Bobby Pawar Curated
Chairman, Chief Creative Office at Havas Group.
CURATED BY :
What is the kind of pressure that JWT India faces which is a large factory of sorts to ensure that it ups its status in terms of being as an award winning agency?
What’s your key learning from this whole Ford controversy and your stint at JWT?
Havas Group in India has been aggressive with regard to acquisitions… how does this help Havas Creative, and can we expect any more acquisitions this year? If yes, in what area?
I don't want to be too specific about that; we have other groups such as Media and Health in our business, so I am not going to answer on their behalf, but from the creative group point of view, broadly and globally we are going to look in the areas of one, Creativity - where we find real, A-class creative agencies. We are interested in having conversations with them. Then, what you might call UX. User Experience - that's actually one of the big flabby kind of words, with lots of stuff concealed under that. It can be everything ranging from let's say CRM or e-commerce even.
What are the big areas of focus from an India standpoint?
Well, I always say to the agencies that growth is the answer to any problem in all businesses. So, the over-riding way to grow is to have happy clients. We have a direct correlation between growth and how our employees feel on the business platforms. It is important that our managers now pay attention to that.
What’s been your main agenda on this visit to India, and what is the sense you have of the India market for Havas Creative? What have been your conversations with the clients you have met so far?
I had come to India almost a year ago, when I was about four weeks into my job, and at that point, Bobby and Rana were pretty new in the company too. We had a lot of ambition but hadn't done anything yet as it's easy to be ambitious but difficult to deliver. This time, my objective was to come and meet the businesses, be a part of the group and spend time with Bobby and Rana. Frankly, it's a people business and just spending time is an end in itself to understand the market. The more I understand the market, the more I can help the leaders in our markets. I want to meet the Press too and make sure that our market understands our global ambition. We have got happy clients and the conversations were good. The biggest thing I have learnt about the market in India is that there is a sense of slightly anxious anticipation of a rapidly approaching digital transformation landscape here. From a media spends point of view, this market is still a traditional market where 90 per cent spends are still non-digital; nobody really knows what might be the settling point for the Indian market.
How would you assess the last one year from a global as well as India standpoint? Which have been the top performing markets?
Havas performed well last year, and we try and measure our business on four key metrics which we have shared with all our agencies. Those metrics are: - Staff engagement - Client satisfaction - New business performance - Awards performance So, we are really pleased with the progress we have made on staff engagement and client satisfaction. Our new business performance is going strong in North America and Europe where we have been made the No.1 agency for new business last year. The area where we really need to focus hard now is where we have Bobby in our business - to lead us from good to great in our creative business. India has been a huge success story. We built a team about 15 months ago, and we have achieved a number of fantastic things. Our business has grown and we have completed three really exciting acquisitions. Our business in India feels super good and we will continue to be enormously ambitious.
What are the changes you have made in this past one year that give Havas Creative an edge over other networks?
Our business is difficult but complicated. The fundamentals of what makes a great agency - I’ve had to learn about digital, data and decoupling and all such things in the course of my career. But the fundamentals here I guess here are talent and culture. My overriding priority for this year is being the best that I can ensure in our key markets. We have absolutely A-star leaders in our businesses and we have the cultural environment that allows businesses to perform. India is one great example where about 15 months ago, we put a new leadership team in place with Rana (Barua) and Bobby (Pawar), and the business needed to change. Now they are performing beyond the best expectations.
You took on the role of CEO of Havas Creative in January 2019. What have been your priorities since then?
My priority No.1 was just to go and get to know the network. I wanted to visit our key markets and so I spent a lot of my time at airports and in planes, because if you take on any challenge, the first and foremost is to understand your standpoint, to understand where you are today and that is being honest as well. The slightly more business and strategic answer to your question is that I run the creative group of Havas and I think a lot of our competitors use the word ‘creative’ to describe the sector rather than to describe what they really are. I want us to be the best creative network in the world. To be the best, we need to have world class creative agencies in key locations. My job is about auditing where we are in our journey and starting to get us there.
What is the craziest thing you have done to sell your idea?
Do you miss your days in Mudra?
Obviously I do because that changed me completely. In a sense, it was the first place where I was running complete creative product and playing a pivotal role in the company. I had never done that in the past. That will always have a special place in my life, some of those people too will have a special place in my life.
It has been a little more than two years since you joined Publicis. How has the journey been so far? (2015)
Some days it has been not so good, some days it has been great, but each day has been an interesting day. There has been change in people, change in culture and that has been exciting. What keeps us more engaged is the leaders of the firm and there are many people in Publicis who have made a difference. We are all on the same page, and we are all pulling the same map in the same direction and that is exciting. The fact that we can have conversations about it and where we want to see ourselves in the future and other stuff like that makes it more exciting. We try to keep that open minded culture alive. If you cannot provide a good argument and good logic than you should stand by and let something happen. That applies to me first and foremost. If I could give a word to my journey I would call it challenging in all sorts of great meanings of that word. This is what brings me to work excited every single day because I know for a fact that what we did yesterday is not good enough today.
Publicis has made a number of acquisitions in the recent past. How difficult has it been to imbibe Publicis work culture in them? (2015)
It would be really easy to imbibe the culture if we did not have much of a culture. Getting adapted to changes is hard and it takes time. Having said that, even though it took some time, work has begun to shine and is consistently being done.
Talking specifically of Publicis, can you take us through its future roadmap? (2015)
Honestly till we have got legs that are willing to walk, there is no map. All I am saying is, we know where we want to go. We have recently done a lot of things and collaborated with different people. Brilliance of our people and their desire to learn are things that are dear to us. We are well aware that we can’t keep on doing things exactly the same way all the time. We will always experiment and try to change things. One thing I can say with certainty is that we are not going to be how we are now. For instance we are looking to partner for creating and reacting: You do something that stimulates people and when they react to that you react to their reaction. What we would like to do in a sense is to create fact learning solution. So that when we put the solution out, we sort of understand how people are reacting to it and change the solution based on that. In a sense it will be a form of self-learning. I believe it can be a big direction for the future. How far are we going for doing it? Well, as of now it is all trial and error.
What is your take on continuous partial attention, and what role does creative strategy play in nullifying its effect?
I welcome this sort of diminution of attention. It has been happening for a long time and one needs to accept it. Nobody can guarantee that it is not going to happen to your brand, unless it is Harley Davidson. CPA, no doubt, is happening. Everyone is looking at a number of screens at the same time. When you are young, you don’t pay attention to anything, and when we have so many things affecting us, it is only going to get harder to concentrate. The other factor is we are all getting to consume things in small pieces and one decides on how much to consume. In such a scenario, creativity and brilliance can come into play. How much you know, how insightful you are and how sharp your thinking is, all these factors matter here. It is not only about creativity, it is also how much you know, how insightful you are and how sharp your thinking is. Most brands come up with different strategy and try to make something that can work for them.
How has the client agency relationship evolved?
Earlier it used to be a marriage but now it is a one night stand. Then people used to talk about building brands for long term, now everybody wants short term gain. When the CEOs are looking at the report, they want more of sales. Other thing that has happened is today’s generation doesn’t stay in their job for very long either on client or agency side. No one today thinks long term. One of the reasons, I think is fragmentation of networks and mediums of advertising. A client may work with same idea with different partners.
A number of courses and institutes have come up that claim to teach creative among other things. Do you believe creativity can be taught?
Of course it can be. There are certain aspects of it which are going to be difficult but if you have factuality facilitating right things, it is not going to be difficult. One needs to understand what works and such things come through learning. I also think that some people learn on the job, so every bit of learning is important. I am not sure whether these courses can change the thinking process, but there are institutes which gives a medium to your talent. You learn the craft of writing a dialogue, also enabling understanding of how brand works can be taught.
Is digital emerging as a key challenge for creative agencies?
It is a challenge for everybody; it is a challenge for digital agencies as well! Technology enables solution; however, it keeps on changing so how will people adjust to that medium? It would always be a challenge to stay ahead of that technology and to stay ahead of consumer behaviour and find ways of marrying these things to fulfil objectives of your brands and problem that needs to be solved. One needs to understand that technology can be creative. It is now in the hands of technology creating people to make it simpler and helpful to provide brilliant solutions.
What is your take on predictions about death of traditional media?
I know for sure that nothing truly dies so when people ask me will television die, I don’t think, so they will exist in different forms. Likewise for print, it may not exist on paper but it may exist in other mediums. Whatever religion you might believe in, if you are involved with brands, you must believe in reincarnation of things. You cannot be married to absolute and you cannot be judgemental.
Going forward, do you see separate creative ideas being worked upon for different media?
Of course! We are already doing that. If I think in terms of campaign, then I think have I solved the problem? In the context of a medium I would think what it can do best to fulfil the communication objective. For instance, I can do a TV commercial that appeals to the emotion but use digital to drive information and make it completely factual. All mediums fulfil different objectives and each has to be successful.
You have been a part of Indian Advertising scene for long? Can you take us through some of the changes you have witnessed?
Well, the first bit of change that happened was just when I had joined the Industry. Initially it was a very much print and English dominant kind of industry. Over the next few years, say around 1995, it changed dramatically to being more local language like Hindi. I would say in mid 90s the process accelerated. Another huge though gradual change almost at the same time was that TV started getting dominant over other mediums. It was the first stage of evolution. The second evolution started when networks decided that the media would be out of mainline advertising and fragmentation happened. In the so called name of specialisation, not only the fragmentation of skills happened but also the fragmentation of brand happened, which may not have been all good. To be at the heart of solving problems at both brand and consumer sides, one will have to experiment and figure things out. It is not necessary what works for one set of people will work for the other as well, so let us hope to see more evolution taking place in the future.
Any particular category which you think is churning out great work?
I think the work is spread across. I loved BBDO’s ‘Share the Load’, Bajaj’s Vikrant and many more. Even for us, this year we started with Ambuja Cement, did MakeMyTrip and Maggi Hot and Sweet Tomato Sauce campaigns, so it is across categories. Nothing makes me happier than great work in the toughest categories and with the toughest clients. They become the shinning beacon and inspire other agencies and clients to try things differently. All you need is an example and the question here is – Who is going to create the example.
What, according to you, really made the Khali Ad for Ambuja Cement outstanding?
It is a combination of things. At its most basic level, it is a very human story about a man whoâ€™s born too big and strong for this world. His struggle with everything around him — along with the humour of him crashing into and breaking things — touched a chord. We have not just showcased a celebrity, but used one in a manner that drives the benefit of the brand.
Would you say that, Khali Ad for Ambuja Cement 2015 was the best creative work done in the country by you?
I do not really care to make such statements. [The ad] got voted on its views and shares and so was among the most talked-about pieces of work. I am proud of it, and there are quite a few people out there saying it is the best piece of work.
What do you think are the challenges in front of Havas Group in this highly competitive market?
Why did you make this big switch from Publicis to Havas Group?
What is your role in the video streaming site Dailymotion, Gameloft and Vivendi Village?
Has Scam Advertising become a part of the system?
What are your thoughts on scenario where social media is overtaking the creative freedom?
In today’s age, you can’t keep stuff away from social media. If you don’t put it out there, somebody else will. And unless it is totally boring, it will be commented on. And some of the loudest voices on social media are that of the haters. They are very often the minority, but because they rant, it seems like they are everywhere. This is where great listening comes in. You need a really good social agency to tell you how much good stuff is being said and how much bad. Then you can take a rational view of things, rather than a personal emotional action. Socially driven things have become the flavour of the day. So when you take a stand, there will always be people who will stand against you. You have to be strong and let it go, don’t let your feelings get into it, the issue gets murkier. Understand that haters will always be haters and you can’t reason with them. They have set their point of view and the only thing they want to do, is to tear you down. Of course, you need to be clear that you don’t cause it in the first place, because there is no point in being indignant if you are wrong.
In your view, which are the areas where today’s ad generation needs to focus on?
They need to pay more attention. Listen to what the boss, client, or colleagues are saying and try to learn. You may disagree with a lot of things, but atleast try to understand why something is the way it is and why you disagree with it. To form an opinion is the easiest thing in this world. But to understand that opinion is hard. Fools have opinions. Every wise woman and a man, has an understanding of where they stand on any particular issue and why they stand there. The other problem of youth is that everyone is in a hurry. Tomorrow is still there and after tomorrow, there will be another tomorrow. Your time will come. But you have to use today and every day that follows to get ready for it. Learn, learn, learn, from culture, art, the people you live or work with. Live outside of yourself. Your work is going to be only as good as the stuff you feed your soul with. If you are ignorant, your work will be ignorant. If you are behind the times, your work will be too. I pray for all the young people to get there. Some of them have the talent. Unfortunately that’s not all it takes.
According to you, what is Publicis lacking and how do you want to address those challenges?
The biggest lacuna is recognition. If you ask people about our most famous campaigns, including the one with Khali, most of them may not say Publicis. We are not PR savvy enough; we haven’t put out ourselves there. That is something which we got to change. We got to merchandise the work we do. We got to take the credit which is due to us. What else do we lack? Honest confession; we lack everything. We are improving, but we are nowhere as good as I want us to be. And we will probably never be. If I want a label to describe us, it is ‘work in progress’. Technology and how it affects human life keeps changing and we even need to evolve along with it.
When did things start to look brighter for Publicis?
Things started to look better over a year back. We did the ‘Rajkumari Maggi’ campaign, which was a big step forward for the brand. We followed that up with well-regarded campaigns for HDFC Mutual Funds, Nerolac Suraksha. Then Khali for Ambuja Cement happened, that’s when it all clicked. We got on a roll. New clients started calling, talented people wanted to join us and we were winning businesses against everybody.
How have things shaped up for Publicis ever since you took charge in 2013?
In the beginning you actually want to survey the landscape and see what’s going on. Some people believe in rolling up their sleeves and getting into action. I didn’t want to act precipitously, so I took time to understand what’s going on. Figure out what is worth protecting and what needs to be changed. Few things, which became clear to me right in the beginning, included the fact that Publicis is young; we’ve been around in the country for a little over a decade and half. And not too many peers or clients knew about us. Yes we had done good work in the past but the quality wasn’t consistent and greatness wasn’t to be found. We weren’t invited to many pitches, because we weren’t known. Over time, we changed a fair bit of leadership in both creative and account management. It needed to be done. See it is like this; there will always be people who believe in your cause and those who don’t. The latter will become miserable because much more is expected from them, that they are either unwilling or incapable of delivering. So it is better to part ways before it gets really bad, otherwise it creates a lot of heartache on both sides. The other thing is you really have to protect the talented people who really believe in you.