The industry knows him as a good leader and that proves well in his action. Ever since he joined Contract, he managed to keep the team together and brought in new talent. Barua believes awards are important and having a right-sized structure in an agency can solve the problem of talent retention
Akansha Mihir Mota | Mumbai | January 23, 2017
Rana Barua, CEO, Contract Advertising, took charge of the agency in February 2013. Along with his new designation at Contract, he brought in new clients and awards too. The agency’s latest wins include Sansui, Aviva Life Insurance, YU Televentures, Bluestone.com, AirAsia India and Fortune India magazine. Contract’s biggest wins Docomo and mygov.in happened in his tenure.
His first job was at JWT as a trainee in 1993. Until 2006, he worked across agencies such as Ogilvy & Mather, Rediffusion Y&R, McCann and Bates. In 2006, Barua moved to the other part of media and joined Radio City as EVP, programming and marketing. Later he moved to Red FM as COO. In 2012, he moved back to advertising as the COO at Law & Kenneth.
Barua calls himself a job lister and wants everything in place, be it home or office. A very straight forward person, he says, ‘There is no grey in me.’ The way he is at home, he is at office. To stay true to oneself is of utmost importance for him.
In a free-wheeling interview, Barua talks about the plans for the agency, its journey so far and his views on advertising with BestMediaInfo.com in the interview
Earlier, Contract used to be considered a niche and high-end agency? Now it appears to be a more broad-based kind of agency. Was this a conscious strategy by you to transform Contract?
Contract Advertising is now a full-service integrated and independent communication agency under the J Walter Thompson South Asia umbrella. I agree that from being a ‘certain type’ of an agency perception we have become truly a broad based one which handles some of the most esteemed and leading brands of the country. The only conscious strategy was to build all verticals independently -- Contract, iContract (digital), Designsutra (design) and Core (Marketing and Brand Consulting). That has helped immensely as now we have conversations from launching a brand to maintaining a website, from consulting on product innovations to designing new stores.
After you joined Contract, your first task was to stabilise the agency and then grow the business. The agency witnessed a few exits of people and clients back then. How well positioned is the agency today? How has business grown until now?
The agency was stable but got stuck in terms of growth. The needle had to be moved and gears changed. We had to invest on growth aggressively to stay ahead of the curve. My focus was to pick up newer clients, attract a lot more talent across the industry and maintain the existing client relationships. Build digital, design. All rapidly.
There were a handful who moved out to pursue different aspirations, while many joined in this mission to turn around Contract. Ashish Chakravarty, Chief Creative Officer, came on board and along with Chief Strategy Officer: Rohit Srivastava, who has completed 27 years with us; we set the ball rolling. We were pretty much well prepared in getting the right people and growing new clients. 2013 was more like a consolidation year. In 2014, we were very aggressive in winning clients and it was a great year for us in terms of business. 2015 was sustenance, build new relationships and keep the needle moving. 2016 has been a mixed year. But still, growth has been steady enough for everybody to stay focused.
When you took charge, Contract Delhi was seen as going down. Has the turnaround happened and how did you do it?
Yes, in 2013 when I came on board the Delhi office was in a mess. Today it’s my largest office and I spend half my time there. One reason that initially helped was Ashish (CCO) being based in Delhi. It impacted positively for us and became a huge differentiator versus other agencies. Ashish attracted both talent and clients and got some of the finest people together, which has delivered results. We won many new clients, retained all the existing relationships, picked up awards and I believe all this helped in the turnaround of the Delhi office.
How often do you go for pitching? How do you decide on which pitch to go and which one to leave? Is there set norm for that?
We are pretty aggressive in pitching and we pitch to win most times as we hate losing. What we are also trying to do is to pitch for a lot of quality business and right-sized revenue clients, consulting projects, design mandates, events and exhibitions, digital and integrated options. Off late, while we have been doing some proactive pitches, the norm is more of an invite basis. As there are plenty pitches on as we speak, we do have our internal parameters, ways in place to evaluate a business before proposing for it. The idea is always to explore pitches that help us grow, pushes us to the edge to do things differently and also is a lot more exciting.
What would be some of the focus areas for you?
We are at a point of inflection right now. I think we need to leap frog. We want to grow exponentially across verticals. To do that we need to move faster, win more businesses, win many more awards, create some stellar work and keep the team together. There are certain things that we are doing right and doing very well. Need to focus on that and do that better. Also, I see a much bigger focus on integration within the group companies because there lies a huge untapped opportunity of multiple levels of organic growth. We have to behave and act like a marketing company and ensure we provide solutions across all streams to our clients. And the opportunity and potential is unlimited.
What would you call the turning point of the agency?
I think the coming together of so many new people, working towards one goal of growth and single-mindedly winning many new clients in late 2013 and early 2014 was our turning point because it completely infused the right amount of energy and confidence among all the people internally. The wins brought a lot of fame in the industry, attracted some great talent, the work stood out. Contract was back in the news when it mattered and it dispelled any doubts of capability and potential.
How is variable model working for you?
It has worked well for a lot of our clients as they understand why as partners we deserve to earn more if they succeed. I firmly believe that there should be a strong variable earning for the agency at the end of the year. When we earn an incentive or bonus on the overall performance of the clients results then we are true partners. We have introduced it to many clients. They have been open to the idea. It allows you to strengthen the relationship than just earning the monthly fee.
Is talent retention an issue?
Talent retention is now a universal phenomenon across the industry and all firms. As a group we have many engagement programmes that ensure people across the board are being spoken with, being engaged, stay motivated, etc. This has allowed us to retain maximum talent and keep the attrition level down. One way of looking at it is something which is interesting -- get the right-sized bunch of people with relevant expertise working in an agency. If you can get the right size, you pay better. If you pay better, you get better talent. And that talent stays in an environment where he/she feels empowered.
How is your digital vertical iContract fairing?
iContract is doing fabulously well as it was one of my key focus and we built a great company with superb talent. We have done some great work, partnered super clients, and have a lot of energy, enthusiasm and talent within. It’s truly been a revelation for me to understand how dynamic the world of digital truly is. The potential is still untapped. The plans are far more ambitious for iContract and the growth curve expected is high and possible.
People call you a very good leader. Assess yourself.
Thank you for the compliment, heartening to hear that. It will be difficult to assess myself. I have just taken one promise that as a leader I will be honest, transparent and be myself. No grey, either black or white. Being oneself gives me that extra bit to be a very spontaneous and an open leader. What I believe firmly is that what you are in your personal life is what you are in your professional life. As a person I believe one should be empowered, independent and be accountable for every decision. We can’t blame others. I have created an environment where the people and teams work without worries or ghosts. We are all in it together – either we succeed or we sink together. And as a leader I must guide and support each decision and call.
How is Contract doing on the awards front?
We have been very successful in the awards scenario. 2015 and 2016 brought us a lot of laurels. For example, Goafest (top 3), Gunn report ranking, Cannes, Kyoorius D&Ad, Primetime awards, Effies – we have been selective and yet winning across all of them. We need to maximise our wins because the record has been good. There is a serious effort to ensure that we enter selectively and win maximum. Awards are important. I think awards are a must as that acts as the testimony to your good work in the industry, introducing and reassuring our capabilities /dynamics to the prospective clients. Our business is about the final piece of work you put on any medium.