Hundred, and Counting
What is a former CEO doing with a full-service agency?
One look at Hemant Misra’s LinkedIn profile and the line that will grab your attention would be - “I have now stepped away from all management responsibilities to focus on ingredients for a compelling story.”
Walk into the fifth-floor office of MagicCircle Communications on Sohna Road, Gurgaon and you’ll see that compelling story unfold. Inaugurated about three months ago, what strikes visitors, is the serenity of the space, although inhabited by quite a few young men and women working nose-to-thegrind on creatives.
The former CEO of Publicis Capital - with Natwar Singh (former senior creative director at Publicis) and Dheeraj Renganath (former unit creative director, Lowe) - launched this full-service ad agency.
In the 100 days since its launch, MagicCircle has won the creative mandates for MakeMyTrip, Goibibo, Intex Mobile and Intex’s entire portfolio of consumer durables. Very recently, the agency added Apis Honey to its kitty.
So, what is a former CEO doing launching a full-service agency?
THE BACK STORY
“There are many reasons...” is the prompt response. Misra points to client behaviour - as clients’ vision dropped from five-year timelines to three years and further down to three months, due of the pressure on profit and loss accounts. It became a question of survival first and thriving later. That hit the quality of output.
Talent in agencies - or misdirected talent - was another factor. “Being in an agency for 10 years doesn’t make your career. Being on a brand for four or five years makes a career. Only then are you actually contributing,” he says.
The constant harping on growth meant that the time to think was taken away. It was a vicious cycle that Misra wanted to get rid of. The first solution that came to his mind was retirement. “I knew that one individual could not change the industry. I just wanted to relax and enjoy life. But people who knew me and my work started asking me why I didn’t just start my own venture. My team, especially those people who actively worked on the MakeMyTrip campaign, firmly supported this idea. In fact, it was Natwar who pitched the idea and pressed me hard to start MagicCircle,” Misra outlines.
“Natwar and Dheeraj were the two people who worked actively on the MakeMyTrip campaign. And that’s the team I am most comfortable working with,” acknowledges Misra. He has his own style of working on a campaign. He seeks the opinion of the the juniormost copywriter in an agency. This gave him a ‘clearer’ idea than having the information flow back up via the senior copywriter, then the creative director and so on. “I get to hear a filtration of all that,” he smiles.
Misra feels that the beauty of MagicCircle is that every decision is taken with freedom. “I don’t have to wait for the approval from Paris, New York or London,” he says tongue-in-cheek.
Misra’s journey in advertising started in September 1986 with Milestones, learning how to think, evaluate and make a presentation for a brand. He worked on the India Today (Hindi edition) launch campaign. After Milestones came Everest. He says, “I learnt a lot while working on Pan Parag and I considered myself lucky to have worked on the account. It was M M Kothari, the founder of Pan Parag, who taught me that if you can engage with the client and add value to the brand, there’s nothing to worry about.”
At Mudra, Misra was the creative person and head of strategy. It allowed him to develop his entrepreneurial skills and gave him the confidence to work on big brands like Nestle. Soon after, Misra joined JWT because he “wanted to work on Pepsi”. In a short one-andhalf year stint, he had a “wonderful time” heading the entire business of Pepsi - from beverages to snacks. That was the time Pepsi launched its Blue Billion campaign for the ICC Cricket World Cup in 2007. “Unfortunately, India lost in the first round and the campaign did not receive the kind of finale it deserved,” he says ruefully.
Publicis came next and he spent 10 years learning corporate management. “I give a lot of credit to Nakul Chopra - after Milestones, the biggest learning I had was from Nakul who taught me how a boss should handle his team,” Misra adds.
THE FIRST 100 DAYS...
For Misra, it has been a “fabulous journey so far. Our people get along with each other very well and we don’t have to motivate them. The only worry I have is that we may have to move office to a different location as we will be expanding the team.” How does he see his work on the MMT campaign?
Misra says, “While at Publicis, I committed to MMT that I would lead the account. The MMT team are always open to sharing ideas. When we launched, Alia Bhat wasn’t that big a star. Even Ranveer was just beginning to come up. But I am really impressed with their performances in the films. Both are young stars and they get so involved in the characters that they start contributing to them. What they enjoy and what we have consciously done is not use them as stars, but as characters. And we continue to change those characters.”
... AND THE NEXT
According to Misra, advertising is not what it used to be three decades ago. The client’s expectations have changed so drastically that it is strangling the business. Clients expect more at a much lesser cost and in quick time. “Many people in advertising have, unfortunately, quit and joined marketing. That is taking the respect out of the business,” he adds. How does MagicCircle propose to take on the world?
Misra says candidly, “I don’t profess that I have a USP. I want to create a pool of talent which is carefully selected.” The eightmember team he started out with is now 19-people strong and the agency is self-funded; there are no investors. Misra’s idea is simple Look for storytellers! “I am looking for people who can listen to the web. In the next 100 days I am looking to create a team of great storytellers and listeners,” he signs off. ■
“In the next 100 days I am looking to create a team of great storytellers and listeners.”