Advertising is like a mirror. It reflects the present. As companies grapple with the current economic situation of slowdown and liquidity crunch, a recent ING Group television commercial by McCann captures the emotions attached with money and its relevance in our lives. With marketers tightening their belts, McCann has changed its positioning from a supplier of creative ideas to a partner that provides business solutions. The agency does not consider itself a fair-weather friend and wants its clients to partner with it through the highs and lows. Prasoon Joshi, executive chairman, McCann Worldgroup India, and regional creative director, McCann Asia Pacific, updates Sapna Agarwal on the metamorphosis from an idea provider to a business solutions provider. Edited excerpts:
It is believed that during a downturn as companies cut costs, one of the first to take a hit is advertising and marketing expenses. What has been your experience so far?
Advertising agencies work on an annualised fees structure where the clients pay for the number of people and the time allocated to the brand. As such, even during a downturn, they need us to think about their brands. They may have reduced their overall advertising and marketing budget but at the agency level this is not being reflected. Hence, while the outlay for campaigns, advertising and marketing is reduced, the number of “minds” working on the solutions at our end remains the same. A few clients who were thinking of reducing the number of resources are realising that they require our involvement more than ever before and would need the same number of minds working on their brands to maximise the returns.
Is there a change in your strategy to deal with companies that are interested in renegotiating the annualised fees?
We are very clear about our positioning with our clients. We are not only their agencies but also their business partner, and would like to be associated with them through their highs and lows. Ours is a business of solutions and not just ideas.
If you can explain your positioning with your clients...
For instance, we recently proposed a new product launch to one of our clients in Delhi which is in line with the current economic scenario. We are very gung-ho about this solution, and if it is accepted, it will open up many new doors. The extent of our involvement with our clients’ business goes beyond providing brand solutions.
Will the nature of creative work in 2009 differ from 2008?
There will be a drop in the number of new creatives that will be made for a brand. Due to which the teams working on a client account will have more time to develop better creatives and do better work, specially more time would be spent on craft issues. Creativity will flourish and there can be better work expected in 2009. Campaigns will be more chiseled as the team working on the account will have more time for developing and referencing the work being put out. We are also conceptualising some extremely radical campaigns and looking at long-term solutions.
How is it possible to get the same kind of reach and effectiveness with decreased spends?
The answer lies in innovative and radical solutions. There will be more focus on emerging mediums such as digital, viral, radio and outdoor hoardings.
We would like to create a buzz which is akin to advertising on the moon. That is, the work is visible to everyone who looks up at the moon. Radical solutions could also mean solutions where clients spend their entire 12 or 24 months’ advertising and marketing budget in a much shorter span but create an impact which gives the brand a new high. The irony is that in times like these, client expectations increase, however, their risk-taking appetite decreases. As a result, there could be conflicts in the approach between the agency and the client, but then solutions emerge organically in such situations.
Are there any changes that you plan to introduce internally?
We have strengthened our team with five new creative directors in the last six months across India. We are focusing on our divisions such as MRM, which is about brand engagement with consumers, Momentum, which handles events and promotions, and McCann Healthcare, which looks at marketing of pharmaceuticals services, health care and medical businesses. Currently, they contribute less than 20 per cent of our overall revenues. In the next couple of years, we expect these practices to account for 35-40 per cent of our overall revenues.
Do you plan to revise your growth rates for 2009?
We grew at 27 per cent in 2007-08. The business this year has also been good. We have won 32 new clients, which is the highest number of new wins in one year for us. Having said this, we do expect a short-term dip in 2009. However, we are also exercising caution as our clients show restraint.
Lyricist, screen play writer, poet and adman. Any time management tips that you could share.
I enjoy my work and work all seven days of the week. Those associated with me are clued in to my working style. However, there is a clear demarcation in my work schedule — during the week days, my focus is the agency, and during the weekends, it’s movies. My friends from the industry (Bollywood) are very accomodating and they are willing to discuss their projects on weekends, and give me enough time to work on them.