Jagdish Acharya isn’t making light of a career change when he says, “I started in marketing and my entire journey has been a shift from one career to another.” His has been a journey of gradually and increasingly acknowledging the creative in him. “I started off as a product manager, became marketing manager in the cosmetics division of Zydus Cadilla (spent four and a half years there). I launched the cosmetics division, the brands that go by the name of Everyuth today. After I became the marketing manager, that’s when I started developing an interest in advertising”.
His was not strictly a case of proactively looking out for a creative function to fit into, but rather of the opportunity presenting itself. “I enjoyed the brand aspect of marketing but not so much the sales aspect that came along with it. In fact, one of the agencies that I myself had appointed offered me a job. Mudra made this offer. At Mudra, I was in account management for a while and Mudra used to be headed from Ahmedabad in those days. Planning hadn’t come up as a separate function then and the account managers use to do the planning. Some circumstances led me to discover some streak in me which was creative. There was a crisis of some sort going on when the world moved from print to television. And Ahmedabad being a little away wasn’t getting the right kind of people. So certain clients threatened to leave and that’s how out of compulsion and after a lot of brainstorming with the team, I started dabbling in creative. This started to work well for some of the clients. At that point I had no clue that I would be getting all into creative. But I had started enjoying it.”
A turning point came when the organisation offered him the dual responsibility. “It could be said that I was wearing a two-brimmed hat – part of the role was to head strategy and part of it was to head creative. It was combining hardware and software. My designation then was ‘Vice president strategy and creative controller’. But two years of dabbling in creative is when I decided to move fully into creative. My ‘creative’ career, so to say, started in 2004. That’s when I headed South for creative. I was the ECD heading four branches in the South. From there, Mudra made the division of Mudra and DDB.”
Soon after this, Acharya came to head DDB in Mumbai. “A year later, I started feeling that the best of me is when I do both – strategy and creative. It used to happen when I was the account management head; because I was heading creative too, nobody could stop me from going and selling it the way I wanted to. But this wasn’t happening when I was in creative alone. The fields got separated. I felt like I wasn’t making the best of myself. Then the idea started cropping up in my mind that it will only happen if I start something of my own.”
Even though the will to start his own agency was strong, there were serious considerations to be made. “This was at the height of recession at the time when people weren’t hiring. In that sense, it was a wrong time to quit the job,” he reflects.
That’s when something interesting happened, he recalls. “There’s a group in Delhi, they had hatcheries of their own and were getting into integration. McCann was their agency then. A friend of mine was a consultant to them and the chairman of the group wasn’t very happy with the way the group was being promoted. On my friend’s suggestion, I was called in to provide my take on things. They took me around their hatcheries and after the two-day tour I gave them my view of how they should be going about things. To this, the client suddenly jumped up and said what was going on in my mind. He suggested I start my own agency and open with their account. So I came back and spoke to a few of my colleagues who decided to join me. The chairman wanted work immediately and I was still in my notice period when I started working on that account. The brand was called Republic of Chicken. We ended up doing radio and print for them,” explains Acharya.
After deciding to start his own agency, he had to decide what the agency should be like. He notes, “We wanted to make it a respectable agency with effective communication powers and it can be media-agnostic, but that at the end of everything, we must act as brand custodians for the clients we handle. We started to take on a lot of local work, design work and dabble in everything. But then we realised that if we try to do everything, then finally there will be no differentiation. We decided that even though differentiation would take time to build, it had to be very sharp. Which meant that we had to keep our costs down and that’s where we started debating about how to actually do this. We decided to work fearlessly and to let go of some of things that always worried us while working in big agencies. We decided to cut away things we didn’t need and focus on essentials. That’s how Cut the Crap (CTC) came into being in 2009 – cutting away everything that comes between a brand and its idea. Right from the start we started getting assignments that had challenge written over it.”
The agency’s current client roster includes Ecotrail Personal Care (iba halal cosmetics), Hypoxi India, Pioma Industries (Rasna), Japan International (Rocky vest) and Hills Cements. The team size is 10 across disciplines like creative, planning and studio.
Acharya touched upon the gradual process of building the agency portfolio. “One client was from a pre-primary educational institute. We also did a one-off assignment for Jyothy laboratories and then a campaign for Taj Cements in Guwahati. Likewise, from word of mouth, we started building our portfolio. Then almost two years since we started, we got the opportunity to handle the brand Livon hair serum. After being in the market for a couple of years, it had stagnated. They even launched conditioners but nothing changed. They called us and asked us for our take it on. We won the account. And that turned the category, the brand,” claims the entrepreneur.
So what does an agency born of these ideals grow into? “We’re now seeing people come to us directly. We handle the vest account Rocky, which came to us without any pitch. It isn’t like it (the agency) has taken off that we’ve gone from two people to 200 people. It is a gradual process and we have realised that we don’t need too many people. We just need the right kind of people.”
What a smaller agency can do, he says, is address client demands better than large agencies in some cases. “Large agencies, because of their size, the network nature, the clients that they have and the demands that those clients put across, they cannot integrate with smaller groups outside for solutions. If an agency owns 10 niche businesses, some will be better than the others. If you ask in the market you’ll get various suggestions – like this agency is better for creative, this one for social, the other for digital so on and so forth. That’s bound to happen. If tomorrow clients starts asking for something that is very niche, the large agencies will feel the need to establish a segment to service just that demand. The smaller agencies on the other hand can tackle this better,” he reasons.
What makes a smaller agency try harder is the sheer fact of being small and trying to optimise resources, he explains.
“The moment you start something on your own, you’re running for your life. This will only make you be better. To that extent, you’re only improving the environment and chances are that you’ll be a better person than you were when you were an employee. How many will survive? It’s a test of time,” surmises Acharya.
(This article first appeared in the 13 November 2015 issue of Campaign India)