From agency maverick to ‘khadoos’ client…

12 Jan,2012


By Shubhangi Mehta


Switching jobs is an avenue for growth. But how does it work when the switch is drastic – such as going from an agency which creates a communication for a brand, to becoming a part of that brand? With increasing numbers of agency heads moving towards the client side, it looks like a trend.


A mix of work and pleasure is what agency life promises an individual. With that also follows a pattern of sleepless nights, tight deadlines and the pressure to impress the client. What happens when one moves to the client side? How does life change, and do the switchers miss the agency days?


We have an ample amount of such examples already in front of us. Rahul Kansal, Sunil Lulla, Ajay Kakar, Abraham Alapatt and Sheran Mehra are some such examples.


Kamal Basu, Head of Marketing, Skoda, who was working with Saatchi & Saatchi is the most recent example of such a move.


On his new role, Mr Basu said, “Moving to the client side is all about trying something new for me. I personally feel that advertising agency and brands work very closely and cannot do without each other hence the changeover is fairly easy as compared to moving from an agency into banking. For me right now, the most important thing is to have the mindset of a student eager to learn new aspects of the business.”


Ajay Kakar, CMO – Financial Services, Aditya Birla Group who has worked in a creative agency environment as well, said, “The grass is always greener on the other side. Having been on both sides of the table, at the agency and client ends, I can now relate and empathize with this sentiment. Throughout my 14+ years experience at the agency side I shared the sentiment of every colleague, ie, ‘Hum kaam karte hain, while clients aish karte hain’. And during my more recent six-odd years at the client end, I can’t deny having heard or felt the sentiment, ‘Yeh agency waale kya jaane, what pressure we face’!”


On the agency side, one is usually thought to be a lot more casual about ideation, creative, deliverables etc and the perspective is that it changes completely when one becomes a client.


Rahul Kansal, CMO, Bennett, Coleman and Co, said, “I moved to the client’s end nine years ago. I had experienced agency life for approximately 20 years and was itching to implement my own ideas rather than just being an advisor. Though the two lives or work culture cannot be compared, yet as a client there is an ownership of the brand which leads to a personal connect.”


Certainly an agency person enjoys agency life. But an invitation to partner a client is a thrilling mandate which might be quite enticing.


Abraham Alapatt said, “After 10 years in the agency business, I was keen to grow into a more complete ‘marketing’ professional (as opposed to remaining a pure advertising man) and when I was offered my first head of Marketing role in 2005 with Reliance Mutual Fund, I took it most eagerly.”


For those in the agency, the universe tends to revolve around advertising and agency imperatives. But as a as a marketer, one comes to understand that advertising and the agency are key cogs in a very large wheel.


Sheran Mehra, Head of Marketing and Corporate Communications at Dhanlaxmi Bank, said, “I had planned my career in such a way that I wanted to move to the client side after working with an agency, since I wanted to play a larger part than just being an advisor for the brand. The agency setup is more informal, and more like a family. Not that here it isn’t like family, but it’s more formal, more of a corporate environment.”


Alapatt further explains, “In terms of effort and pressure, being on the client side is as challenging and difficult, because the line of responsibility and accountability, especially when it comes to ROI, budget accountability etc, is a lot more definitive. If earlier at the agency, I spoke to my clients every morning and then planned my day’s priorities before catching up with my team and then breaking up jobs to meet expectations – now as a client I have to plan my day ahead (based on current business and leadership priorities) and then along with my team, chart out tasks/timelines/deliverables. I also have a lot more information available to help prepare an annual plan, review it regularly, and then make more meaningful contributions to overall marketing and business strategy then when I was on the agency side. Overall it is a lot more organised, planned, systematic, and accountable.”


A client initiates a brief. And his job is not complete till long after the agency hands over its input and output.


The most obvious change after moving to the client side is that one can now plan a day or a schedule and prioritize a lot more, and there are far fewer firefighting situations than when working with an agency. This is probably because ad agency teams (who work with multiple clients) need to constantly re-align their priorities in line with their clients’ changing needs.


Mr Kakar further adds, “Today I feel like the ‘complete man’, because I now have a realistic perspective from both ends. Having been on the agency side I believe that I can be more sensitive to the agency’s needs and constraints. But on the other hand, I am more demanding on what I know is possible. But life in an agency is what I miss… the masti and the laughter in the corridors, the camaraderie, the training sessions, et al.


“As a client we can say that one is responsible for one’s team delivery (besides your own KPIs). These are directly linked to the company’s overall performance targets and plans, and every idea, plan, activity, campaign needs to be very clearly defined and measurable as one is accountable for every rupee spent to the CEO and the board of directors.”


Most of the people who have made a move have stuck to the client side, which seems to indicate that working as a client is more enthralling.


“I am not sure I yet have an answer to which part I enjoy playing more. But I do believe that the agency and client are two sides of the same coin. A marketer’s success depends on his agency partner, just as an agency’s existence depends on its clients. And only when both of them come together in harmony, is there real value in the form of fun, fame and fortune, adds Mr Kakar.


While Mr Alapatt muses, “Looking back, I am glad I made the shift for the growth, learning and opportunities it has afforded me. But I can confidently say that the first 10 years of grounding/experience that I enjoyed with ad agencies like Ogilvy and the exposure to multiple clients/categories has been invaluable to my growth, both personally and professionally.”


The big picture seems to be that the transition from one side to another is a natural evolution and part of the growth process. And this part of the journey as a client can be said to mature one as a person and marketing professional.


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