For Cheil India’s chief operating officer Alok Agrawal, the elevator pitch for his agency is based on doing business the old fashioned way. And that’s what he believes distinguishes the global network quite apart from the more traditional agency set-ups that Agrawal clearly likes to distance his agency from.
“The way that we are structured today as an organisation is very different from any other advertising agency. In addition to the traditional fields - creative, account service and account planning, we also have retail, out-of-home, activation and digital all sitting under one roof with only one business plan. So in a sense, it’s the old way of doing business. We are structured like that. When we get a brief, everybody evolves the brief together. It’s not about the TVC first,” he elaborates.
It’s the fascination for the 30-second commercial that Agrawal believes has the Indian advertising industry caught in a time warp. “The industry does not think beyond a 30 second commercial or a print ad. It has reached a stage where the customer has changed, as has the environment. So must the way in which we communicate to, and engage with them,” he says. Agrawal joined Cheil in 2008 with the mandate to consolidate the agency’s operations. “We had a large client, that was constantly growing and we had to keep pace with their growth and development. That in itself was a challenge - to build the infrastructure of the agency, to have the right kind of talent, the proper processes. Building our non-advertising infrastructure in retail, activation, out-of-home, digital etc was key.”
Agrawal is an engineer by education. Advertising had always attracted him as a profession. “When I passed out, I got a campus job in sales with Blowplast, selling suitcases.” But advertising beckoned and Agrawal joined Trikaya Grey in Bangalore as an account manager. It was a new office and Agrawal was the agency’s second employee.
Agrawal recalls how the start-up nature of the Bangalore office was an advantage for someone like him who had to learn the business from scratch. “Advertising was a new career for me. I was starting from ground zero. Trikaya Grey’s Bangalore office was a start-up, with zero billings when I joined. Right from the time the office was set up, to the first ever campaign coming out of that office, and seeing the agency grow over the next few years into a 70 odd people agency was an experience,” he says.
The first ever campaign that he worked on, is for a brand that he remains loyal to, even today- Arrow shirts. “Even today, most of my wardrobe consists of Arrow. It was a breakthrough campaign of that time, I remember that campaign vividly.” After five years in Bangalore, Agrawal moved to the agency’s Delhi office. “Initially. I hated it and thought I had made a mistake. The work ethic in Delhi back then was terrible. Bangalore, in contrast, had been very professional. It took me some time to adjust to the city. I must say though, especially over the last few years, the work ethic in this city has undergone a tremendous change, for the better.”
On the subject of Delhi versus Mumbai advertising, he states, “Most decisions are still taken with just a Bombay persepective. It is in the interest of the industry to provide a stronger focus to the Delhi market. Bombay HQs will soon realise that their future may in fact be in Delhi and the industry will need to pay more attention to this market, not just milk it. Delhi has a talent crunch, especially creative, and the flight of talent out of Delhi does not help the industry.”
From Trikaya Delhi, Agrawal moved on to Enterprise Nexus under Mohammad Khan. How was that experience? “Brilliant. Mohammad brought a uniquely creative perspective to the business. It was about fresh thinking and creative inspiration. And the simplicity of his thinking. Add to that, his firm conviction, and these were qualities that one could greatly admire,” he recalls.A short while after that, Agrawal got the offer to join Cheil.
Recalling his decision to join, he reminisces, “I didn’t know much about the network back then. When I started talking to the company, I saw the positive intent of the top leadership in their desire to establish Cheil as a sound, international brand. There was a shift happening with a global management and clearly there was a strong intent to become a competitive global player. I saw the opportunity to set my own vision and then work towards building that vision.” Agrawal says he is especially confident of Cheil’s digital offering, which they have been honing over the last six months. “We have been able to build a strong, capable digital team, with a bunch of people who are not from digital agencies. They have worked in dotcoms and technology companies. So they bring in the science, we bring in ideation and then we are able to put together a compelling digital product,” he says.
Ask him about Cheil’s perception problem, that of being Samsung’s in-house agency, and therefore a challenge for attracting new talent, and Agrawal asserts that there is no problem.“I frankly don’t think there is an issue. Samsung is an exciting brand to work on, for any young creative with a diverse brand portfolio,” he says.
Ask him for Cheil’s five-year plan and Agrawal says he would rather do a two-year one. “We definitely want to be in the top ten in the agency rankings. We have set ourselves a time frame of three years, which may stretch to five. That’s probably a very objective measure. I am sticking my neck out and putting this on record for the first time. But that’s where we want to be seen as a part of the industry.”
2008 COO, Cheil Worldwide, SWA (South West Asia) Region.
2003 Executive vice president at Bates 141, Delhi (formed by the merger of Enterprise Nexus and Bates Asia) – head of North India
1998 Grey Advertising, Delhi (vice president- head of client servicing)
1997 Euro RSCG Advertising, Delhi (group account director)
1993 Trikaya Grey Advertising , Bangalore (account manager to account director)
1990 Blowplast Ltd. – sales manager