An in­ter­view with Rahul Jauhari and Navonil Chat­ter­jee, the re­cently el­e­vated joint pres­i­dents of the sud­denly, and fi­nally, in­de­pen­dent Red­if­fu­sion

The Brand Reporter - - NEWS - By Ash­wini Gan­gal

Iknow you’ve come to throw tough ques­tions at us but lis­ten, what­ever you write in this in­ter­view, just don’t bring up Ge­orge Clooney!” says Red­if­fu­sion’s re­cently el­e­vated joint pres­i­dent Rahul Jauhari, hark­ing back to a 2013 in­ter­view I did with Sam Ahmed, then vice-chair­man and chief creative of­fi­cer of the agency, who fa­mously and flam­boy­antly swore to turn the agency around by giv­ing a Hol­ly­wood ref­er­ence (“By the end of the year Red­if­fu­sion will be the Ge­orge Clooney of In­dian ad­ver­tis­ing”), a head­line that tick­led our read­ers for months on end.

Rahul, who has been with the group for 14 years, con­tin­ues to keep his ti­tle of chief creative of­fi­cer.

The group’s other re­cently pro­moted joint pres­i­dent Navonil Chat­ter­jee, who came on board three years back, also con­tin­ues to lead as chief strat­egy of­fi­cer. The creative-plan­ning duo was given this ad­di­tional man­date - joint pres­i­dency when Dhunji Wa­dia va­cated this po­si­tion a few days back.

Ear­lier this month Red­if­fu­sion’s founders Di­wan Arun Nanda and Ajit Balakr­ish­nan (who launched the agency back in 1973 along with Mo­hammed Khan) bought back the 40 per cent shares held in their com­pany by Y&R (part of WPP) and Dentsu, mak­ing the group in­de­pen­dent again, af­ter en­dur­ing years of fric­tion with former WPP CEO Sir Martin Sor­rell who stepped down from his role this April.

When news of Red­if­fu­sion’s au­ton­o­mous sta­tus was out, Rahul wrote ‘Freed­if­fu­sion’ and Navonil wrote ‘Free­dom at mid-day’ on their so­cial me­dia pages. A re-brand­ing ex­er­cise in un­der­way.

Brands on the agency’s client list in­clude Audi, Ci­pla, Col­gate, Eveready, God­frey Philips, GSK, Hind­ware, SBI, TVS Srichakra, Ko­tak Mahin­dra, Lieb­herr, Star Jal­sha, Parle Prod­ucts, Tata Mo­tors, and Tata Sons, among oth­ers.

The trend is to put the guys who do the work at the helm. Who does the client want to in­ter­act with to­day? With the per­son who’s re­ally do­ing the job. RAHUL JAUHARI

Never mind Clooney; this in­ter­view, I as­sure them, is about ad­dress­ing all the ele­phants in the room. So I start with the fat­test one.

Edited ex­cerpts:

Red­if­fu­sion is be­lieved to be past its best days – an agency that needs to ‘bring back lost glory’. It must be hard lead­ing a firm that’s al­ways re­ferred to as a ‘has been’. Or is it not?

Rahul: Me­dia keeps re­fer­ring back to the loss of Air­tel. That was a gen­er­a­tion back. Life has moved on since. The ghosts are buried in ar­ti­cles writ­ten many years back.

In In­dia, if you see a man in a kurta once, you’ll call him ‘kur­tay wala aadmi’, even af­ter 20 years, even if he has moved from his kurta to a pa­jama to a suit. Sim­i­larly, the sink­ing ship thing is a hang­over. Is the ques­tion sur­pris­ing? No, it is not. But do I find any truth in it? No.

Yes, there’s a tonne to do – be­come fi­nally stronger, get a wider spec­trum of clients. Red­if­fu­sion is a good car. We’ll drive it faster, give it a new coat of paint, some shine.

If there’s one thing we’re guilty of it’s not flaunt­ing our work. For ex­am­ple, we’ve done some great work for Hero Moto Corp, but when some­one sees a great ad for Hero, they don’t think of Red­if­fu­sion.

Sim­i­larly, lot of clients have given us projects, CSR work… that’s not nec­es­sar­ily an ac­count shift. But brands are in­creas­ingly work­ing like that. This is all well ap­pre­ci­ated, ap­plauded work, but poor guys out there don’t know who they’re clap­ping for.

Also, fun­da­men­tally, we (him­self and Navonil) are shy; we don’t talk about what we do. Maybe that’s an ante that needs to be upped.

But does the way the agency is per­ceived make the pro­mo­tion bit­ter­sweet?

Rahul: We’ve been given a man­date that nei­ther of us was lust­ing for.

Navonil: Over the past three years we’ve won pitches that ev­ery agency in town would’ve given their right arm for. I’ll be hon­est, some of the brands we won have gone away, but most are there. The peo­ple at Red­if­fu­sion have swag and ‘proper pride’ as Jane Austen puts it.

Can we do bet­ter? Can we do more? Yes, def­i­nitely. Yes, we know some of the per­cep­tions about us in the out­side world. But if you’re con­fi­dent about your­self, then per­cep­tion be damned.

As an out­sider (I spent 15 years at JWT Ban­ga­lore be­fore join­ing Red­if­fu­sion in 2015) who worked at an agency with brands like Nike, Levi’s, Google, my view of Red­if­fu­sion was al­ways ‘the fun place to be’. And look at the alumni Red­if­fu­sion has. I’ll throw a chal­lenge to any other agency in­clud­ing JWT, Ogilvy, to come half­way near Red­if­fu­sion on that front.

But isn’t that like rest­ing on past lau­rels? Do clients re­ally care about an il­lus­tri­ous alumni list? In fact, to­day legacy and her­itage are some­times likened to bag­gage, not a plus point...

Rahul: Good ques­tion. A client doesn’t come to me be­cause of a great per­son who worked here 20 years back. He comes for what I de­liver. We’ve han­dled the Tata brand for

We’ve won pitches that any agency would’ve given their right arm for. The peo­ple at Red­if­fu­sion have swag and ‘proper pride’ as Jane Austen put it. NAVONIL CHAT­TER­JEE

don­key’s years. We re­cently picked up two pres­ti­gious and cur­rent man­dates from them. They didn’t give the job to us be­cause they like Arun Nanda’s face or be­cause we are X num­ber of years old. It was a hard fought pitch bat­tle.

When a legacy brand wants to stay rel­e­vant it goes to rel­e­vant peo­ple to solve the prob­lem; it doesn’t go to another legacy brand.

Are we un­der pres­sure? No. You have a prob­lem with our legacy – han­dle it. Legacy is not a bur­den for us. It’s like go­ing to a good school with a great alumni.

Red­if­fu­sion is now led by a creative head and a plan­ner. There’s chat­ter about the ab­sence of a suit to run the busi­ness, the P&L side of things…

Rahul: The trend is to put the guys who do the work at the helm. Who does the client want to in­ter­act with to­day? With the per­son who’s re­ally do­ing the job. Why else would Leo Bur­nett do it? (Creative head Ra­jdeepak Das and plan­ning head Dheeraj Sinha were made man­ag­ing direc­tors in April). He’s do­ing the think­ing (points to Navonil) and I’m do­ing the work.

Yes there was a time long back when creative hid in a corner, plan­ning didn’t ex­ist, and ser­vic­ing did the plan­ning and man­aged the re­la­tion­ships. To­day, ser­vic­ing is a re­la­tion­ship holder more than any­thing.

As Balki once told me, who­ever stands up and says ‘It’s my ass that needs to be taken’ is the leader. Don’t ask him his caste, creed, sex, or where he’s from. So right now, it’s our asses that we’re of­fer­ing.

Navonil: Creative peo­ple are some of the savvi­est when it comes to fi­nance and money.

WPP’s Red­if­fu­sion ver­sus an in­de­pen­dent Red­if­fu­sion – how



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