KV Sridhar (aka Pops) has many feathers in his cap. Maybe that is why when he decided to quit mainstream ad agencies after giving decades to them, in order to launch his own venture, he had the support of the whole industry. Hyper Collective, active for 14 months now, has managed to add quite a few clients and partners to its kitty. Pops, over a freewheeling conversation with BrandWagon’s Meghna Sharma, shares that what he runs is a unique cross-disciplinary platform for leading independent companies specialising in strategy, communication, content, design, technology and data to collaborate and solve problems for brands. Edited excerpts:
It has been a while since you launched Hyper Collective. How has the concept worked so far?
Right from the day I dreamt of launching my own agency, I got immense support from industry folks. I used to wake up at 4am in the mornings to do my research as I was still with Sapient and it wouldn’t have been fair to devote time on Sapient’s clock to my venture. I spoke to many advertising veterans, marketing veterans and even start-up owners, who told me the need of the hour was collaboration and that if I do not do it now, no one else would. There was too much excitement in whomever I approached and it is from this excitement that I got the name ‘Hyper’. We have not modelled ourselves as a advertising agency but as a consultancy which is built on agility.
While launching Hyper Collective, what was your aim? Have you been able to achieve it?
I had nothing to lose — career, reputation or money — when I thought of launching it. Advertising today is full of empty words; your work should speak for itself, not the press releases you send out. We got our first client on the day we got our registration done. Nestlé’s management team was in Mumbai and they met me asking about the plans we had discussed when I was in a bigger agency. Of course, in a big agency it takes time to reach the end result. However, we launched Nestlé Live (the in-house digital content studio for Nestlé in partnership with Ping Network) in just a couple of days. So, I can say that yes, we entered the industry with an aim of helping brands with strategy, creativity, technology, data, etc and we have been able to do so for many of them in various capacities. We never pitch, work has come to us.
Was it difficult finding talent?
The industry calls me Pops for a reason! Like a father, I attract and groom talent. In my whole career, I have never faced any issue with finding or retaining talent. From Aggi (Agnello Dias), Nitesh (Tiwari), Juhi (Chaturvedi) to name a few, I have had gems coming to me. I was even about to hire R Balki before he shifted to Mumbai from Bengaluru. So you can see, God has been kind to me when it comes to talent. Ditto for industry folk, whom I just have to give a call asking for the right talent and they would come up with a list of suggestions. Today’s generation wants to work hard and party hard too, so Hyper Collective gives them enough flexibility to do so. When I joined Leo Burnett, I was living and breathing the dream of Leo Burnett. Today’s generation has its own dreams.
Have more agencies joined you?
Hyper Collective had 21 partners when we announced the launch last year. Today, we are close to 35 with 20 affiliates as well as 40 consultants who are board members of global companies. We have various layers, all working together to help each other and our 17 clients. We have a very transparent culture and we hand down the revenues to each partner involved in a particular assignment.
Are you happy with the way things are going, RoI-wise?
Yes. I will not be shy about it. We charge because we need that capital. It has been 14 months since we started operations and I can say we are bigger than some of the so-called digital agencies in the country.
But if you compare us to consultancies here, we are too small. We do not compare ourselves to them as our model is different; but when it comes to revenues, we have been profitable. I believe in sharing that with the people who have trusted me and joined me.
How do you see the creative agency landscape changing in the country?
Like I mentioned, advertising is full of empty words today as there is no agility in them to change with the fast-paced world. Also, there is a huge gap between creative and technology, which is one of the biggest challenges today. Some marketers — I would say 30% of them — have learnt the lesson that if they don’t change, they won’t be able to survive, forget about fighting. Therefore, today, a marketing head also needs to be a technology head. Advertising agencies are still cashing awards rather than upgrading themselves. Many talk about using technology but in reality all they do is launch a digital film, post on Facebook, etc. One needs to utilise technology to help a brand. For instance, if a brand needs to improve its in-store experience, one has to use sensors, use data to achieve that but many creative agencies will dismiss it as BTL.
Do you feel there is enough talent today to match veterans like yourself and Piyush Pandey?
I think today’s generation is more talented. In my time, we used to launch one ad in a year for a brand — it took us months to get the feedback on the work and then make changes to it before launching another campaign. Whereas today, one has to launch a campaign per quarter; so they gather much more knowledge at faster pace. However, the sad part is, who is validating that knowledge gained? Clients (read, marketing heads) are changing jobs so often that they are unable to study the consumer. I remember the time when Kwality Walls was being launched in India… I had met David Jones who had spent years of his career in Unilever London only understanding the ice cream market! He taught us how ice cream ads were shot. Knowledge gained and disseminated is very important.