address these issues instead of people pulling out and creating newer issues. I’m for anything that fosters our industry and Goafest has done that. It is unfortunate that there seem to be diverse points of view. We should try addressing issues instead of running away from them,” surmises Wadia.
(This article first appeared in the 6 February issue of Campaign India)