Why is it that ‘phoren’ creative whizkids don’t last in adland

24 Sep,2013

By Delshad Irani & Amit Bapna

 

Indian advertising may well be a hostile Martian landscape if one considers the fate that eventually awaits creative talent which has landed here from foreign shores. Interestingly, the expatriate as well as the foreign-returned native creative (who has spent a decade or more abroad), both have had a reasonably tough time coping. And more often than not, expatriates have had an unremarkable run in the Indian advertising industry.

 

In January, Rediffusion YR hired Dubai-based creative Sam Ahmed, a familiar name within the YR system, as vice-chairman and chief creative officer. Although he is Indian, Mr Ahmed has spent most of his professional life abroad. Nine months later, Redifussion YR has lost its VC, who is scheduled to leave in December to pursue his passion – film direction. Mr Ahmed, of course, is not the only one whose Indian ad stint was more a 30-second commercial than a multi-part TV series.

 

Indian agencies hire from outside for many reasons: to provide new strategic direction, to boost creative reputation, to win awards, to grab headlines, because the network boss says so or it’s simply a crack in the dark at plugging the hole in the hull.

 

One of the most talked about foreign hires and exits in recent history was that of Adrian Miller, the chief creative officer for JWT’s Delhi operations. He left amid speculations of unhappy clients and unhappier colleagues who couldn’t quite rationalise the inflated pay packets handed out to international talent.

 

So far, these grouses have been a common factor in many cases involving international hires at top management levels. Yet another import at JWT was Bruce Matchett, who joined the agency in 2005 from Singleton Ogilvy & Mather, Australia, and left before his three years were up for personal reasons.

 

Not long before him was the short stint of Simon Hayward, executive creative director at FCB Ulka. At Ogilvy, John Goodman served as CEO, India & South Asia, for two years before he left the agency in 2006.

 

And now, Saatchi India’s chief Matt Seddon is believed to be on his way out. According to one creative chief, the industry can be unforgiving and its disorganised nature frustrating. “Also, no one has been able to stick around long enough to make adifference. And that’s partly because of the unrealistic expectations thrust upon them. You can’t expect miracles,” he says.

 

Even famous Indian advertising exports have had a fairly tumultuous time after their return. Some even have been subjected to “reverse racism” as Publicis Worldwide’s chief creative officer for South Asia Bobby Pawar puts it: “They say ‘he’s been away so long perhaps he’s become gora in his soul if not his skin’.”

 

Mr Pawar, who spent over a decade in the US, came home in 2007 as Mudra Group’s chief creative officer. In 2011, he joined JWT as national creative director. However, after the controversial Ford Figo ads episode, he resigned and two months later joined Publicis.

 

His contemporary and celebrated Indian ad export Sonal Dabral returned to home country full-time in 2011 with a mandate to turn Bates’ fortunes around. He quit the struggling WPP agency and joined DDB Mudra as its creative boss in 2012.

 

Raj Kamble spent a fair bit of time in no-man’s land during his second innings, which began with BBH India and ended up at StrawberryFrog’s first Indian office.

 

However, those who have been born and bred within the Indian ad universe and have never left its shores for Madison Avenue or any other greener pasture feel that agencies and clients are better off without foreign talent of any kind.

 

For, clients feel that unless you have been here long enough to understand the market and experience the changes firsthand, one cannot deliver.

 

Or perhaps, as Mr Miller put it in an interview not so long ago, it’s not a white, an Indian or an expat thing. He saw it as an ideas thing. “Perhaps with these other individuals, the mandate wasn’t right, the backing wasn’t right or they were not good enough.”

 

Source:The Economic Times

Copyright © 2013, Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd. All Rights Reserved

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