In Conversation With Raghu Bhat, Founder Director, Scarecrow Communications
Scarecrow Communications... What does the name signify?
Creativity as it uses a pot, hay and sticks to create a crop guard.
Two negatives that make a positive.
Universality - everyone knows of a scarecrow.
A symbol related to a village - where I hail from.
What challenges did you face when you moved from a mainline agency to start your own company?
I had started seeing myself as an entrepeneur long before starting Scarecrow. So I was mentally prepared for the reality check. I was always hands-on, focussed on work and used to long hours. So those things didn’t change. The 3 biggest challenges were - getting people to join Scarecrow, attracting new clients and getting them to pay us a retainer, as opposed to a project fee. But the important part is the mental adjustment – a small office, rejections…not everyone can handle that. Having Vivek as a partner really helped us in this period as many of the things like legal, accounts, finding office premises were taken care of.
Do you think you would have been a footballer today had the advertising bug not bitten you?
Not a footballer but a football manager or a football analyst for sure. I like creativity and I like numbers. Like advertising, football is at the meeting point of art and commerce. But it has several other ingredients - The artistry of a Neymar nutmeg, the primal emotions of a football fan, the relentless scrutiny of the football media, the mammoth transfer fees, the egos, the rumour mills, the money, the data…They come together to create a tantalizing cocktail.
How successful do you think Scarecrow Communications has been, in giving "young minds a platform to express their creativity"?
I would broaden that a bit. Scarecrow gives young minds a platform to express not just creativity but also THEMSELVES. If I can choose 2 words to define the culture in Scarecrow’s copy department, it would be – NO FEAR. Scarecrow is acknowledged as one of the finest finishing schools for advertising talent. Agencies like Ogilvy, FCB, Leo Burnett, JWT, Lowe and DDB Mudra have hired our account management and creative people in droves. (We are like Southampton of Indian advertising - from whom clubs like Liverpool, Man United and Arsenal shamelessly poach!) Sarvesh Raikar, who was with us, is now with Lowe, and was voted amongst the Top 30 Under-30 talents a couple of years ago by IMPACT magazine. Our creative people from Kapil Tammal, Iraj Fraz in Delhi, Yogesh Rijhwani, Gagandeep Bindra, Joybrato Dutta, Nikhil Kerkar, Lalit Sakurkar, Faraaz, Krupal and many more have created fame for themselves and Scarecrow through their work in the past 3 years. There are also new talents like Mustafa and Saikat whose names our clients are very familiar with and whom even the industry will hear about very very soon.
You once said that "any job that lets you come to work in jeans and chappals can't be all that bad." Now that you are a part of the industry, do you still think it's that easy?
Ultimately, it boils down to what makes YOU happy. I’ve seen marketing managers in big companies wearing formal clothes, sporting formal haircuts, mouthing formal language all the time, being perfectly happy in their jobs. I even know a dentist, a chartered accountant and a professional mourner who say they enjoy their jobs. So it’s not about the job, it’s about the right person for the job. Some people think trashing the ad industry is cool but I think it’s one hell of a job. I get to be creative, I can be myself which is very important and get to think which is a lot of fun. If you are not having fun in advertising, I think you should quit, instead of whining. That’s what I would do. It’s a free country. Rather be the guy who runs for cover when it rains than stand and keep complaining about the weather. As an aside, when people say, advertising is not fun anymore, I am very curious to know (from a Freudian perspective) what exactly is their definition of fun! Also, I’m very clear what our end product is – creativity for brands - that involves creating a brand idea or a TVC or a press campaign, keeping in mind the constraints of media space, brand values and deadlines. I’m secure in the knowledge that this is a unique and relevant skill set, nobody else can offer, neither production houses, celebrity endorsers, app designers nor stand-up comedians. If it were not, ad agencies like us would be extinct by now instead of growing year on year. And it’s gotten ever more exciting now as creative people have a new ally - Technology.
Your short film, 'Waif' has been showcased internationally and has even won numerous awards. Were you expecting this kind of response to your film?
Once I finish thinking of an idea, I’m done with it. To use an analogy, all my my ideas are like semen. The process of creating them is joyful. But the aftermath is always underwhelming in comparison. The best part of ‘Waif’ is that it represents my own ‘school of creativity’ – surreal imagery, shock, collsion of two disparate worlds - pacifist Sufi music juxtaposed against violence and allowing the viewer to join the dots. I didn’t do ‘Waif’ for awards. I have long outgrown awards. Awards are like synthetic applause. I don’t even remember where all it won but I remember one thing. Two years ago, I was in Baga. The soundtrack of ‘Waif’ was on loop in a trance party. I remember calling up Naren and making him hear it. But people all over the world liked it. What worked for it was probably - originality plus purity.
What advice do you have for young entrepreneurs?
Firstly, not everyone HAS to turn an entrepreneur. It’s completely legal not to become one. It’s like Bollywood movies. Not every copywriter HAS to make one. It’s ok. Reality check - Only 1 out of 12 communication agencies will make it. But in case you still want to take the plunge, develop a reputation for GREAT domain expertise. (This is non-negotiable. If you don’t have this and still want to become an entrepreneur, consider radical options like tying up with a corporate to start their in-house agency or marrying a client) Beware of hubris – the kind that makes you spend on a fancy office without having earned a rupee. All those facebook likes for your office snaps can’t pay your rent. Never stop being hands-on. Get into the trenches and understand money, collections, billing. Cherish your team members. Be creatively resilient. Choose your battles. Have a dream but also keep your eye on the ground. And to quote the inspirational Dr. Abdul Kalam, a lesson he learnt from Dr. Satish Dhawan – The project is always bigger than the project leader. Whenever the project leader tries to make himself bigger than the project, the enterprise suffers.
Scroll down to see what Raghu helped create: