For nine months now, Santosh Padhi, popularly known as Paddy, has been busy finding the right set of people to resurrect Wieden+Kennedy in India.
“Both Ayesha (Ayesha Ghosh, MD at the agency) and I have decided to spend a lot of time hiring because it is people that make and define the organisation and not the unwanted structures and infrastructure,” said Padhi, Chief Creative Officer, Wieden+ Kennedy, in an interview with BestMediaInfo.com.
The agency in India houses over 55 people now. Although, finding the right set of people hasn’t been an easy task for him and the senior leadership at W+K.
He said, “I had earlier thought it would be easy for me as I have once done it for Taproot, but I realised it is a 13-year-old story.”
Paddy said he joined W+K because it offered him the creative freedom that he always wanted.
After forming the right team, his agenda at the agency would be to form a great agency culture and then produce world-class work.
Paddy is a strong believer in being paid for pitches and might continue to practise demanding token pitch fees at Wieden+Kennedy just the way he did at Taproot.
He commented, “I am sure that W+K India won’t be a ‘free for all’ kind of agency and asking for a pitch fee is not a ridiculous ask.”
How has your 9-months journey been building W+K in India? What have been the various ups and downs in this journey?
I have been given the mandate of (India) setting up the Mumbai office and taking care of the Delhi Office. I am so glad that Ayesha Ghosh came on board as MD and my business partner. Our aim till now has been to get the right people on board who are true to the agency culture and also know how to balance between traditional and new-age mediums along with preparing for the future.
Keeping all this in mind, our search for the right people has been aggressive and the best ones have found the place. Now we have 15 people in Mumbai and need around 15 more people in Mumbai in the coming few months which is a nice family-size agency.
In Delhi too, we have found some amazing young blood, which makes a unit of 40 people.
Both Ayesha and I have decided to spend a lot of time on hiring because it is people that make and define the organisation and not the unwanted structures and infrastructure. We’ll go slow and steady but in a correct and solid way.
Personally, I had earlier thought it would be easy for me as I have once done it for Taproot, but I realised it is a 13-year-old story. Also, post-Covid-19, narratives have changed for the brands and the industry.
Wieden+ Kennedy has a great culture globally. To be blunt and frank, we haven’t done enough in this fast-moving world in the last few years in India that will invite brands and talents.
As of now, people are purely joining because of global legacy and due to also some of the new leadership appointments at the agency. A lot of people are joining because it’s a re-start for the agency in India. We are hoping with W+K’s help globally, we’ll be able to put out some great structure followed by work.
How was the year 2022 for the agency in terms of revenue?
Globally, Wieden+Kennedy has been very realistic in terms of growth. We are not a bunch of money chasers and that’s what I loved about them, and that’s the reason I’m with this eclectic network.
Globally, the leaders believe if any agency’s revenue is growing exponentially, then there is something wrong! The agency is not being fair to its people and not investing enough in them.
Our global leaders at the agency believe that if the clients are giving money to the agency, it is the people who have worked behind their campaigns that need to be rewarded.
W+K has a great concept of spot bonuses, which is very big globally. If a brand performs well, the agency ensures to celebrate those people who have worked on that brand. These are signs of celebrating people and such people give their love and passion for the agency and hence to the brands they work for.
How different is the culture at W+K from Dentsu or even running an independent agency?
When Taproot was independent, we ran it in the way we wanted to. Even in the early days of Dentsu acquiring the agency, no one interfered with the creative freedom. And I will always be thankful to the Dentsu headquarters (Tokyo) for letting us who we are.
But later on, when we lost the shareholding and more so due to the internal alignment and structural changes, I didn’t like the way we were asked to run the agency.
But keeping the 40-odd people working at Taproot in mind, I kept compromising many things which otherwise I wouldn’t have. Due to the Covid-19 circumstances, I kept reminding myself that I need to be thinking of many other aspects of people and organisation.
I did cut myself differently for too long, but when you are not you, you cannot sustain for long and I finally felt suffocated and had to call it a day.
W+K is a strong believer in creativity and creative freedom. It’s simple math. Creative freedom articulates in brave, bold and cutting-edge work and hence the great business.
Although, this also puts a lot of creative responsibility on my shoulders. Taproot was my own agency and if something went wrong in the end, I would take it with a pinch of salt as I strongly believed in experimenting and hence one is bound to fail at some point.
But here, someone has trusted me and Ayesha to run W+K in India by giving full charge and freedom with so much wonderful support, which puts a lot of pressure on us to deliver.
As humans, we are a bit careless about our babies but very cautious and careful when someone else handovers theirs to us. In a way, it’s good as it redefines you as a person. To have a little pressure is a good combo of being logical and sensible with a mad, crazy legacy at the same time.
W+K global leadership understands India is a very different market and the potential it has in the coming years. Which is why we have two offices in India apart from the USA.
Do people look at W+K differently since you joined the agency?
W+K is globally known for doing some amazing work. It has always created new standards and benchmarks in our industry. They have always inspired me in my carrier. Even in India, the agency has done some category-best campaigns for Indigo, Nike Da Da Ding, Make In India, and Royal Enfield in the past.
Unfortunately, the last five-odd years haven’t been that great creatively. Now with people like Ayesha, Anirban Roy, Shreekant Srinivasan and me joining the agency, we managed to fix some of the new-age needs of new-age clients in a very new-age way. People are feeling a lot more confident in the system. Brands from outside are also considering the agency in their plans now and I promise we will be a lot more in creative conversation in the coming days.
How important is the India office for W+K?
India is the new narrative in the world in many sectors. W+K globally believes in culture in a big way, and that’s one of our beliefs, assets and differentiators.
W+K has nine offices. Out of nine offices, two offices are in the headquarters US, which are Portland and New York.
Besides the US, only India has two offices. This shows how important India is to them. W+K understand India is a very culturally rich and growing market. And I'm pretty sure with the right people coming on board we will surely put out some great narrative.
What targets have you set for the agency in 2023?
There are targets given by our global leadership to us in India. In year one, we have to onboard great people. In year two, create a great culture and in year three create great work.
This is such a simple, human and honest expectation. That is why we are investing a lot of time in getting the right set of people on board. We strongly believe that the other two legs are dependent on the first bucket. Only people can only create a great culture and work.
You’ve never believed in pitches. Even if you had to pitch, you’ve been paid for the same in the past. Do you get to practise the same here?
Relaunching ourselves with two offices in two different cities is exciting but we as a team need to be absolutely clear and focused in terms of what are we chasing and how soon. We are still firming our strengths. We are in the process of defining ourselves by borrowing some wonderful things that the network worships and adding some amount of Indian ingredients knowing where we stand in the market.
Currently, we are not in aggressive pitching mode. But having said that, we might stick to charging a token pitch fee.
I strongly feel if any agency understands the client's business well and makes an amazing pitch then the clients should pay for pitching. It’s not a ridiculous ask.
I also believe brands should partner with the agency seeing their past work, and understanding of brands, consumers, culture etc rather than just pitch work which was created in just 2/3 weeks' time. It’s not fair to judge an agency on the basis of the pitch work only.
But we are sure that W+K India won’t be a ‘free for all’ kind of agency.
Which are the major clients W+K handle now?
Hero Vida is one of our biggest brands. We launched their electric scooter a few months back in three cities, and the national launch is around the corner.
Along with these accounts, we also do a lot of project-based work. Two months back we launched Titan Irth bags specially designed for new-age women.
We pulled out a wonderful stunning campaign on Jindal Steel for Oman during the FIFA world cup and did some campaigns for PokerBaazi online gaming portal and Delhivery.
Our Mumbai office has won two accounts which unfortunately I can’t reveal at this point in time.
Do you miss Taproot?
It was my baby. It has taken a lot of hard work, love and passion to build it from scratch that too during the recession days (back in 2009).
A lot of wonderful things have happened in 13 years with Taproot, barring the last one-two unwanted years. It was not just an Indian brand but a global one.
We created work that was globally celebrated and still continues to be the best creative pieces of work in the category.
Taproot will always remain close to not just mine but a lot of people’s hearts. I have taken a lot of learning from there and implemented them here at W+K.