As DAN races towards the No.2 spot, creative agencies tell Best Media Info about the journey with the network and the freedom it gives them to work
Why do creative agencies prefer to work under DAN? The agencies under the DAN umbrella have all good things to say about the network, which is close to its target of being the No. 2 in the country by dethroning the 80-year-old competitor from the spot. DAN has been on an acquisition spree right from the days it was Aegis Inc. In 2014, it was rebranded as Dentsu Aegis Network.
Acquisitions include Communicate2, now called iProspect India and Taproot India (now Taproot Dentsu) in 2012. The most recent ones are Happy Creative Solutions (Happy Mcgarrybowen) and Fractal Studio Ink in 2016.
Best Media Info spoke to DAN agency heads to know and understand their chemistry and compatibility with the network. ‘Chemistry’ is what Ashish Bhasin, Chairman and CEO, DAN South Asia, and Chairman, Posterscope, said is one of the most important filters while acquiring an agency. We spoke to Santosh Padhi, Co-Founder and CCO, Taproot Dentsu; Vivek Bhargava, CEO, DAN Performance; Brian Tellis, Co-Founder and CEO, Fountainhead; Nabendu Bhattacharyya, Founder and MD, Milestone Brandcom; Madhu Chhibber, CEO, Perfect Relations; Rajiv Dingra, Founder and CEO WATConsult and Tanay Kumar, Co-founder, CEO, Creative Director at Fractal ink Design Studio.
Freedom to work
Whenever there are acquisitions and mergers, there’s a worry of losing freedom, the dilution of culture and working style. DAN, however, has apparently kept the independence of the agencies as it is.
While Padhi termed the freedom as ‘an independent agency within the network’, Bhargava named the network as one that ‘values entrepreneurs’. Kumar from the recently launched Fractal Studio said that ‘you don’t work under DAN, you work with DAN’. He stressed how DAN retains the essence of acquired businesses.
Chhibber, who heads a recently acquired agency, has already felt the goodness of being part of a larger organisation. She mentioned how they still feel as independent as ever in thinking, creativity and manner of client servicing. Bhattacharyya also enjoyed the freedom and transparency at DAN. He firmly said, “What interested me was that the company was built on entrepreneurship. It’s a very open organisation where you are not dictated.”
Dingra laughed out saying, “Oh. This is a wonderful place since it is a big family sans pesky relatives. Bhasin is a man who knows how to keep acquisitions at arm’s length, still encouraging. His management style is more casual, friendly and accessible. The attitude is that they want you to thrive and grow, there’s no micro-management.”
While Bhasin already stated that One P&L formula for DAN is one of the key reasons for its growth, the agencies also feel that the way of working gives them a lot of strength and confidence. Shripad Kulkarni, Managing Director, Vizeum, one of the oldest agencies of DAN, feels that One P&L is surely a very simple and clear way of making sure that everyone works towards one goal. “There are two legs to this: how are revenues divided and how to coordinate for work. We have multiple formal and informal interactions across management levels of companies which ensures coordination.”
Bhargava too mentions that the One P&L was a critical factor in choosing DAN over other networks, and how amazing this decision has turned out to be. “The collaboration between all our colleagues, the freedom that is given to you, the total approach of fairness and transparency make every day a joy.”
Kumar, Chhibber, Tellis and Dingra appreciate and second Bhasin’s thought as to how brilliantly the One P&L factor ties the destinies of all the agencies. Kumar added, “Internally, it allows us to be uninhibited and completely transparent with each other and leverage the strengths to help drive bigger mission.”
Tellis mentioned how DAN’s One P&L policy was a big pull for them as it gives exposure to all the clients of the network.
Will DAN become No. 2 in time?
While Bhasin mentioned how the network has probably already reached its goal and that the announcement will come when the numbers are out, we asked the agencies what they thought about the goal.
Bhargava mentioned how the goal didn’t really seem as achievable as it was. “I initially it was a pipe dream, but the growth we have witnessed in the last four years has astounded our biggest critics. I strongly believe that we will achieve what we have committed in 2017.”
Kumar said, “In regards to the number game, my personal view is that it’s the attitude which places you there and in our minds we are already on the path to be number one.”
Padhi expressed his trust in Bhasin’s vision when he said, “Bhasin knows where he is headed to. He talks a different language with Taproot and a very different one to may be a Vizeum or Carat. He is very passionate on this and has taken the No. 2 target very seriously. I’m sure we will soon be there.”
Chhibber too is confident about DAN’s client-centric approach. She added, “With this approach as well as increasing the bouquet of services to become a one-stop shop for clients across domains, the agency is well placed to accomplishing its vision.”
We then spoke to the agency heads to know what made them to choose DAN.
Padhi of Taproot Dentsu said, “It's been close to five years and we took about three years to decide whom to marry. We found DAN (then Dentsu Inc) as more human, somebody we can trust. After that, we have been treated as special within the network, not only in India but also at the global level. I am extremely happy the way it has panned out for us.”
About the cons of getting into a big network, Padhi said that it has made the agency fall in line. “When we were on our own, we used to hardly maintain accounts strictly. Everything was fluid. We have also been penalised for a few issues, but now, there's a particular structure that we are following and I think that is why we are better off on our documentations.”
Bhargava added for iProspect saying, “The first 14 years of this company were really tough. There was hardly any money or respect. My passion for the industry is the only reason for my survival all these years. Ever since the acquisition, iProspect too grew almost 1,500 per cent over the last 4.5 years. We were already 125 plus at the time of acquisition, today we have crossed 300 plus people.”
Kumar, the newest entrant, is quite buoyant of the fact that Fractal can now boast of 360 degree digital service offerings from within the group companies which will help them win new businesses and build deeper integration with the current clientele.
Uniqueness within the network was an important criterion for Fountainhead’s Tellis. “We helped DAN in their offsite conference; that’s when it all started. DAN works with a precision and agility. There was no dilly dallying. It was very crisp and it had a lot of agility and speed. That’s when the conversation picked momentum. DAN was the perfect partner/ acquirer as they didn’t have any experiential agency. I wanted to be the only one since they have a lot of access to brands and clients. Another beautiful thing about DAN is that there is no interference and they allow you to work in your own space. Also, offering a lot of cross leveraging.”
An entrepreneur at heart, Bhattacharyya wished for freedom to work. He explained, “We kept challenging the status quo and taking Milestone to number one in the out-of-home agency space. Various groups were interested in our organisation and we finally signed up with DAN in 2014. While diluting your equity in a group company, the reason that satisfied us or was how much freedom we will enjoy and what is the culture of the group that we have signed up with. In most of the large organisations, vision is not known by leaders. Here, vision is very clearly. There are no internal conflicts on who will share how much profit and so on.”
Most entrepreneurs these days look up at start-up companies only to reach a high valuation point.
At DAN, Bhargava, founder Communicate2 (now iProspect India), is the only entrepreneur who has reached the earn-out time within DAN and still wishes to continue leading the agency for the network. What keeps him going? And will the others want to stay?
Bhargava said, “Other networks consider the entrepreneurs to be cogs in the wheel, this is why other networks typically lose the entrepreneur after the earn-out is over. 50 per cent of the global top leadership of DAN are entrepreneurs who joined DAN through acquisition. The ability to retain entrepreneurs after their earn-out requires a special and secure leadership and DAN has that. I have just appointed a new CEO for iProspect India, I don’t see myself at any other place.”
Padhi said that he will stay on. “It (Taproot Dentsu) is our baby. We will never disown it. Also, the Indian global journey has just started. The world is just talking about India. There's so much more to do.”
Bhattacharyya too feels that with a constant growth and free environment to work, he would want to stay on. “In last three years our volume numbers have been growing 30 per cent year-on-year. This is much higher than industry perspective. For an entrepreneur, the biggest thing he needs is a challenge. I’m sure DAN as a group has in mind how they can give me challenging offers so that I can think about staying back.”