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“Business has been kind to us that we've been sustaining fairly in the not-so-short journey, in a good trajectory”: Scarecrow’s Manish Bhatt Part - 2

He speaks about the role of women, the evolution of the advertising industry and more.

MUMBAI: In the second part of the conversation with Manish Bhatt who holds the fort as the founder of Scarecrow M&C Saatchi, tries to delve into what he thinks about the role of women, the evolution of the advertising industry, valuing human relationships, re-scaling up operations if given the chance to do so again and more.

Edited excerpts:

On considering scaling up operations, once again

Scale is a by-product, scale is not an objective. If we see the whole world has gone to a down spike of covid - the entire world, each and every business has its own repercussions.

In the last three years, the agenda is to not get affected or be less affected or come out from the unforeseen which the world has seen in the last few years. So that was the common agenda not only for us, but the whole world, and the entire economy. So we are party to that - we work harder, so that we don't lose the spirit. It’s like wartime - we've seen the worst – and all that could go wrong.

So we've seen it, we came out, we sustained and we survived. I think that's the agenda that has been for the last three years or four years. Apart from that, I think the scale and expansion - I think we don't really operate as one of those corporations operate - I think, more philosophically, we want to sustain the brand, and build and strengthen the brand Scarecrow, I think everything else the business follows. Creativity is not a business like the stock market or selling some FMCG or something like that. It's a business of passion. It's a business of the highest level of job satisfaction, the highest level of doing something like creating something every day.

I don't think it happens so easily. The scale of discovery might be big for an innovator or a scientist. Creators here invent or create something every hour, something on a small scale - probably less significant sometimes a thing in the scheme of things of supply and demand and chain of the economy.

But of course, it's significant. It's very inspiring. It's just very fulfilling and very human. I think if you just look back to the journey that is what we built. I think business has been kind to us. We've been sustaining fairly in the not-so-short journey, in a good trajectory - we've sustained, we've been a collective cause of the livelihood of always 50 to 100 people all the time.

I think that is the achievement - it's a human achievement I think that is more meaningful. I think scale is an inflation of your ego and your general corporate ego. I think we won't change that if it happens, we'll be very happy. But we just see also there are brands which are behaving like large corporations in our industry. And then there are brands like Mother or W+K, BBH in one point of time in some sense or some of these other agencies like Crispin Porter and all those agencies – they have never chased scale in that sense. But they've been respectable agencies even though. I think we just wanted to be respectable to the respective client. We want to be respectful to the young talent which we nurture because someone has to do that job.

I think we concentrate a huge amount of time nurturing talent. I don't think many agencies in this country are interested in hiring 15 people who are freshers, training them and spending a significant amount of time.

We have this initiative called MOM - we have been doing it for almost more than a decade now. We have started with the reverse internship, going to institutes and doing a good thing for the freshers from institutes.

We had been consistently doing workshops and sessions in institutes. We've cultivated this since 2018. We consciously hire young talent from the art colleges and all. We have been training them personally. Like I spent a lot of my time or my colleagues spent a lot of time. We curated and put and exposed lots of stuff even pre and post-pandemic. We had sessions physically in our office and also through Zoom. That's around 17 such sessions. And we do a lot of other things. So I think we've been doing the job which is probably a need gap for the industry. If you won't be happy, we won't be able to do that. I think we are one of the happy bunch who really cares about the culture of the industry as well as our own agency and in general, believe that the young talent needs bridging, training which is normally would have between haves and have-nots.

So I think we try to fulfill that and we do all sorts of things. We are probably fairly an extroverted agency to call people that are office premises. We do events and stuff sometimes to invite industry people. We had enough initiatives like we did Aam Aadmi Party Award which was actually felicitating unsung advertising talents and stuff.

So, all the time we've been doing something or the other, which is helpful to the industry as a whole. It is like altruism where we think that the species should survive - our advertising, the creative species should survive. I think one has to do that also. I think we are fairly concentrating on those areas. If our stomach is not full, we will not be able to do that. I think we are very happy doing what we're doing in terms of the trajectory of business and growth in the trajectory in the kind of directly proportional to the industry growth and trajectory. I think we've been matching with that in our own unique way and I think we are very, very satisfied about our journey in that sense.

On your thoughts about the role of women in Scarecrow

I think whether it’s women, children, or elderly people - I think compartmentalisation itself is a disservice. When we did a Holi film, blind children playing Holi in 2007 for Eye Bank Association, if you remember, the film was treating blind people in an absolutely normal manner.

It's just a normal performance in the film. We didn't even treat them specially. We rather gave a message that public caused films where we generally normally show the misery of deprived people. I think what we tried to show is that there's a celebration in their life. We showed the positive side of it. And I think it worked and touched a lot of people. I think we borrowed from that. We got inspired by the work we did. I think we always choose not to discriminate against people on the basis of gender or any sort of classification.

We just simply treat people with their meritocracy and we don't really have special or unusual treatment for people. I think there are enough women - every year, if you see our list of freshers, we have so many women from art colleges who join us, and many of our colleagues are fathers or mothers of a daughter.

I think we all respect both and all genders. Rather we do have people from the gender other than male and female also in the past. And we have never even judged them. They work like normal employees and then go, spend their good time here - we have a testimony of such people and I don't think we either upscale or downscale based on their gender or any other classification. We think that they are treated equally and I think the industry also believes in that.

I think it's not an issue - as far as I can understand and whatever time I have spent in the industry, I think making that a debate itself is probably a disservice to the respect that they should have, that’s what I personally think.

On the evolution of the advertising industry and its myriad phases

I think we are losing self-belief, and when I say losing self-belief, I mean the entire set of people who deal with the industry - be it clients, be it the people from our advertising community who create things. Everybody is losing self-belief due to a lot of reasons. I think first to start with the crudeness of the economy and its byproducts - the entire economy which is driven by a developing country like us who's sometimes extraordinarily ambitious to scale up. I think scale is not the answer to everything. Scale sometimes becomes inversely proportional to the quality which we deliver and create. I think because we are always trying to change the number game and in that we sometimes lose the meaning of doing so.

So, the brands market, the business is changing due to the new competition which has been opened up for consumerism which is the internet and digital world, where everything is now getting compared with not a shop in your local city or a village, you're now competing with the whole market in the whole globe.

It is good to create a spirit which is competitive but it is bad to be unfair to the quality which we developed. Like, someone makes dosa on a thela, which is in your corner, and he's known for that. Now, if he scales up, it affects the quality of the dosa which he serves, I think that's not something one would want. So I think there are lots of businesses, brands and creative services that do need that attention and time being spent to do good things. I think it affects that. I think that is where commerce is actually affecting the art of our field, the art of our industry as a whole.

And then the second thing is that science and technology were supposed to reduce labour, the blue collared-ness in us a little - like ease and convenience was the thing. But then we got caught up a little too much with the fanciness of this technology and tried to use it not so insightfully. I think we've been putting technology in all the little things. Like, for example, as humankind, we just wanted to be less vulnerable to each other. So we put machines instead of humans. But in the end, over a period of time, we converted transactions into relations. Now, putting relations back to the transactions, we are making it a cold world. That is what. Probably that is the byproduct of the technology which we are ending up with.

I think at Scarecrow, we still value human relationships, emotions and all. In fact, the quest for technology is going to make emotions more valuable and I think we are sticking with the fact that emotions are our human wealth and relationships are actually our human wealth.

I think over a period of time we wanted to champion human emotions and when technology becomes a commodity, I think we will try to stick around with human emotions as our power and our differentiator. I think we would like to champion that and we would want to urge people also to do so because otherwise there's no end.

On how 2023 is going to be any different for Scarecrow as compared to the previous years

No, Scarecrow is a progressive agency. I think we are really not ready for any change. I think anything which is an organic change, we are very ready for it. Anything which is drastic, we count as a novelty value and ignore it because those things will come and go.

Anything which is insightful and organic change, I think we welcome and we want to mould ourselves in that without losing the classics and timeless, time tested value which we have developed and adored over a period of time.

So I think without losing the old values, we try to adapt ourselves to a new thing, but not be desperate about it.

On the expectations from Scarecrow in 2023

I think the inclusive work which we do with our young talent is very fascinating. Basically, I think we have seen community lunches, we do community creative. I think we really use a lot of our young talent at its best. I think the pressures, the kind of creative output they generate, I don't think most of the industry has patience and probably paid attention which should be and I would say that all agencies and more agencies should do this.

But I think we at Scarecrow, for whoever believed in Scarecrow and joined as a young and fresh talent, we have been really channelising them at their best and I think what they're generating is something which you need to look out for.

I think all our latest work has been an outcome of the youngest of the lot and I think we're really proud of that. And I think since 2018 we are conscious about it and I think what we're generating out of them, I would say it’s a new phase of our culture and I think we’re really cherishing that.

On the business side of the agency

It’s actually a difference in the culture. We've been very organic.

A lot of clients who open our business credentials deck ask how we grew. I think we have two ways to put it. One is that. Like if you see our client list, I think we have worked with many conglomerates - those conglomerates would not put their trust in us if they don't really think that we are not worthy of it.

Sustainably, we work with a lot of larger companies. Now, the biggest case study of that has always been that whenever we got an opportunity to work with one humble brand of a group or a conglomerate, we always grew within that group.

So we have case after case. We worked with, let's say, to start with Religare. When we started we had one brand which is Religare Macquarie. When we pitched for them, the Scarecrow name didn’t exist - we had a visiting card with Me, Raghu and Joy with Barista and CCD on our visitor’s cards that time, and we won a business against Ogilvy and a couple of other people. That was the first account of Religare. And then we virtually handle everything of Religare.

In the Essel Group, we handled Zee Khana Khazana to some ten odd brands we used to work with, from AndPictures to a lot of things.

So be it any group. Mahindra, Reliance, etc. Whenever we got an opportunity to work with one small humble brand we've always done that much that they put more trust and we kind of grew within that relationship.

Yes, I think that is the most valuable thing - that we have when you believe in us, we grew. I think that's the condition. Like we want people to believe in our culture, our solutions, and our people and I think we grow with you.

I think that is what we say. I think we may have worked with two of the conglomerates, then slowly by three or four or we grew in terms of the number of big companies we worked with. And along with that, we have also worked with brands/companies within that group. That is one way - in terms of a rational way of putting it.

Creatively, what we did is we tried to develop absolutely a new genre of communication all the time. Like, for example, we have done a number of music-led work.

I think we always believe that when advertising started in India and internationally, there was a lot of music in that industry. We're trying to put belief back into action and categorically trying to do a lot of music-led stuff.

Similarly in culture, like for example, we all heard and believe that Santa Claus was a product of Coca-Cola’s advertising. I think we tried to do more and more cultural work and we believe that working on culture is going to go beyond the limits of businesses and in general, advertising limits.

I think it has power, I think, just like we see any other commercial work. I think great monuments are someone's commercial real estate assignments and which become a landmark or a monument or an inspiration for centuries to come.

I think just because advertising is a commercial art, we don't value it less and think that we have a strong belief that it will go beyond. And I think that belief is something which we kind of constantly work upon.

On the vision and way forward

Talking about that, I said something with regard to this on our ninth anniversary. And that would still be my belief. I had said that technology will probably make humankind crippled by offering the carrot of convenience and by showing the stick of speedy life and gradually turn our life into a robotic lifestyle. In that robotic era, in 2028, Scarecrow M&C Saatchi will be the champion in infusing human emotions to the brands like no other in our industry, when most brands and their consumers will be craving for the highest level of emotional quotient.

So this is what probably I think our vision is – that when technology will almost invade everything, we probably think that emotion will be rare and precious and that is what we wanted to kind of hold on to and invest in, so that it will become very valuable at that point of time.

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