According to Santosh Padhi, Chief Creative Officer, Wieden+Kennedy, it is the senior industry leaders who are to be blamed for the scarcity of good talent in the advertising industry.
He explained, “We didn’t prepare the next line of agency/creative industry leaders and just focused too much on business. We didn’t nurture the talent or stood behind them to push their work or show the confidence the way somebody did when we were juniors. Clients have also started feeling they know everything.”
He further said, “Some industry leaders launched their own boutique agencies, and most of them are absolutely comfortable with 2-3 small brands on board. With so many good talented people going independent have put pressure on the ones left at the bigger agencies.”
In part one of the interview, Padhi had spoken about the agency’s re-birth in India and double-downed on being paid for pitches.
In part two, he spoke to BestMediaInfo.com about the factors that have led to a scarcity of good talent, making the industry exciting for attracting talent, his journey and why it’s about time for leaders in the industry to come together and give back to the Indian advertising that made them what they are today.
Padhi went on to state that there is a misconception that because social media is so fast-moving, it’s all right to compromise a little on the craft.
Towards the end of the interview, Padhi urged that if this industry has given an individual everything, it’s now the time to give back at least something. He believes that there is a great liability on the agency leaders to stand firm while we as a nation going through this transformation and, if possible, correct the narrative.
You are very choosy in picking talent and hiring them. Do you think getting good talent on board has become even more difficult these days? How do you tackle this problem?
The scarcity of talent is a serious problem today. This issue has piled up for the last few years and is evidently sensed these days. We, seniors, need to be blamed for this outcome. We didn’t prepare the next line of agency/creative industry leaders and just focused too much on business. We didn’t nurture the talent or stand behind them to push their work or show the confidence the way somebody did when we were juniors. Clients have also started feeling they know everything.
The outcome of that is that many creative folks have jumped on to more exciting forms of creativity - like movies, new-age writing etc. Some launched their own boutique agencies, and most of them are absolutely comfortable with 2-3 small brands on board. With so many good talented people going independent, it has put pressure on the ones left at the bigger agencies.
It’s not that there aren’t talented people in the industry. Unfortunately, there is huge pressure on delivering numbers and business. We all know that creativity never comes out when there is so much pressure and very little freedom. We as an industry are not creating enough great work to attract talent.
How do you go about hiring people who think the way you think about work?
An agency is defined by the kind of people it hires. I have always hired people who are not like me. I look out for people whose work and thinking make me feel uncomfortable, outdated and creates an inferiority complex in me. I always look out for people whose work is brave, provocative and takes a while to digest. I have always believed it’s better to experiment and fail rather than do predictable and fail. Even at W+K, we have hired people who are human, humble and experimental, but at the same time, they have a voice of their own when it comes to work. We have hired people who are fearless and very eclectic in nature with multitasking abilities.
It’s important to hire people who bring a fresh perspective to the table. But how do you inculcate the feeling of hard work, passion and ambition in them?
New thinking and a creative approach have been the key ingredients of our business. Globally, W+K has always done work ahead of its time. To do so in India, we need to onboard an eclectic bunch of crazy minds, which has been lacking in our business in the last few years.
One cannot shy away from hard work. I have witnessed several times that when amazing work happens almost everyone from different departments participates to bring that to life. It’s only when boring and unwanted work happens, that people find ways and means of escaping. Passion is what drives this industry, at times more than the ideas the team's passions and beliefs behind the ideas get the nod from clients.
Today I’ve got more than what I deserve. But at one point in time, someone else gave me an opportunity and freedom to express myself. Now, it is my duty to give back to the people who are around us.
Do you think we lack hardworking and passionate people?
We work in an industry where the more you experiment the better you get, and that can only happen via hard work. Unfortunately, we now lack patience today. Not only the younger generation but even seniors are in too much of a rush due to many issues around.
I still remember as kids our ideas used to get rejected 10-20 times. Now, if an ad gets rejected the third time, people get extremely paranoid. A lot of work that happens doesn’t have craft, insight and depth in the idea.
We cannot blame just one side. Ours is a craft-led industry where one needs to pass on the legacy. Unfortunately, the Dronacharayas never practised this, and whoever did has now disappeared. In the last decade or so, senior people have not been able to find time to train the juniors as most of their time goes into fronting the clients, and hence the imbalance.
According to you, what are the factors that have led you to gain so much respect in the last 25-26 years of your career?
There is no substitute for hard work. Consistency is key when it comes to the creative industry. You will always be remembered for your work. One of my mantras is “What you create, creates you.” You are as good as your last piece of work. Every time we need to keep beating our past work and create something that is at par with the industry. I was fortunate to have got some wonderful bosses in the initial stage of my career. I grew up in a most competitive inspiring creative community, creating the wonderful pressure to create work that got noticed.
Every skill needs practice. But does creativity come naturally to you? Do you practise something every day to keep the creativity flowing in your blood? How do you go about upskilling?
I am an absolute workaholic and believe in the playing coach theory. I love giving time to the ideation process and at times even executing them by myself. It helps me to be in touch with the current trends. Only when you are on the ground you will witness the weather, pitch conditions and many other aspects of the game, which will help you become a better coach or creative leader. It will make your feedback and judgment far more concrete and fruitful. When I crack a big/small idea or create something unusual it gives me real joy and keeps my inner child motivated. Such energies help me bond with my team well. In fact, to be blunt, I enjoy this process far more than client meetings.
How has the new-age technology, gaming, Metaverse and NFTs expanded the canvas of creativity?
Never-ending, endless possibilities if you think of it. Just looking at some of the unbelievable work the world is creating, makes me feel small and it’s a great feeling.
My reading of the Indian creative community with regards to new age canvases is that a bunch of them are taking the challenge to understand and crack these new age mediums while working for brands on a daily basis on traditional mediums. On the other hand, some creative folks who feel they are not cut out to play this aggressive game are walking out.
Since we as a nation are in the middle of a new beginning, we will need some time to use these new-age platforms and tell stories.
Is it justified to create campaigns that are high in creative quotient but lack scalability and long-term effectiveness? So many of these campaigns are made keeping awards in mind. What is your take here?
Firstly, creativity is very subjective. Some ideas might be topical/social and hence will only be relevant to a particular period like a football or a cricket-based campaign. In fact, I’m not a big advocate of this, but we are living in the T20 era. Every big small client is looking for a big creative short-term idea/solution and not really looking for a long-term idea.
The term creative award has been misinterpreted in our industry by some. The way we need protein, good carbs, good fats, water, fibre, vitamins, minerals etc, to maintain a healthy body, any good creative agency needs to have a balance of many things like great minds, great culture, great brands, popular campaigns, cutting edge work, and awards happen to be one of them.
A decade back a handful of creative agencies used to participate and win. This year, more than 40 (Indian) agencies entered international awards and more than 15 of them won big. Agencies are being invited by clients on the basis of their brave creativity and awards. It’s working and converting into business. So, what’s wrong to keep that great balance? Everyone cannot be good at everything. I am good at running, someone might be good at wrestling. Just be healthy and focus on what you are capable of and what keeps you and your business going.
We remember and cherish so many campaigns from the past. Cut to today, it has become hard to create something that is remembered forever. What are the reasons that we are not able to create work that is remembered by all and becomes a story to share with future generations?
Currently, we are going through many transformations in one go. The country, industry, mediums and professional approach are changing along with many other changes. So many changes have led to short-term planning. We have moved from brand building vision to selling more units again. If everyone is sticking to short-term solutions, how will we be able to create a long-term impact?
Right now, we are trying all the new-age mediums/platforms that are popping our way. We, as a nation, are a late entrant in trying such new platforms. Many western countries have already experimented with the new-age platforms and barring a few of them, they are going back to some of the tried-and-tested solid platforms.
The good news is that everyone in our industry is realising that there needs to be a course correction. Great storytelling will never go out of fashion, till we keep talking to human beings.
What excites you more: print, radio, outdoor, TV or digital mediums?
I am obsessed with ideas and craft. The variety of brave ideas our global industry has churned out in the last 2-3 decades is mind-boggling. Anything that’s beyond ordinary fascinates me. Something that makes me jealous is what actually excites me. Print and radio are looked down upon in our industry but there are enough and more examples which are milestones in their respective categories. On the other hand, there is a massive opportunity to set an example on social and digital in our country.
The medium or platform never matters. Only craft needs to be an integral part of any communication. There is a misconception that because social media is so fast-moving, it’s all right to compromise a little on the craft. In fact, it needs more attention and love like a new member of the family gets. To me, craft comes first. We need well-crafted work that stops the person from scrolling down in less than one second.
What are the life lessons that have shaped you to become who you are today?
I come from a middle-class family. Like many others, even I have gone through many ups and downs. When you go through tough realities on a daily basis, by default, life gives you many wonderful human experiences. Accepting those realities and taking them positively is great practical learning that no institute in the world can ever teach you. When you go through such life experiences in the initial part of your life, it automatically makes you a lot more passionate, grounded, humble, focused, hard-working and with the wonderful ‘never give up’ attitude.
A lot of my grinding/learning/toughening/creativity comes from how I grew up as a kid, my school, my college, and my variety of friends. A lot of the credit goes to them, apart from my family, for what I’m today.
Being the third child of my parents, (which I feel was an advantage to me) I was given full freedom. And when you are used to a certain way of functioning since childhood, you want that in every mode of your life. I demanded and implemented that even in our profession and I’m still being true to it.
W+K recently created the ‘Steel of Oman’ campaign for Jindal Shadeed Oman. Please tell us more about the campaign and its focus on art.
Craft is an important part of any narrative more than ever in today’s fast-moving short-attention-span world. Craft has evolved with consumers and mediums and to be relevant one needs to have the ingredient blended well. The way certain pallets of food touch certain senses and leave behind the taste stuck in your head for a long time, the same goes with craft. It’s for your eyes and ears that reach your heart.
The brief was simple, Oman didn’t qualify for the FIFA Football World Cup, hence their spirit and energy were down. Jindal Shadeed took the challenge of upping the nation's morale. We went ahead and captured the spirit of Oman, just by celebrating the people of Oman, their beliefs, culture etc. Advertising is still at a nascent stage in Oman and this campaign has been created keeping the people of Oman in mind rather than us trying to sell the brand.
One last word for your industry peers…
Currently, we as an industry are a bit unstable and going through a tough time. A lot of people are giving up and quitting. Your real character comes alive when you stand during tough times. If this industry has given you everything, it’s our time to give back at least something. All of us in the industry need to stand together as a unit. I would have retired post-Taproot exit. But because I love the industry, I wanted to be a part of this transformational journey and give back whatever this industry taught me. There is a great liability on the agency leaders to stand firm while we as a nation go through this transformation and if possible correct the narrative.
It has taken a lot of time and hard work to reach this far when it comes to creativity and thanks to all our industry folks who push beyond what’s needed, we have put out some great creative work over 2-3 decades with a very unique Indian way of addressing our unique problems. This is the time when we need to stand for our agencies and industry, we need more conviction, faith, patience, and belief and push each other to produce great creative work once again.