For Contract Advertising, born out of JWT India in 1986, there has been no looking back, it has been a fascinating journey filled with learnings, challenges and a constant effort to churn out great work against all odds
Over the years, Contract Advertising has become the popularly quoted example of a second agency brand that shed the younger sibling garb, and competes in the advertising business in its own right. The year 2011 was special for the agency, as it marked its silver jubilee celebration. Contract has spent the year engaging its clients and other industry associates, celebrating the work done in the last 25 years and the relations that it has built.
Since its inception in 1986, Contract Advertising, younger agency of JWT India, has donned many avatars. It has handled conflict businesses and also global associations that JWT had in other markets. When it was celebrating its 20th birthday, Contract attempted to move to a place, where it gave the industry philosophies such as ‘Grow Young’. The one thing that can be said true for the agency for all these years is its continued efforts to differentiate its presence in the marketplace. As Michael Maedel, President of JWT Worldwide, puts it, Contract Advertising is a “truly integrated agency, something other agencies rarely deliver in their approach”. For Maedel, it is the culture, people and passion that defines Contract. He says, “They have lived it for many years and it shows.” JWT is even contemplating introducing Contract as a brand in other markets including Sri Lanka, where they see opportunity.
Signing off 25th Birthday with a Big Year
The three major focus areas high on Contract’s agenda for the next couple of years are broadening the scope of services, improving the creative output further and re-energising the talent mix of the agency. The agency is keen to grow on the digital front as well, and is in fact in the phase of identifying acquisitions to leverage the medium.
The agency’s work for JK Tyres, Cadbury India, Asian Paints, American Tourister and Domino’s amongst others stood out in 2011. JK Tyres’ green initiative ‘Soles with Souls’ demonstrated Contract’s ability to think beyond traditional advertising and also won the agency accolades on international and domestic awards platforms. Nick Romas, JWT Chief Financial Officer, Asia Pacific, adds, “They’ve got some good work on HSBC, Shopper’s Stop and NIIT as well in the year.”
The year has been particularly impressive for all the new businesses that Contract has added to its client portfolio. The list includes brands in various categories such as Hindware Sanitary, Corelle Kitchenware, Ashok Leyland, Piramal Realty, Cavinkare’s Chik and digital brands Google and Moneycontrol to name a few.
But the biggest thing that Contract Advertising cherishes is the relations it has built over the years, especially with its clients. And if the views of some of the advertisers that Contract works with are anything to go by, the respect is mutual.
A Lasting Contract with Clients
“They work with utmost passion to make a positive difference to the brand,” says Ajay Kaul, CEO, Jubilant Foodworks Ltd, the company that owns brands such as Domino’s Pizza. “They keep challenging themselves internally and in the process keep on adding value to our business,” says Amit Syngle, Vice President, Sales & Marketing, Asian Paints. Asian Paints has worked with Contract since 2000.
A more recent relation is with Tara Jewellers and Edelweiss. Vikram Raizada, Executive Director, Marketing, Retail & Business Development, Tara Jewellers, says “The 3 Ss of Contract as seen by Tara Jewellers over the past year or so are Sound, Strategy, Studied Objectivity and Sensible Sobriety.” Shabnam Panjwani, Head, Marketing Communication, Edelweiss, says, “Contract has been the single most consistent agency since as far back as I can remember – a big agency stature with the soul and hunger of a small creative hotshop! It is also one of the few considered both creative and effective – a perfect balance of both Abbys and Effies... in a cut-throat highly competitive industry, the one agency everyone respects. Probably says a lot of the leaders who ran it and continue to run it.”
|ALL ABOUT CONTRACT |
Contract Advertising is an advertising company founded in 1986 with Ram Sehgal as its first President. Its specialties include Advertising, Branding, Design, one-to-one marketing, CRM, Loyalty, Digital Marketing.
‘I look for ‘the Contract gene’ in any person I work with’ Or ‘We’re moving from brand communication to brand experience’
Talking to IMPACT, Ravi Deshpande, Chairman and CCO of Contract Advertising, says the motto that keeps the agency going is ‘Grow Young’
Q] Your advertising agency is among the top 10 today. What is the USP that helps you maintain this position in a competitive scenario and even manage to grow?
Contract has been among the top 10 for many years. Creatively, we have always been among the top 5,and enjoyed being the number 1 creative agency, for a few years. We have consistently produced quality creative work on every brand we’ve worked on. Our ‘Grow Young’ philosophy keeps brands forever young and desirable for consumers. This and our Unboxing toolkit has produced fresh work and routinely won accolades from both consumers and peers.
Q] Has Contract changed its approach towards creative ideas as marketers keep their budgets tight in a recession-threatened year? Does the cost factor have a major influence in bringing creative ideas on board?
We were one of the first agencies in India to recognise, non-traditional ways of thinking, iContract has been voted the second best digital company in the country recently. We will increasingly offer clients solutions that earn them media impressions rather than spending on traditional media, we routinely also evaluate the cost effectiveness and consequent ROI of our ideas. Two years ago, our ‘Let’s Make a Difference’ annual programme focused on generating recession-friendly ideas for clients, many of which were implemented. We’ve been ahead of the curve in offering clients the additional bang for their bucks.
Q] Have you seen a change in the quality of creative talent in the last 25 years? How do you pick talent for your team?
Creative talent is a new breed when it comes to skillsets these days. Earlier, a creative director had TV, Press, Radio and maybe Outdoor to worry about. Today, creative people have to worry about not just old media, new media, unconventional media, but also technology that enables dynamic means of brand engagement with consumers in interactive ways. So they don’t get home very early, do they? I pick talent on the basis of passion, dedication… I always look for ‘the Contract gene’ in any person I work with.
Q] Do you see your company getting more clients on the digital front?
Yes, across the board. We are doing much more digital work - the ratio is around 70:30 of traditional work to digital work. Our social media divisions have had great success on Shoppers’ Stop, for example. We now have digital brands like Firstpost.com and Google, we’re excited to participate in this renaissance and look forward to being at the intersection of technology, creativity and communications. All part of a larger trend that’s moving us from brand communication to brand experience.
Q] Will there be any major changes in any of your divisions - DesignSutra, iContract and Core Consulting - in future? Which division registers the higher growth rate?
These aren’t divisions, they are parts of the single organism that is Contract. For clients who need the entire gamut of services, from product planning handled by Core, brand identity by DesignSutra, communication by Contract and iContract, all working together seamlessly. For what we don’t do ourselves, we have strategic partnerships such as Encompass for on-ground events. While we are in favour of the status quo, we remain aware of the need for change when necessary.
Q] Why does Contract maintain a low profile? What are the challenges you have faced in the last 25 years?
We prefer that our work be high profile, which it is, at the award shows. Challenges motivate us to do great work against all odds. We have challenged ourselves on numerous occasions. In 2005, we set out to regain our creative reputation. In 2007, we set out to change the amount of non-traditional solutions we offer our clients. By 2008, we won over 30 medals at local and international award shows.
Q] What is important in executing a commercial? Every commercial jumps headlong into showcasing the benefits of the brand, but do you see companies now preferring a brand-building exercise over TV commercials?
Like people, brands need to introduce themselves, say, ‘Hello, I’m so and so, this is what I do.” Once that’s done, you need to tell people what makes a brand interesting. Like interesting people, the best brands are surprising and interact with you in meaningful enriching ways. Commercials are nothing but engaging videos telling the brand story. The future of TV might change, but the power of story-telling will never fade. Depending on the life-stage and ambitions of the brand, the communication mechanism must be chosen. We just have to know what engages people most.
Q] Have you ever considered taking the Contract brand to other markets beyond India?
Contract has offices in Thailand, Hong Kong and Pakistan. In the future it would be a good idea to create a network.
Q] What is the growth rate of Contract Advertising? Where do you place Contract a year from?
In certain segments we are growing at 10-15% and 15-20% in others. A year from now, we see ourselves healthier despite the downturn.