In 1986, Kiran Khalap, then a young ad man with India's leading agency, Lintas, was sent to Sydney to learn film making. “I learnt the next ten years of film making in that year,” says the co-founder of chlorophyll, a leading independent brand consultancy based in Mumbai. He adds, that at that time, Sydney had absorbed all the learnings of that discipline from the West Coast of America.
So when Khalap set-up his own shop, chlorophyll, about 18 years back, he always knew that the benefit of getting someone to actually work at an international location would bring in a lot more knowledge. "Instead of just getting knowledge from some other agency, the experience of somebody going there and experiencing the culture of that agency would be a different game altogether," he says.
But in an MNC agency network, probably like the one where Khalap worked in the 1980s, it could be easier. But when you are an independent, how could you learn best practices by embedding one of your own in another agency?
This is where, Khalap says, his association with The Network One, a global confederation of independent agencies helped. When Australian agency DDI's managing director, Caroline McLaughlin, met Khalap at The Network One’s Indie Summit in 2016 in London, Khalap felt he had found his match.
"Earlier, agencies created physical hardware networks that mirrored client markets.What we as an independent consultancy needed was an intellectual and emotional network, one that would enrich our culture and learning curves. After all, culture eats strategy for breakfast," says Khalap.
"That's why we thought of DDI, which puts human beings, not profits, at the centre of business," he adds.
Over the next few months, Kaustubh Lele, a young copywriter from chlorophyll would be boarding the flight to Australia to master the art of 'creating meaningful brands that are worthy of people's attention' -- which was DDI's motto.
Lele would return to Mumbai with a lot of learnings and with a nick name, 'Cossie', that his colleagues at the Australian agency had given him. And as a return gift, he also had given them lots to learn.
According to DDI executives, Cossie “hit the ground running” as he had arrived in the middle of one of their busiest weeks ever. It was a surprise for the DDI leadership team, that Lele could cope up with the hectic schedule. Lele had imparted them his first lesson: "Keep Calm...".
But ask Lele about this, and he would simply say, "They get a lot more time for execution." Khalap adds, "That’s a pure market related thing. The overall level of expectation from agencies by clients is of a particular level."
The stint helped find out what are the things they are doing differently. Lele rates the level of execution in those markets to be of a particularly high standard.
But there were also areas where they lagged behind. One of the things was that they did not have full-time copywriters who are trained the way, that they are trained here in India. "They were fascinated by the ability of Kaustubh to think absolutely to the bone, that it should finally be 3-4 words," says Khalap.
The other learning for Lele was the work ethics. Internally, they don’t wait to be allocated work. If they are free, they go and tell others, I am free, do you have any work for me. Or enquire with a colleague, are you under stress? “That’s something we have to incorporate. That’s formally a process out there,” says Khalap. Is the Indian ad world nodding in approval?