A couple of days back I read that Santosh Desai was leaving hardcore advertising. Not surprising I thought, for a man of his thinking and abilities, he probably felt stifled at McCann. And he probably would have felt the same in any other agency.

Then this morning I read an interview with him in AgencyFaqs, where he vented his frustrations on what he called the “narrow and one-track mindedness” of the industry he’s spent 20 years in (a large part of it, where he was the boss!)

Not surprisingly, the interview was flooded with comments in the last 10 hours (16 comments until the writing of this post). While most commenters praised his insights and commended his decision, not surprisingly some of them accused/asked Santosh what he did to change things?

While it’s a valid question (and something we all should ask ourselves, when we complain)… but I was appalled by the gall of anyone to suggest that Santosh did nothing to change the business!

Not to discredit the others at McCann India, but the stature which the agency has today, hasn’t just fallen out of the skies with some divine intervention… nor can you say any one person alone (as some would say perhaps Prasoon Joshi) changed the face of the agency.

Before the arrival of these two gentlemen, McCann’s creativity and strategy was at best mediocre (For example, remember the atrocious work done for Coke in the early days before the Santosh-Prasoon team up?)

Then there’s Account Planning. I cannot thing of too many people who brought so much respect to the function as Santosh did. He even made Creative Directors in other agencies look at their planners in new light. And even got a lot of them to consider making planners their ‘equal partners’ in creativity!

I think we need to give Santosh a lot more credit than he’s being given.

At the same time, what gives anyone the idea, that he’s done here? And that he won’t make a difference to the business as “a client” – from the ‘outside’ that is.

Most of us won’t admit it, but most agencies are completely driven by their clients’ thinking. Their resistance to learn and try new things comes not from their own lack of interest, but rather what they think the client believes and would resist! As weird and uncomfortable as it may sound, this is the reality. The more experimentative our clients, the more experimentative are their agencies.

And finally, if we simply absorb Santosh’s comments with the right spirit, we may actually be able to do something positive about it. With or without our clients’ help!

Note: I would like to acknowledge that we’re not as bad as it may sound. There are still a whole bunch of people around here, with the balls to fight and make a difference – the folks at Ogilvy, for example… and others like the folks at Webchutney who have moved from conventional advertising to creating terrific campaigns online… We just hope to see more and more of us who never give up on trying to do new and interesting things, inside and outside of their agencies.

UPDATE 26 December 2006: Quick after Santosh’s interview appeared, some of the big guns of Indian advertising – heads of agencies – responded in an uncharacteristic but gratifying manner, in this interview on agencyfaqs.

Thankfully they remained objective and didn’t trash Santosh’s thoughts – although they did brand them as part of an emotional outburst in moment of weakness… which most of us would empathise with.

It was also interesting to note how each tried to push their own agency agenda/sales pitch to counter some of Santosh’s allegations. Ambi talks of Santoor and Amul as examples of long term thinking, and Ashutosh Khanna tried to get clever with a Close Up example – which immediately backfired on him, if you see Piyush Pandey’s comment below 🙂

All five agency heads however, rightly veered to and agreed with “the lack of talent in our business”. Which if you ask me, is the core of all our problems. While there are a few good men and women in the business, they’re (without exception) overworked and stretched for thinking and execution time. The number of talented people also hasn’t grown proportionately with the size of our business. So the mediocre thrive, and we’re saddled with tonnes of crap masquerading as creatives, client servicing execs, and of course clients!

Which brings me back to what Santosh said, and the ‘big five’ off-handedly agreed with… the question to ask and keep discussing in the future is – what are we doing about it??

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