Mullen Lintas, born August 2015, came into being with big agency ambitions. MullenLowe Lintas Group CEO for South and SE Asia Joseph George stated so in as many words at launch.
Speaking with Campaign India in May 2016, group CMO Vikas Mehta said, “We look at this as a new company within the company. But they have their own vision and manifesto. They’re not a legacy organisation. They’re born in this era. It’s a great mix of pedigree which comes with the people they have, with remodelling of our business models because we were building it from scratch. We moved senior people because ‘new’ shouldn’t mean novices. That’s something we were very clear about. I’d be the first to admit, that attempts to start a second agency has seen more failures than success. And this seems to be working.”
One year on
The agency, which kicked off with operations in three cities, has moved into its new offices in Mumbai (January) and more recently in Bengaluru. It continues to operate out of the old Pickle Lintas (since merged with Mullen Lintas) office in the national capital region, its largest.
From a seven-member start-up team, it celebrates turning one with 65 people. Besides clients who migrated from other Lintas entities, including Havells, Tata Global Beverages, and a clutch of Dabur brands, it now handles Cleartrip, Voot, Honda Cars India (BRV), Mahindra Reva Electric, Voonik, Bajaj Avenger, CarDekho, Gionee Mobile and a bunch of Himalaya Drug Co. brands.
CEO Virat Tandon says one question playing on his mind when the team started off was whether the business would come. It did, but that led to another challenge – the necessity to ramp up on talent faster than expected. “It was a good challenge to have,” he observes.
NCD Shriram Iyer too expected the first year to be ‘a little more difficult’, though he admits that the team did go all out to get Mullen Lintas to where it is. “I was surprised to get the reception we got from clients. I think ‘Lintas’ helped too,” he says.
Iyer also reminds us, “Last year was not only about creative work; every other system had to be put in place. It’s easier when you walk into an agency and everything is sorted.”
‘Is Balki there?’
The first person to be named as part of the agency was Amer Jaleel, its chairman and chief creative officer. Jaleel reveals that his job is also ‘chief salesman'. And he seems to have done a decent job of that mandate.
“We are now looking for our own Levers. This year, we want to chase that aggressively,” says Jaleel, who landed the role because he admittedly was the biggest proponent of growth at the group, before Mullen Lowe was born. By ‘the next Levers’, he means a large, multi-brand, multi-product client.
Tandon goes one step further, and says the agency would want to have ‘two or three’ such clients to have stable growth.
While Jaleel is quite happy with the first year scorecard, he cedes that there were some questions from some clients, initially. Among those, were: “Is Balki there?” “We’ve heard your name, but what is this agency?”
The mandatory target question fetches a hungry response: to be in the top five in the next three years. “We’re not sure if it’s possible, but that’s the aim,” adds a rider from the agency chairman.
“Right now, everything we do on all brands, the core team will look into it,” he explains, underlining the advantage of being small, yet being ‘Lintas’.
Is the core team large enough to achieve that target? Growth will be organic, but there is a method envisioned, reveals the CCO – the strategy is to “create more circles of the core team, but somehow impregnate them with the DNA.”
The ‘core plus one’ strategy
“I got exactly whom I wanted,” says Jaleel of the core team, most of whom came with a Lintas background. “There were a couple I had to leave behind,” he adds.
Garima Khandelwal was appointed ECD to head art. She was group creative director at Lowe Lintas. Syed Amjad Ali from Lowe Lintas Delhi leads the business mandate for Mullen Lintas’ Delhi office as executive director. Ayyappan Raj from Lowe Lintas’ Bengaluru office moved to Mumbai as EVP of Mullen Lintas. Kishore Subramanian, former head of Karishma Lintas Bengaluru, heads Mullen Lintas Bengaluru.
There were exceptions. Ekta Relan moved from SapientNitro as senior VP and planning head – national brands. She too was a former Lowe Lintas hand.
When the agency started off, the leadership had a strategy of every person carrying a core competence ‘plus one’. That hasn’t worked out perfectly to plan. But there is direction on another front. It wants to grow talent in-house: when it wants an ECD in Gurgaon or Bengaluru, it will hire a group CD to grow into the role instead.
‘The new Lintas’
Jaleel underlines that Mullen Lintas is not positioned as a cheaper option to Lowe Lintas, and if the situation arises, it will go head on with the mother ship.
“There could be a situation where Lowe Lintas is the incumbent and we are pitching for the business,” he clarifies. And pitching they are, left right and centre. “Most of the time, each of us is meeting past clients. We’re trying to meet people who know how we work, hoping they will call us soon – or call us immediately.”
“I understand Lowe Lintas culture only from Balki’s perspective. There’s a lot that stays back with me,” reflects the chairman and CCO, when asked about the approach to leading the agency.
The new agency seeks to create its own identity, while staying aligned culturally and philosophically to its Lintas roots. There is a conscious effort to shape the new entity’s persona afresh, while leveraging the Lintas legacy.
“We are the new Lintas,” surmises Jaleel.