Staring Goliath in the eye

Raksha Khimji,Team Red Dot’s Managing Director.

The agency world as we know it is facing several anxieties today: keeping up with the demands of the vertical generation, fighting to find and retain great talent and tightening budgets, which leads to margin erosion. We focus on the challenges all day long, but who has the time? The sceptics might still argue about whether independent agencies are up to the challenge ahead. In my opinion, the going is definitely not smooth sailing but there is no denying the fact that the rough tides also throw up some of the biggest opportunities.


Team Red dot is just shy of its 10th birthday, and there has never been a more exciting time for us independent warriors. No longer are the blue-chip clients fearful of taking the plunge. They now see us as an ally rather than as a risk. They appreciate our ability to adapt in a timely manner and enjoy the benefits of more agility and access to senior members in the team.

When we noticed that 60 per cent of our creative revenue stemmed from shortformat video content, we doubled our in-house video production unit – and entered into a JV with a video production house – all in the span of three months.

This did not require umpteen stakeholder signoffs, or extreme scrutiny from our legal advisors. The result? Gratified staff, happier clients, and a healthier bottom line. We are able to respond to change in the market in a way that the big networks cannot. I can say that with certainty, having started my career at Omnicom Group, and having been part of the “network ecosystem” for the first eight years of my professional life. I believe that the network agency model is admirable in theory and spirit but flawed in execution. Ultimately, each specialised agency or regional hub within the network is fighting for the lion’s share of the budget, and eventual dominance over the account.

When we landed the prestigious Etihad account as the regional media planning and buying agency for MENA, it was reassuring to know that our strategic inputs and value proposition had paid off. That is the crux of what independent agencies bring to the table: accountability and cost effectiveness that global networks just cannot match – all this with a highly intimate level of client experience Demand for diversification also means that specialist independent agencies are in a stronger position than ever. Today we can compete with network agencies for different clients on different briefs. We are as adept or equipped as the networks with our diversified offerings, which can cater to specific campaign requirements.

When we take a client on board, we challenge their briefs and call their bluff, but we also highlight unrealistically high marketing spends against the campaign objectives when required. To the clients, this is a breath of fresh air.

In the current economic environment, more and more clients are hesitant to commit to extended retainers. This move from a retainer-based model to a projectbased one is being increasingly preferred by clients and the benefits to independents are clear. I have lost count on the number of clients looking for a loophole in their current agency contracts purely due to the increase of innovation and accountability that they are noticing with the independents.

There will always be giant clients who hold on to their philosophy of biggest is best, the “nobody gets fired for buying IBM”, change-averse lot, but more discerning clients are now able to see the value in working with a web of independent agencies. Clients that trust their agencies, irrespective of their size or structure, are the ones that benefit from the best work, which is a positive thing for the industry as a whole. These are the clients that we seek out – but more importantly, the ones that seek us out as well.

The rate at which technology and consumer behaviour are changing means those able to ‘shape-shift’ and bring in new partners and skill sets are the ones that will thrive. The agility within independents as opposed to networks opens up a whole load of conversations between big brands and smaller agencies.

When we call ourselves an integrated agency, we truly are. We sit under the same roof, we attend meetings together on a daily basis, and we are all kept in the loop of any change to a client’s overall strategy.

If the creative team is briefed on a delay for a project, the media and social teams are already geared up with Plan B. The client could end up picking us for just one of our services or the whole plethora – which is why fluidity and agility are so important.

We are getting more focused every day. We know what sort of clients we want to work with, and the sectors and the nature of the work that we excel at and want to expand in. We have learned that it makes sense to be able to say no to certain opportunities and concentrate on our strengths, which will bring us even more potential partnerships.

Change is happening – we are seeing briefs and getting on to pitch lists we wouldn’t have dreamed of a couple of years ago. We expect to see a more level playing field as the market matures with a clearly positive attitude towards non-network entities.