Advertising is a creative industry but the people working in it are by and large not handled as creative people should be, said Gautam Reghunath, Co-Founder, Talented. This, as per Reghunath, was the driving force behind launching their own venture- Talented, along with PG Aditiya.
As per the Co-Founders, the new agency is all about people and talent management.
Currently, Talented has already onboarded over 20 people and around six clients. It will be offering ESOPs to early team members along with “No Follow Up” policies.
Before this, Reghunath was CEO and Aditiya was Chief Creative Officer at dentsu Webchutney.
In an interview with BestMediaInfo.com, Reghunath, Co-founder and CEO, Talented, said, “Advertising is a creative industry but we don’t manage the creative people like they’re creative people. So, a lot of what we plan to do right is about how we manage internally.”
Aditiya, Co-Founder and CCO, added, “We want to be able to provide everyone working with us with a terrific agency experience, a place where they can do their best work, where they feel like they’re doing incredible work without the fear of getting burnt out or without the insecurity of being paid less. Creative people overall deserve better choices when it comes to figuring out what they should be doing in their careers.”
What triggered both of you to launch your own setup?
Reghunath – Leaving Webchutney is like a blasphemous thought for us. We wanted to see what an independent shop looks like and how an overall agency experience could be for our clients, partners, production houses working with us. We had been talking about exiting since the middle of the last year but we wanted to do it at the right time.
Aditiya – Some of the things that we’re trying out at Talented wouldn’t have been right to try in a company that has globally 50,000 people. It’s kind of a ‘nothing to lose’ small group to prototype with first. And if we do well in Talented, we hope that it can be a good frame of reference for even larger organisations to be able to consider.
What is your USP, that other agencies don’t have? What is your area of expertise?
Reghunath – Call us anything, but at the end of the day, we’re a creative agency, a creative company very careful not to use certain kinds of words that a lot of companies use when they start. Words like disruption and transformation. We’re not that. We’re a creative company. That’s actually our USP.
In terms of services, what’s going to make us stand out is our internal policies, and what managing talent looks like. Advertising is a creative industry but we don’t manage the creative people like they’re creative people. So, a lot of what we plan to do right is about how we manage internally. That will be our mode to attract a lot of talent internally. We’re hoping that creative people still find a reason to stay in advertising, to do the work they’re proud of.
Aditiya – We assume that diagnosing the problem is what our business is all about. But actually, solving it and committing to executing it properly is. We want to be able to provide everyone working with us with a terrific agency experience, a place where they can do their best work, where they feel like they’re doing incredible work without the fear of getting burnt out or without the insecurity of being paid less. Creative people overall deserve better choices when it comes to figuring out what they should be doing in their careers.
There are so many people who are choosing to move in-house. At one point, the stereotype of the Dubai creative market was, listen guys! I know I am a creative person and I can’t expect to make a lot of money in India. So, I am going to leave for the Middle East for five years, make my fortune and come back. Those are terrible choices. We believe that there’s a way where this meeting point can happen and I don’t think that’s hard. A significant part of those who move to an in-house agency or an internal creative team of a brand, also know in their minds what they’re compromising on when they do it. And those who return from an in-house to an agency are the ones who miss the agency life too much and are willing to compromise. So, wherever you move, there’s a compromise.
Gautam and I keep telling this thing that this is not the better version of an agency job. This is the better version of an in-house job. If there’s any industry where the entire focus needs to be on people management, that’s ours.
What is it with the name, ‘Talented’?
Reghunath – Unlike any other agency, that is named after the names of the founders, we’re actually named after everyone in the company. We’re named after the talent. The name is also a source of motivation for us to live up to it. And we also hope that no client is ever going to come to an agency named ‘Talented’ and expect less than excellent work.
Aditiya – We’re copying a very good idea that we’ve seen our friends in the tech start-up world are doing, especially in terms of early-stage companies, which is having ESOPs as part of the way in which the company is structured overall. The fact that we’re not able to think of too many examples in the agency world of companies that are actually structured with ESOPs for those who are part of the founding team and those who are building it along with the founders. So, why doesn’t this idea exist? We’re an industry that keeps saying we’re about people but still we won’t find too many examples of agencies that were actually structured with ESOPs. That’s a correction we’re making at Talented. And in a few years, I think upwards of 20% of the company is going to be part of the ESOP pool. So, those who are trusting us and building this company early will be able to hopefully bear the fruits of that in wealth as much as in respect of the glory of creative work in the long term.
Generally, when people move from agencies, a lot of employees and brands also move along with them. Could something like this also happen at your end in the future?
Reghunath – Ours is a creative business and also a relationship business. Our biggest assets are people. So, it’s a natural phenomenon. Our equation with Dentsu and everybody there is still fantastic. But I guess over the months and over the years, it is natural for that to happen.
Have you onboarded any clients yet?
Reghunath – Yes, we have about half-a-dozen clients that we have started working with. We haven’t released the work officially yet and we’ll be doing so in like another 15-20 days. In Webchutney, we tended towards very technology-first clients only. Most of our clients were large trillion-dollar companies globally. The same is happening here but we’ve also got the right balance. So, we’ve got clients who are 120-years old and clients who are six months old as companies.
In the agency launch release, it is mentioned "We love the agency business. But the world certainly doesn’t need another advertising agency. What we believe it does need is a serious re-imagination of the agency experience - both for clients and for the talent in advertising." If you could throw some light on this statement.
Reghunath – Our purpose of that statement was that our focus if at all we had to start a new agency, it had to be dramatically different in how we operate. So, what we really meant by that was – there are so many wonderful agency options in India, wonderful creative talent in India but why are PG Aditya and Gautham starting afresh, it’s because we really want what working in an agency feels like to be radically different than what it feels like for a lot of people right now. And that’s where we think we can have maximum impact.
You said that you have a few radical ideas that can change the agency business. Please tell us something about those.
Aditiya – One of them is ESOPs for those who are starting out early with us. That’s probably putting our money where our mouth is in terms of this being a people’s business and therefore everyone who is with us gets the opportunity for long-term wealth creation if they’re as passionate as the owners of the company are.
We’ve also been fairly successful so far in keeping more makers, 70-80%, in our team composition and very few managers. Internally, we call it no follow-ups, as on an average one-third of a manager’s day goes into follow-ups.
And there are several terrible things that we’ve normalised. Creative people who can take ownership of their work are worth paying a premium for. And that also probably means that instead of hiring a humongous number of managers, whose 50% day goes into follow-ups, we can save so much of that JDs time and we can get fewer better account managers to truly get to realise how great a job account management was.
This obviously results in hopefully a workspace that is not normalising a 15-hours day or not normalising burning out this part of what great creative output is.
The ‘No Follow-ups’ sounds interesting but don’t you think it’s not a very practical idea to implement and it will, to some extent, affect the work?
Reghunath – It's packaged as no follow-ups to indicate the fact that’s actually not what the predominant time that any brand strategist and an account management person should be spending on. Their work is actually to think and feel for the brand, understand the category and be brand intelligent. And the unfortunate reality in our industry right now is that a significant amount of their time goes into running behind getting things done. If everybody takes the ownership of producing the work and being responsive enough as a system, a lot of efficiencies as a system as a whole, particularly with regard to time, can be saved. And the symptoms of this all are extra-long work hours, account managers waiting at the offices till midnight until the creative is done. So, that’s what the no-follow ups policy is all about.
How big is the team at the moment and what are your expansion plans?
Reghunath – We’re about 20 people right now and hiring is still happening. I want to call out to industry talent to write to us. If they’re introverts, we’ll have a corner for them. If they’re extroverts, we’ll have a stage for them.
How are you planning to engage with clients? Will you be limiting yourself to a few big accounts or will it be multiple clients at a time?
Reghunath– The funny thing about India right now is that so many companies are being born every other day. So, it’s natural that in time, we’re going to be over-indexed on newer, younger, start-ups and brands. But it doesn’t mean that we don’t want to work with older legacy brands. We hope to be working with all sorts of brands.
Aditiya – If you were a brand head and you heard that there is a creative agency where every employee is supremely good at what they do, they love their jobs and they get along with each other really well. you’d want them whether you’re a big account or a small account. This is a very attractive proposition for clients to know that you don’t have to motivate your agency people. So essentially, we’re trying to fulfil that part of the bargain really well. And we believe any marketing person worth their ambition is going to want to engage with this kind of company.
Bigger brands tend to work with bigger agencies that have most of the capabilities in-house. Being a new setup, how would you persuade brands to work with you in place of large agency setups?
Reghunath – I think the future is going to be moving with creative companies who are comfortable enough and self-assured enough to work with other experts when you’re not an expert yourself. There’s no way that one agency can have every single expert across.
Right now, we’re thinking Web3.0, NFTs and stuff like that. And you can’t suddenly hire five NFT guys. So, creative companies have to get comfortable with working with other collaborators. And our ambition is to be an excellent company to work with.
How would you go about pitching for businesses? What will be your strategy in terms of the number of pitches and charging for pitches, etc.?
Aditiya – In our last 18-24 months at WebChutney, we had the pleasure of having a lot of brands trusting us to take their business without a pitch. And at several points, we saw that it’s working really well. But creative people work efficiently when they start working with 20 ideas already in their head.
Reghunath – Pitching takes time and effort. We’re open to rewarding time and efforts for pitching. For example, if we’re inviting someone to take a copy test as a copywriter, we pay them. We’re going to pay them a test fee. The pitch fee conversation is open in the air and I think it should be actively considered for sure.