Most recently, I am coming across vivid accounts, especially from whistleblowers, on the depressing levels of corruption in agencies, global and local. To this I must say from first-hand evidence that this culture of 'unfair take' is going on for decades and is truthfully instigated by greedy clients.
The second agency I was employed by, rather large, had an equally mammoth client as the anchor. As per reliable hearsay, the commissions meted out by POP printers, T Shirt tailors, Event Managers and the like were formidable and institutionalised, quite like Government departments. Quite inevitably, the enterprising agency folks joined the gravy train, forging alliances with client partners to earn the extra rupee or two, a merger of tacit convenience. Even the couriers used to deceive the paymasters, by forging the weight of posters at point of despatch and travel agents were easy fodder, in those draconian FTS days. The funniest tale I have ever heard is that of a legendary senior who got his house painted by a willing patron, effectively whitewashing all traces of illicit alliances.
The legendary tales of clients in cahoots with agencies extended effortlessly to the NCR region, a zone of high ambition but dubious morals. An Asian behemoth was wiped clean of its profits by such enterprising teamwork and many a villa in the DLF climes bear testimony to the siphoning. Quite interestingly, the principals did not go legal as they believed that the damage to reputation of business was more valuable than exposing an insider racket. This was not quite the thinking of the Germans as a renowned shoe maker ensured that a colossal act of fraud was suitably admonished, with full and fair trials.
In my extended tenure in this region, I have been astonished by the capacity of well-heeled clients to shamelessly demand and get the exceptional excesses, as part of organised business rituals. Almost automatically, multiple folks in the agency network developed unholy partnerships, usurping a share of the pie on offer rather effortlessly. Where the client rarely had a stake was in film producer relationships, although there are glorious exceptions, and this is where the senior creative folks joined the bandwagon. Names are truthfully not important but it is fact well established that many mega budget production houses with gargantuan margins must share a portion of revenues to earn custom.
But this pattern of corruption extends culturally from Government jobs and we all know the legendary dowry rates of civil servants in Middle India. There was a time, until recently, when corruption was an integral part of state functioning and even today, many departments operate with this alarming legacy. So it was rather inevitable, as the corporate sector flourished, that this habit would persist and in fact, flourish. Originally folks were grossly underpaid and thus there was perhaps an economic justification but today, in spite of global compensations, such practices have not ceased. At times folks do get caught but only when somebody in the ecosystem becomes a snitch, instigated by a failure in maintaining the code of thieves. Or perhaps, the code of silence, 'Omerta' as made famous by the Sicilian Mafia, familiar to all who have seen Godfather.
So truthfully I find it rather hilarious when the odd whistleblower lands up with seemingly remarkable revelations which are indeed the norm of doing fruitful business. While I love their intent and wish that their tribe does flourish, for herein lies the secret to a cleaner and more ethical way of doing work, preferred certainly by millennials and their successors. Which incidentally is yet another crucial point as we are bringing up a way more ethical and affluent generation who find it simply uncool to perform such petty transgressions, especially since their basics are covered. Please do remember that the origin of corruption was usually sustenance and not greed, as the latter follows much later in the value chain.
But quickly reverting to the original point that I wish to stand by, that clients have historically and relentlessly corrupted agencies. I know a priceless tribe of family entrepreneurs who demanded a cut from agency retainerships, as pocket money evading the gaze of fellow family directors. Equally, a set of much educated folks who would dearly consider the third party to be the unquestioning paying party, presiding over every rate negotiation. Truthfully many more cannibals would be under the regulatory scanner, had it not been for Opportunity Cost, the perceived damage to reputation as an outcome of devious revelations. Agencies were always poor paymasters in comparison and the motivation for enterprising managers to replicate the dubiously rewarding practices of revered clients was a temptation largely irresistible.
To sum, I must offer my heartiest salaam to many seniors who passionately resisted such dubious practices and yet built remarkable careers. While feeling a tinge of sympathy for those who succumbed to the juicy trap, clients with easy morals becoming an unholy benchmark. Corruption is unhappily an institutionalised corporate culture in India much before it is a personal value and therein lies the real tragedy.
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