Advertising veteran Hemant Misra took a deep plunge when he left Publicis Capital, where he was serving as the CEO, to start his own independent agency, MagicCircle.
But when he decided to quit Publicis, it wasn't to start on his own but to retire. But as luck would have it, during his last six months as consultant with the global ad agency, he thought of launching an independent agency.
"I decided to retire a year ago in life. I served my six months’ notice period and worked as a consultant to Publicis for another six months as they required my help to run the business. During the consultation period, I realised that if I create my own environment, I won’t be pushed by targets," he said in an interview with BestMediaInfo.
"I am not here to continue to make money for some shareholder sitting across the world. MMT was glad that we started on our own as at the end of the day it was we who worked on the brand," he said.
Unlike most of the traditional agencies set up, Misra wants MagicCircle to focus on video content going forward.
Currently, not focused on pitches, Misra wants to work on the brands that are already coming on board his agency. He will eventually think of pitching once he has a 50-plus team that can think of growing business through winning pitches.
Why do you call yourself MagicCircle?
Being a creative agency, our job is to think like any agency. When we think, we join parameters within which we must think. If you go back to the prep school, teachers used to draw a circle. When you step into that circle, all the rules are suspended and you can let go of your imagination. And that’s the genesis for us at the MagicCircle. Similarly, if you enter the MagicCircle, it has no rules. It has only a client, a consumer and a willingness to connect. MagicCircle is the place where we suspend all rules to come up with brilliant business solutions and not merely creative solutions.
The formation of MagicCircle follows a set pattern of being launched with a big ticket client. What came first – the idea to start the agency or the client?
(Laughs) They came together. I have been in the industry for three decades. Starting and running an agency is not an easy thing. I have never seen advertising as my business, but passion. Previously I had to build P/Ls, build growth and meet targets and I was getting too much into the business of it than the creative. I decided to retire a year ago in life. I served my six months’ notice period and worked as a consultant to Publicis for another six months as they required my help to run the business. During the consultation period, I realised that if I create my own environment, I won’t be pushed by targets. I am not here to continue to make money for some shareholder sitting across the world. MMT was glad that we started on our own as at the end of the day it was we who worked on the brand.
Being with Publicis for a long time, you have seen how difficult is the times for advertising business. What made you confident about success with a new agency?
However difficult is the business, it does happen. Brands haven’t closed shops. Today I begin with clients who have a really bright future and they are just opening categories. We are in lucky times where the categories are being created like online travel.
While the categories are increasing, the competition is also increasing as the agencies are ready to work for a penny. How do you deal with this?
It’s a huge challenge. How do you create value which doesn’t just come out of money but comes out of experience? In today’s environment, brands are willing to pay that extra if they get the right value. Today Indians have become more value-conscious than our ancestors were.
Good clients fund bad clients. There are clients who are willing to pay you and you use that money to fund bad clients who don’t pay you but are still in the business as they add to the agencies growth. That to my mind is cheating on great clients. But this happens across the industry as you have to clock growth. It’s a cycle that the agencies create for themselves and within two to three years, it collapses. People and the clients leave and they start all over again. Every large agency gets this turnover because they can’t get out of this stupid cycle. Today, good clients are ready to let go 20-30 years of relationship because they realise they have been taken for a ride in the last 10 years.
What is the size of the agency as of now? Are plans to hire more people in place?
Of course, more people will get more business. I have 15 people right now.
We have seen the new age agencies coming up with differentiated service offerings. How would you differentiate your agency in such a cluttered environment?
We are not going to offer anything differentiated. The biggest problem right now is that the agencies are not offering what they should have. There are three areas where we would be different. Firstly, the understanding of brief begins when the client tells you that I need this. When a client gives a brief is the beginning of the project. We go into their observations to understand their brief. We talk to their sales team. Rarely an agency does that, we talk to the consumers. We make our team understand the business completely. We spend at least a week understanding what’s happening at the brand’s side and fix what really the brief should be. Secondly, the involvement of senior people in the brands business is important. I have been managing the agencies but found time to go and meet people at the brand side. My contact with clients is much higher than a client expects in a relationship. Thirdly, at the end of the day, content is important to us. The medium in which we go is irrelevant. We will be differentiated in the way we work as a lot of good agencies have stopped working in the way they should have worked.
Any near-term objective in place?
I am very fascinated by content videos. I think video content is a domain that completely belongs to the consumers. They create their own content, viral it and enjoy it. Nobody wants to watch a brand film on YouTube. Content is not seen by all the agencies in the way it should be.
How much would be your focus on pitches now and also going forward?
I am not going to focus on pitches at all. I am not focused on growth and winning businesses. Once I have a 50 people set-up, then I will think of pitching. Currently, I’ll be focusing on my present clients.
It’s a people business. At times when people leave or change the agency, their clients also end up moving out with them. What’s your say here?
(Laughs) Let’s see. Don’t fish there but it’s a logical conclusion that you are making.
Any particular category where you would call your agency an expert?
We are consumer experts. Our job is to influence behaviour irrespective of the category.
The world is moving from advertising to solutions and brands are looking up to new-age agencies with no set thinking. How is MagicCircle equipped to be called as new-age agency?
New age or old age, thinking is not going to go away. Unless you think, you will not find great solutions. Mediums will keep on changing. My focus is people and my attempt is to change behaviour. I need to know what the current behaviour is. If I understand the current consumer behaviour, then I am new age.
Is MagicCircle equipped with all the technological advancements that exist today?
This is the world of specialisation and being good at your core competency. I know a few people who do phenomenal digital listening but have no idea what to do with that because they are not the strategist and we are the strategist. I will tie up with them instead of investing in that technology. A lot of multinationals are trying to create these things in-house. Where does it make sense? They will still do it through a third party and project it as they are doing it. I don’t want to get into that business, instead of going to stick to my core competence. If an agency has its own production house, they won’t get good directors because all the good directors have their production houses.
But today a lot of clients want a single point of contact...
I am a single point of contact for the client, but that doesn’t mean I need to own everything.
What are the major challenges for you as of now?
How do I ensure to continue to delight myself because the dangerous thing for me is my own attention span? Through my career, I had short attention spans. The biggest challenge for me is to continue to excite myself as I grow into this business because I cannot do the same thing repeatedly.
Is there any investor whose monies invested in the agency?
No, there is no investor.