An Enormous Year for Ashish Khazanchi & Ajay Verma

25 Nov,2014

 

It’s a little over a year since Ashish Khazanchi and Ajay Verma set up creative shop Enormous. Both had had a glorious innings in creative advertising agencies and, well, their jingalala moments. Why, after collaborating much on the Tata Sky account, they figured that they were perhaps made for each other. Excerpts from a free-wheeling conversation the Enormous managing partners had with Pradyuman Maheshwari :

 

A little over a year since you’ll set up shop… so, would you say it’s been an enormous year?

We aren’t sure if it would be right to call it enormous, but it’s been a good year, full of memorable instances. We are much better off than we thought we would be. The market has changed a bit. Clients are far more open to independent agencies, and from our perspective the timing was just right.

 

You started when times were tough. As you look back, was it a good time to start?

I don’t think we’ve ever faced those kinds of issues. We started from zero and we had everything to look forward to. We had a lot of clients talking to us, interested in creating newer kind of solutions or getting a fresh perspective.

 

Did you move with any clients from your earlier?

We made a promise to ourselves… that we won’t touch any people or clients from the agencies we came out of.

 

Uff, but everybody does it!

We started the agency from scratch and we’re happy that we don’t have any bad blood. Not to say that we won’t in future, but we didn’t want to create an agency on bad blood.

 

What about the clients who were comfortable dealing with you?

We haven’t said no to anybody too…. I think as we come to the end of the first year, we are far more confident than we were in the beginning. I think now the time is right to approach them.

 

Any lows in the year?

If you’re working in an agency and you don’t win a pitch, you forget about it the next morning. But if you’re doing your own business and you lose a pitch, it is not just commerce, but it is your reputation now that is also at stake.

 

Anything else?

We’re building every day on optimism – small and big victories. But there are things that bothered us. For example, talent, is a huge problem. And for smaller agencies, it is even a bigger problem. The other issue, which personally bugs us, is how a lot of agencies are shortchanging themselves in terms of monies they charge just to get a client.

 

You have such large overheads and you charge so less, they are just making the process difficult for themselves. But the key pillars we go by are that we’ll get the client at our terms and work in a way that the client gets value out of us.

 

If you look at a percentage of a large agency, how much would you charge?

It would be on a case-to-case basis. We don’t want a client to come to us because he’s getting cost-efficiency. We’ve hired an ECD who would have been an ECD anywhere in the country. It’s not like we took a junior guy and gave him a huge designation. We have two senior creative directors, both coming from very good agencies.

 

Are you optimally staffed?

Honestly, no. We need a much bigger base of the pyramid. They are tough to come by. We’re hiring people who are more or less, best in class! Sometimes we can’t even afford an art director. But if he’s available now, and all positions are full, we still take him because we may not get him if he’s needed tomorrow.

 

What’s your staff strength now?

Sixteen people.

 

Let’s look at the highs. What have been the highs of the year?

The client support has been a great high!

 

Other highs?

The completely unique partnership between Cheil (television commercial for Samsung’s Galaxy Grand Neo) and us also was a great high. That was just less than 60 days from our Agency being formed.

 

The phone call was a great high.

 

When you pitch to clients, what is your proposition? What is it that Enormous is offering that others are not?

Apart from a Lowe & an Ogilvy, who we have great respect for, there is this entire world of agencies which have no idea what they are about. If the work is good, it’s an aberration, rather than a result of a certain process and quality control. If I was to go to a pitch with an Ogilvy or a Lowe, I’d be very scared but if I were to get into a pitch with any of the others, I’d be very optimistic that we would most likely win it or we have an equal chance if not more. It’s the idea we put on the table. That’s what this field is about. We’re very good there. Because we’ve always given a damn about the kind of work we do. Not just here but as individuals this is a collective of people who care about what they do.

 

Ashish, you’ve done some great creative work in the last 10 years. One was hoping to see some action coming up sooner?

We’ve had ShopClues. There have been some smaller pieces of work, not that visible but we’re incredibly proud of some of them. There is some stuff now happening for an electronics major. It should be out by end -December. It’s for the World Cup. It would be one of the best! We’ve looked at sports in a completely new lens. There’s some really great work that we’ve done.

 

So, how do you deal with your shareholders? Is Vivek Suchanti happy?

Ajay:  The kind of brands we’re associated is also a great high. It’s fantastic. They’ve been great encouragement.

 

Ashish: Vivek Suchanti has been very hands off. While we still have a lot to do in terms of big campaigns, financially we’re fine. If you’re diligent, more or less, they don’t interfere at all.

 

Do you have periodic reviews?

Ashish: None at all. It’s completely hands of. Hats off to them

 

Ajay: They believe in us, our one year has instilled a lot of confidence in them,

 

 

What are the plans for the second year? You said you have this big telco in the bag?

Ashish: We’re doing digital work for them on project basis. For the second year, we have to triple our size, our visible campaigns and our talent. You also have to get to some critical marks before people start trusting you with their brands. They trust you as an individual but question …Is this agency robust enough? I think that’s exactly the reason we’ve got so many senior people on board.

 

Even though the clients may trust him or me in their individual capacity, they want you to earn your spurs somewhere else. Once you’ve done it, more and more people let you in. This is exactly what’s happening right now.

 

Ajay: The first year being very good and, like Ashish mentioned, the idea is to grow very rapidly. The market forces and the environment are just right for keeping ambitions intact.

 

Ashish:Acche din aane waale hai’. Happy days are coming!

 

Both of you have come in from big agency, big clients background. Personally, do you miss all the action of big spenders?

Ashish: Of course I miss that. I keep on saying we’re not a small agency, we’re an agency that’s still small.

 

How’s it working together?

Ajay: It’s not like we’re working together for the first time. We did Tata Sky together. The relationship and bonding has only increased over time. I think through that last year, ups and downs, having a partner like Ashish has been really fantastic. So, nothing to really worry about.

 

Ashish: It’s not like we started in day 1 and we’re like made for each other. It took us time to get into the kind of stride we are into right now. We’re perfect foils for each other now. I am the person who would screw up on all deadlines and anything with organizational abilities, Ajay is a rock solid person out there. I’d be going with complete airy-fairy strategies.

 

Have you ever thought of expanding your team of co-founders?

Ashish: Absolutely not. Between the two of us, we have the knowledge and expertise required to roughly run any communication setup. ETN*, BTN, Digital… whatever… now whatever we need, we’re going to hire.

 

A version of this interview appeared in dna of brands on November 24, 2014

 

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