Pied Piper of DDB Mudra?

12 May,2015


By A Correspondent


We all know the Pied Piper story, don’t we? Let’s look at one of the Wikipedia descriptors: “In 1284, while the town of Hamelin was suffering from a rat infestation, a Piper dressed in colourful red clothing appeared, claiming to be a rat-catcher. He promised the Mayor a solution to their problem with the rats. The Mayor in turn promised to pay him for the removal of the rats. The Piper accepted, and played his pipe to lure the rats into the Weser River, where all but one drowned. Despite the Piper’s success, the Mayor reneged on his promise and refused to pay him the full sum. The Piper left the town angrily, vowing to return later to take revenge. On Saint John and Paul’s Day, while the Hamelinites were in Church, the Piper returned, dressed in green, like a hunter, playing his pipe, and in so doing attracting the town’s children. One hundred and thirty children followed him out of town… “


Now read this other story, circa 2014-15. There was the boss of an ad agency. His name: Pratap. He was the promised the top job of the agency (called DDB Mudra?). When he didn’t get it, he quit and decided to set up his own shop and lure a host of employees. Do we call him the Pied Piper of DDB Mudra?


So wassup at one of the hottest advertising agencies in the country? Is MudraMax, the division handling the media buying and planning, outdoor (OOH), experiential and retail businesses facing extreme heat? Although there are no official numbers available, some senior DDB Mudra (DDBM) staff currently in and outside of the system suggest that around 50 percent of the total DDBM revenues would come from MudraMax clients.


Madhukar Kamath

In many ways what’s being played out now was expected to happen ever since former Chief Operating Officer of the group Pratap Bose put in his papers last year after CEO and MD Madhukar Kamath was given an extension of four years. He was clearly miffed at losing out. “Everyone knows I was looking at the Top Job. There were promises made. I am not the kind of guy who will wait for four years,” he told MxMIndia then.


Now, after having stitched up his funding and with some prized clients in the kitty, Bose has gone on the offensive. Though a confidante insists it’s not a case of revenge or showing DDBM the finger. “It was better for him to exit than bicker. If he doesn’t call people whom he trusts to his own venture, who will he get? There was a non-compete clause till the end of the year and that allowed him enough time to read, attend to chores he never did when he was working, look at Advertising Club work and travel.” Plus some brilliant wildlife photography, we may add.


Mandeep Malhotra

Although the parent Ominicom-owned DDB Mudra Group agency was quick to restructure operations after the exit of Mandeep Malhotra, President, DDB MudraMax on Monday, the damage was done. Malhotra was reportedly on a holiday last week, and his quitting was sudden.


A townhall was conducted on the MudraMax floor of the agency’s headquarters in North Central Mumbai where Kamath reportedly said: “Twenty will go, 20 new will come, I’m not bothered.” Kamath later hinted at activities hampering the interests of the organisation happening on the floor. “We clear don’t want that to happen,” he said.


When asked whether it was true that MudraMax may be merged with OMD, as it was rumoured, he scoffed at the suggestion. “No way,” he exclaimed.


Meanwhile, Malhotra is expected to join Bose as Managing Partner in his proposed venture. It is learnt many others from within the DDB Mudra fold and outside of it will join in.


And at MudraMax, Executive Directors Sathyamurthy Namakkal and Aneil ‘Andy’ Deepak were handed additional charge of the outdoor and experiential businesses respectively and TracyLocke head of business and operations Sameer Mehta will now report directly to Kamath.


Kamath also told MxMIndia that it was business as usual and rubbished rumours that employees were asked to sign affidavits to pledge their continuance or leave the organisation. While MxMIndia hasn’t been able to verify claims from either side, at least one of the employees who has moved out very emphatically said that they were shown the ‘sign or else’ undertakings.


Meanwhile, Kamath says just 15 staffers have quit, though one of the employees who has quit said the number will be in the range of 25. All the exiting employees are likely to join Bose in his new venture. Another 30-odd are rumoured to be hopping over in a month’s time and a few others from other agencies will also join in.


Kamath on his part isn’t fazed by Bose’s proposed venture. “We’ve had many people who have turned entrepreneurs after leaving Mudra… We wish them well,” he said, without taking Bose’s name.


Although Bose was unavailable for comment, he is said to be establishing an agency network with equity investments in various communication companies. He is said to have locked in a string of clients, some of them from DDBM. The first of his ventures is expected to be afloat around mid-June 2015. That’s a little over a month away.


While a senior marketer dubbed this the biggest ever churn in the ad agency business in the last decade, Kamath said it would be incorrect to term it an exodus from his agency. Over a hundred fresh recruits are likely to join the group over the next few months, he said.


So what’s next? It will all settle down soon. DDB Mudra has weathered several storms. It can do that again. It’s just won the Aircel account and Madhukar Kamath says more are expected. As for Pratap Bose, we all know that he’s a go-getter and has a fine bunch of people he can rally around. May both co-exist and thrive.


And the Pied Piper? Ah, well. This is no fairy tale that you’re reading. Let’s hope they all live happily ever after.


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