Manish Bhatt and Raghu Bhatt talk about the agency’s growth, challenges and aim in an interaction with Best Media Info
Akansha Mihir Mota | Mumbai | February 10, 2017
Manish Bhatt, Raghu Bhatt and Arunava Sengupta (Joy) started their agency, which is now known as Scarecrow Communications, with their first pitch for Religare Macquarie while still serving their notice period at Contract Advertising after the 2008 recession. Until then they had not decided their upcoming agency’s name and were looking for investors. Pitted against top agencies, the team of three won the Religare account.
Interestingly, back then, their visiting cards had addresses of various coffee shops where they used to sit and work from, until they shifted to their temporary base at Vivek Suchanti’s (Chairman and MD, Concept Communications and the investor in the agency) office and later moved on to their permanent base. Manish Bhatt, Founder and Director, Scarecrow Communications, said, “I remember the cards had one CCD Carter Road address, one address was of Barista in Santa Cruz and the third one was of a Chembur coffee shop.
Talking about their seven-year journey, Raghu Bhatt, Founder, Scarecrow Communications, said, “The journey has been a steady accumulation of clients, brands and credibility. We never forget that we started with one business and four people. Today we are 80 people with over 25 brands. You can view this journey through the lens of turnover and profitability where we have done well. The other lenses are areas not captured in a balance sheet -- like mental freedom and personal development. We have grown hugely as people, in terms of selling skills and human resource development. The third lens is holistic understanding and developing new skills in the communications field. Here again, we are doing okay.”
Forming an independent agency, a strategic decision
Both the Bhatts have been one of the Indian advertising’s longest duo partners of copy and art. They have worked for almost 20 years together. Both of them met Sengupta in Contract, where he used to head the client servicing department. Manish said, “When we moved out of Contract, we didn’t want to call ourselves a ‘creative boutique’. The advertisers would want more of that. It is more of a combination of left and right brain and that is why we roped in Joy and started off.”
The fourth person is the agency’s investment and business partner, Vivek Suchanti of Concept Communications. Manish added, “We brought in Vivek because as he has a strong business experience and good financial background. We started off just after the 2008 recession and wanted a financial backing and needed that back-up.”
The team of four started the agency with Manish Bhatt as the art expert, Raghu Bhatt as the copy expert, Sengupta brought with himself client servicing experience, while Suchanti gave them the financial backing.
A lot of bigger networks wanted to start their second agencies and approached the three for the same. Later on they decided not to associate themselves with bigger networks. Bhatt said, “We decided to start something of our own because we had a fair amount of idea on how an ad agency functions. If we would have partnered with some other big group then we would have to subscribe to another agency’s philosophy. We wanted to start with our own thinking and philosophy and how the agency should be. Also we didn’t want to associate ourselves with a company whose headquarters are in some other country.”
Starting something of their own was not a leap of faith, but a well-researched decision. Manish said, “Raghu and I have been a good pair until now and we understand agency functioning well. To be doubly sure, we paired with Suchanti for a financial back-up and nothing could go wrong then. With everything well thought and put in place, we knew that nothing could go terribly wrong. When we started with the business, we were very careful not to overspend on wrong things. For example, not sending dozens of people to Cannes was one decision. We didn’t enter awards for the first two years. We wanted to be sure that salaries are sent out on time.”
There is a very interesting theory behind the agency name ‘Scarecrow’. Raghu explained, “We wanted a visual that stands for creativity. A scarecrow protects the crop by creating an illusion -- using hay and a pot, which is very creative. All of us hail from villages so we wanted a name that had some rural context. Most importantly, we wanted a highly disruptive image.”
Not a ‘creative boutique’ but a full-fledged agency
Manish does not believe to be called a ‘creative boutique’, but a full-fledged agency. “We would like our agency to be like the ones that Mohammad Khan help formed Contract, Rediffusion and Enterprise and Mudra that AG Krishnamurthy founded. These examples are closer to us. Even if the founders are not there, these values would be intact. Even if we are not there one day, we want the agency to continue with the core value that we have infused in it.”
“Raghu and I did not keep all the power with us and instead diluted it when we brought in Sengupta and Suchanti on board because we believed that it is people’s business. We could have retained all the power to ourselves. But to have a full-fledged company functioning, we (Raghu and Manish) were not enough.”
Invested heavily on talent
Scarecrow has also invested well in people. The agency started off with four people and now has more than 85 people on board. Some of the people who joined Scarecrow have come from mainstream advertising like JWT, McCann and Ogilvy. Mangesh Mulajkar (Senior Vice-President at Scarecrow) has joined from JWT. Anindya Banerjee (ECD at the agency) has been with us for 4.5 years now. Kapil Tammal was with us for 4.5 years and now has moved to DDB Mudra. Sarvesh Raikar also stayed with the agency for long.
Manish said, “We have been investing on talent from the very beginning. We have nurtured and trained our people well. Many people have stayed with us for more than five years. It is not easy for an agency to do.”
Challenge is talent retention
Talent retention and constant pitching is one universal problem of the the advertising industry. Raghu feels the same. He said, “Retaining good talent for more than three to four years is a challenge. They develop very fast which makes them attractive targets for MNC agencies. But we are realistic about it. The other challenge is churn among the CMOs that leads to constant pitching.”
Manish believes every day is a challenge. “An advertiser’s job is to solve brands’ problems. Our job is to bring creative solutions to the brands problem.”
Bhatt said that they don’t mind if an offer comes that resonates with the agency’s philosophy. If something enhances the agency then they are open to the idea of acquisition.
He said, “A mother doesn’t have sole possession of her child. There are a lot of people around the child. The child himself has his own aspirations and desires. We have conceived Scarecrow and have worked for its growth. We have nurtured the child and now when he wants to go abroad to study. We are not orthodox or conventional that our child should not study abroad. If people want to take our child to the next level, then we are not close minded. We want our own liberty and don’t want to subscribe to some other philosophy.”
Manish added, “If there is a potential that Scarecrow becomes better and more attractive, why should one not explore the idea. But this is not our main purpose. Our idea is not to encash on this. In fact, we started off with the philosophy that we don’t want to follow somebody else’s philosophy.”
Advertising is people’s business!
Manish believes that smaller, mid-sized and independent agencies are no threat to the bigger ones as there is always business for everybody. Newer brands are coming into play and previous brands are coming with new ideas. Therefore, there is no dearth of business for any agency.
Explaining the reason for clients to move from the bigger agencies to the smaller ones, Manish said, “Leadership at any company is not that easy to replace. How strongly and nicely you can create your second line of succession will help your agency function smoothly. Otherwise there will always be an era of emergence of independent agencies. The people who are not empowered in the bigger agencies will not stay and will start something of their own. If the people move from the agency, the client will also move because it is people’s industry. If the people move, the client will move too.
Manish said Lowe Lintas is one good example of how a big agency maintained its line of succession even after Balki’s exit from the agency. They had their succession well placed in the agency and so their clients also didn’t move.
Talking about the future, Raghu said, “The focus will be to make the company stronger. We can do this by trying to consistently do great or effective work. We also want to grow horizontally, by using skills to create not just ads but also content, acts and activations.”
On awards front
In first two years the agency strategically decided not to participate in awards. When they finally entered, the agency decided to enter only in the radio category. The first award they won was for a sound design for their brand Religare for the campaign ‘Archery’. Twice, it became the agency of the year and also became the fourth most awarded agency in 2015 at GoaFest Abbys in the radio category. In fact, Scarecrow Communications bagged 10 awards each for radio singles/ craft at Goafest 2016. Scarecrow’s ‘Blue Film Festival’ also threw competition in branded content against stalwart entries like Coke Studio and Sound Triping by MTV.
The agency’s clientele
Scarecrow Communications’ first client was Religare Macquarie. Manish said Zee has been its biggest client. Scarecrow was the agency behind the name and creative strategy of &TV and &Pictures. Manish added, “Strategically we have been behind the &TV genesis when we won the pitch against Ulka at that time.” The agency has been working on Zee brands like Zee corporate films, Zee Learn, Living Foodz.
“Whenever we have won an account in any group, we have grown within the groups largely, be it Emami, Viacom or Zee. Quickr as a brand has become synonymous to Scarecrow,” said Manish.
The agency also works on Quickr, Fun Foods and Wagh Bakri among the 25 brands that they take care of.
Scarecrow’s journey in a video: