Why are digital agencies hiring mainline creative heads

Hiring creative mainline guys who understand the brand will help the digital agencies shed their tag of just being execution agencies

In a recent visit to Flying Cursor – for a quick chat with the founders and a hearty meal, I was informed that the digital communication agency has hired a creative head. Amit Acharekar has joined the agency recently after spending more than a decade in traditional advertising agencies. Not only Flying Cursor but quite a few independent digital agencies have adopted this growing trend.

Parag Gandhi – director and co-founder at Flying Cursor, happily finishing his lunch informed, “We are in the business of communication and digital is the medium. We are very fluid when it comes to ​the ​medium.” He further added, “Mainline brings logical thinking into the creative business. It has the ability to address the core issue of brands & businesses which digital lacks for various reasons. As an agency we do a lot of work in the core area of brand solutions and it only makes sense to bring the best in the house.”

Shormistha Mukherjee (other co-founder) has spent more than two decades in the business of advertising and communication. “She came on board five years back with a very fresh and rewarding approach for businesses and brands. This has not only helped us strengthen our work and agency but has also opened up looking at digital in a new way. It’s a tried and tested experiment for us which has done wonders for us,” informed Parag.

For Flying Cursor it has been a tried and tested process. On the other hand, for digital agency Social Kinnect the adoption has been over the years and as the client demands matured. “In our early days, most of our client needs were centered around exploring digital mediums, building a presence across platforms, and developing an understanding of each of the different facets of digital and what to expect as output from them. Also, the expectation from digital agencies was to be able to creatively and efficiently amplify campaigns built by mainline agencies,” shared Rohan Mehta (CEO at Social Kinnect) over an email.

In the last five years, the client understanding and belief for digital agencies has evolved from just building a Facebook page. Though there is enough ground to be covered but the move is happening.

 “The viewpoint has changed to look at digital agencies as strategic and creative thinkers rather than just an execution house.”

“We are extremely tenacious as an agency, but to solve certain problems there are some things that experience can’t replace. This expectation and trust have only been placed very recently on digital agencies, whereas, creative directors in mainline have always had this responsibility. We want to make sure we justify our role. The medium and format of execution might be different, but customers/humans are still the same, and therefore they still respond to the same psychological stimuli.”

The agency has recently hired Gerard Jayaranjan who happens to be a mainline guy but has been in digital for the last 5 years. Rohan believes that Gerard’s strategic creative guidance, firm grasp on the use of the digital medium and compelling ideas will play a pivotal role in further strengthening the growth of the company.

Digital agencies in India want to get rid of being labelled as an execution agency or a bunch of young folks who can manage a Facebook page. The mainline guys have laughed about it openly and made statements like “We built brands because we understand the business.” With this stepchild treatment, digital agencies over the few years walked into a pitch after the mainline guys have decided everything.

In a recent conversation, a founder of a digital agency recalled the day when his team finally got up to pitch digital ideas, the CMO excused himself for a loo break. Another harsh reality that the digital agencies are well aware – the CMO/CEO is more comfortable making business decisions with the creative head from a traditional agency.

In a candid conversation, Amit Desai, Co-Founder at AKG Technologies shared that one of the reasons the company has hired couple of creative heads is because the competition is tough. “If we don’t deliver and fall short, the mainline agencies who now have digital wings are waiting to consolidate.”

The other reason he stressed on was “brand understanding”, a reason similar to what other agencies have witnessed.

“Brand understanding is another critical aspect why digital agencies have brought in mainline creative expertise”

The move definitely is a progressive one, at a time when digital agencies wish to be partners for brands and not just an execution agency. It is happening but it will take time especially in a country where the businesses are still driven by traditional advertising. The recent DAN report stated that the digital spends stands at 15% in 2018 and is predicted to be 24% in 2020. Inside sources reveal that spends are barely touching the double digit.

However there isn’t a doubt that digital is present and future. People who are making the move now will stand out tomorrow. Amit is one of those mainline guys who joined Flying Cursor recently and is heading the creative team. Replying to my questions in an email – ‘Times they are a-changing’ when I asked what made him switch from mainline to digital.

“Today everything’s become dynamic. A brand needs to reach consumers wherever they are. Mainline advertising limits you to a TV commercial, print, or a radio campaign. But digital offers a far bigger playing field. And a far interesting one at that. There are multiple ways to reach consumers, flirt with them and hook them for life. In a tenth of the time taken by mainline advertising. Digital is a wild forest fire.”

Additionally, clients are pushing and challenging mainline agencies to think beyond the conventional mediums of TV and print, added George Kovoor (Head of Creative, OgilvyOne Worldwide, Mumbai.) “I think a lot of the younger creative directors are naturally inclined to social and digital hence are equally at home thinking in these mediums as they are in the TVC space.”

“Given the exponential rise in video on digital platforms to convey brand narratives, creative heads from mainline who have honed their craft as storytellers find it easier to embrace this medium. Hence there is an increasing shift of creative heads moving from mainline to digital,” informed Navin Kansal (National Creative Director at Indigo Consulting.)

But how adept are the mainline guys when it comes to digital thinking. Of late I have realized there is a huge difference between digital native thinkers and just having an understanding of digital. Rohan believes that rather than referring to them as mainline guys, let’s call them creative directors or brand thinkers. “It is only if we look at them from this perspective that we will sooner be able to get where we need to. I believe they are more than ready to adapt, and some of the most impactful digital campaigns are still developed by mainline agencies.”

While the trend is being adapted by quite a few digital agencies (the independent ones) it also comes with a heavy price tag. When I asked Parag how is he justifying from a business point of view, he shared a classic video from the Bollywood movie Agneepath. Well, I must say I am amused!

The trend is here to stay, opines George. “I think in the next year or two every creative will be forced to think digital so might as well get a head start today.”

But, is the reverse happening too? Mainline guys hiring “digital native thinkers” especially when the known belief is that the traditional agencies fail on digital when it comes to agility and talent.

So, they might as well address this drawback by simply acquiring digital agencies!