Legendary adman DIWAN ARUN NANDA talks of stepping back from the day-to-day management of Rediffusion, the agency he had co-founded with Ajit Balakrishnan 48 years ago, his new role going forward, and the one word of advice he has for new Managing Director, Sandeep Goyal
On Sunday, May 2, 2021, news broke that the founders of the advertising agency Rediffusion - Diwan Arun Nanda and Ajit Balakrishnan – had decided to step back from the day-to-day management of the agency they had launched 48 years ago, handing over the reins to veteran adman and Mogae Media founder Sandeep Goyal, a past President of Rediffusion (1997-2001), who would become Managing Director. While Nanda will stay on as Chairman and mentor, Balakrishnan will focus solely on the digital platform Rediff.com.
Just three years back, in August 2018, Nanda and Balakrishnan had bought back the 40% shares held in their company by WPP-owned Y&R and Dentsu, regaining full control of the agency. Their credo then was to “take ownership of clients and their work” and grow the agency with aggression.
The conversation between Nanda and Goyal apparently started a couple of months ago, and then progressed to agreement and interest. “We looked at how we can do it. Financially, we agreed and now we have done it,” says Nanda, with a note of satisfaction. “The goal of any company, especially an advertising agency, is to add talent that refreshes you with new ideas, a new way of thinking and a new way of working. Talent that brings a lot to the table, and adds value. Sandeep Goyal adds immense value to Rediffusion. What we have taken into consideration also is the fact that he has worked at Rediffusion as President for many years. So he knows the culture. He knows the value system. We were lucky that Sandeep agreed to join us back. I am grateful to him.”
As for the agency, there will be no major changes in the leadership ranks, with Navonil Chatterjee and Rahul Jauhari continuing as Joint Presidents, and working with Goyal to take the company to the next level.
Here are excerpts from a conversation with Diwan Arun Nanda, in which he outlines his role as Chairman and mentor, conversations he has had with key clients, and his expectations from Sandeep Goyal.
What will be your role at Rediffusion, going forward? What has been the nature of your conversations with the agency’s clients?
Subject to Sandeep’s agreement, because he’ll be heading the company, I will be involved in giving advice and also leading from the front for certain clients – for example, Tata Trusts, where the client is Ratan Tata, and he himself gets involved in a lot of the Trusts activities which need his approval. Parle is another very important client for Rediffusion. Vijay (Chauhan) has been a client of Rediffusion for 38 years. But for Everest, they have been a part of the company for over 50 years. We are handling snacks as well, which was earlier not with us, besides some new projects. I have committed to Parle that I will take a final look at all the work that is turned out by the agency for them. Hopefully, this will ensure that we are both strategically sound and creatively excellent.
How do you see the agency in the hands of the new Managing Director, Sandeep Goyal?
All our clients have been given the news about the addition to the management in the form of Sandeep Goyal. Meanwhile, the whole industry has undergone major change in the way communication is being delivered. Today, media has been disrupted by social media, powered by the mobile phone, that has become a medium in itself - 4 inches by 6 inches, that’s all. A creative agency has to ensure that they get the attention of viewers when they send them something on this that motivates them, attracts them and helps the brand be the best it can be. But this is only the beginning. We have seen social media thrive on the back of technology. Now the next big thing is likely to be voice. I know that Sandeep has signed an MOU, and now is into an alliance with a leading voice agency. That will create value for the future. The task of a leader is to plan the future of the company. Either they are there, or not there - which is what I think we have tried to do with the addition of Sandeep Goyal.
One, we know, he will continue to hold creative excellence as a torch in the company. Two, this cannot be done in isolation, so he will strengthen our already very strong strategic team. The company gives great value to intellectual value and analysis. Three, he knows that we are hungry for growth, hungry to get the right kind of client, hungry to do well for them. When they do well, the agency will automatically do well. We are not running to get new accounts because we are just trying to make some revenue. We have already been on the growth path for the last two years. I am sure Sandeep will ensure that growth continues.
Since taking full control of the agency in 2018, what is your progress report on the work that Rediffusion did, lockdown notwithstanding, in the last three years?
A lot of good work has come out of Rediffusion. Robin Hood Army is a client of Rediffusion. We have helped Robin Hood Army to create the work that has had great resonance. Then there is Tata Trusts, which so far has not got into mass media advertising, but in many areas of social development and social health, their portfolio is very large. A lot of our work with them, which we have been doing over the last three years, has not been shown to the public yet. Over the last two years, Rediffusion has gained many new biscuit brands of Parle, the snacks and confectionery range of Parle, etc. We've added many new clients, and are on a growth path. Unlike other advertising agencies that have shown a decline in revenue, we have shown a growth in revenue. So, we have bucked a general advertising market trend.
How closely aligned are Rediff.com and Rediffusion today? You had once said that you see a lot of potential in the two entities working together. What is the potential that you see now?
Collaboration has already taken place over the last two years. A lot of Tata Trusts work is being done in collaboration, which you will see two months from now. Rediffusion will continue to monitor all the technical areas, because Rediff.com relies a lot on that. We have a very high number and level of people in that space. Balakrishnan has agreed to mentor it, and we will hold him to that promise.
What is your view of the advertising industry overall? What are the things that make you happy, and what are the things that bother you about the industry today?
The advertising industry makes me unhappy because I see very little of strategic value and intellectual talent in work that is churned out. It’s not that every agency is doing bad work. But the question I ask is – what is your average? Did you score 100 10 times? Or 100 once in 10 times? What is your average? When you are doing a campaign for a client, if your average is mediocre, you’ll live with mediocrity. So I'm not too happy with the creative standard, and the quality of delivery of advertising.
When I see individual areas of brilliance, from anybody – not just Rediffusion - I am the first to applaud it, and the first to point it out to Rediffusion. Can we do as good as that? Can we do better than that? Use that as your benchmark. That's what makes me happy. New ways of thinking and creating and engaging.
What is your one word of advice to Sandeep Goyal?
My word of advice to him 25 years ago, and my one word of advice to him today is the same – ‘Be fearless’. Fearless that you will put out a thought, an idea you believe in, irrespective of client designation. Do not ever cow down to somebody because they are a senior executive or client. I know Sandeep. He is already fearless. I just want him to continue to be the same.
Rediffusion is India’s largest independent full-service ad agency, set up in July, 1973. The agency has to its credit some cult ad campaigns created for its marquee clients such as ‘Whenever you see colour, think of us’ for Jenson & Nicholson; ‘Hum Red & White peene walon ki baat hi kuchh aur hai’ for Red & White cigarettes; ‘Annu taazgi de de’ for Tata Tea, ‘Gimme Red!’ for Eveready and the recent ‘Isko laga dala, toh life jhingalala’ for Tata Sky. Rediffusion was also responsible for creating the cult ad film featuring AR Rahman, with the memorable Airtel brand tune. The agency currently works with Tata Sons, Parle, Tata Trusts, Tata Motors, State Bank of India, Liebherr, Larsen & Toubro, Brookfield, PGIM, Orra, Eveready, Dey’s Medical, Sulekha, Danone, Sun Pharma, Dr Reddy’s, Audi India and many more brands. The company’s brands include Rediff.com, Everest Brand Solutions, Rediff Direct, Rediff Healthcare and Rediffusion Consumer Lab.
WILL AIRTEL BE BACK?
“During his earlier stint at Rediffusion, Sandeep Goyal worked on and strategically developed the brand Airtel. The brand name Airtel was created by us. We got hold of A.R Rehman to create the Airtel jingle. That was the first commercial jingle he ever did. We thought out of the box even then - create something that will last for a long time. Even today, 25 years later, Airtel is using the same tune,” says Nanda. Much later, in 2010, the agency lost the Airtel business. On being asked whether Airtel is going to be wooed back, with Sandeep Goyal on board, Nanda says, “It is his decision, not mine.”