This Q&A first appeared in DNA Money edition on Tuesday, Mar 5, 2013.
Joseph George, chief executive officer, Lowe Lintas & Partners, considers himself lucky to have handled a host of clients, categories and brands in the last over two decades. George’s first job was of a planner in 1990 when planning as a function did not exist in most agencies. “I remember, Arvind Sharma (chairman-India Subcontinent at Leo Burnett) was trying to launch something called Consumer Insight Based Strategy and I was among the first planners ever hired. In fact, I first came across the word consumer insight from him,” he reminisces. George spoke about his journey with the company, industry developments and future plans. Excerpts:
Working on Hindustan Unilever account must have been very exciting and insightful for you in terms of the overall business...
Yes it has. I’ve been hands-on with Unilever’s business for almost 18 years. It’s just that in the last couple of years I had to move into a larger role in the agency handling other things as well. While I’ve spent more time on HUL, there have been other interesting companies like Tanishq, Cadbury and, Johnson & Johnson.
After taking over as CEO early 2011, you went aggressively about increasing new business. Is that exercise over?
Not at all. My reason for doing it is very simple. I have been in this industry for long and I know the equity Lintas has in the market place. The equity is a lot larger than size of the company and I want to bridge that gap. We are not there yet, which is why it’s not getting over in a hurry and I will keep adding to it till we reach a certain point. That’s something I’m quite driven by, may be because I’ve been in this system and clearly know the brand’s potential. Many people think that only big clients come to us, that’s incorrect because we have made them big, and there are a few exceptions. You take any of our clients and I’ll be able tell you how many units they were selling before and after they came to us. In fact, most of clients we have started with us.
Brands these days appear to be trying their best to make a connection with the audience and act as catalysts in driving change...
A lot of brands are trying to bring about some positive change or make people think. Some of our communications for Tata Tea, Idea, and the recent Axis Bank commercial are being done to deliver that message of changing things for better. I was telling Balki (R Balakrishnan, chairman and chief creative officer, Lowe Lintas & Partners) the other day, if you look at most ads, they look like running a consumer promotion. He said, what do you mean by that? I said, with every ad we give the consumer something to think about for free. As in, Yeh ad hai... and we just leave a little thought...
In your observation, is this approach by brands a recent phenomenon?
It’s not that people have changed suddenly, but people’s orientation on how you want to proposition a brand has changed. There is a lot of difference when you are buying a brand and buying into a brand. When you buy into a brand, you want to buy everything that the brand stands for and which is why marketers try to infuse that little more about the brand than just the fact that it washes whitest or works the fastest. I see that happening more and more down the line especially with the advent of digital advertising that enables conversation and buzz around a brand. And in today’s competitive environment brands are creating a differentiation by working towards being more meaningful than the other one.
Any specific plans for 2013?
I am hoping that a lot of our clients who were holding back start spending a lot more. Our new business drive will continue with as much passion. We have some plans in our marketing services vertical that should unfold in the due course. We will expand our network by adding an office in the northern region. We will be focusing on some of the new divisions and re-focus on the existing verticals, for example public relations, which is doing well and I think we can do a lot better. We have film production business which should grow significantly as well. 2011 was a good year, 2012 was a bit of a disappointment, but I am hoping 2013 will be a much better year.
Is sports management an area of interest for you?
To me I think that’s the next big thing to happen. I think it offers a huge business potential. Getting into this area is inevitable because money in sports is only going to go up, it is not going to come down.
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