BBH has made no secret of its interest in launching their India operations. The UK headquartered agency, known as much for its creative reputation as its strategic ability, has finally announced that they should be ready to roll out their Indian operations by the final quarter of 2008.
Bartle Bogle Hegarty's group CEO Simon Sherwood spoke exclusively to Campaign India about the challenges of launching their Indian operations, the reasons for the delay and the unexpected surprises along the way.
What would you say have been some of the biggest challenges towards starting your Indian operations?
BBH’s model is such that we try to achieve the maximum coverage from the fewest possible locations. When we started, we were not sure if there would be three, four or ten but now we know it’s going to be seven, with the seventh one being India.
It became clear that most of our multinational clients view India as a very important market for them, which is great. India is too broad a market to be able to do justice to it from outside the country. We have been doing some work for India from our Singapore office. But it’s similar to markets like China and North America in that sense, it’s not credible to say we can cover India but we don’t have an office there. When we looked at the option of starting an India office, we quickly learnt that there was not a very big expat community in India. Previously when we have started agencies in other cities, we have brought people from London to these cities, to form the management start up team. And that was not going to be the right model for India. Perhaps that was a good thing because it protected us from some problems like having to hire an entire management team, which is complicated.
The options before us were either a start up or an acquisition. Here, the thing that surprised me the most was that there was, quite contrary to my expectations, no real entrepreneurial start-up culture in the advertising business in India. I thought there would be lots and lots of small agencies, with smart young people who wanted to do their own thing, didn’t want to be owned by WPP. People who really wanted to make a mark in the business. I thought there would be lots of those. None. Everything I’d thought about India and business had led me to this belief, this strong sense of entrepreneurialism which I didn’t find. There are lots of independent agencies, of course, but most of the good ones have been already bought. So we felt that what we had to do was a start up.
This presented us with some complexity, because we had to find an entire management team with three key positions, find these three, blend them together and make them work together as a team. It is always possible that it may not work, the three may not like each other or they wouldn’t have chosen each other as their partners. So it’s a multi-complex issue, which is why it’s taking time.
I know I have gone on record several times saying that we will launch in India by the middle of 2008. I can now confidently say that we will be launching our Indian operations by the last quarter of 2008.
What kind of people are you looking for BBH India?
When we started scouting for talent, we were had a list of all the rockstar people that we were referred to. But then we decided, having spoken to some of them, that actually what we wanted were tomorrow’s superstars not today’s. So that’s where we looked. We have found people who have a lot ahead of them and who are committed to making their mark on the business, people who genuinely want to make a difference and dramatically embrace the way in which the communication world is changing. So what we are looking for essentially are really younger, forward facing people with their best years still ahead, as opposed to behind them. Also culturally aligned to the company because we believe that we have a strong culture. Some of the things we constantly seek in other people are integrity, principles, those who are not political, those are the kind of things we place high values on. So I would say that we are evaluating not just on professional capability but also based on the kind of people that they are. And the test is always- ‘would I mind sitting for eight hours next to this person on a plane?’ If the answer is ‘yes, I would’, they are not going to get it. If the answer is ‘yes, I would be delighted’, that makes the difference.
To read the entire interview, read the issue of Campaign India dated July 18th, 2008.