In a conversation with FE BrandWagon's Anushree Bhattacharyya, Keith Smith, president International, TBWA Group, talks about how the agency is gearing up to wage a full-scale creative war against other conglomerates such as WPP and Publicis Groupe in India. Edited excerpts:
How was last year for TBWA
2012 was very good for TBWA financially. We had significant growth in 2012 and our margins got even better. The other step that we had taken last year is that we had replicated the integrated market philosophy which has worked for us so well in developed markets such as France or developing markets such as China. In order to live the philosophy, you need to have four or five communication arrows in your bow which includes advertising, digital, retail and activation and we now have more or less all the components in place.
TBWA is a big brand globally, but in India it is yet to make much noise. Why
It is true that we (Omnicom Group) are not as big as WPP, but WPP has been here in India forever. TBWA has been here for effectively 12-13 years. India is a tough market and it takes time to establish your credentials. WPP had it its own way for a long time and when you look at Publicis Groupe, I am not sure constant acquisition is the answer. If you, as a group, are looking at an acquisition, then you need to look for like-minded people to understand how to disrupt the market. That is the key and that is why we spent the last five years talking to digital people as well as other agencies before we finally zeroed on Magnon. Also, what has helped us to grow in the last two years is that we have a very big set of international clients such as Nissan, Adidas, Samsonite and American Tourister. We recently unveiled the Datsun in India, which is yet another string to our bow.
What are the steps that were taken last year to ensure that this momentum is maintained
What we had done in 2012 is that we had worked towards restocking our creative talent. We made some significant hiring around the world, including India. We hired Parixit Bhattacharya as chief creative officer, TBWA Group in India. So with a good growth and with some of the best talents we are now moving into a phase where we are starting to see some of the effects.
TBWA acquired digital agency Magnon last year in India. How is the agency performing
From TBWA's standpoint we are geared to make sure that digital is in the heart of everything that we want to make. Magnon was our largest ever digital acquisition and has a very strong base of Indian clients. As soon as we concluded the acquisition in India, TBWA offices worldwide put up their hands and said they would like to find out what they can do in the digital space. Since then Vineet (Bajpai, CEO, MagnonTBWA) or his team has been spending time at the international offices of TBWA. Now Magnon is responsible for all the digital activation work in the Middle East apart from working with international counterparts in New York, Los Angeles, etc. Magnon has become a real international resource that we can utilise worldwide, which I think happened quicker than we had anticipated.
A year back you had said that TBWA was looking at consolidating three core areas creative, retail and digital. Now that you have all three units working, is there any area that you think that you should look at
Yes, all three are in place now and are growing. Interestingly and importantly, all the three units are not only growing individually they have started to do well as integrated units too. For example, we have Standard Chartered Bank which is a TBWA client as well as Magnon client. Also, there are clients which work with Integer as well as TBWA and Magnon. Now it is a question of making sure that we ramp up the activity in all these companies.
The only area left is setting up of an events marketing firm to complete the circle. We launched our extremely successful Paris based events company Auditoire in China last year and the division has performed well in the Chinese market. There is a chance that we may launch the events unit in India too.
So now that everything is in place for TBWA in India, what is the way forward
We have got great leadership, be it digital with Vineet or TBWA with Shiv (Sethuraman, chief executive officer, TBWA India). We think that what we need to do is more of the same but we need to do it faster. So we have a very aggressive new business strategy in place. We are talking to major multinationals who don't necessarily work with us in other countries. The good thing about India is that people are open to discussions because they want to be with the best agencies.