Meet the creative gurus: @ramkid of Cartwheel Creative

I had started the ‘Meet the creative gurus’ series a while ago (see here, here and here) but haven’t been able to keep the series refreshed. Among the various departments in an ad agency, I have enjoyed interacting with the ‘creative’ folks (industry label, not mine). The best among them are curious, open minded have varied interests and make for great planners. I have also admired creative folk who’ve won accolades, built a great reputation but are simple & down to earth.

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Meet D Ramakrishna, CEO of Cartwheel Creative Consultancy and @ramkid on Twitter. He has been a creative head at Mudra, Lintas, Forefront and JWT. His work includes Surf Excel Hai Na, Vim halwai, Liril, Lifebuoy, Rin (Yeh naya rang kaon sa hai?), Lux (Shahrukh), Nakshatra (with Tarsem), Philips DVD (‘roti’) and more. His recent work includes many campaigns for Kotak Mahindra (including Kotak Subbu, Kotak Junior, Kona kona Kotak) and the Chilli Paneer film for DBS.

I have never met him but I have read about him in trade magazines. I admire him for going independent long before it became a fad to do so. I have also like some of the work for Kotak and DBS from the agency. Herewith his thoughts on a few questions I asked:

What was the trigger to start Cartwheel?

I started Cartwheel when I was theoretically halfway through my career, assuming retirement at 58. I felt that I had fulfilled at least part of what was expected of me at JWT Mumbai in the three rewarding years I was there. In 2005 ish, there were things happening in JWT that my heart was not in. And there were too many things happening outside that my heart was totally in. Like internet, film, new media, and the start of the start up culture. Within JWT, I wasn’t able to bring conviction to the things I was expected to do. A new JWT was being ushered in globally, and I was privately a bit cynical about the whole exercise. I had already had a brief stint at entrepreneurship (along with Ganesh Baliga) with Fifth Estate in Chennai. And the bug hadn’t left me. So I decided to have another go.

Now the non BS answer: I think I had outgrown reporting to people.

What has been the biggest ‘high’ and the lowest ‘low’ in Cartwheel’s life? Your learning from them?

Bagging Reliance Mobile and being made the lead brand agency within 2 years was a huge high. Helping make Reliance Mobile the most trusted Service Brand (Brand Equity 2009) for the first (and unfortunately last) time was fabulous. Getting Kotak and more recently Tata Unistore are great highs. But if I had to choose one it would have to be the fact that we’ve survived almost 10 years with the core team more or less still intact, and without a single written rule for employees to follow. Responsibility cannot be thrust on people, they just feel it on their own if they feel valued.

The lowest low will have to be the losing of the Reliance account because of a change in CEO. We had invested in a bigger team and a bigger office. We had no other accounts to speak of. We learnt the ‘all eggs in one basket lesson’ in too grim a fashion. We took 3 years to recover from the blow. It was a big basket, and there were many eggs.

Does Cartwheel pitch for business? What’s your view on the pitch process?

Yes, we have pitched for business. No, we don’t like it.

I’m delighted that in the last few months we have been able to tell many a client that we would love to work with them, but not if it involved a pitch. What’s great is that most of them empathised completely, and were game. I wish I had started doing this much earlier.

I am hoping that hereon we can afford to make not pitching a permanent policy.

In general I think that pitches are very misleading because the work is not created collaboratively with the client, like real work is. In a pitch, we work unilaterally, making assumptions which may be wrong or misplaced, and we often try to second guess rather than do what is right. I do not think all pitch processes are mature enough to recognise these factors. This makes the whole exercise rife with heartburn, frustration, and tension.

Does Cartwheel enter global or Indian awards? If not, why not?

Very rarely. And when we do, it is often because the client would like us to.

I have nothing against awards per se, but we completely lack the mindset that would make us care enough to spend valuable time, money, and energy in chasing awards. It’s a bit like the party circuit. If you’re not in it, you don’t really miss it.

What has changed over the 3-5 years with respect to client expectations given the rise of digital?

I can’t remember the last time I chatted with a client and did not discuss digital in one way or the other. It has moved from the wings to centerstage. Be it for edible oil or online shopping. Clients certainly expect ideas from their agency that are well suited to the digital world we live in.

How can the ad industry collectively improve its skill sets for the ‘new advertising’?

I am not sure if segregating digital and mainline agencies makes any sense. Problem is that currently the digital agencies don’t understand brands well enough and the mainline guys don’t get technology well enough. And the fact that clients still want to pay digital agencies peanuts (smaller peanuts than the pay their mainline agency) makes it a problem that will not go away in a hurry. But there is hope , if our experiences with DBS and now Tata Unistore are any indication. There are clients out there who place enough value on new age thinking to be willing to pay well for it even if it does not involve a TVC or a press campaign.

5 campaigns (Indian and International) you loved this year?

I don’t watch a lot of international advertising. But some of the current Indian campaigns that caught my eye are : Grofers, Paperboat, Craftsvilla, Pepsi thi pee gaya, Gujarat Ambuja’s The Great Khali. I could be missing a few.

Hope you enjoyed this series. Do share your comments.

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