The over three year-old agency, Enormous Brands, has moved on from ShopClues’ Ghar Wapsi days to Aagey Badho for OLX, picking up awards on the way. Ashish Khazanchi of Enormous Brands speaks with BrandWagon’s Shinmin Bali about punching above one’s weight, keeping advertising a people’s business and more. Edited excerpts:
How has the journey been so far for Enormous Brands?
Ajay (Verma) and I started off the agency three-and-a-half years back. There is a certain joy in setting up a culture which is rare. It was something agencies had, say, 10 years back. We wanted to bring that energy back of having like-minded people together and doing the kind of work that all of us would like to do. These have been the most exciting three-and-a-half years of our lives. The first six months, we were fighting to just stay afloat; the fight at that time was to keep our shirts. After that, the excitement has been of getting the right kind of people on board. It happened in tandem for us — we got certain accounts and the right people came along and joined us at the same time.
So how does Enormous define its culture?
What does the agency really passionately believe in? What are they willing to forgo to get something else? It is about the entropy in an organisation that defines its culture — really intangible, but it’s the most precious asset an agency can own, not the awards on the shelf… that is a thing of the past now. Not to say that it isn’t about the work, but it is about the culture that will propel an agency to do good work. Does this culture need one person, including me, to be there? If it does, then you haven’t really succeeded in setting up that culture. It is preposterous for an agency our size to be talking about something that big organisations do but I think we have done that in a small but significant way.
How has going to pitches changed since the agency has clocked a few miles now?
Every brand deserves good advertising and every brand can get good advertising. It is not like automotive or white goods cannot get good advertising. All clients in the country today are hungry for growth and so are we. We don’t pitch very much. We refuse about 80% to 90% of pitches that we get called for, for several reasons. Pitching too much is the best way to make sure you die an early death. You could run yourself into the ground and that would be absolutely unfair to clients that work with you.
As an agency, you are doing this on somebody else’s watch. We can’t pitch for everything that comes along and most agencies shouldn’t. This could be for various reasons — you might be very busy or your best resources might be tied up with something else. Why would you approach something half-heartedly? You will end up shortchanging the new business and also the clients you already have. We pitch very little. But our win percentages would be the highest in the industry. Whenever we do go into a pitch, it is with absolute determination; when we genuinely think that this is the client which can help the agency grow. We are not here to make money; we are here to grow.
What kind of clients does Enormous look at, then?
We are getting talked to by roughly the entire spectrum. The area where I personally feel we are missing, and it could probably just be rite of passage, are big blue chips, automotive, telecom and mobile phones. But what we are interested in are legacy brands.
Recently, some agencies have announced divisions to specially serve start-ups. Do you think it is the right approach?
I don’t think this is needed. It is absolutely counterintuitive to what may actually happen in the real world.
Lenskart and ShopClues have been two young companies working with a young agency such as yours…
We cannot talk about ourselves without talking about them; ShopClues for sure. We have seen each other grow. There was a lot of understanding and trust on both sides. We have a large chunk of Zee Media working with us…that’s hardly a start-up. A start-up working with a start-up is a redundant conversation. Any of the network-aligned clients may or may not work with us, in a consistent way. A sad loss. But we were clear from the beginning that no matter how much we wanted to work with them, they are bound because of various regulations and processes. They might do a project (with us) at best.
Are most of the agency’s clients on a retainer basis?
From the first day itself we have been skewed towards retainers. Projects keep happening in between. Even when we had just started off, we were 60:40 in favour of retainers. Now it is about 75:25.
Agencies sometimes say that it isn’t about numbers but about building the body of work…
We didn’t set Enormous to be a boutique. Take a look at what we have named the agency. We want to be big and beautiful. A decade ago, agencies like Rediffusion and Ambience had the beauty and elegance of what a boutique could have been. These agencies had shown that you could be big and beautiful strategically and it’s not something you become by doing flaky work. All of their work has been rooted in solid strategic thinking. These agencies got big strategic thinking and beautiful expressions right back in the day. That is what we want to chase. I’m not interested in running a boutique agency.
Is it a cost argument, that a younger agency will bill a client lesser than a network?
Why would it? If you think you are coming to a dollar store, then you are wrong. We have a brilliant group of seniors that work for an advertiser. Clients need to understand that the investment being made is in the people you are dealing with. In an agency our size, we have two ECDs and six senior creative directors. We are 60 handpicked people. Clients would only do well in working with independent agencies that have invested in the right kind of people.