Respected Sir Mr. Pillai,
We, in the marketing department are working on renewing the retainership contracts for the year 2012-13.
Pillai could be the only hinderance in the whole process as he will ask for various aspects to every factor that we consider in the selecting the creative agencies. He will look at the numbers quoted by various agencies through every line item, I can imagine him asking me why the pamphlet in 2012 is costing us Rs. 50 to make when it costed us Rs. 39 in 2011, the inflation has only gone up by 0.5%? I better tell Sridhar to get the details right in the attachments too, and the phone rings. Its Sridhar only, and I pick up the receiver of my desk phone:
“Good Morning Sir” says Sridhar
“Good Morning, Good Morning”
“How are you sir?”
“I am good. How are you?”
“We will be the way you want us to be Sir” and both of us burst out laughing.
“Yes, tell me” I say breaking the flow of joy,
“Sir, I was completing the proposal, and just wanted to check the final range you have in mind” responded Sridhar,
“You submit the proposal Sridhar, and we will take it to the panel from there” I hesitated in throwing any figure up front as this is supposed to be a closed-door pitch,
“Sure sir, but even if you could tell me a rough range, it will help me assess the resource planning at my end” insisted Sridhar
“Ok, can you call me in the evening?”
“Sure Sir, just indicate a figure and I can call you in the evening to discuss it in detail” Sridhar pushed hard,
“Ok” I paused for a second
“It’s ok sir, just a figure will do, we go back a long way Ganesh Sir”
“Three?” Sridhar stretched the number to make it sound like a worrying question,
“Three hundred thousand per month” Sridhar double checked,
“Ok, that’s great Sir, we will work around this figure then”
“Keep it a little higher, and we will negotiate and bring it to Three” I whispered into my phone,
“Ok, thank you Sir, how are your kids Sir?”
“Ok Sir, thank you”
“No problem” and I put the phone back on the receiver. I am not partial, but Sridhar is a friend, and MD of Vijay Arts and Designs.
Basis the perennial process laid out by the procurement department, we qualified agencies for the second round of assessment. From the 19 agencies that had put up their initial proposals, we are now down to five of the best agencies in India that can serve our various offices for the scope we outlined. These five agencies were:
2. Walter Consulting
3. Lion Designs
4. Yellow Hats
We applied the Five Factors filter to their pitch proposals in the second round of presentations including CPM (Cost Per Month), Work experience, Team, National Presence, and Quality of Ideas and have now come down to final three agencies. We have given them feedback on various aspects of quality of ideas to these three agencies for the final pitch.
The first round of assessment had Nineteen agencies for assessment, and the RFP (Request for Proposal) was published in all National dailies, as is required by law that when a Government agency floats a new contract, the process must be transparent and fair. Transparent, not for the agencies, as it is a closed-door pitch, so they do know the judging criteria but not the competitor agencies they are pitching against. All the agencies are given the same scope, that of communications, it will be five to ten creative campaign concepts, talking about how the product or service they are advertising is the best the customer can ever get which will be further converted to two to three short movies around each campaign concept reinforcing the point using the most convincing actors or models and feet tapping or heart crooning music that will take the message to the minds of unsuspecting customers. Another twenty to twenty-five pamphlets and posters that will go up at streets, office, social channels, websites, and sent home through newspapers, just in case the customers missed out on the compelling videos. These will be supplemented by the promotional campaigns to bring home the point that if the messaging in videos and posters did not assure the customers of the quality of the product or service, then this hard to forego discount will reel them in while they are in their offices working or just idling around with their friends over a weekend. Finally, if the customers are not going to part with their monies to buy the said product because of its high quality or never-heard-before price, then the social pressure created during the festivals will for sure, when the products will be available at even lower prices than during the promotional campaigns, and are further bundled with other products that they never thought they ever wanted. All of this with the transparency of the best intentions of the manufacturers or marketeers of the said product that they want customers to have their produced outputs with price, age, race, color, sexuality, and emotional quotient no bar, that their lives will improve simply with the said product, because they themselves believe so. The process was transparent for the auditors, who may want to open up an investigation Fifty years from now to see whether the process of awarding the contract was adhered to by the involved Government employees, who are served lavish lunches on the day of auditing, that help them digest any or all parts of the process that were not followed.
The process has to be fair, not for the agencies, but for the people of the country, who should receive the best quality of advertisements at the best price possible for the taxes they pay that translates into the revenue for IPO (Indian Petroleum Organization) which in turn pays for the advertisements that promotes unrivalled mileage and protection for the engines of vehicles of the people of India, who more often than not, are served adulterated petrol at the petrol stations of IPO.
Seven of the nineteen agencies pitched through their contacts, high up in various Ministries. These ministers, all but one were right hands of the Prime Minister himself and it will be in the best interest of the IPO to choose these agencies so that the ministry could decide the subsidies and tax cuts for the Oil and Energy sector in the next budget in the most transparent and fair manner. All the Minister’s agencies received various parts of the retainership project in different parts of the country. The last agency out these seven, backed by a member of the Opposition party at the Parliament of India, a former right hand of the previous Prime Minister, and potentially the right ankle of the next Prime Minister whenever the Opposition party comes back in power, was not awarded any part of the retainership project.
The remaining six agencies, which did not make it to the second round of assessment because they were not present nationally will not be able to provide support to regional offices to translate the propaganda in local languages, did not qualify on one of the Five Factors applied to the first round of assessment. It is all scientific.
Dunsopiline, the world’s most renowned branding/advertising agency had a myriad of experience across the world, and some in Oil and Energy sector too, that of designing a petrol station for American Petroleum Group across Europe, which lends them the credibility that they understand the nuances of the sector and more importantly will bring the global quality of work to the communications project of IPO, which is one of the most important criteria in the Five Factors filter system, hence, even with lack of overall local experience, and absolutely none in the Indian Oil and Energy sector, they were selected for the second round of assessment with the feedback on ‘Quality’ to bring Indian sensibilities to the creative idea that was presented. In the board room on the day of second round of pitches, Dunsopiline’s India CEO, Mahesh Ranganathan presented the narrative for their central campaign, which talked about how IPO should take the direction of showcasing their true purpose and capabilities of producing green energy or low carbon footprint petroleum products and how it is connected to the daily lives of the people. He passionately stood near the projection screen and narrated,
“A 6 years old girl Shanti is playing with her friends in a park”,
and the image, of a small girl with a paper plane in her hand could be seen running in the park with bright sunlight coming from her left side from the out of frame Sun, some other kids could also be seen running behind her with equal happiness and fervor, but out of focus, is displayed on the projection screen. The image has a lot of green grass and trees in it. Mahesh Ranganathan then paused for a few seconds and was looking towards us, the judging panel from IPO, perhaps waiting for us to rejoice with madness that we have seen such a heavenly image, when he shifts his earnest gaze towards a young man sitting right across us at the oblong board table with the laptop controlling the presentation, who is now frantically banging multiple keys at the same time. Mahesh Ranganatha’s pause was very small to notice, but was made awkward enough by his gaze towards his young employee to miss, when suddenly a loud boom of giggling children started playing on all the speakers installed in the board room, which was then quickly doused out by the young employee.
Mahesh Ranganathan continued,
“Her father Shantaram come home from office in his sedan, and gets out of his car”,
and the image on the project screen changed to a young bearded man standing next to the car and the sound of a car stopping followed by the closing of the door was played at the correct moment this time, right before the image appeared on the screen.
“Shanti runs towards her father, and her mom Vimla can now also be seen coming close to her husband Shantaram” and the image of a different man holding a different kid in his arms with an elated woman standing beside them can be seen on the projection screen. They are all standing in front of a hatchback now. No sound to this one.
“the kid asks her dad, how was his day?” to which the Dad replied, “it was a satisfying day, thanks to the fuel he got in his car from the IPO petrol station, and everything was brighter thereafter.” Mahesh Ranganathan then looks towards us for any reactions, but there were none, so just to cut the awkwardness in the room, I thanked Mahesh Ranganathan and his team and gave them some feedback “The concept was very unique”, although this is an over-used concept in India, all sectors and industries have used it, from toilet paper manufacturers to restaurants. I continued “this could have a deep impact on our audience”, although the audience couldn’t care a dime because if they would, we will be out of business, but I continued, “Though as a feedback, if you could localize the content a bit”, I said that because the different models in the images were all white Americans and their names were all early 20th century Indian names, both need major calibrations, but overall I said, “ Overall, it’s a good concept, and we loved it”. I had to fight hard but I was able to keep them in the running for the final round, it was key that Dunsopiline was there, because if you want to win in a video game, you have to choose an apt level of difficulty for the Computer AI, otherwise what’s the point.
Walter Consulting was another global consulting and advertising firm that made it to the second round of pitch. Their work experience both in India and the rest of the world was their strong point, which they made by showcasing how for a large Energy company they made the packaging, the new logo, the petrol stations designs, along with the socks of the attendants at the station. Post their presentation in the second round, I told their Managing Director that we will get back to them with a decision very soon. They had to call us several times only to know that they have not made it to the final round and the reason given to them was their high CPM (cost per month).
Lion Designs, a mid-experienced, middle aged, talented Indian agency made it through the first round because of their lowest CPM quotation. In the second round they presented creative concepts around ‘Care’ and linked it to the legacy that IPO brand has. They showed how each employee at IPO is first a citizen of this country, and how they are basically making products with care for their own sons and daughters. Very strong concept, but they were not selected for the final round because their CPM was too low, almost impractical. Their designs in the pitch presentation were beautiful, but did not match my own.
Yellow Hats, a young agency out of New Delhi came to the second round of pitch presentation with a team of twelve people as against four in the IPO judging panel. Their excessive usage of jargon with every slide of their presentation complemented the uncomfortably insufficient amount of clothes worn by one of the two young women in their team, both showing and hiding their insecurities at the same time, and the bosom and legs that were shown as a result were akin to their creative concept idea, really out of the box. Their CEO, Raghu Kopal rushed to me after their presentation with an ingrained insecurity about their young agency’s lack of existence across the nation
“Sir, don’t worry, we are present all over the country”,
to which I replied “Yes, yes, I could feel the presence all over, in the plan”.
Their high CPM was ignored and their sheer presence in the room, not the country, helped them make it to the final round.
Vijay Arts and Designs (VAD), the incumbents and an old agency headquartered in Bombay knew the trick of the trade like no other. Over the years they have shut down their offices in different regions of the country and now work through affiliates, saving them a lot of money while producing passable quality of work. They knew that one does not need bells and whistles to sell petroleum products, one just has to stay available, and at the top of the mind of consumers, which can be done either by continuing to hammer the name of your brand throughout the year through all the available channels of advertising, or associating a celebrity with the brand to make tiny, yet intense spurts of reminders to the consumers that the brand is as good as the movie they saw of that actor/actress. They were given a free pass in the first round and just through the media plan presentation in the second round. No creative ideas were presented.
The three agencies who have been selected for the final round of pitch are:
- Yellow Hats
We will be assessing these agencies on the basis of CPM and the quality of their ideas, which entails their understanding of our industry in depth.
The pitch is being held in our Park Street HQ, at the Tiranga Conference Room. You are humble requested to grace us with your presence for this event.
On the day of the final pitch presentations, there was a thick atmosphere of anticipation in the boardroom, but I had clarity written all over my sweaty forehead. The only spanner in the works could be Mr. Pillai, our super boss, but I knew he was a facts guy and if even one of the three agencies is able to present facts, then we by the end of the day can go home knowing that the past few months were not wasted.
Dunsopiline were gratuitously spectacular in their presentation, the sound worked in tandem with the images, as I noticed that the young guy at the laptop has been replaced with a middle aged man, and the images and names of the characters were aptly calibrated to look more third-worldly contemporary. Yellow Hats flashed and shone as they were expected to. For Vijay Arts and Designs, Sridhar stood up at the top of their presentation and announced,
“You sell petrol, a commodity, and no one gives a shit how you say it.”