How Joseph George’s Tilt has built a portfolio of about 18 clients over the last 15 months

The agency claims to have dropped client servicing unit

We don’t have account management and client servicing departments because we believe that specialists themselves should be dealing with clients
We don’t have account management and client servicing departments because we believe that specialists themselves should be dealing with clients

Tilt Brand Solutions in its one year of operations has tried to do things unconventionally. The agency does not have a client-facing account management team and, instead, has specialists dealing directly with clients. Joseph George talks to Venkata Susmita Biswas about the challenges of being a start-up agency, preferring multiple projects to retainers, and more.

It has been a little over a year since the launch of Tilt. What have been the significant highs, lows and learnings for you?

Thankfully, there have been no lows. We have worked with a wide variety of mandates that has helped the team earn diverse experiences. From traditional FMCG companies like HUL and Reckitt Benckiser, to new-age companies like Dream 11 and Swiggy, we have built a healthy portfolio of about 18 clients over the last 15 months. Planning for longer than one year in a start-up is suicidal, because things will keep changing. One will need to keep revisiting and questioning decisions made along the way.

We attempted four pivots: two on product and two on ways of working. We plan very differently from other agencies; our planning philosophy is driven by what we call ‘full-brained’ thinking, which combines cultural, sociological and ethnographic insights with data-led behavioural analytics. On the creative side, we work on the ‘one brand, many stories’ philosophy.

Why have you dropped the client servicing department at your agency?

We don’t have account management and client servicing departments because we believe that specialists themselves should be dealing with clients. They are the ones responsible for the product, process, partnership and business. We do have a project management team, but they’re not client facing. They are responsible for managing the deliveries in terms of execution. The only client-facing people at Tilt are either strategic planners or creative people.

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When specialists directly deal with clients, it gives clients a sense of how much value is added in every meeting. This is why we are a premium-priced organisation. I wanted to implement a few changes in the way creative agencies are structured and the services they offer.

How many of your clients are on retainer?

We have three types of engagements: one-off projects, multiple projects and retainers. Typically, the one-off projects convert to multiple projects. About half of our clients are on retainer. We do not always encourage people to go from multiple projects to retainer, since retainer engagement comes with its own issues. We are certainly pursuing single one-off project clients to sign up for multiple projects.

Is that also because being a small agency, it is difficult to take on large projects?

True, and I have been very clear that this is only going to be a Mumbai-centric organisation. All of us travel to Delhi and Bengaluru for work. We have no intention to become a large agency at this point. We want to structure ourselves like a consultancy, which means we will have few people who are specialists in their areas of work. We are a 23-people team right now; this should become 30 by the end of March, 2020.

If a large mandate comes our way, we may not have the talent pool to deploy overnight. Right now, I’m desperate to get about five-six people on board.

Aren’t clients averse to taking risks and working with start-ups?

Clients take solace in working with large, established agencies. Why will they risk working with start-ups? It is challenging to land that first project; which is why converting a single project into multiple projects is easy. We can use our past network to earn only a limited amount of work. To get new clients for a new agency is the tough part.

The challenge is also that of not coming across as another network agency. There has to be a difference in the quality of output, speed of response and quality of engagement. Because every engagement, every conversation and every meeting with a client is a reiteration of why that person chose to work with us.

To pitch or not to pitch, what’s your take?
We are willing to pitch, but there are two caveats. One is that every client has to sign a NDUA — non-disclosure and usability agreement. What we present at the pitch stays in that room. Second, we have to agree on the remuneration before the pitch.

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First published on: 13-12-2019 at 07:40 IST