In 1954, when Mumbai was called Bombay, Adi Patel, Bal Mundkar, Rudi Von Leyden, Bobby Sista and Khurshid Dhondy formed a club to bring together agencies and advertisers. They took inspiration from their counterparts in Calcutta, which was the hub of advertising agencies back then. The Advertising Club of Calcutta came into existence in 1953 to bring together like-minded creative professionals. A year later The Advertising Club Of Bombay was set up in the same mold. Veterans like Patel, Mundkar, Leyden, Sista and Dhondy, gathered once a month to host gatherings and discussions on industry matters. As Bombay started flourishing with top agencies and brands setting up their main offices here, The Advertising Club Of Bombay grew in importance.
Over the years, The Advertising Club Of Bombay has worked towards bringing together several stakeholders of the industries such as marketers, creative shops, media agencies, publishers, and now even a few digital shops. To be a pan India industry board, in 2012 the club dropped Bombay from its name. However, a founder of an independent creative shop tells us that it is still a body for Mumbai-based agencies.
The Delhi-based advertising executive says, “The Advertising Club hasn’t managed to be inclusive in terms of involving the youth, agencies from other cities and smaller companies. You see the same set of people running the show and the same set of agencies participating in the club’s activities.”
The full picture
With 1600 members, The Advertising Club represents the Indian advertising industry and in addition to key activities like hosting the country’s top ad awards like the Abbys, Emvies, and Effies. These events are led by veterans and often younger CXOs get involved only during award seasons, say agency executives.
Shashi Sinha, CEO, Mediabrands India, who is also the current secretary of The Advertising Club, has been a part of several industry bodies. The veteran adman and industry leader agrees the club needs more young players. However, he candidly shares his views on younger leaders when he says that “the young agency CXOs are focused on their work and life. They don’t want to take extra work.”
Sinha says that members like him who are also running companies voluntarily put in a lot of effort to run the club. “A lot happens behind the scenes. What I have noticed about the young people is that they don’t want to commit to something that they can’t give their 100 percent,” he reasons.
Ajay Kakar, chief marketing officer, Aditya Birla Capital and a managing committee member of The Advertising Club has similar views. Kakar, who was once an adman and now leads the marketing function of a leading Indian financial services company, is of the opinion that the club is an open platform. “Anyone can reach out to us, share ideas, collaborate and bring in new energy. There is nothing stopping anyone to take these steps,” he says.
Laeeq Ali, president of The Advertising Club Bangalore, is actively looking to involve and participate in meaningful conversations with the young agency professionals too. “The work that is coming out of new agencies is a reflection of the new generation. They are seeking purpose in their personal and professional lives. Their clarity of thoughts is impressive,” he tells Storyboard18.
“However, if you want to give back to the industry you need to take that extra effort, complain a little less, and join hands with us,” says Ali.
Currently, The Advertising Club Bangalore has over 500 active members. The numbers dropped post-Covid, indicates Ali. The club is planning to bring back its quiz show, football league and a few other upskilling workshops for the interest of adlanders in the South. The Advertising Club Bangalore gets engagement from agencies and marketers during Big Bang Awards, its annual award show.
So what’s stopping the new blood?
Younger executives at agencies told us no invitations have been extended to them to be a part of organising committees or in even creating collaborative projects, in the recent past at least.
Harshil Karia, founder of independent agency Schbang, says, “With younger agencies missing out from the organizing committees the bodies will not understand the pulse of the talent that are currently entering the industry.”
He also observes that the youth have the ability to drive execution flair at the grassroots levels with social initiatives, making the industry attractive as a whole to graduates from different pockets of the country. That’s an area that’s not explored by advertising clubs in India.
Karia hopes advertising clubs start roping in creative tech communities too, as advertising is no longer a business run by only creative and media agencies.
These executives running newer agencies tell Storyboard18 that industry bodies can help startup businesses in various ways. Gautam Reghunath, co-founder of Talented, which is one of the newest agencies in the country, says it’s the right time for ad clubs to be truly inclusive.
“There are several issues and areas of improvement that young agencies need to take care of for their workforce. Industry bodies can be instrumental in making the right work cultural changes,” he opines.
He believes what will also help if industry clubs and bodies drive real change in areas that matter to the workforce today.
For instance, the new generation of ad women and men are facing burnout, pay disparity, toxic work cultures, etc. Bringing their concerns to the fore and discussing these areas and giving equal representation to all sorts of businesses related to the industry will be the first right steps that ad clubs can take, says Reghunath.
Pooja Jauhari, group CEO, VMLY&R India, says everyone should be learning from each other. Collectively, it’s time for bringing in “perspective, representation, varied experiences,” to the table, she says.
“I'm pretty sure there would be leaders of all agencies interested in helping our industry bodies take initiatives to help our industry do better. Be better and be more attractive. That’s something we all need to work on – actively,” she adds.
Finding a way to be truly relevant to the next generation of advertising and marketing professionals is what’s immediately required of the legacy ad clubs and bodies, and the people who run them. At the same time, the younger industry leaders need to look at the bigger picture, roll up their sleeves and volunteer to be the change they want to see in the system. Because, as one agency head put it, there’s no bouncer at the club door.