Live Issue: Can networks counter threat from indies?

Jagadeesh Krishnamurthy asks agency representatives from both sides of the table about their views on the subject

Live Issue: Can networks counter threat from indies?

Arguments about the pros and cons of independent agencies and large agencies with network support have been doing the rounds for years now. However, with relatively smaller agencies bagging accounts of major spenders who have traditionally worked with larger globally networked ones, Campaign India decided to understand what’s stacked on each side of the table.
R Balki, chairman and chief creative officer, Lowe Lintas India, doesn’t feel that the state of the agency matters.“It is not about networks or independent agencies. It’s about the work. Always.”
Sharing a similar point of view, Abhijit Avasthi, executive creative director, Ogilvy & Mather, notes, “I think any agency that is not looking after its work should feel threatened. It is as simple as that. Irrespective of the size, you need to be ahead of the game in terms of your offerings for the client. In some ways, a large network agency, which has been around for a while and accumulated a wealth of knowledge over decades, is impossible for start-ups to replicate. Secondly, the way our business is, its best when ideas come from everywhere. Typically people brainstorm and come up with the best possible solution for the client. Now, in a small independent agency where there are only five people to brainstorm, there is only so much that will come out as opposed to a larger agency which has over 200 people in the creative department.”

Greg Paull, principal at R3, an agency that identifies and forges relationships between clients and communication agencies, is of the opinion that large agencies are countering threats from indies by stressing and leveraging just that – their networks. He added, “They have been sharing best practice from other markets,involving fresh talent beyond borders, and pushing regional and global clients to their overseas offices.”

Santosh Padhi, chief creative officer and co-founder at Taproot India, doesn’t think there is threat to either of the parties, as there is enough business for everyone in a growing country like India. “I feel it’s simple – ‘better creative product equals better business’. We are in the business of ideas and creativity. It’s noticeable that at times agencies do take more than what they can deliver. The greed of more business and instant growth has spoiled the creative product of many agencies in the past. Many agencies grow 20-30% year after year but fail to make their creative standards grow at least half of that.”

Based on his past experiences of working with networks, Manish Bhatt, founder director, Scarecrow Communications, believes that networks sometimes go wrong with the core understanding. of the industry “You cannot institutionalise it beyond a point as advertising is a people’s industry. People want to work with a set of people, and in the case of large agencies, the question is about how you cater to your client’s needs without diluting the people’s involvement. Many times with the structure put in place by the agency as it grows larger, it dilutes the involvement of key people. Moreover, it is also important that more people in the middle lines also need to be empowered with taking decisions,” he explains.


Santosh Padhi  



Santosh Padhi, chief creative officer and co-founder, Taproot India

“There are different clients whose needs are very different from each other and that’s the reason I feel there will be space for coming two to three years for the Davids and the Goliaths. Some of the known international indie agencies like Mother, Fallon, Goodby or a Droga5 have been competing with network agencies in their respective countries and at times they have charged four times more as the clients do value those ideas. Same goes here as well. So, I don’t think majority of clients are inclined towards indies for sake of saving some bucks, and they definitely know the reason to partner them.”


R Balki  


R Balki, chairman and chief creative officer, Lowe Lintas India

“It is not about networks or independent agencies. It’s about the work. Always.”




Abhijit Avasthi  


Abhijit Avasthi,executive creative director, Ogilvy & Mather

“I think the advantages of an independent agency are that they are more nimble. There are times when they need not have to go through certain processes for certain kind of clearances. But, these are issues that concern any type of agency. I think price is definitely an issue for a whole lot of clients. A big good agency will normally be a little more expensive, obviously. But I think the way to read it is – a client will look for an agency that looks after its issues and problems. I think only if it is dissatisfied with a big or small agency, will it look to the other side.”


Gerg Paull  


Greg Paull, principal, R3

“It’s rarely price and almost always senior management access. An agency of 200 people will naturally be less accessible at a senior level to clients compared to an agency of 20 people. Some clients want to deal with the ‘owner’, the ‘boss’ – and not just the ‘office head’. This is probably the key factor in such a decision.”


Manish Bhatt  


Manish Bhatt, founder director, Scarecrow Communications

“Non-availability of head honchos and lack of empowerment to the second line at the agency are the primary reasons why network agencies might be losing out to independent creative agencies. I would urge network agency heads to empower the second line, as advertising has always been an orchestra, not a solo or a duet. I believe that cost of hiring an independent agency would be more or less the same as that of the networks. That is the way we looked at our business. If the price would have been the case, we would not have grown so fast.”

Campaign India