He is the man of the moment, having scripted the turnaround of Rediffusion Y&R. The agency did well at Cannes Lions this year. BestMediaInfo caught up with Dhunji S Wadia, President, Rediffusion Y&R and Everest Brand Solutions, to find out how he pulled all this off and a lot more
Akansha Mihir Mota and Archit Ambekar | Mumbai | July 18, 2016
Two Cannes Lions, 11 new clients in 2016, growing better than last year and spearheading two ships at the same time. Dhunji S Wadia, President of two leading advertising agencies, is the man of the moment. He says that if not in advertising, he would have been playing the guitar in restaurants or lounges. But this ad veteran has spent a quarter century in advertising and has been heading two agencies since December 2014. And he still plays the guitar in his spare time at home.
BestMediaInfo caught up with Wadia, President, Rediffusion Y&R and Everest Brand Solutions, to find out how he scripted the impressive turnaround of Rediffusion Y&R, the rumours, his views on the advertising industry, and a lot more. Excerpts:
Two Cannes Lions, five Cannes shortlists. How do you rate this performance in terms of the agency’s immediate future?
From an industry perspective, the metal count that India won is double from last year, and that is heartening. We have won in newer categories like healthcare. But of course as an industry we can do better. I would like to see India winning in cyber Lions and that is where most of the cutting edge work is happening today. We are particularly pleased with Rediffusion Y&R picking up two Lions for work on the Tata Motors campaign, ‘use dipper at night.’ Besides that, our work for Amway and Moods was also shortlisted.
Did you expect such a response when the team began work on the Tata Motors’ campaign?
The work was never created for winning an award. There has been a series of projects that we’ve worked on for Tata Motors. As leaders, Tata Motors wanted to find out newer ways to communicate with truckers and the community. There are many projects and one of them was dipper. So you start off with wanting to do something which can make a difference to their lives and having done it; we are proud to have won the Cannes awards. But the work was not created with that perspective.
Post 2010 when you joined the Rediffusion Group as President of sister agency Everest, things did not look good at Rediffusion Y&R. The agency had lost two big clients – Airtel and Colgate. A few seniors left the agency in quick succession – N Padmakumar, D Rajappa, Amitava Sinha, Komal Bedi Sohal. Sam Ahmed was para-dropped from Y&R Dubai but he left even before he could unpack his bags! You stepped in as Captain of an unsteady ship in December 2014. What went through your mind when you took up the assignment?
I’ve always believed that the work will get us there. If you concentrate on the work (creative work) everything else will fall in place. Throughout my career I’ve believed that what is most important is only work. The creative output excites me and once that is in place, everything else falls in place automatically. I have also ensured that the agencies infused new blood across offices, across functions and designations. We have a new leadership team in place. And all of us are sharing the passion of constantly bettering out work. Our agency credo is to resist the usual and that’s what we are trying our best to do.
I spent the first five years with Everest. It is the second most experienced agency in the country and we wanted to carry the good word forward. And it’s a matter of pride that this year will be the finest year ever in the history of Everest.
Coming to Rediffusion, obviously you want to make sure if you have put the components in one place and then get the mechanisms to take it forward. I think today we have a robust system in place. So, new businesses account for 20 per cent, almost one fifth of the agency. We added half an agency in terms of bottom line.
Tell us how you rebuilt the team at Rediffusion?
The biggest rule is to have no rule. You need to get people with matching wave lengths and that is important. The first thing was to make sure that heads of offices had enough experience and expertise. So we got in Uttio Majumdar to head operations in Mumbai, Suman Verma to head our operations in Delhi and we got Suparna Mucadam to head our operations in Kolkata. All of them have a great amount of experience and that is what helps with what they bring to the table. We also have a new Chief of Strategy, Navonil Chatterjee. He would be rated as one of the top 10 planners in Asia Pacific. That’s good credentials to have. We’ve worked together and we understand our style of working and of course Rahul Jauhari continues to be my creative partner. And we’ve done pretty well together.
Business-wise, has the agency been able to overcome the loss of Airtel and Colgate?
Rediffusion Y&R is proud to have handled the Airtel brand from inception. Right from designing the logo and creating the signature tune, we’ve done various campaigns for them. We grew with the brand. We left Airtel as India’s largest telecom brand and we take pride in that. There is a similar and more emotional story with Colgate and Rediffusion Y&R.
We passed the financial loss years ago; it’s the emotional loss that we have learnt to live with. We are seeking new business growth and are able to reach a point, and I am sure going forward it will be more fulfilling.
What is next goal for Rediffusion Y&R?
We are all working hard to make it very bright. Rediffusion has been built on the confluence of strategic input and creative output and that is the backbone on which we would want to continue working going forward. We have got the right people in the right places, trying to establish a culture of creative excellence. So the only good news is on client acquisition, creative work, awards and most importantly our reputation as an agency. We hope to write a buzzing chapter in the history of Rediffusion.
In January 2016, you joined hands with The Social Street. How has the venture benefited?
We hope to be the third or fourth largest media house in the country by next year and we just got from strength to strength. Along with the association, we have increased our go to market offer. We have not only traditional media but a whole host of others like social media and out-of-home. Together we are a formidable force.
Around last year, there were reports that WPP’s Y&R took a large stake in Rediffusion. Has there been any development on that front?
Y&R and Rediffusion have a relation from 1984. As of now there is no news on that front.
There has been periodic speculation in the market that Arun Nanda, who has had a long and glorious run in the industry, would like to sell out and get out. Any truth in that? There can be no smoke without fire, as they say.
We have a 30-plus year relation with Y&R and if and when there is any news then we’ll let you know.
Now that you are wearing two ‘Presidential’ hats – Rediffusion and Everest – how do you handle the focus issue and also the loyalty issue? It’s like having two wives.
It will be more like two children or like offspring. The health of each is equally important. Their growth, imagery and performance are equally important for me. There’s no question of playing favourites. Each gives a unique brand of work. So, if you were to give the same brief to both the agencies, you’ll find a different set of recommendations coming.
It is a roller coaster ride and I am happy to be the captain of it. It is challenging and I enjoy it thoroughly.
When it comes to pitches, how do you decide which of your two agencies will go for the pitch?
There are clients’ requirements and that will determine this. If I had it my way then both the agencies will go for it. On more than one occasion both the agencies have participated and there have been wins and setbacks.
Given that you are a veteran of 25 plus years in advertising, 18 of them with JWT, what has been the most difficult challenge that you faced in your career and how did you overcome it?
Building teams has been something I have put maximum importance in my life. I don’t write the campaign or do the strategy; it’s always the team that puts together things. I am happy to be the captain of the team. The most challenging for me has been to create the most conducive environment for good work. At every stage the job profile and challenges keep changing and the business itself is evolving and we hope to keep up with that.
Just last week BestMediaInfo raked up the issue of pitch fee – and the article was hugely read and commented upon. What is your view on pitch fee? Can that ever come about?
Pitch fee is something that the industry has been talking about but there has been no breakthrough. Significant amount of resources and time go for these pitches and we end up with no decision at all. In other words, if there is no output, there has to be some way of compensating the agencies. The most challenging part is to get all agencies together. I hope someday that happens and we have a common ground of addressing.
You have seen and breathed advertising for a quarter century. What are the main changes that you have seen?
I think it’s becoming less philosophical and more practical, or less poetic and more realistic. The entire process of communication used to be a carpet bombing, while today the consumer is talking among themselves and you have to be a part of that conversation. Content and context is important. You’ve to make sure that your brands are being spoken about.
Do you think the single-agency format – Creative and Media – can ever come back?
I think it helps in putting together the entire basket of offering. That’s what we’re doing here in Rediffusion. If it is worthwhile and beneficial, then I’m sure it’ll work towards coming back together.
Who is the one person in advertising you have always idolised?
It is difficult to name one, there are quite a few. Three have already reached Angel status. Shashi Dethe with whom I started by career, Anil Bhatia who was the head of JWT in Mumbai, and Sudhir Devkar who was the Chief Creative Officer at JWT. These three people had an important role in shaping my career. Add to that Sattar Khan and Arun Nanda. Even today when I call Arun Nanda for a query, he always has an answer.
You are very active on social media. Is it something personal or does that help you professionally?
It’s a personal thing. I like to build a community where there is cheer and information is shared. It’s very difficult to draw a line. Since I am a part of the industry, some of the tweets and updates will be about the good work done.
Name the most memorable campaign you have ever been part of?
Although I haven’t written any campaign, I have captained teams to glory. I would have a role to play in the history of Indian advertising.
Some campaigns through the years include Clinic Plus – Chhalke Dumke Dumke; VIP Luggage – Kal Bhi, Aaj Bhi, Kal Bhi….; Kingfisher – The King of Good Times – Ooh Laa, Laa; The Nike 'Gutsy Cricket’ campaign – where ordinary cricket-loving fans play on top of vehicles in a traffic jam – this launched Nike in India with their Point of View on Cricket; Levi’s Low rise Jeans – Dangerously Low; DeBeers – A Diamond is Forever; Parle-G – Wohi Pehle Waali Baat; Monaco – India’s first, specially created five second campaign; Times of India – Lead India and Teach India; Birla SunLife – Yuvraj Singh/ Sehwag – Jab Tak Balla Chalta Hai, Thhaat Hai. Verna….; Sab TV – Asli Mazaa Sab Ke Saath Aata Hai; Resurgent Rajasthan – Rajasthan Hai Taiyar; Make in India Maharashtra – Invest in Magnetic Maharashtra and Tata Motors – use dipper at night campaign.
Is digital killing the art of copywriting?
Actually it’s a process of evolution. This is what we are moving towards and at any point of time and at any change, there might always be resistance. So, there are things like reducing attention spans, the limit of 140 characters. Whatever can get the message across, I think that is important than the medium.
You have introduced the 'Wallpaper', a digital newsletter. Tell us why.
There is so much that has happened in Rediffusion in the last year and half and I felt there should be some way of putting it across and telling our friends, well-wishers, clients and the media. So, we felt that is one way of sharing all things that are happening.
What’s your typical day like? How do you balance work and home?
I’ve never had a problem in balancing my work and home. I never carry my work home. But there is a lot of anticipation and preparation that I do before coming to work. By the time I reach my office I already know what I am going to be addressing. Apart from new things that come up, I try and accomplish all the things that are there.
Besides being a movie buff, what else preoccupies you outside of office?
Movies, music and theatre; all these three have been my passion. I don’t sing but I play the guitar. So thank God to advertising, otherwise I would have been playing the guitar in one of the restaurants or lounges. Maybe someday after retirement, I would choose to pursue it.