Sam Ahmed, Rediffusion YR’s vice chairman and chief creative officer has a tough job
He has worked on brands like P&G, Ford, Pepsi, Nestle, Colgate-Palmolive, Citibank and Skoda, among others, and has won over 200 international awards including Cannes Lions, One Show, Clio, New York Festival and Epica.
While he was in the business of advertising he was in charge of the creative product at Y&R Dubai and had brought the agency international recognition on the awards front too. He has worked on brands like P&G, Ford, Pepsi, Nestle, Colgate-Palmolive, Citibank and Skoda, among others, and has won over 200 international awards including Cannes Lions, One Show, Clio, New York Festival and Epica. Will he do the same for Redifussion YR? Of course, it's too soon to tell, silly. But that won't stop us from asking now will it?
Ahmed sure has his work cut and chopped out for him. Rediffusion YR is an agency accused of living off its glory days for a while now. Add to that the robustness with which talent flows in and more critically out of the agency and what you have is turmoil at the top, as the industry says. That may have left a few clients shaky while others just left (the agency's biggest account loses were Colgate and Airtel in 2010.) Just as critically over the past three years Rediffusion has seen the backs of chiefs of both the creative and suit variety. The list includes, in no particular order this, Sagar Mahabaleshwarkar, Mahesh Chauhan, Meenakshi Achan, Ramanuj Shastry, Anisha Sarin, Arvind Mohan, Nisha Singhania, and more recently the agency's national creative director N Padmakumar, executive creative director Jaideep Mahajan and D Rajappa, the agency's president.
Speaking particularly about the exodus of CXOs, a former senior executive with the agency says, "It's the number one role without the number one position", a reference to the fact that in spite of impressive designations, the buck eventually stops with the agency's founder, chairman and managing director Diwan Arun Nanda. Most quit to pursue other things in the realm of advertising while others set up their own outfits. But their lives after their departure are perhaps no concern of this story. And so, one of Ahmed's key responsibilities will be to make sure talent flows just one way, and that's in. Stem the rot as one advertising chief, who opts to remain anonymous, put it. In addition to that there have been a spate of business losses, with many calling it a one horse race and that horse is Tata. Quite a tall order, especially for a newcomer to the country and the system.
Asked to evaluate the potential of the agency's new vice chairman and chief creative officer, one advertising head tells us "he is about award focused work. May be Rediffusion's game is to reinforce creativity." But according to Ahmed, awards are a great way to boost creativity within the agency and instill a sense of pride but it is more about getting the consumer's nod of approval. Awards will or will not follow. He says, "We have our share of crap. But people fell into a system where they started accepting mediocrity." In anticipation of questions related to Ahmed's lack of experience in this particular market, he says, "I don't think the question ought to be about the market. I have directed in languages I don't speak.
Ideas are universal. The pain and joy of a mother in China is the same as that of a mother in India. The issue is not the market being different. It is advertising."
Unhappy with the way agency structures have changed over the last ten years with media moving out and a deeply entrenched sense of fear of clients on the agency side, in addition to all the smarter people either leaving advertising or not signing up in the first place; "There was a time when agencies were fearless," says Ahmed. And so, and he employs the words of Justin Timberlake here, "I want to bring sexy back." Part of Ahmed's goal is to bring back some of that fearlessness and perhaps more importantly fun to his new agency because, as he puts it, "boredom kills people!"
When we asked him why Rediffusion, he says part of the reason he decided to return for a new innings and one at this agency in particular was its heritage and founders, including Diwan Arun Nanda. Nanda's brief to Ahmed was very simple; he wants to turn the agency into one of the most creative shops in India. Not the biggest or the one that wins the most accounts, just the most creative. It's about glory, about pride. "We want to be proud of our agency," says Ahmed. "And the way to be proud of your agency is to bring pride in your agency, a pride of lions."