On most occasions an agency worked pro bono, being paid only for the actual expenses incurred. No fee, no commission. After all, if you had a newspaper as a client, the exposure alone was worth the trouble, was the argument.
It all changed with the changing The Times of India. Faced with competition in its strongest market, Mumbai, with the imminent launches of DNA and Hindustan Times, and with the geographic expansion of The Times of India into markets with strong incumbents, communication had to be improved significantly. And so it did.
The tasks were complex, running in parallel; in some cases, for example, one campaign was for an edition with less maturity than other editions, another might be for a mature market where The Times of India is the leader and a third might have been for a launch.
Yet, in whatever phase an edition might be and in whatever part of the country the campaign might run in and in whatever language, The Times of India has had winning creative — in terms of both consumers and award shows — consistently over the past decade.
Award winning formula
It is this consistency that has led to The Times of India being handed the inaugural Advertiser of the Year award ahead of this year’s Spikes Asia Advertising Festival. In particular, the Spikes organisers wanted to celebrate the newspaper’s recent ‘Lead India’ campaign — an initiative to seek out the next generation of leaders for India.
Launched late in 2007, and followed up this year with ‘Teach India’, the initiative captured the imagination of the country in a way that few campaigns had done in the past and picked up a host of international awards, including the direct Lions Grand Prix and an integrated Lion at Cannes Lions 2008.
Rahul Kansal, chief marketing officer, Bennett, Coleman and Company Limited, the owners of The Times of India, says the key is in working directly with creative people. “We believe there is way too much transmission loss when layers of servicing people come in to ‘manage’ the creative process,” he says. “Which is why we’ve always worked with creative individuals like Aggie [Agnello Dias, formerly of JWT and now of TapRoot], Freddy [Birdie] and Naved [Akhtar] from Shop, Shivjeet Khullar from K Factor or Senthil at JWT. Even when we’ve signed on large agencies, its really to access specific creative individuals; the conversation takes place directly with the people doing the creative work.”
In addition, freedom for the creatives to explore and arrive at unusual solutions is important. “We try and make our briefs clear on the eventual outcome expected from each campaign, as well as the mood and tone personality of the communication,” adds Kansal. “But we tend to be very open on the creative route that could take us there. This is unlike most regular large advertisers from the FMCG school who straitjacket creative people with a million specifics.”
The consumer is at the centre of the advertising and communication, says Kansal.“We tend to prefer communication that comes from life itself rather than from the minutiae of our own products.”
This approach helps position the title as an iconic brand resonating the mood of India, rather than a self serving consumer product. “It also provides a wider canvas for creative people — an opportunity for them to dip into their own lives and to bring to life their most vivid experiences.” Kansal and his team place a high level of importance in building trust with the creatives they work with.
“Clearly, and most importantly, we try and develop a high degree of trust with the creative people we work with,” says Kansal. “No great piece of creative work can ever take place without the trust and right chemistry between the key parties involved. We are keenly conscious of this and strive hard to make the relationship as honest as possible.”
Working with multiple creatives at the same time, working on different editions with different and unique challenges simultaneously and yet ensuring that the resulting communication is effective, entertaining and path-breaking cannot be a coincidence. It isn’t.
Kansal’s formula of freedom plus clarity on objectives and briefs, plus consumer centricity and trust is a formula that works. That’s what makes The Times of India an account that agencies vie for. Most of the hard work is done by the client, after that it is a creatives' dream account.