Even considering leaving Webchutney was a very blasphemous thought: Gautam Reghunath

The ex CEO and CCO of Dentsu Webchutney speak about the workings of their new agency and what gave them the courage to end their decade-long stint with dentsu

Apr 11, 2022 04:11:00 AM | Article | Eularie Saldanha

Last week, Dentsu Webchutney’s ex CEO and CCO, Gautam Reghunath and PG Aditiya announced the launch of a creative agency called Talented
 
After spending over a decade each at the agency, they finally decided to come up with a powerhouse of their own, focusing to rectify the issues that most traditional advertising industries face.
 
The camaraderie between the duo grew with time, and they joked about how in the beginning, the idea of leaving Webchutney was nothing short of blasphemy. 
 
We caught up with the duo, to learn more about Talented, how it plans to operate, what issues it wishes to address, the learnings from its career at Dentsu Webchutney and more…
 
Edited excerpts: 
 
What inspired the agency's name? 
 
PG Aditiya (PG): We wanted to figure out a way to be named after everyone in our agency. The word talented is something we keep throwing around a lot since it’s a qualification required to be in our jobs. It was Gautam’s name and there were other names that were runner ups too. It’s important that we are picked not just for a kind of work, a medium, or budget, but for who we are. This name allowed us to be a little free in how we wanted to come across. At this point, we’re like a store on a commercial street somewhere in Bengaluru. The name will sound well only if we do well. 
 
Gautam Reghunath (GR): We understand it is a little self-congratulatory in a way, but it’s a source of motivation and soft pressure that we’re exerting on ourselves to perform and live up to the name. I hope no client comes to an agency called Talented and expects mediocre work. 
 
How did the two of you get together and plan to get out of Webchutney? 
 
GR: Obviously a few months before we actually managed to say it out loud. However, both of us have always secretly harboured this ambition and wondered what a new creative shop would look like. Even saying it out loud to PG, took me a good couple of months. We were just sharing ideas with each other. Even considering to leave Webchutney was a very blasphemous thought. September-October is when we started getting real. So, we moved from the nervous phase to this exciting phase just around the end of last year. 
 
What are you planning to do, to redirect the advertising industry’s focus back to its talent? 
 
GR: There are efficiencies we can find in the system and pass on in terms of better pay and better hours. We are possibly one of the industries with the least amount of equity. For an industry that keeps beating its chest about being people-centric, how had we not thought that ESOPs (employee stock ownership plans) were something to be considered? There’s a lot we can learn from startups and tech companies. Skin in the game is not enough. We have a huge ESOP pool already and over the next few years, 20% of the upwards is going to be employee-owned. 
 
How you do plan to solve the work-life balance problem that the advertising industry is infamous for? 
 
PG: Gautam is leading the charge on our employee manual - comprising close to 25 pages of all our thoughts, soon to be public. Internally, we’re calling this initiative ‘no follow ups’. When asked, account management revealed that a good 30-50% of their time went into chasing others. This is just how it has been by design. At Talented, we believe that it is your own job to follow up with yourself and that is explicitly not the JD of the account management team. Imagine how much actual value add and brand thinking account managers can bring in with their saved time. We want simple stuff like being informed if there’s going to be a delay, without keeping anyone in the dark. We’re about 50-55% successful with this practice at this point in time. If we keep doing better at it, it’s a marker that we’ll be able to extend to our clients and our specialist partners. 
 
GR: Here, no one works more than 8-9 hours a day and we were clear about that since the beginning. We have the advantage of coming in with no baggage since it’s a fresh start. It’s about having the conversation loudly and hearing it from decision-makers in the system and repeating it again and again. 
 
What are your learnings from dentsu, that helped you when launching Talented? Similarly, what are the things from Webchutney that you'd not want to bring into Talented? 
 
GR: Dentsu and Webchutney, specifically, is where we grew up. I’ve only been in two jobs before this. My single biggest learning from the agency, working with Siddharth Rao, is that age or designation doesn’t matter. We are a culture of pushing up people who deserve to be in rooms regardless of their position. We reflected that even during promotions. Webchutney hardly hired top-level positions from the outside, they were all internal promotions. 
 
PG: Creatively, at Webchutney, we had to loudly and proudly repeat to potential clients that if it was for digital, they should come to us. That also meant that we were inadvertently telling them that although they had people to do non-digital work, we didn’t expect to be considered for that. A large part of our charter went into that and although it worked fantastically for a lot of work that we did, it also kept us away from a few rooms and a few conversations. That’s one of the things we’re hoping is not a factor here at Talented. 
 
How do you differentiate yourself from other agencies out there? 
 
PG: There’s no mystery as to what the changes in the advertising industry have to be. We know them, but we just need someone to commit to and execute them. We have very simple ideas which we’re sure advertising lovers will rally around. We want to build this place in the public as much as possible and share our learnings not just from the good stuff, but also when we screw up. We are copying a good change from tech. We’re copying from somebody and we’re hoping to do a bunch of things that make it easier to copy for others. 
 
How many members are in the team right now? Are there any other people from Dentsu that you'd want to bring to your agency? 
 
GR: It’s only natural that some of our closest do join us over the few months. However, our relationship with dentsu remains supremely strong even now. 
 
PG: At present, we’re less than two dozen. In 2013, I was a senior copywriter when the team came down from 13 to 2 and I was one of the two who stayed. I’m so glad I stuck to my guns and it worked out for the best. The energy which motivates you to lead the change is brilliant. We don’t have an easy task in terms of getting anybody. People make choices based on what they want to do. 
 
How many clients do you have onboard? 
 
GR: We have about 6-7 clients onboard already and a lot of them are the ones that we’ve met over the last 10-15 years. Our founding team has strong relationships as well. We’ve started work on these clients and work will start to release soon. All of these clients are new and none have been poached.