Happy days for Dentsu Aegis Network!

14 Oct,2016


It’s been doing the rounds for many months, but when the news came in of Dentsu Aegis Network of acquiring Bengaluru-based creative agency Happy Creative Services, there was much happiness all around. Happy has being doing some spending work in the past and the Dentsu Aegis acquisition will ensure that it grows bigger. Plus with this, mcgarrybowen enters India and it will possibly carry some of its global mandates here. A few hours before complete the final legal formaties of the deal on Thursday, Ashish Bhasin, Chairman and CEO of Dentsu Aegis Network South Asia and Happy co-founders Kartik Iyer (also CEO) and Praveen Das (also Managing Director) took time off to speak with Pradyuman Maheshwari and Santosh Jangid. Excerpts from the interviews.


To me the most important thing in an acquisition is chemistry: Ashish Bhasin



One more acquisition?

Yes, it’s another global brand that we have managed to bring to India with this and now Happy Mcgarrybowen is going to be our fifth creative agency in the market.


While the Happy acquisition is significant, the big other story is that you have got a large full-service agency like mcgarrybowen to India. Tell us about that.

mcgarrybowen is one of the most creative agencies which started off in the United States. It’s really huge there and some most outstanding global brands that they have worked on. Their philosophy is that they don’t want to have 200 offices in 180 countries. They have picked up few centres of excellence of places where they will operate from – in Asia, that is China, India and Singapore and we are very proud that they have selected India as one of those markets. They are now present in several European countries and perhaps in South America and few countries they are gonna take on. So it is a very big opportunity for us that such an agency which is known to be one of the most successful and large creative agency networks, we are able to bring in to India with this partnership with Happy. So that’s going to be Happy mcgarrybowen


How will it be different than the other four agencies in the Dentsu Aegis Network fold in India? 

Each agency that we have has its own independent leadership, its own independent creative directors and its own independent set of clients and they operate as completely separate agencies. Each of them has a different flavour and that depends to a large extend on the leadership, the creative directors and the business heads as well as on the flavour of clients that they have. So you will see each one of them having a very different flavour, different sub-culture. What we try to do is we allow each of our businesses to maintain their own sub-culture which they use to growing up with, which is healthy and which is why they have been successful. But we bring it under the over arching umbrella of Dentsu Aegis Network’s culture. We all subscribe to same vision, same values and that’s what binds us. But we don’t want to make any agency or any part of the business look like another part of the business.


So why Happy?

To me the most important thing in an acquisition is chemistry. When you meet somebody you must get that sense that these are people I want to wake up with every morning on a work day for next ten-twenty years. Their quality of work has to be superb because that’s what clients really want and value and their value system should be very similar to our value system. We had very straightforward meetings, we had two quick discussions and by the end of the second discussion itself both of us were very clear that we wanted to go ahead. Of course this being India and processes being what they are it takes a long time from that time to the acquisition to be finished but the actual decision-making process in my mind happened the fastest in this instance because the way the chemistry just stuck.


Are you going to grow the mcgarrybowen network in India in terms of more acquisitions?

I’m not sure in terms of more acquisitions but I’ll be happy if Kartik and Praveen are in an agreement, i would be happy for them to go to more bigger clients, I would be happy that we target some of mcgarrybowen clients which are there globally but we don’t have here in India  because we are just setting mcgarrybowen now. I will also be happy if need be and if clients want more offices of Happy mcgarrybowen in rest of India I don’t think another acquisition is what we will go for mcgarrybowen but definitely we would like to go for different clients, different cities, different set of challenges we work it.


If you want to stay in business, stay relevant, you have to keep growing: Kartik Iyer and Praveen Das



Why the sell-out after nine years as an independent creative agency?

Kartik Iyer: We are not looking at it that way because we are still sitting here and doing everything we did up until now and in our perspective this is only going to help us do it better. Happy is an organically grown debt-free company and anybody who has been in business knows that at various stages of growth, money is what makes more money and we have done everything in our capability without pulling too many favours to bring this agency this far and our clients and campaigns have worked and our campaigns have brought to life the fact that what we are trying to do works and is correct in a lot of ways. It just came to a point where we had to give Happy everything it needs. We have always been very clear with that. We both are the founders of Happy and we are not Happy and to be able to compete in a market with the biggest guys we needed to equip the agency with everything that it could require. Happy has come to a point where we can’t turn away10 people especially because we are handling large clients saying that we can’t do this or you will have to find somebody else. We must have it all. Not saying that we provide every service that’s available but I think it needs that kind of muscle to pull forth from every angle.


Does your acquisition and that of various others in the past meant that there isn’t much of a future for independent agencies

Praveen Das: I don’t believe that. It’s a fact of life but when we started Happy we said we would just be 35 people and we will do some really kickass work but though we did that with that bit, there were a lot of people who wanted to join us and at that point we reached a stage where we were neither small nor big. So we thought why not just go to the other end and become a large agency with the same culture of a small agency.

Kartik Iyer: Let’s not forget there are independents in the industry today who have aspirations to buy networks. So there is no hard-and-fast rule that the network is the end-game. For some it could be end-game for some it could be means to the end.


Is acquisition the only way out to go to the next level?

Praveen Das: We had Flipkart and Myntra when they started off and as they grew bigger we also had to grow bigger.

Kartik Iyer: I wouldn’t look at it as a way out. It depends on what kind of business you are. Growth is the only law of business. So if you want to stay in business, stay relevant, you have to keep growing, at various stages capital is a very important ingredient. So far you can provide it yourself it’s fine but at a later stage you need that capital to be coming in and lastly it’s got to do with what is your vision, what kind of agency you are and what is it that you want. For some it could be a way out, for some it could be a way in.


At which point did you think this is the way to go?

Kartik Iyer: It’s a matter of perspective. Are we aligning ourselves with a large one or are we taking on the backing of a large one? Are we wiring into the nervous system or are we using their muscle? So it is a matter of perspective and that is the difference between different agencies. There is no single formula, there is no single perspective.


Why Dentsu?

Kartik Iyer : We met pretty much everybody. We have always had the belief that it doesn’t matter what organisation or brand who represents if long as the guy sitting on the other end is a monkey run. So it didn’t matter and it was all depended on the individuals we met. There was a certain no-nonsense, straight-to-the-point-kind-of person that Ashish is that we felt very comfortable about.

Praveen Das: We met a lot of people before we met Ashish who came to our office and met us but we never found any fire on the other side but when we met Ashish we knew there was a leadership that was on fire.

Kartik Iyer: We were very clear that at some point we would merge with someone. It wasn’t so much of a network but we wanted to merge with someone who would really bring in to the agency that would be a match in the philosophy and Ashish came speaking to us about mcgarrybowen. DAN was just the holding company. The brand and the philosophy that we were marrying into was mcgarrybowen and mcgarrybowen has a pretty much similar story as Happy. So we saw their work, we met them and there was a match in culture. At one end you have the DNA of a Japanese firm which we both are a big fans of Japanese culture and the work that they produce and on the other end there was a brand which was coming out of New York. It was a dream come true.


What would be tangible difference apart from a name and ownership change?

Kartik Iyer: One is opportunity, two is working with global units on global pictures, third is exchange of in talent which we had no one to ask, other agencies write to someone and dust it off and say, send me your presentation on this, but we had no one to send us any presentations.


How are you looking at growing the mcgarrybowen brand in India?

Kartik Iyer: We are not seeing Mcgarrybowen  as a separate brand, we are not seeing Happy as a separate brand. How we are going to grow Happy Mcgarrybowen in ways that we didn’t till now. We plan to go and take a shot at bigger accounts.


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