It’s been only three months or so since Navonil Chatterjee joined Rediffusion Y&R as CSO, but he feels like he’s been at the agency for long. The feeling is something he shares with colleagues, creating a comfort level that ensured he settled in quickly.
Chatterjee says the creative product is what lured him to the agency. Explaining his mandate, he says, “Even though I’m here in planning, the product is the output, and that’s what I’m here for. Rediffusion is known for the quality of work. I have been that kind of planner who is involved in the team.”
He brings out his love for sport early in the conversation by putting out a football analogy. “Iniesta and Messi have to combine for the magic to happen. That’s my attempt with my partnership with Rahul (Jauhari). We work together like a house on fire. The creative-planning partnership is something you look forward to, and without meaning anything negative to my earlier job (at J. Walter Thompson), I’m enjoying that more here. We have done some interesting stuff, and we’ll soon see it. Rahul and I sit together and crack things, and that’s the best part. I joined advertising for stuff like this. My personal philosophy is also that the best things in life are simple,” says Chatterjee.
His mandate at the agency is something he labels as ‘simple’ too. And he seems to have hit the ground running on the job. He explains, “I had to get a team together. We have recruited people and we’re almost at a full house now in the planning department. We wanted to make it a bunch of young, bright and happy planners. That I think has happened. We have got some good talent on board and have also got some people to stay back. We’ve recruited across both Mumbai and Delhi. We may make additions to the Delhi team, with maybe one or two more resources, but that’s about it. We’re settled across Rediff and Everest in this department.”
The planning team at Rediffusion Y&R comprises 10 people, while Everest has three.
Another mandate for Chatterjee is new business. He says, “Over the last year, we have got 32 clients on board (some of which are only projects). Not all of this happened in the last three-four months since I joined. We’ve had a 75 per cent new business conversion rate. We’re now seeing work come out too – Resurgent Rajasthan, Hamdard etc. The quality and the size of the work is in the open now. We’re not just winning businesses in Mumbai and Delhi, but across offices (Kolkata and Chennai). I’m not taking credit alone for this. There are some big account wins, which can be shared soon. There are some results pending too. The fact that we’re getting called again for pitches is great. There has been a lot of negative publicity around the agency. We wanted a buzz to be back within the agency – it has to be within and outside. So, the new businesses will correct that.”
Other than this, the CSO’s list of things to accomplish includes training. For this the agency has rolled out an initiative called ‘Fundas’. He says, “We’ve started these sessions with the youngsters. The branch head and I are conducting this initiative. It’ll soon be rolled out across our offices in the country. It’s about sharing gyan with fun. We’ll be looking to do this around twice a month. Typically, in agencies, particularly in servicing – youngsters would say at the time of leaving the agency especially, ‘Kuch jamaa nahin yaar’ and ‘We just chased art work, and there was no real work’. But, the point is when these things (training initiatives) come up, one must participate. These things work by raising the standards from the bottom up and in turn helps the general standards to increase. We’re also looking at people putting in thinking and coming up with unusual stuff. The mandate at Rediffusion is to resist the usual. So, we’re talking about stuff like briefing, pitching and the likes unusually. The larger part is doing unusual work.”
Chatterjee is at the agency after a 15-year stint at J. Walter Thompson. Personally, he calls it ‘a grand old reunion’. He explains, “We have Uttio (Majumdar), Suman (Varma), Suparna (Mucadam) – I’ve worked with all of them. There’s Dhunji too. With this, now stability should come in, and it is coming in. These are people who haven’t been ‘one night stands’ at all. We’ve worked together for agencies for long tenures. Now, we’re reaching a sign of stability. There would have been churn and that’s not a secret, but sometimes churn is necessary to take the next step. I’d worked with one agency for the last 15 years and I wanted change. For me, I was looking at a slightly larger role and that’s what I got here.”
There has been talk of a change in the ownership structure at Rediffusion in the media. While Chatterjee himself was unperturbed by those claims, he feels that they made some within the system insecure. This admittedly led to a feeling of angst amongst the top levels at the agency.
He explains, “I come from a WPP agency, so whether WPP takes us over or not, it won’t make so much of a difference (to me). But, I really like Mr Nanda. There was a way in which I was recruited. It wasn’t an earth shattering or new way, but the experience was great. You have one or two interactions with the man and you know he’s of a different league and level. And one must respect that.”
Chatterjee adds, “Honestly, it did (rumours) create flutters inside. We were angered by those articles. And rightfully so. If you keep on repeating the same thing twice over, when all the stakeholders have said no, something isn’t right. Then you’re making claims like we’ve closed our Chennai office. That was probably read by staff from Chennai as they were entering their office for a regular day of work. So, instead of writing such articles, they should go and check for themselves. There has to be some kind of regard and respect for what a man has done, and Mr Nanda’s work should be celebrated. It may have unsettled a lot of people within the agency – they may have felt some job insecurity and that’s why the anger.”
“To set the perception straight – in anger we had a lot of reactions, but I’m not getting into that. The best way to set it straight is through work,” he surmises, on the subject.
Using another sports analogy, he says, “You have to answer on the pitch. The best way is to get down there and whack the ball for a six. That can happen through work and through new account wins. I think some of our work in the pipeline, and the new businesses will create the buzz. The place had energy, but the new blood will add to it.”
Chatterjee suggests that reports like those about a change of leadership and ownership have created a lot of negative press for the agency, which is ‘almost’ like a weakness. He notes in context, “If a client sees or reads that, they might be ‘iffy’ about us. But, it’s not our weakness. It’s a perceived weakness created by external factors that aren’t in our control. From a strength point-of-view, it’s now a team that’s close to settled and we can only go forward. There’s momentum setting in and we are generating buzz with work. The stuff being spoken about externally is giving us even deeper resolve to prove something. We have something to prove now, because of the situation.”
Tools and talent
Having moved to Rediffusion one of the things that amazed Chatterjee was the BAV (Brand Asset Valuator) tool. He says, “Loyalty is in my DNA and I’m very loyal to JWT. JWT is the agency that founded planning. So there was a sense of proper pride around us in the planning team at the agency. Then I came here and saw a tool of the scale and scope of the BAV. This is putting money where the mouth is. Believe me, no agency has something this big. This is like an Alice in Wonderland situation. This is a robust tool. Across categories, markets, we have access to tonnes of information given by consumers. It’s a great tool to have. There are hardcore numbers. No wonder our new business conversion is good. Let’s thank this magic-box.”
Like many in advertising, Chatterjee too believes that talent is a major issue. And what about planning talent?
He surmises, “You need to join planning for the right reasons. A lot of people are joining planning for the wrong reasons – they move from servicing because they see some ‘aaram’ (rest). Then, you’ll never get enough of the right talent. People who are slightly brainy, also feel they’ll get better salary in some other industry. Otherwise you have to be someone like me who’s too much in love with advertising. I turned down an offer from a client – who offered me three times the salary. I didn’t even go for the interview. I didn’t want to work for an IT company. A lot of others make the compromise and leave. To attract the ‘right’ talent – visibility helps. And that comes with the right work, winning awards and being in the news.”
(This article first appeared in the 27 November 2015 issue of Campaign India)