Arati Rao
Oct 21, 2011

The Unedited Spikes Interview: Nirvik Singh, Grey APAC

Nirvik Singh, chairman and chief executive officer, Grey Asia Pacific, on Grey India, how to enter right for a Cannes Creative Effectiveness Lion and the indie agency wave

The Unedited Spikes Interview: Nirvik Singh, Grey APAC


Jishnu was recently promoted to president and CEO at Grey India. What was the mandate that you gave him for Grey India in his new role?

Jishnu has been running the agency as chief operating officer for a long time now and so it’s just natural for him to get to the CEO’s role. Across the world, we pride ourselves on producing “famously effective work”. And the mandate for India is no different. The work we create must speak for itself and we must run a totally integrated organisation. I believe that given the new talent we have in our company, I think on both scores we are doing fairly well. We are running a good integrated organisation and producing some good quality work.

How would you rate Grey’s performance in India as compared to other agencies, and also other Grey offices in the region?

Within India, I would like to believe that from a perception point of view, we would feature in the top five agencies, though we might not be in the top five size-wise. In the last year, the sheer body of great work that is coming out of India is making people sit up and notice it. The fact is that we have been a fairly well known agency for a long time, but seeing some new people, leadership and energy, I think that bodes well for the company. As far as from within our network, India will continue to be very strategic and important for us. It is a huge market for us and within our scale of things, India is within the top four agencies in the region.

Which would be the other ones?

From a creative point of view, India did well at Cannes. Even Australia did well there. From a size point of view, Japan, Malaysia, Australia and India are in pretty much in that bracket of our biggest agencies.

How is Grey performing on the new media front in Asia?

We've bought Yolk in Singapore last year. Yolk was a finalist for digital agency of the year in Singapore. We have a fantastic digital operation in India which won the digital agency of the year too. In a few other markets like Malaysia, Singapore, places in China, and Australia, we have a very good operation. But digital in the new world has no finish line. With technology changing the way it does every day, we just need to be on top of it and it’s something we look at very closely. Interestingly, our digital people physically sit in the middle of the agency as we want digital to be at the heart of the agency, so we've physically placed them in the centre. For us, it's clearly the future.

How integral is digital for a brief that comes in?

It completely is. Gone are the days of the media guys getting the last five minutes. I think the digital guys get the first 100 minutes, and the rest get the rest of the time. I think digital is a silly term, because I don't think there's anything called digital anymore. If that's the way of the world, then that's the way of the world. When a client briefs you on how to communicate to an audience and the amount of people online or on the mobile space should be your first port of call in terms of thinking.

Are there any cases you’d like to talk about?

In India, the Volkswagen Jetta campaign recently done by us has been very successful. One of our planners from Australia, Steve Sammartino is a very well known blogger. He's the fifth or sixth most read blogger across Australia, and he talks often about technology trends. There are some interesting case studies in Japan too.

You were on the Cannes Creative Effectiveness Lions jury this year. What advice would you give people hoping to compete in that category?

I think that the documentation and the ability to prove a direct correlation between a piece of work and success in a marketplace are important.  I think a lot of work fell short on proof. While the work was very nice, it fell short of proof that it increased sales or more distribution. One of the interesting things in the entry form,  is that you have to take out other impact that could have led to success. For example, if at that time you were running a promotion, that could have also benefited sales. So you need to take out those sections and clearly focus on a direct correlation between that piece of work and sales or effectiveness. I think a lot of entries fell short. So going forward, that's where we need to improve.

Do you think you'll see more Indian agencies in this category?

I sincerely hope so. It is now one of the most prestigious categories to win. There is enough data and as long as you can document that data correctly, I think agencies should enter.

Are clients also looking for supporting creative work?

If you look at the work that won, it's also won other creative awards. So I think there's a direct correlation between creativity and effectiveness. I don't think clients ask agencies to produce bad work, so for me I think it’s a very prestigious category.

With F1 coming up, do you think there's life outside of cricket in India sometimes?

There will be life outside cricket, but the first nine lives are cricket. Which is a shame, because other sports don't develop. F1 comes with a lot of global sponsorships anyhow. So I think in Delhi what you will see is local activation by local brands. It worked similarly with Singapore. I think there is a particular kind of advertiser that will be associated with F1. But on the rest of sport, I wish there was more support.

Where do you see the independent agency wave going in India? Does it bother you as a network?

Independent agencies have always existed. Because suddenly you see five or six in the news, people are thinking “Oh my god, what happened.” It's not that. They've been around forever. I think the good ones have created a niche for themselves. There are enough of them and it’s not just an Indian phenomenon, there are enough of them across the world. There are enough creative people and enough clients, who would like to see their name on a doorplate and go and start an agency. If you can carve out a niche for yourself, you'll be successful. Will they always exist? The answer is yes.

Big networks have inherent strengths. At the end of the day, there is the strength of belonging to a network, you have access to knowledge of around 150 countries. You have access to talent. On another hand, boutique agencies are leaner and therefore they have their own benefits. It’s not a new trend and I think it's a trend that will continue. We’re seeing it now in advertising but there must be 100 independent digital agencies, and it’ll carry on.

What're your thoughts on Indian advertising in general?

I think there is good growth coming this year. I'm wary about next year. I see a slowdown coming. I saw an interesting statistic that said for the first time, rural consumption of FMCG products is less than the urban in India. To me, that’s an indication of high inflation. So I think the world economy is nervous given what's happening in Europe and America. India, being part of the global economy, and having its own dynamics of inflation and some sort of things that are going on currently, I see a slight slowdown. At the end of the day when I say slowdown, we’re still growing at 7.5 percent GDP. Most people would give their right arm to grow at that pace. 

Campaign India

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