Creative awards don’t really matter for Mullen Lintas!

04 Aug,2015

 

Born August 1, its captains say Mullen Lintas will carry forward the values and legacy of its parent body, but be completely new in terms of its offerings. Chairman and CCO Amer Jaleel, CEO Virat Tandon, and National Creative Director Shriram Iyer outline the new agency’s future strategy with Pradyuman Maheshwari

 

So, the birth of an all-new agency. How did it come about and how’s it going to be, if you could tell us in a few words. Lintas already has its second agency, in the form of Karishma and Linen Lintas. But this one seems to be a bigger play…

Amer: The bigger play is the idea. And I can tell you both sides of the story. One is, of course, the big vision, which comes from the fact that a brand like Lintas has to have a growth story to coincide with the growth story of the country. Our big growth story revolves around how to expand business exponentially, and how to offer the market an agency of the stature of Lintas. We noticed, from the other side of the story, that we have a lot of home-grown assets with the company that we’ve been able to employ, both in the country and abroad, for companies like Unilever. But the question was, how do you use the assets internally? That led us to the idea that we need to have two agencies, because there are people, brands and marketing setups that were looking to have that kind of big, mass-based-thinking agency, with experience, expertise and a deep understanding of markets.

 

I thought people today are looking for boutique agencies and smaller creative shops.

Amer: We like to be contrarian here. We don’t believe people are looking for boutique agencies, nor are we operating one ourselves.

 

For Lowe Lintas, do you think the timing is right, or is it a year or two late?

Amer: The idea has been in the pipeline for some time, and the trigger was our international merger with a company called Mullen. Globally, we’ve now become the Mullen Lowe Group. Because of this, we found this to be the perfect opportunity. We are possibly the only country in the Mullen Lowe Group that is actually going to make a play with two brands.

 

The last time something like this happened was when Lowe came into being, right?

Amer: Yes. But those were takeovers. This is a merger of two big, distinct brands. Mullen [has more visibility] in the US while Lowe is more distinctive in Europe and Asia. We can lead and project the two brands separately now.

 

And in terms of the way it’s going to be staffed etc, it’s going to be part of the same team that you possibly had in Lowe Lintas?

Amer: So we are all homegrown. And we all have very rich experiences in building brands. We think, I don’t know who else can think like us, that only from this much of a legacy can be born two big brands. I don’t think where else this much depth of expertise and experience is available at this higher level to be offered to the market.

 

How has the process been, in terms of moving people? How did you decide who to retain from within, and whom to hire externally? I’m sure there would have been some ‘tu-tu mein-mein’ around the process…

Amer: Actually it just happened organically.

Virat: Amer and I were once talking about how it would be good to come together and have another agency. I had a separate conversation with Joe about this, and he agreed (from a business point of view) that it would be a good idea to have this second agency play. Over time this idea grew and we realised there was a common understanding [among us] about what the company needed to do. It all came together, because we’ve also worked with each other and been a great team.

 

How much time did this whole thing take to happen?

Amer: It’s been cooking for at least six months now, but the trigger happened a month ago. The idea of Shriram leading the creative product of the agency, and Virat being the business head has been in the works for a while, but when Mullen happened, we decided it was time to make a really big play.

 

And this is an expanded role for you?

Amer: Expanded and contracted both. So yes I have more things to do, and I’m leaving behind a lot more things that I used to do…

 

How does it feel to give up quite a bit to get into a bigger role?

Amer: You may grow really fond of your brands and the work you do, but the fact that you’re building a brand for your agency, makes it easier for you to give up what you’ve been doing. Here is a completely new brand that we will build. And it’s not really adopting the philosophy from our international network, because we believe the work we’ve created has been aligned to India’s culture and identity.

 

But it’s peculiar that while you have a new agency, you also have existing brands that were there with the earlier parent agency. So however much you try to change the culture, you will be guided by the earlier culture because your clients wouldn’t want anything different…

Amer: We are going to have a lot in common with our past. We want to retain all the good things that have happened from there — how we investigate a brand, how we look at people’s behaviour and all of that will be [a throwback to] Lowe Lintas. What we are going to try to be different about, are the solutions. Because we are now growing and because we were born differently, we are going to act and solve differently too.

 

I’m sure clients would want the same thing. But at the end of the day, it’s creative solutions, so how different can it be?

Virat Tandon: What clients like about us is the depth we bring when we work on a brand, and what they like from Lintas, is the width of solutions offered as a whole. Both these things endure over a period for brands, and we will carry that forward to Mullen Lintas as well. What changes is that we structure ourselves a little differently, and we get equal on-board with what we call core-plus-one skills: people who are good at the core of the stuff we do, while they also pick up a plus-one talent or skill. Somebody who is not just an Art Director, but has also picked up a skill to do UX Design or content work. Those are the kinds of talent we will start bringing on board.

 

From the client’s point of view, how would your solutions be different from what they were until July 31?

Amer: I don’t want to say that we’re going to be different from Lowe Lintas. Why should we? We have to be different from everybody else. The approach to dealing with a brand problem, will be different because of this structure. So when we have new people sitting around the table with different skills and ideas, we will be solving a problem seen through many different lenses.

 

At the new agency, how many people are going to be from the existing setup versus new?

Virat: The leadership will be carved out from Lowe Lintas. In Delhi, we are folding the Linen Lintas office into Mullen, and doing the same in Bengaluru with Karishma. We will do some additional hiring. In Bombay, our headquarters, we will need to set up an office at an operating level as well. We are going to be an independent agency, operating out of different premises and with different people. The only thing we might share is the backend work, like finance, administration and such. Starting August 1, we’ll be working out of Lower Parel.

 

And what’s been the response of your clients to the new agency?

Virat: Mostly enthusiastic and supportive. They are confident of our revision, and that we will make a big play.

 

Do your clients have an alternative not to move to the new agency, or is that something you will decide?

Amer: How can we decide? We have to ask them and they have to agree to it. The mandate is to attract fresh businesses. We are confident there are brands and marketing teams who are waiting with categories which are already occupied by Lowe Lintas, but they may not be getting the Lintas legacy sort of offering. With us, the legacy will be there, but we are going to needle them to work in a new way with us.

 

And you’re going to compete with Lowe Lintas?

Amer: Of course.

 

Will your creative process be different from what you have now? Will there be a greater emphasis on digital?

Shriram Iyer: There will be a larger focus on exploring new media. For a while we’ve believed we’re good with insight, with the big idea, and experts in print, TV and radio. We’ve been consciously exploring new media ideas and trying to have clients [see the value in it too]. Clients know they can rely on us for TV or print or the big idea; we want them to believe they can rely on us for the solution too.

 

But it will be a challenge for you to look at long standing clients who want a certain sense of continuity. At the same time to offer something afresh right?

Shriram: So, most of our longstanding clients are..I would like to believe that they are total believers in us by now and it is up to us to lead them the journey with them along newer paths. I think marketing today has also more than ever before totally aware of what’s going on. They know that nothing can be a formula for too long. So it’s the perfect timing for us to just go out there with the solution and say here’s a new way to do it, and I think they’ll receive it better from us because we are a new organisation.

 

Amer, the entire advertising landscape has changed over the last couple of years. Competition has also increased. As an all-new agency, do you see greater challenges in terms of the landscape and getting business?

Amer: I don’t think it’s late. We are at that stage where all tech brands believe they are distinguishing themselves on the basis of tech. The time is now coming where they will distinguish themselves on the basis of the brand. With the first wave of apps and tech offerings, everybody now has the same tech, so brand play becomes important. That is when we’re back in the reckoning, and I think that time is now.

 

So what you’re saying is that you need people who have a great amount of brand experience. But given that, wouldn’t clients want to look at a bigger agency like Lowe Lintas and others, rather than a smaller player?

Amer: I don’t believe we are a smaller agency. We have a solution and we have an execution of that solution. We are going to be as big as a JWT, a Lowe Lintas or an Ogilvy. We’re going to be a part of a big agency brand; we’re starting out now, that’s all.

 

And of course, you have the advantage of a few clients from Lowe Lintas as a starting point?

Virat: Yes. Big is not just in terms of a revenue or size; big is also in terms of what you bring to the table. With the kind of experience, depth and solutions, we will have in the team, I don’t think there will be any question in anyone’s mind about what Mullen Lintas can put on the table.

 

What would Mullen Lintas’ approach be towards participating in creative awards? Lowe Lintas has not been participating for a while, though Linen Lintas has. You’re now a part of both, so what’s your stand?

Amer: We really haven’t spoken about this. We are believers in the effectiveness of our work. What rules is what works. We’re seen the results of that kind of philosophy and culture, and can’t really go back.

 

Shriram: To tell you the truth, we’re not even missing recognition. I think awards are an outdated idea. They were instituted to recognise people and celebrate work when wasn’t much of that happening. Today there’s enough and more recognition for work through the year.

 

As somebody who’s looking for new business don’t [awards] metals help?

Virat: We are a big brand agency, and I think big brands and big clients look for work that stands out in the market. As a team, like Amer said, we’ve all been after work that works. Again, we haven’t really discussed this, but….

 

Let me ask this again: As of now you’re not looking to participate in creative awards?

Amer: No, we’re not.

 

But every year, one of your entries does go to Cannes through the creative council, right?

Virat: But what we’re after is the creative of effectiveness. That’s the end goal.

Shriram: So no campaign is created for the awards.

 

At your level, you don’t really feel the need for one more metal, but what about lower down the rank?

Amer: The chatter out there on an ad, whether it is criticism or praise, has become more important than it used to be. Within three days of something going out, you know whether you’ve made 10 lakh hits or not. It’s immediate and rewarding.

 

Social media recognition has become a huge thing for advertising folk.

Amer: Yes, because it’s public recognition, coming through social media.

 

For yourself Amer, being Chairman obviously means a P/L responsibility…

Amer: I hope that I can direct some of the team relationships that we’ve built over time.

 

Does it worry you? Do you think you were happier as a creative guy, and now this additional…

Amer: No I’m looking forward to it.

 

But you can’t be very creative in accounting.

Virat: I’ve worked with Amer for 7-8 years, and he always comes with this entrepreneurial hat and sets a great vision for the team, and for clients. A lot of the clients get that from him.

 

Suit in a creative clothing?

Amer: Or the other way around.

 

But what’s your target? What do you want to achieve?

Virat: Our first milestone would be to, very quickly, earn the right to be completely independent, and right now the group is supporting us. We want to make enough to become independent.

 

And when do you hope to be self sufficient…

Virat: It’s not the time and day to talk about that

 

But you must have some vision for when that will happen. Within a year, two years?

Virat: Yes by that kind of time.

 

And when will your score be number one in the Effies?

Amer: We’re not looking to be number one in the Effies. Acquiring new brands and new clients is the goal.

 

Because what’s going to happen is now there’ll be a division right at the Effies also because..

Amer: We will all root for Mullen Lowe, that’s for sure.

 

That you obviously will, but when the points are being calculated for the Effies numbers, now it will be divided between the two agencies, with some going to Lowe Lintas..

Amer: Would you like to work with us? Because you’re thinking about this much more than we are! No, we haven’t thought about all that.

 

This interview first appeared in ‘dna of brands’ dated August 3

 

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