Smooth ride on this Street

27 Jul,2016

 

Around this time last year, Pratap Bose, former chief operating officer at DDB Mudra, launched with much fanfare a full-service advertising agency, The Social Street. With some seasoned names in the business by way of partners, like outdoor and experiential specialist Mandeep Malhotra, entrepreneur Arjun Reddy who also runs a diversified portfolio of businesses, and Pradeep Uppalapati, a former senior director and India lead for global corporate development team at Accenture, Bose’s venture has been on a roll. In a freewheeling interview with Pradyuman Maheshwari, Pratap Bose, Chairman and Managing Director, The Social Street, speaks about completing a year in existence, winning awards and his relationship with DDB Mudra.  Excerpts:

 

One year of The Social Street, since June 22, 2015. How has the journey been so far?

If you asked me last June where I would be, [I’d say] I would not have expected such progress in one year. When we set out, we had big ambitions but I didn’t think we would do so well. I think we have put an impressive list of clients together and done some really good work.

 

The Pratap Bose interview first appeared in dna of brands on July 11.

 

Mandeep Malhotra, Founding Partner and CEO

On Year 1: I have loved the year.  A couple of months in the beginning were a bit of an emotional turmoil journey but then I got back to the 16 hours of working a day. I love staying busy and I had a great year.

On the road ahead: I think if there is passion and hunger, India as a market has so much more to achieve and do. I am fairly excited for the teams who have got a lot of hunger and passion in them. So, it is an upward journey but it is a very gratifying, satisfied journey ahead. Looking forward to it.

 

Pradeep Uppalapati, Founding Partner and CFO

On Year 1: There are two ways I would answer that. Personally for me, it has been a very fun experience, a lot of learning and I am glad that I am part of this. From a company standpoint, in the one year that we have been in existence, we have achieved quite a few things, so we as The Social Street I think are very proud of it. We would like to keep the momentum going and achieve better things.

On the financial front: Financially, I think we have met all our goals, no surprises. And we are on track.

 

Interviews by Anuka Roy

 

How do you define ‘so well’?

The fact that we have already hired 150 people and  opened our Bengaluru and Delhi offices.

 

Three very fancy offices

The Delhi office is nice and much bigger than the Mumbai one. About 135 clients have been signed on. We have not made too much noise in the media about which clients we have won, but that was intentional. We are happy keeping it quiet.

 

But you are not known to be a quiet person…

It was part of the strategy and PR plan laid out during the first year. As a new set-up when you announce a win, your competitor agencies [also wake up to it]. But that is not the reason. Besides clients and setting up three main offices, we also have quite a few satellite offices. It has been a fair progress.

 

You started off with a full-service agency, but some areas were not covered until you hired a creative head…

Contrary to popular belief, a Chief Creative Officer (CCO) is not confined to the creative department. We brought in a team from various agencies to fill the gap. We thought if we were going to be a creative powerhouse in the area of communication, barring the traditional stuff, we need a CCO to run that. It is a team that understands the whole new world of content and creating content for activation – which is really what Deepak does. I’m not saying that we don’t want to get into print or television advertising, but that is not the focus right now.

 

Does that bracket you as a BTL agency?

I don’t care about that because at the end of the day, I am going to run a successful and profitable business. I think the media is also to blame for this. Everyone thinks that the creative agency is the be-all and end-all [of advertising]. But the new world is all about technology, social media, content, sharing and creating meaningful pieces of work in the social and marketing space.

 

Are you saying that in advertising, you no longer make money on the traditional, creative stuff?

Obviously the margins for the non-traditional side of the business are always higher. But barring the top four or five agencies…

 

In this one-year journey, you have established an alliance with Rediffusion Y&R.

I think the Rediffusion deal was good for both for us, where we run everything in the communication space and leave them to do their creative job. That is a partnership which is working well. It is a mutually-beneficial relationship that expands both their business and ours.

 

But Wunderman is in the same space as you, isn’t there a clash?

Today’s age is really about collaboration. It does not mean that if two agencies are in the same space, they need to compete. While Wunderman is largely in B2C, consumer, direct marketing and all that, it is a skill-set that complements what we do. Direct marketing, data — that is not our core competency right now.

 

Do you see this relationship with Rediffusion cementing further?

As long as we do good work together, and a lot of trust is there, and we want to further the relationship, we would probably make it a stronger.

 

By further, do mean equity? You are known to be close to Martin Sorrell…

I am. But that is not on the agenda right now. We just started out. Unfortunately or fortunately, there has been a lot of positive vibes from the industry, as well as in the communication business. But I don’t think you ever set out to create a business with the intent of selling out. If you did that, you would probably be a failure.

 

Would you ever look at selling out or part with some equity?

Not averse to that but there is a point in time where you think about that. But right now we are not thinking about this at all, five or six years later if things work out then. You do not set out to start a new business with the intent of selling out.

 

You mentioned that having an international agency connection helps you with big, international clients.

Not really. Dhunji Wadia and I are good friends, and had been working together even before we started The Social Street. As we started looking into some businesses, it turned out to be extremely fruitful for both of us.

 

In terms of talent, how are you doing?

We always knew we would succeed in the business. It is how to handle the large clients and the large assignments with limited resources. Our challenge right now is to be able to deliver on the promise we made to our clients, especially the large ones. That is a pressure, because if you keep adding bigger clients, you obviously would need to increase your workforce.

 

What about your promise to investors?

Thankfully, the investors have a lot of faith in us. They are looking at us long term. It is clearly a five-year projection we are working towards. As long as the basics have been ticked off the checklist, I think we are doing well.

 

All the cheques coming on time?

(Laughs) Actually, we are collecting very well.

 

Where do you see yourself a year from now?

That is the beauty of being on your own. We have set an agenda for what we want to be, and the areas we are getting into, and it is quite a large list. Having said that, if an opportunity presents itself, let us say in B2C, I would grab it with everything I have got. At the end of the day, we are entrepreneurs at heart.

 

This opportunity can be in the form of acquisition or in the form of business?

It could be in the form of business, it could be acquisition which any way is a part of our strategy. We would get in to more joint ventures, collaborations with other agencies, internationally as well as in India. That is all part of the plan.

 

Any particular direction you are looking at in terms of international?

We are looking at a couple of international firms in the area of brand activation, promotions, digital etc. We are already collaborating with a few. We got our first assignment in Indonesia last month. So it will gradually move that way, is my sense. Entertainment, digital and content is the space I see myself getting into, in the next couple of years.

 

You have a CCO in Deepak Singh now. Are there any other heads you are targeting and appointing in the next year or so?

We are looking at a senior position in the digital space, as well as seniors in the area of account planning and activation. Deepak’s team will also grow and branch out into similar kind of talent in Delhi and Bengaluru.

 

And traditional media?

We already have [people] in traditional media. We run a media planning and buying business for a few clients. Given that we have all the tools and databases, media is the glue that binds all the entities. It has to make money on its own for sure, but the intent is not to make a large media company.

 

What about creative?

I think creative will grow as we grow. The demands that we have in today’s briefs — these are socially-relevant big ideas; and for that, you need a juxtaposition of activation planners and highly-skilled creative people in that area to make things happen.

 

Does your deal with Rediffusion prevent you from getting in to a space which it is into?

No, not at all. It is not an exclusive relationship in any case.

 

When you started out, a large number of people moved in from DDB Mudra. What is your relationship with DDB Mundra now?

All of them were great friends. I probably had one of the best times in my life with DDB, which was Agency of the Year at Cannes in 2010 and 2011, from literally zero. We even toppled Ogilvy at Goafest. But I think I got out at the right time. It was a decision which I thought was the right decision at that time. My relationship with DDB Mudra is [still] fabulous.

 

There are rumours that Madhukar Kamath may be moving on next year. So wouldn’t it have been nicer if you were still there?

No, not now. Is there an option to merge The Social Street and take over Mudra? Why not? (laughs)

 

You mentioned awards. Like it or not, the success of an agency is determined by the number of awards it wins. How do you rate your performance, vis-à-vis awards?

Awards are really wait-and-watch. I think we will do spectacularly well next year.

 

You know the game well.

I know the game. If my job is only to win Agency of the Year and do nothing else, I would win it hands down. But you have to run a successful business. But I can promise you next year, at Cannes or at Goafest, we will do spectacularly well. I am saying that because of all the ideas we are currently working on. While everyone was at Cannes, and even before we put our heads together, there were some stunning ideas.

 

So, south of France next year?

Absolutely!

 

 

 

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