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NCD versus CCO: What’s in a designation? speaks to a few industry stalwarts to find out if there is any difference between the NCD and CCO designations or it is just pure nomenclature

For about a year, there has been a major shuffling of designations between national creative director (NCD) and chief creative officer (CCO) at various creative agencies. Can these designations be used interchangeably? Or are they mutually exclusive of each other? BestMediaInfo tries to find out.

When you try to dig in deeper, it just figures out as if CCO is only a re-designation for the NCD role. What was earlier NCD is now CCO, so it’s more of a re-designation rather than a genuine creation of new space, some understand.

Some say that there can only be one NCD, while others point out that there can only be one CCO. Ultimately it boils down to the responsibilities that either the NCD or the CCO of an agency carry, depending on the size of the agency, its amount of work and clients.

For example, not very long ago, R Balki was the NCD of Lowe Lintas (which is now merged into MullenLowe Lintas group and has two subsidiaries Mullen Lintas and Lowe Lintas). Amer Jaleel, Group Chief Creative Officer and Chairman, MullenLowe Lintas Group, said, “It was different with Balki -- he was able to handle it. When Balki was there, there were only one or two TVCs that we had to think of, for each brand, in a year.”

For Bajaj Avenger, one of the brands of Mullen Lintas, the agency must have done 15-20 videos and brand commercials, besides other activities. But in Mullen Lintas, the creative person, who is the head of that brand, has to look at each and everything that passes under that person.

Amer Jaleel

“And that requires tremendous involvement. So we can’t have the national role anymore because our creative people, as high as they go, have to be involved in the smallest thing that the brand is doing. So for us, we have scrapped the national role of NCD,” shared Jaleel.

On the other hand, for the Publicis Groupe, the role of the NCD hasn’t been scrapped. The group has two NCDs in L&K Saatchi & Saatchi (Karthik Smetacek for Delhi and Kolkata, and Rohit Malkani for Mumbai) and three NCDs in Leo Burnett (Prajato Guha Thakurta, Sachin Kamble and Vikram Pandey). Additionally, Leo Burnett has Rajdeepak Das as CCO, who is Managing Director and CCO, South Asia. Ajay Gahlaut is CCO and Managing Director, Publicis Worldwide India.

Saurabh Varma

“It’s not that there are no NCD roles. Some companies have taken a call; they have been elevating their CDs (creative directors) or NCDs to CCOs. Ideally there should be only one CCO, but some agencies have multiple people as CCOs and they might have done it in line with their size to manage the complexity of their operations,” said Saurabh Varma, CEO, Publicis Communications, South Asia.

Ogilvy, too, doesn’t follow the NCD nomenclature. They find the designation of CCO more suitable. There the CCO, National (South and South East Asia) and Vice-Chairman India is Sonal Dabral. Then there is CCO South, Mahesh Gharat, and there will be a replacement for Azazul Haque. There are CCOs West -- Harshad Rajadhyaksha, Kainaz Karmakar and Sukesh Nayak. And there is also CCO, North, who is Ritu Sharda, who has recently been brought on board.

Kapil Arora

Kapil Arora, President, North, Ogilvy said, “Your role (and designation) should be determined by your sphere of influence. In agencies like ours, the amount, quality and type of work done by our CCOs is perhaps larger than many counterparts with national roles in smaller-sized agencies. In such a scenario, a designation befitting their responsibilities makes sense, which is why we prefer the CCO nomenclature.”

Traditionally, there would have been an NCD below the CCO. In some agencies, the NCD used to be at the top level of the hierarchy, but in some it wasn’t that way. In some agencies it used to be that way, that if a person is an NCD for five years, then after five years he/she is still an NCD because he/she has already reached the top -- then what other new designation to give the person?

Then that’s when he/she was given the designation of a CCO. Then there wasn’t any other NCD appointed at that time. In many agencies, there was a change in the designation, but the role was the same. And in many agencies, there were NCDs and they got somebody above them as CCOs.

Some understand that it’s a designation game. To retain talent, either the agencies give big money or they give a big designation, or maybe a combination of both. Previously, there was only one NCD in an agency, then they went down to regions, and the same thing is being repeated for CCOs. Basically, it’s the same problem but with another designation.

It’s like, the higher you go, the further you are away from the top. The apex, the top, keeps shifting.

Is the role of the NCD larger or the CCO larger? In some agencies, the NCD is at the top, and somewhere the CCO is at the top. Arora replied, “It’s how you define it, I guess. Different agencies will have different perspectives. For me, personally, more than a designation, it is your work and sphere of influence that matter. In any case, when someone says NCD, East, what does that even mean? CCO is a more accurate nomenclature.”

Jaleel pointed out, “It’s clear in my head now, CCO is the highest designation possible, but still not a national designation. Under CCO, I have created the designation, Regional Creative Officer. Regional creative officers are the ones who are going to go the specific regions and brands too. I would even call a brand and a set of brands, a region. The regional creative officers report to the CCOs, this makes more sense. It’s the way the industry is working out, and also there is no lie in it. It’s the true designation of what it should be.”

So there are two CCOs of Mullen Lintas and two CCOs of Lowe Lintas. Apparently, the size of the business of the Mullen offering is small, and not as much as it was. But Jaleel still believes that going forward, as the agency sort of sizes up, they are going to need the two CCOs, to go to different regions and resolve different problems. So that’s why he has still kept the two CCO format.

For Mullen Lintas, there is Garima Khandelwal, who is already part of their team and Azazul Haque, who would be joining them soon. For Lowe Lintas, they hired Prateek Bhardwaj a while back, and they already had Sagar Kapoor.

If an agency has got to have one CCO, isn’t an agency supposed to have one NCD? “You can have multiple NCDs, an NCD works nationally and is not restricted to one single geography. It doesn’t necessarily mean there has to be one. But CCO is a ‘C’ title, and essentially there should be one,” opined Varma.

“He/she would be part of the ‘C’ suite and would not only lead the organisation but also defines the culture of the organisation. Multiple people cannot define the culture of the organisation, so having multiple CCOs is not really a good idea. But obviously, people have done that because they have complexity to deal with at their end or maybe they have a size where they can afford multiple CCOs. But ultimately it’s the agency’s call,” he added.

So far, at Publicis Worldwide India, Gahlaut hasn’t appointed any NCD. “It’s his (Gahlaut’s) call. But for us, an NCD’s mandate would be to play a role beyond a geography,” clarified Varma.

For a more clear understanding of the NCD-CCO situation, let's take a look further at how all this is figured out. Senthil Kumar is CCO, Wunderman Thompson India. Tista Sen is Regional Creative Director for the agency's Indian and Sri Lankan operations. Priya Shivakumar is National Creative Director of the agency and drives the creative output across the agency's Bangalore, Chennai and Hyderabad offices. Sambit Mohanty too is National Creative Director at the agency and is based in Delhi.

Among the creative agencies of the Dentsu Aegis Network, Taproot Dentsu has two Co-Founders and CCOs -- Santosh Padhi (known as Paddy) and Agnello Dias (also known as Aggie). Dentsu Impact too has Soumitra Karnik as CCO and Anupama Ramaswamy as NCD. Rahul Sengupta is CCO, Dentsu India. Titus Upputuru is NCD for Dentsu One. The position for NCD and/or CCO at Happy is vacant for the time being and the company is on a look-out for suitable people for the post.

At the McCann Group, Prasoon Joshi is Chairman, APAC and CEO and CCO, McCann Worldwide Group India. Ashish Chakravarthy is Executive Director and Head of Creative of the agency's Indian operations. At Cheil Worldwide India, Emmanuel Upputuru is at the helm of creative affairs as CCO. Sandipan Bhattacharyya is CCO, Grey Group India.

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