In January 2012, Landor Associates brought in Ektaa Aggarwal to lead the creative studio and grow the team. Lulu Raghavan, country director, and Aggarwal, creative director, discuss the new orientation of the consultancy and the work that’s been happening. Eight out of 10 leads for the expanded team at Landor today are for retail and branded environments. As they say, Landor is ‘beginning to make some noise in the board rooms‘, as the consultancy expands horizons to cover areas in addition to ‘corporate’ assignments.
CI: Tell us about Ektaa’s appointment.
Lulu Raghavan (LR): Earlier we had been working with our Hong Kong office, and of late, clients had been asking for us to have a creative team here. I met Ektaa socially a couple of years ago and she was introduced as this designer who has a great portfolio. We were looking to expand in India and were looking for a creative person.
Two or three months after Ektaa joined, we had this big summit in San Francisco where all the MDs and select creative leaders convened, and there, our new chief executive officer, Mary Zalla, announced her vision to steer Landor towards a path of unleashing all its creative potential. Somehow our orientation had become very strategic and in a way, we had lost touch with a bit of our roots (Walter Landor had a great passion for design, he invented corporate identity in the 1950s). We figured that have the best talent, it was about how we re-orient the focus of the creative and client leaders to offer this to clients.
We also did research in the US and in Asia, in terms of what really keeps clients awake at night. In the US, especially, what came through very strongly (and US trends flow here), was the management of the brand experience – the entire range from website to menus to uniforms to actual product. Somehow, organisations aren’t really set up to manage that, because there are so many specific teams and none of them are talking to each other. Eventually, when things go out, you can see some disintegration. A lot of our big clients like P&G and Citibank in the US asked us to manage the brand experience with our rigour and creativity. What is required at our end is much more integration of all our capabilities – strategy, writing, 2D design, spatial design, and how all these teams come together. That is really the context to the importance of Ektaa’s role.
CI: What drew you to the role?
Ektaa Aggarwal (EA): I was in New York for ten years, and I’ve worked with both design and ad agencies. I was an art director, but always very design-oriented. Also while I was there in the US, there was this big shift in art direction and in the way graphic design was getting integrated in it; these were two silos earlier. I began to consult a lot more on integrated projects. So when I came back to India, I thought of starting a boutique design studio called 369, that would really bring together the big idea thinking that you conventionally see at an ad agency, and also design thinking. We had a lot of lifestyle-oriented work – on brands like the INK conference (in association with TED), Tres Mode and Proline. When Lulu started telling me about Landor’s clients, I had already got a great immersion into Indian clients, so it was a natural fit for me as well.
LR: Profile-wise, we were also looking for an Indian with international experience, who could come back and mix the two.
CI: Has 369 shut shop then?
LR: 369 is Ektaa’s baby that she’s built over time and it had traction in the market. So what we’ve done is that we’ve created 369 Studio as our offering for fashion, food and culture clients. Landor 369’s cool credentials are going to build back into Landor and make us a lot more ‘unstuffed’ as well.
CI: What have the past ten months been like?
EA: I think (when we started) there were three designers including me. We had a little bit of restructuring, where we got in specialists for retail design, digital, motion graphics.
LR: It went from us being five of us literally to 16 of us today. The creative team has gone from three to ten. We were known for our work for Café Coffee Day, the airport in Delhi, and Taj. We’ve been working with the Mahindra Group and The Park Group. We’ve done work for ICICI Bank as well. They came out with this five-product credit card strategy targeted at more affluent customers. Typically a bank doesn’t look at branding and design, but ICICI hired us for our credit card design speciality because the cards needed to have flash value.
On the back of that, we also designed their Jet Airways co-branded card. The design strategy there was that we wanted to speak to the romance of travel, and hence the cloud metaphor was perfect.
The other work you would have been seeing a lot of is Azva by the World Gold Council. It’s a new brand of wedding jewellery inspired by the seven vows that you take. Gold had become a little unfashionable, as diamonds and platinum took centre stage. The World Gold Council wanted to make gold contemporary; for the product strategy, they got on board all the jewellers they could convince to create a product selection around that concept of seven vows. We did a lot of consumer research to find out what’s important to the bride of today. The insight came about that women in India are very serious about the commitment but nobody quite understands the seven vows as they are traditionally. For the brand concept, we rewrote the seven vows to make them more relevant. ‘Azva’ is a contemporary take on ‘Ashva’ from the Sanskrit word ‘Ashvamedha’, which has allusions to seven. We also did the identity and identity system of the brand.
EA: The head of design there also consulted with us at an early stage on how seven could be integrated into the jewellery itself. It was quite a collaborative process.
CI: Which specialities are clients asking for?
LR: Out of ten leads that we get, eight would be for retail and branded environments. We do get a lot of enquiries for digital but we are building our portfolio of digital based on the clients we work with. Today, we would not go and pitch against a digital agency yet, although we are growing our offering for our existing clients.
CI: What are your focus areas for Landor creatively now?
EA: Largely it’s going to be the shift of the perception of the kind of work that Landor does – more than just corporate programmes. We’re starting to make some noise in the boardrooms when we present our work, because it’s become unexpected. They would never expect us to come in with killer digital ideas, but that’s what we’re starting to do. The other thing is social innovation. We’re working on a programme at the moment that we hope will have a social impact.
LR: I’m seeing that as Indian brands are going global, our own space within our agency network is becoming important. The big thrust of next year is consumer goods, because with modern trade opening up, we do a lot of work for P&G, Diageo globally. So we need to figure out how do we work with these clients in India, now that we have a full team.
CI: Does a consultancy like Landor get affected during a slower year like this one seems to have been?
LR: We’ve doubled our revenues, but overall the market has slowed down. It just affects the sentiment; branding unfortunately isn’t seen as a necessity in India; design is seen as a nice thing to have. In times of cutbacks, it’s branding that takes a backseat. It often isn’t the brand and marketing managers, but the chief financial officers who take that call. I almost feel like we have to be building our brand with the CFOs, because brand has impact on the business and it’s an investment, not a cost, and only some of them get it.