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Law and Kenneth's independent growth story

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MUMBAI: In 2004, it was a stormy period for Indian ad agencies as the multinational invasion was in full force. Lintas India had already been taken over by IPG Lowe in 2000 and four years later Enterprise Nexus, floated by Mohammad Khan, got merged with Bates.

Standing firm against this onslaught was this pilot aspirant young Indian who rapidly rose to the rank of Publicis India CEO at the age of 29. He had already left that high position and was helping UK-based independent agency St. Luke‘s start up operations in India in 2002. In this wave of consolidation sweeping the ad world, Praveen Kenneth saw an opportunity rarely spotted or dared by others.

Andy Law, who co-founded St. Luke‘s, was at that time having a rough time with the board members of the UK agency. He quit while Kenneth continued to head the India operations. But the Indian dreamer was secretly nursing his ambitions. He soon realised that being a part of a UK-based global agency network has its restrictions when it comes to growth and progress.

In his professional career graph, Kenneth had already soared the high skies with stints at MAA Bozell, Ogilvy and Mather, McCann Erickson and as the CEO of Publicis India. During this time, he worked with brands like Coke, L‘Oreal, Cathay Pacific, Levers and Helwett-Packard.

Restless at turning an entrepreneur, Kenneth decided to strike. Along with his UK mate Andy Law and investment support from

 Bodyshop‘s Anita Roddick, Kenneth gobbled up St. Luke‘s. His dream: to grow the business in India and make St. Luke‘s the hub of Asia Pacific. Thus was born eight years ago on 3 October the renamed Law and Kenneth as one of the first Indian independent agencies with a global footprint.

"It was a daring dream," recalls CEO and managing partner Anil Nair (Sr.) "But we knew that in order to realise our ideals, we need to go our own way and here we are today, eight years after going solo."

The core team at Law and Kenneth has remained unchanged since its inception with Nair (Sr.), managing partner and head of digital Anil K Nair (Jr.) and managing partner and planning director Sandhya Srinivasan.

The journey has been rough and smooth amid fierce competition. Though Law and Kenneth didn‘t have the cash advantage, the scope to grow was immense as the Indian economy was opening up.

Says Nair Sr, "We came into existence at a time when agencies were merging and getting consolidated. At the time, our resources were our existing clients like ITC, Bombay Dyeing and Godrej, and the workforce we employed."

Running simultaneous operations in London, the Middle East, Africa (Nigeria) and Australia with the focus being on India as the epicentre of growth, Law and Kenneth started its Delhi operations in 2006 and Dabur was one of the first clients for the branch. In 2008, Law and Kenneth started its office in Kolkata and in 2010, the Chennai office was launched. The Mumbai office continues to serve as the headquarters.

Today, Law and Kenneth boasts of an expansive repertoire of clients across product categories like ITC, Renault, DAbur, Bharat Petroleum, TATA AIG, Indian Terrain, Vivel, Hero Motocorp, Godrej Interio, Essenza Di Wills, DAbur Honitus, e-bay, Times Now, Real Activ, Pidilite, Spencers Retail, Fiama di Wills, DAbus Foods, GVK, Kent, ING Life Insurance, Reliance, Zydus Wellness and Park Hyatt Goa.

The agency is now readying itself for the next phase of growth and has expanded its senior level team. It recently made three senior level appointments in Rana Barua (chief operating officer), Amardeep Singh (chief creative officer) and Samir Datar (senior vice-president, strategic planning) in a bid to prepare for the next stage in its growth.

Say Nair Sr, "We have almost doubled our business in the past two years and have an intensive six to eight months to look forward to as far as work is concerned. We felt that these appointments at senior levels were needed to expand our bandwidth and better cope with the work demand that faces us."

The growth for Law and Kenneth has come in the organic manner. One of the agency‘s founder clients ITC‘s entry into the personal care category was spearheaded by Law and Kenneth. As that business grew, it required them to expand their team which spurned their growth. Similar is the case with Dabur which re-launched Honitus syrup and lozenge, the communication for which was handled by Law and Kenneth. In case of Hero Motocorp, the agency handles the brand communication and does close to four to five campaigns a year.

"Hero Motocorp is spending substantial amounts of money. It takes an army to handle as it is a humungous account. It‘s probably the largest two wheeler account in the country. We may not handle a single product, but people have seen the brand intervention and communication from ‘Hum mein hai Hero‘ to the Olympics communications to the mileage campaign. So in one year‘s time, there were four to five campaigns by us for the company and each campaign was in the Rs 200 to 300 million range, which makes it close to Rs 1.5 billion spent over a period of time," says Nair Sr.

Law and Kenneth is not an average advertising agency, according to Nair. The focus is to offer the client an integrated brand communications service. The agency prides itself on its integrated approach - it has a creative (Law and Kenneth), digital (Digital Law and Kenneth) and experiential (Ngage Law and Kenneth) wings to cater to the growing needs of its clients.

The current plan is to actually make the agency a viable option for big brands. Law and Kenneth approaches the business with an absolute dispassionate and fair view on what works in a market place. There is no creative or planning or servicing agenda that the agency focuses on. The focus in turn is on coming up with outcomes that are favourable for the clients and the industry.

"Nearly 20 per cent of our business last year came from non advertising ventures. Digital Law and Kenneth is seen as one of the most brand centric agencies in the country. The reason is that we don‘t only look at it as digital. The person driving that department, Anil K Nair, is a planner from mainline. Sometimes digital agencies lack in the understanding of brand principles, though they maybe fabulous at technology. So, we have a brand person to drive our digital front, interact with the clients and the technology people act as the backend. This formula has been a tremendous success. We handle clients like Idea and Hero through the digital set up," informs Nair Sr.

It is now looking at growth but the agency would like to continue to do so organically. It believes in acquiring or hiring talent rather than other idea shops.

"It‘s not as if the option to acquire agencies or set ups haven‘t crossed out minds. But we feel that business is something we can always get. So for that we don‘t need to as such acquire companies. If it is talent, yes we are always on a lookout to expand the talent pool at Law and Kenneth. We don‘t lack on any level at Law and Kenneth at this stage. The only thing we lack maybe is time, and an acquisition will not help us with that," says Nair Sr.

While acquiring a company is not on the card, Law and Kenneth owners have no intentions of selling either. It plans to continue as an indie for the time being and build on its strengths. "We value our freedom, our thought and our set up and intend to, for the time being, nurture and grow that," concludes Nair Sr.

In terms of limitations and hurdles, the agency feels that getting new business is not a problem. The era of global brands collaborating with global agencies is fast waning and in fact, in markets like India, brands prefer working with local agencies so that they get the cultural nuances right. The glitch comes when the question of investments comes up. Being headquartered at Mumbai, Law and Kenneth India has to fend for itself and its global branches.

"For other agencies, taking a loan or investments incurs them an interest rate at par with the global rates viz. two to four per cent. In our case, that same amount will cost us an interest rate of 18 to 19 per cent. This is our biggest hurdle presently. We do not have the benefit of a global headquarters," reveals Nair Sr.

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