After 11 years of running Law & Kenneth, Praveen Kenneth is energised by the new challenge that faces him. On 29 January 2014, Publicis Groupe made the announcement of a marriage decided in April the year before. L&K Saatchi & Saatchi will continue to operate as two separate legal entities - Saatchi & Saatchi and Law & Kenneth - to make the most of competing clients. But they will also look to leverage each other’s strengths. Leveraging synergies, growing creative reputation - and of course, growing business - are on Kenneth’s agenda.
“The way I see it today, with two different legal entities, I can grow more,” said Kenneth, in conversation with Campaign India. Edited excerpts:
You are now heading L&K Saatchi & Saatchi, a move announced in end-January. Tell us about the transition into the role. How long has it taken?
The marriage was decided in April last year (2013). The proper due diligence has to go through. As a team, we started working closely together in the last four to five months. We started getting involved with Saatchi & Saatchi in the month of October to support clients.
How much synergies have been explored, like for instance on the L&K Digital front?
Synergies have been the most with digital; L&K Digital has stepped in to support P&G, which is one of the largest brands of Saatchi & Saatchi. One of the things I am doing is putting together how we can maximise the strengths we have in Saatchi & Saatchi globally. Saatchi is very, very strong in shopper, in tools, in the way they approach creativity. These can help Law & Kenneth sharpen itself or get better.
The centre of Saatchi & Saatchi’s existence is doing great creative work. For us, that’s a fantastic story to embrace if we need to become a player of stronger repute. That’s a refreshing wind of change I’m looking forward to.
How much time have you spent acclimatising people internally?
It’s an ongoing exercise. I have put together a 100-day plan, where we’ll get our teams to the Saatchi & Saatchi way of life. That’s begun. It’s nice to put together a 100-day plan, but I think it’s going to take a little longer than that. But at least the intent is pretty aggressive. I think we would have done injustice if we don’t use this partnership to create a very strong creative reputation for ourselves. It is a great opportunity.
One of the things that defined Law & Kenneth was working and growing with entrepreneurial clients. How have they reacted?
All our clients, from Hero MotoCorp to Kent RO to Dabur, all of them wished us well; they are all big brands and they all wanted us to become big. I don’t think anyone wants to do business with someone small who wants to remain small. Us growing into a larger role in a larger set up, was for them redemption that they actually backed the right bunch of young people. They came to us when we were a bunch of nobodys. Even Renault, which is a globally aligned business to Publicis Groupe, was extremely happy. They all feel that we’re doing the right thing right now; they believe that everything we’ve done, we’ve thought through, rather than do in fits and starts.
At some level, do you sense that there is comfort in working with a larger set up with international lineage, tools...
I don’t think that’s come out at all in any of my conversations. I don’t think that really matters. For the client what matters is that the agency has a great team - and the team has been acknowledged by a global organisation to be a good team. They’ve stood by and partnered a bunch of people, who have taken the path that has taken them to where they are. They’re happy that we’ve done the right thing and taken on the right partner to move to the next level.
What is the approach to new business going to be?
As an organisation, we are aggressive on new business. You can grow organically by 20 or 25 per cent. New business needs to keep coming in every other day for us to become bigger. If I cannot deliver growth, then I am not required in this organisation – either as an entrepreneur earlier, or now as a partner. We got acknowledged because we grew the way we did.
You mentioned Digital Law & Kenneth and P&G... Going forward, could exploring synergies be the biggest avenue for growth?
It could be. Saatchi & Saatchi has an enviable list of global businesses. But that doesn’t mean it is going to come to me tomorrow morning. But at least I know there’s someone I can go and listen to; it takes care of the first step. How we convert them is going to be a challenge. It’s up to us to make the best of it.
Carlsberg is already a part of the system. So is P&G.
Saatchi & Saatchi also handles Novartis. P&G and Toyota are among the largest clients in the Saatchi & Saatchi system. Cadbury is handled by Saatchi & Saatchi globally, but for a few markets including India. Clients like Lenovo, Diageo, HSBC, Visa... are all opportunities for us.
L&K Saatchi & Saatchi now needs to go to each of these clients and prove itself worthy.
How do you envision the firewalls between agencies with competing clients?
There’s Saatchi & Saatchi which is far away and Law & Kenneth sits separately....
But there is a combined leadership...
The combined leadership is me, Anil S Nair and Anil K Nair (Digital), but there are different business heads. They operate differently. Avinash D Shenoy (from Law & Kenneth) looks after the Saatchi & Saatchi businesses. There’s someone new who will be on board very soon to look after the L&K part of the business.
What has been the growth for L&K in the last few years?
We grew by almost 30 per cent annually. We grew exponentially in the last four years.
Law & Kenneth was work in progress. Saatchi & Saatchi coming on board has given us the lineage and legacy to move to the next level. But it is still work in progress. This is not the end of the story. This is not the destination.
What do you see as the first few challenges on this phase of the journey?
The fundamental challenge for me, is how we can create a great creative reputation. Obviously, we need to do great work. We need to create a bunch of great creative people.
So you’re hiring?
Yes, we have to start getting some great creative people. It’s not that we don’t have fantastic people. We have some; we need to get in more.
Growth has always happened. We’ve built a great reputation. Now it’s about building the creative reputation.
We have to do something different from what we did in the last 11 years. The last 11 years for me was about making sure we looked after our clients, making sure they grew. Now it’s about building a fabulous reputation. It’s not that we did not have a reputation - we’re seeing how we can take this to a larger space.