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Passing On the FCB India Baton


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His closing act at FCB India was applaud worthy, and now Rohit Ohri who is also incidentally a theatre enthusiast, has moved on to a bigger global stage. But not before choosing his successor in Dheeraj Sinha, who has had a proven track record at Leo Burnett. Sinha is the new CEO of FCB India and South Asia while Ohri has moved on to become Global Partner at the network. These are clearly interesting times and if our conversation with the two leaders is anything to go by, it will usher in a new era of creativity powered by data and technology at FCB India.

Q] Before you, advertising leaders like Tarun Rai moved to an APAC role and then retired in a year, but Piyush Pandey moved to a global role and continued to play his inning at Ogilvy. For you, is this a step towards retirement or are you stepping into a bigger playground?
Ohri: This is a real job and task for the network. Growth is slowing down in the western part of the world and coming from APAC instead. Our Global CEO, Tyler Turnbull’s vision is quite clear that this is the job he wants me to do, primarily because of my previous experience. What I found exciting was that after contributing to the country specific role, now I can contribute across the network. I have a deeper connection with FCB, Susan Credle and Tyler. It is not just a place of work, it’s a place where I’m valued, and I want to continue here.

Q] If I were to draw a comparison, Leo Burnett’s winning entries at Cannes Lions were always fundamentally different from FCB’s. The former was more innovation and tech driven while FCB was more emotion led. Despite the difference in approach, what really made you believe that Dheeraj Sinha can build on what you have left behind and will be the ideal successor?
Ohri: I first met Dheeraj at Goafest, when I had just spent a few months at FCB. He was on the panel I was moderating; it had crossed my mind back then that he would be a great successor at some point. I have been in touch with him ever since then. He is very intelligent, knows his business and is a great person. While this search for the CEO was a global one with Susan and Tyler taking the final call on Dheeraj, I fully supported it.

As far as the difference between the agencies we have both led is concerned, the creative brilliance of Swati and Robby is still there, and our vision for the future is creativity powered by data and technology. Thus, it will be a happy marriage by bringing in Dheeraj to work with Swati Bhattacharya and Robby Mathew.

Q] After making Leo Burnett a force to reckon with in India, Dheeraj, what really compelled you to pick FCB as your next challenge?
Sinha: There’s this whole concept of serial entrepreneurs, I wish there was one on serial builders too as I’d like to see myself that way. I’ve been committed to the idea of creativity and humanity. My vision is of an organization where creativity and strategic thinking are at its peak. A place where we’re solving high-end client and human problems and where you have a suite of services —Digital, Performance, Production, Video, and Experience to bring that alive. That’s the simple structure in my mind, and when I was talking to Tyler and Susan, I understood their commitment to creativity as an economic multiplier and how it can transform businesses. I liked that idea and found that it was authentic, wanting to bring about a change in the world. Some of the conversations went really well, and I felt that I could give this a shot.

Q] Rohit Ohri has built a formidable agency in the past many years, from back when you saw FCB as a competitor at pitches and award shows, where did you feel FCB always had the edge?
Sinha: One thing which always stood out for FCB, not just from when I joined Leo Burnett, but from the time that I’ve joined the business, is that they hug their clients very tight. If you look at some of their relationships, they have stood the test of time. It’s amazing how an agency has managed to build brands over decades. In my early days at MICA, for example. FCB was known for its fantastic strategy, there were stories on how FCB folks know their client’s sales chart and the positioning curve better than the client. In the years that followed, Rohit and Swati also brought about a huge creative transformation.

Q] Rohit, during your watch at FCB, you put FCB India on the world map for the first time in decades at Cannes Lions, but many Golds and years with highest metal tally later you nursed this desire to win that Grand Prix for FCB India, are you going to pass on the dream and the pressure to Dheeraj Sinha?
Ohri: Yes, I think so and I would like to, but I am still part of the FCB family and now I am on the global team. So, getting a Grand Prix becomes easier. But while that is the next big thing that we want to do, Dheeraj and I both don’t chase awards. As Susan Credle says, ‘Give me campaigns that will make the brands famous, then we will see if they can win at Cannes’.

Q] Dheeraj has had a great partnership with Rajdeepak Das and you have had a great one with Swati. Are you just as positive about a great partnership between Dheeraj and Swati which is imperative for the success of a network?
Ohri: When I came in to this agency, I didn’t have a partnership with Robby, but I have a really good one with him now. We are an industry which manufactures ideas and our machinery is the creative department which is thus the most important part of our business. Swati made us believe that impossible is nothing, we started off with Sindoor Khela, which people thought was a fluke and then she delivered hits year after year. And then Robby’s flaming torch was ‘The Punishing Signal’ and this year ‘Tr. for Teacher’. They have both truly pushed the creative agenda and now we are waiting for Dheeraj to bring in the tech/digital side with him to combine with the emotional side. And then it’ll be a force that nobody can beat.

Sinha: Raj and I are like brothers and this relationship has taught me how to put yourself behind someone and let him/her shine, both me and Raj took turns to do that and stood up for each other. Those are learnings on how you create partnerships and a safe environment between two people. They are the principles that are imperative in building creative- strategy partnerships. I’m completely sure that there’ll be more partnerships like that. I know Keigan Pinto from my past life at Bates. I have admired Swati from outside as an industry professional and heard fantastic things about Robby. I am looking forward to working with them all.

Q] Rohit, now that you have passed on your responsibilities in India to Dheeraj, what is the biggest challenge for FCB in APAC that you have been tasked with addressing? What are the key focus areas within this region for you?
Ohri: I am tasked with creating a plan for 6-8 months, starting January, for the APAC region which we will present to IPG in Q3. Singapore is a big market and we have a very good presence in Malaysia, then there is Thailand, and Vietnam where we are rather small right now. The network has been dominated by North America. We have pockets here which are very strong, like India and New Zealand. There are many strategies that we are considering right now which is an intersection between acquisition, pulling some capabilities that we have across the world into the region, or taking some part of our big brand, which is FCB/SIX to launch there. For e.g., what form should we take if we were to create an offering in Singapore. How to make Kinnect bigger, they are already doing a fair degree of work with FCB global agencies in Chicago, Canada, UK, etc. I am also working on a very large project on defining our network, to have consistency world over.

Q] Dheeraj, networks today are under immense revenue pressure and this is the first time that you will be directly reporting to a global boss- Tyler Turnbull. Does that excite you or make you nervous?
Sinha: It excites me because Tyler and I have had a lot of conversations. He is a great guy, straight shooter. What it allows me to do is be a lot more closely knit with the global network. For e.g., we are a global agency then why isn’t there more flow of talent within, some such ideas are being discussed. So, I think this relationship will be an advantage, I will learn more and be able to leverage the globality of FCB as a network for India.

Q] Which are the clients that you are really looking forward to working with at FCB?
Sinha: As a leader of an organisation, it’s my job to see all clients are healthy, happy, growing and getting importance irrespective of their size and scale, that has been my policy always. What I do see from outside is a fantastic roster of really large and successful clients.

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