Raising the Bar: Colvyn on JWT with Bobby

28 Nov,2011


By Johnson Napier


The last few days have witnessed media and advertising circles going gaga over news of a restructuring exercise at JWT and the surprise coronation of Bobby Pawar as the Chief Creative Officer & Managing Partner, alongside the elevation of three of its key ECDS to the post of NCD – Swati Bhattacharya, Tista Sen and Senthil Kumar. But what has kept the industry guessing is the swiftness with which this transformation has been carried about and who from JWT is responsible for this smooth makeover.


MxM India meets the man who has effected the change – Colvyn J Harris, CEO, JWT India. In a detailed conversation, Mr Harris reveals the new creative direction that the agency will root for with the coming in of Bobby Pawar, the unmatched experience that would be delivered to clients and how he could get back to serving the industry with the easing of the creative function at JWT. Excerpts:


Q: Apart from the CCO and NCD level restructuring exercise, have there been any other senior-level elevations at JWT?

The restructuring exercise where creative is concerned is over. We have Bobby Pawar as Chief Creative Officer; he will be supported by three NCDs comprising Swati Bhattacharya in Delhi, Tista Sen in Mumbai and Senthil Kumar in the South. There are a set of ECDs who would work in partnership with the above team. There won’t be any replacements as such where the earlier ECD posts are concerned.


Q: Were there any other candidates you considered other than Bobby Pawar, including any international contenders?

We did consider international candidates but we were very clear that we needed somebody who had roots in India, who understands the country in which we operate – the nuances and sensibilities of India. As for Bobby, he has international experience, having worked in BBDO and Ogilvy in the US. So that’s the best of both the worlds that one could ask for.


Q: Was it a long chase to get Bobby Pawar take up the offer at JWT?

It was not a chase actually; it was fairly mutual. We felt that he had the right qualities to lead and help us deliver on a vision which is to be the very best in what we do.


Q: Knowing Bobby’s liking towards working for an indigenously-run agency like Mudra (before Omnicom buying out a majority stake), what was the differentiating factor that convinced him to take up an offer at the WPP-run agency?

I think where JWT is concerned, we may be global and affiliated to WPP but we are finally rooted in India. If you trace the lineage of JWT India, it is actually Hindustan Thompson Associates (HTA). We have not shed any of the institutional attributes that JWT or HTA was built on. So I think that foundation continues and we are as Indian or as global as a client would want us to be. For creativity to flourish and thrive and do well, you need a platform. JWT has some large and reputed clients. We work with the leaders in every category so the work you do is going to get visible. So it’s an opportunity that presents itself to all of us who work for JWT. And for talent, what more can you hope for other than the set of clients that we have? We work with the best known Indian clients and we work with the world’s most admired brands, whether it is Nike or Pepsi…


Q: How has the industry reacted to the nomination of Bobby Pawar? Moreover, what has been Sir Martin Sorrell’s reaction to the appointment?

Sir Martin Sorrell and Bob Jeffrey (Worldwide Chairman and CEO, JWT) are very happy with the decision. They realize that I also need a partner to carry forward this responsibility. JWT is a big ship, we have been suit-led for too long. So this gives us a nice balance.


Q: Yes, don’t you think the agency has been suit-led for a while now?

That’s not how you should look at it because we have eight ECDs, because our scale of operations is large – in Delhi we have around 380 people. So if you were to compare you’ll understand that wherever we operate we are completely full-service; all skills operate in all offices. We just didn’t have somebody to drive the creative agenda for us with a greater focus. That’s because when you run businesses or lead an agency on a management framework you take your eyes off the ball on a greater platform. So Bobby’s going to play that role.


Q: Having being suit-led for some time, would you then agree that the agency did witness a creative slump post the going away of senior resources like Agnello Dias and Josy Paul?

Not at all. Whatever talk you hear is all loose talk. When people don’t know then there is talk but finally the success of a company is derived by how our brands perform in the marketplace – which is a great success as all of them are leaders. The success of an agency is how our people perform – again, all of them have done extremely well, and finally, where success is concerned there are financial benchmarks and there are creative benchmarks and we have been very consistent in winning. Senthil is an international award winner, the Mumbai office is the most awarded agency… so you have got all the success stories that you need.


Q: How would you also react to the claim that your former creative heads took along some clients with them after they quit JWT?

They didn’t take clients as such; they took projects along with them. We still have over 200 clients; we can’t be a hundred percent of every client all the time. I am sure a client chose to exercise his judgment on an idea which will help his business. We definitely respect that and welcome it. In both cases, they got something good so I am happy.


Q: Coming back to Bobby Pawar, what would be expected out of him? What’s his mandate as CCO?

Firstly, he has a team – he has NCDs, ECDs and a team of about 300 people in creative. So he’s gonna have to set an agenda for creative. That means there will be a vision and a purpose that we want to go back to. And after that it is actually how do you achieve those objectives – how do you deliver on that vision, how do you execute that vision, how do you get the work to look better… So that’s the agenda that he would be riding on.


Q: Do you expect Bobby to get his set of clients from Mudra to JWT or wish such a natural progression to occur given his stature at Mudra?

We are not looking at that. In our gameplan, Bobby fits extremely well and our strategy is to improve the work, change the benchmark, create new standards…and that’s what we are doing.


Q: So while Bobby gets to set a new creative agenda, do you see a creative shift coming about at JWT?

As I said, our agency has been very successful. What we will do is that we will jointly set a vision, and as a team we will have to work jointly on delivering on that vision.


Q: Would Bobby lend his expertise to other domains under JWT like digital, activation, public relations, direct marketing, etc…?

Yes, of course. We talk about idea-centricity – the idea at the centre based on a brand and how you seamlessly use every touchpoint to the audiences identified. So it’s a one seamless idea which we will try and make it a big platform idea.


Q: With Bobby at the helm, will the focus now be on reclaiming the ‘most awarded agency’ tag – that was his claim to fame at Mudra, making it the most awarded agency in recent years?

If you look at our work, we are all over the place. Now with Bobby at the helm, we want to raise the bar and improve our standards. We want to be recognized firstly at an Indian platform, we want to be recognized globally and we definitely want to improve our body of work. But all said and done, it is not about winning awards; it is also important that the work we do for clients is effective and successful for them in the market. That’s priority No 1. If that work goes on to win awards then that’s fantastic. So it’s actually an and/and rather than an either/or.


Q: Any new verticals being planned for take-off?

Nothing as such. We have design, digital, Thomson Social, Encompass… so we are not looking at anything else right now. But digital is something that we are looking at going forward with and that’s why we have hired Max Hegerman.


Q: Moving on to you, how would your responsibilities change, going forward? Is there anything that has been planned for you?

I think my responsibilities will reduce, hopefully, because I have been on a treadmill and a rollercoaster at the same time last year. Hopefully this new change will give me some breathing time…


Q:…It could also allow you to get back to serving the industry and catering to several issues like you did while you were the Chairperson of Goafest.

I used to be involved on a big scale earlier but I have cut it down as it takes away a lot of your time, but it’s important for us industry leaders to be a part of the industry; to engage with people who make it what it is today so that this industry, firstly, is successful. On an overall basis, it’s industry definitely for me; it is what you give back as well. And also the network as well; we are a global company, and that is also equally important for me to look after.


Q: Lastly, if you were to set a goalpost for JWT in 2012, what would that be?

I think if by the end of 2012, we are able to do good work on our key clients and that is acknowledged by clients first, and then maybe awards as the second parameter, I think that will be a great step forward.

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