'Kapil Arora, account executive, O&M Bangalore’ reads a card that adorns his desk at Ogilvy & Mather’s Gurgaon office. The card is from the year 2000, from Arora’s first stint at the agency.
For Arora, advertising happened by default. Even though he made it through an engineering college, he went to MICA for a degree in communications management. In 1999, he joined Enterprise Nexus (now Bates) in Mumbai where he worked on brands like Nilkamal and Raymond.
He then moved to O&M Bengaluru when he met Varagur Srikanth (who now heads Temple). As an account executive, he used to work directly with Srikanth on brands such as TVS Scooty and some from Unilever (teas). In 2002-’03, he came across an opportunity outside of advertising with The Times of India Group, in Delhi. After a cordial farewell at Ogilvy, he took on the opportunity, and spent 15 months as a marketing consultant in the corporate team.
“I got to work with people like Vineet Jain and Sameer Jain, R Sundar and Rahul Kansal. We worked on projects ranging from building profitability across newsprint, radio, internet channels to setting business cases for introducing TOI in Chennai. They were very interesting projects, more than just communication-based conventional advertising. Working with Sameer Jain gave a view of how to work a business,” he recalls.
A chance encounter with Srikanth while vacationing in Bengaluru made Arora realise what he was missing. But it was Prateek Srivastava (head of Ogilvy’s Bengaluru office then) who made him move back to O&M. In 2004, he joined as an account director and business head to handle Titan, Hutch and MTR Foods, among other businesses.
Bringing in a macro-perspective
When Arora was given charge of 35 per cent of the business handled by the Bengaluru office, his approach to business and communication became ‘more macro’. What came in additionally was a perspective of how things will impact business and clients, thanks to his Times stint. Along with his creative partners, he was successful in turning around Titan’s positioning from gifting to that of a fashion accessory with ‘What’s your style’ campaign, which won him his first gold Effie.
He fondly recalls the Cannes-winning campaign on Hutch Rangshankara Theatre Festival. “This was about 2005, way before the time of viral videos. The international juries also recognised that it was ahead of its time. It won a bronze at Cannes and a Grand Prix at Goafest at that time. It was the only non-TV campaign to win an intergrated Grand Prix,” notes Arora.
In 2006, he got an offer to move to Mumbai as Hutch was being sold to Vodafone. Over the next three to four years, in addition to campaigns such as ‘Talk at 60 paise’, Blackberry Boys, Zoozoos and ‘Happy to help’, Arora’s mandate included bringing to table the strategic angle to help businesses. And the agency won about ‘13 to 15’ golds at Effies and about ‘four or five’ metals at the AMES. There have been so many that he has perhaps lost count of the exact number.
His six and a half-year stint in Mumbai spanned various roles, the last one being as country head - team Vodafone. This gave him the big brand experience and equipped him with managing multi-functional teams, he says. The icing-on-the-cake moment was when O&M won the WPP Partnership Award in 2011 for Vodafone. “We had once entered the award in 2007 and were runners-up. In 2011, we won. I dont think any brand within the WPP network has won it twice over,” says Arora.
The Delhi job
When Piyush (Pandey) asked him if he would be interested in moving to Delhi, Arora agreed to take on the role of president - branch head, Ogilvy North. “I came here in February 2013 to a completely different culture, completely different role,” he reveals. His patient persona helped.
“My ‘fear functioning’ is also very hands on. May be that is why I started conversations with lots of clients in Delhi than (they) would normally happen. I was driving myself nuts because that level of involvement with such a large range of clients is much more difficult. Whether you call it naive or ambitious, the perspective was that I would handle it,” says Arora.
Arora, along with Ajay Gahlaut (ECD), Neeraj Bassi (president - planning), Sanjeev Jasani (SVP and head of Delhi, OgilvyOne), Sudha Singh (executive president, PR) and Chandana Agarwal (managing partner, Ogilvy Advertising Delhi) has been able to form a cohesive unit very quickly. “Last year, we won seven Lions at Cannes. We also got into the Ogilvy cadre (informal group of best 20 offices globally). We won the only Gold from India at WARC for effectiveness awards. OgilvyOne won at direct marketing awards” says Arora.
“The last 14 to 15 months have been fabulous. It can be better but as a 360 office, we have gained record amount of businesses,” Arora says. He notes that there is ‘renewed energy and chemistry’ working together in a team. “It is reflecting in our work and clients are able to see that,” he adds.
On O&M Delhi’s revenue from non-traditional channels, Arora says, “Over the last two to three years, we have seen the ratio changing significantly towards non-traditional. The growth rate of (other) divisions has been faster than advertising. OgilvyOne principally operates in digital space so with that the non-traditional revenue share also goes up. Last year, it picked up a large chunk of Dabur digital business, did some fabulous work on Sony, and a project on British Airways - an integrated effort driven by OgilvyOne and Ogilvy advertising. PR in Delhi is growing at 60 to 65 per cent. Geometry Global has always been doing well.”
With the British Airways example, he explains, “The joy of being able to deliver a ‘liquid campaign’ is tremendous. It is just about a way of working, it is the way of the future. What would give me personal happiness is if we are able to bring together truly fused solutions for atleast a few clients going forward. Certain clients are already asking for it, for certain others we are pushing it.”
The plan, according to Arora, is to increasingly approach businesses in a division-agnostic manner. The rest of it, as he puts it, is ‘only accounting problem’.
The North star
Arora believes that Ogilvy North has a lot more potential, given the business opportunity NCR offers. It has not yet lived up to its advertising potential, underlines Arora.
He cedes that many businesses handled by Ogilvy Mumbai would be in conflict with certain potential businesses in Delhi. Arora further remarks, “Delhi is a tougher market. Ajay (Gahlaut) puts it very nicely: ‘Here you hit a lot of threes but the boundaries and sixes come in occasionally’. But you have to make the effort to get the threes. That is when you will be able to convert them to fours and sixes. With the right amount of talent and the headroom for growth, we would be able to grow faster as well.”
So where are the opportunities? He sees headroom for Ogilvy advertising, a greater role of Soho Square from the conflict perspective, and a strong role for digital (OgilvyOne), while Geometry Global has opportunities in urban activation. He is, however, cautious to not jump into it all of it at one go.
He opines, “Like most places, and more so in Delhi than anywhere else, one needs to build trust with clients. Getting the basics right, getting the backend infrastructure in a manner in way that we are ready for the future, and in parallel taking steady steps with clients, is important. I think we will become the number one agency in the Delhi market but that is not the starting point.” The stated focus is on continuing to deliver ‘fabulous work’ to current clients.
He adds, “And show them great intent that we can deliver - to borrow Miles Young’s (worldwide chairman and CEO, O&M) words - fabulous liquid solutions.”
Arora is happy with the relationship he shares with the agency. “Instinctively and intuitively, the organisation has given me the right opportunity, right challenge at the right time, and the right backing. Every day, I am challenging myself. When I find myself getting comfortable, the organisation seems to know it before me and tell me about it. I hope the next time I start getting bored, which will take time because I am thoroughly enjoying what I am doing, O&M will see it before me,” he surmises.