Shephali Bhatt
Nov 09, 2011

Live Issue: Is attracting talent to Chennai a big challenge?

Is the gene-pool of talent growing? Shephali Bhatt finds out what it will take for Chennai to be an adland powerhouse

Live Issue: Is attracting talent to Chennai a big challenge?

One of the supreme geniuses of modern German literature, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, once said, “Talent develops in quiet places.” Does Chennai, with an approximate Rs 1,000 crore market size , qualify as a ‘quiet place’? And what does the existing creative bunch of Chennai have to say about attracting talent to the erstwhile Madras?

Prateek Srivastava, group president, O&M South, feels, “The problem isn’t in attracting talent to Chennai, but in holding and nurturing it. Remuneration is the key issue. What you pay to your employees depends on what the client pays you, and in Chennai, clients generally don’t pay much.”

Adding to the client woes, Priya Shivakumar,  AVP,  senior creative director, JWT Chennai, says, “The Chennai client mix is largely of retail players and local businesses. That means not many big brands and not much nationally visible work. So, talented creatives develop the perception that they need to migrate to advertising climes that allow them to test their wings.”

But E M Sreeneelakandhan, general manager – south, Vizeum India, believes, “People are willing to associate themselves with companies which will give them opportunities to enhance their career prospects.” However, when large agencies believe in exporting talent from other markets assuming such talent comes ‘well exposed’, the local talent remains under the radar and undeveloped and under-paid, he observes

Putting forth another plausible explanation for paucity of talent, M M Charly, media director, Lodestar UM, Chennai, says, “Given the movement of big clients (Ford being the most recent), there’s a general misconception that Chennai has no clients.” That could well be a deterrent in attracting talent to the ‘Detroit of India’.

Rajendra Prasad, business head, MEC, Chennai, counters the argument by saying that if Ford has left Chennai, Renault and Hindustan Motors have come in. He addresses the whole issue of attracting talent to the industry on a macro level and says, “It’s tough finding the right talent in this industry, be it any city.” The Chennai office of MEC, headed by Prasad, has four other media planners, one media buyer, three people in operations and two in commercial. He comments, “If it’s difficult to attract five planners for Chennai, it’s hard to find 15 for Mumbai, so the gap will always be there.”

To address all these issues, agencies like Vizeum are working with institutes offering courses in media studies to develop the right curriculum for the students to know how empowered they could be in charting the path for various brands.

Ogilvy Dakshin is trying to ensure that the local talent gets a chance to work on national brands like Bournvita, Dabur, Fortune Oil, Bingo, et al.

To further combat the challenge, Shivakumar says “We need to continue producing great work that keeps us in the news. One needs to partner with clients while on their growth curve, towards creating tomorrow’s most respected brands.” Perhaps communicating the significance of opportunities available in Chennai may help. Charly highlights, “Unlike other markets, here the smaller size of the industry is converted into a big plus as young talent gets more exposure in terms of work. ”

So, if one’s not to repeat Mark Twain’s fate (he went bankrupt despite a succesful career), the opportunity in Chennai should ideally be grabbed lest ‘it ceases to be one’.




M M Charly, media director, Lodestar UM, Chennai

“Talent today is always on the lookout for jobs that give them more scope for learning and subsequent escalation. With bigger clients moving out of the city, the number of promising opportunities is reducing to a great extent. Secondly, the generation today is attracted to the hip and happening lifestyle in the metros like Mumbai and Delhi which seem to be a lot more fun than Chennai. The last factor, I would think, Chennai is often seen as slow and laid-back as compared to the professionally mature markets.”




Rajendra Prasad, business head, MEC, Chennai

“I think we are reading too much into brands moving out of Chennai. If one client has gone, it doesn’t mean there are none left. There’s a lot of opportunity in the digital area that hasn’t been tapped by Chennai so far. So the key is to train the talent, groom them centrally and then relegate them to a city-level. Nevertheless, a cross-flow of talent is inevitable so you have to live with that.”




Priya Shivakumar, assistant vice-president,  senior creative director, JWT Chennai

“ JWT Chennai has always tried to beat the perception that talent is an issue for this market. It has been a place that creative talent has always gravitated towards. Our clients may be operating within the bounds of the south Indian market, each of them has ambitions that extend to becoming national brands or with some, even global contenders. An ambition that is perfectly complemented by the team we have here, handpicked and motivated, with the talent to give any creatives anywhere in the country a run for their money.”




Prateek Srivastava, group president, O&M South

“Agencies need to encourage their Chennai offices to showcase their creative work on pan-India brands. Chennai has got an excellent infrastructure for film production, which serves as an add-on. At present, business is spreading across the country and many companies have opened their offices in smaller cities. Chennai’s market is getting more and more serious about communication. It might take some time to get there, but we’ve arrived already.”




E Sreeneelakandhan, general manager – south, Vizeum India

“The challenge can be overcome by agencies looking at developing programs to nurture and develop local talent as well as talking to prospective job seekers about the role of a media agency in the brands’ lives.  Most students without the right awareness look at media profession as a trading exercise of buying time and space in a commodity market. ”

Campaign India