Why The Womb never pitches to its clients
L -R: Navin Talreja and Kawal Shoor, Founders of The Womb
The founders say all they have done till now is take baby steps towards bringing back the respect that the advertising ...

Why The Womb never pitches to its clients

The founders say all they have done till now is take baby steps towards bringing back the respect that the advertising ...
  • The Womb hasn’t ever pitched to its clients except once. Its founders believe a solution cannot be presented in two weeks and not at least without spending enough time with the brand to find the roots of the problem.
  • The Womb’s focus this year is on understanding digital better, putting advertising back into boardroom meetings, alter metrics that are used to measure ad results, and earn more money whilst at it.
  • Navin Talreja and Kawal Shoor, the two hearts of The Womb, discuss with us the importance of walking away from a meeting if wavelengths don’t match, fighting for equal status in boardrooms, changing the culture of agencies, revenue goals for the year, and much more.
  • The Womb is eyeing to close FY2020 with ₹20 crores.
Over the years, agencies have time and again complained about the complexities of the pitching process. Most believe that the ball is always in the client's court as they get access to an array of ideas for free. For agencies, on the other hand, the stakes are high as it is expensive, time-consuming and often ends up in idea theft. It’s impossible to know if you are matching the right talent and capabilities to a task when the screening process is a form-filling exercise.

In this constantly changing landscape and competitive environment, The Womb is an agency that hasn’t pitched to its clients except once. The founders, who come from Ogilvy, have mustered the courage to say no, even if it means turning down a huge amount of money if the client doesn’t appreciate their work culture. Hence, they call them believers, not clients. They think it is impossible to find a solution in the first meeting without having deep-dived into the problem first.

In relationship building meetings, the founders discuss the problems, try to pin down the challenges and drawing from their 25 years of experience, present a few opportunities. And if the clients look for a solution prima facie, they have the will to walk away.

Is it challenging, I ask Navin Talreja, Co-founder, The Womb. He says, “It's challenging if your priority is money but if it is great work, then it's not. If you have targets like 'I have to grow 30% this year', then it's challenging.”

“It's not that we don't have a vision of what the size of the agency should be, in terms of revenue, but our way to get there in our heads is very clear -- if you do great work with a lot of integrity, people will come to you. We follow an old word-of-mouth or recommendation strategy and with this, the client will come and the money will follow,” adds Talreja.

In its five years of existence, The Womb has bagged 15 ‘believers.’ However, they charge a little more than Ogilvy and Lowe Lintas for their ‘premium services’; look for newer challenges, take a longer time in building the pillars and establishing the relationship and are extremely proud of the way they function.

“We don't want to be a part of the 'herd'. So we could have grown 30-40% faster if we had pitched and if we had done a lot of work that other agencies and startups do,” says Kawal Shoor, Co-founder.

However, Shoor believes this is also a smarter way of functioning because clients come on-board only when they trust The Womb completely.

“Clients have not heard this language from agencies before. Our words, our language, our culture may sound new but this was how it was supposed to be anywhere. Right?”, asks Talreja.

It is perhaps this work culture that gives The Womb an edge in the market. They have an office in Mumbai and are a small team of 34 employees today.

When asked about the expansion plan, Shoor says, “I don't think we're moving into new offices in India for sure. Somewhere else is all in the future, which we haven't planned as we don't plan too much. Opening multiple offices is largely based on ego, not practicality because in today's day and age, you don't need many offices, you can work even globally sitting here in India.”

Sharing the load equally

By staying true to their practices, the founders wish to put advertising into the boardrooms and help CMOs gain their lost prominence.

“Advertising and marketing is not part of boardroom conversations. CMOs have lost their influence in their own organisations. And it is our work and the kind of work that we do that can give them back their strength in the boardroom,” explains Shoor.

Agencies often put half the pressure on clients. They take responsibility for communications but they sidestep from shaping the other three p’s. The Womb is hoping to change this. They advise their clients and help build the image coherently.

Explaining how, Shoor says, “It is our job to help clients grow their businesses. The industry says that it is only for the brand but I think we are shirking our responsibility, which is also why clients don't think of agencies as important, because their job is to grow the business. So if you're saying I'm not responsible to help you grow the business, then they look elsewhere.”

Changing how the agency ecosystem functions

When radio went out of fashion, TV came out and not too many people knew how to do TV ads. Agencies would do some radio ads and add visuals on it for TV. Before the agencies realised, the whole of India had moved to TV and it took about five-six years for agencies to adapt.

Similarly, this year, Shoor feels agencies will start truly understanding the dynamics of digital media and adapting to it.

Another thing that Shoor believes should change is the way the ad industry is ‘obsessed with intermediate results'. The common practice is to measure the comps results, attitudinal results or brackman scores, take a few personality tests, etc.

“I don't think you're spending enough time looking at what are the metrics that really matter, which are either top line growth or market share game or bottom line profitability and all of this converting into some sense of shareholder growth, which has indicated and shaped us in the past. However, the pressure to deliver numbers has to exist. It’s just that the short-term-ness of that expectation is a worry. So if you keep looking at your numbers every fortnight, you're not giving your work a chance to succeed. At the same time, I'm also saying that a good campaign does not take a year or two to show results,” says Shoor.

The Womb’s 25-seconder "Fogg chal raha hai' campaign resulted in the client’s market share going up and that’s how the results should be measured, agree both founders. Talreja shares that even after a year, every time they run Fogg’s campaign, its shares soar up.

Digital marketing, thus should be about building an idea that lasts longer such as Vodafone’s ZooZoos, say the founders.

Talreja also brings up another reason which is given in review meetings for measuring the impact TV ads have, that is, ‘emotions can't be delivered in a 30-second spot.' He says that a brand doesn’t need a 360-degree media plan to make itself visible, sometimes, they just need a 20-degree plan. Agencies end up spilling the client’s money with this common mistake.

Therefore, whilst strategising, Talreja asks himself and his team, “How do you deliver the message without losing out on the clutter-breaking ability, the brand building ability, the business-creation ability, without losing on comprehension, or impact or emotional affinity, in the shortest possible time -- and that's the challenge we've given ourselves.”

Advantages of starting a new agency

Shoor says he feels like a teenager again every day at work. He is often excited and more patient. He believes it helps to be smaller because they are more connected with clients and are open to unlearning the ‘set ways of succeeding'.

“It is in a way like you went back into a reverse gear in terms of age -- unlearning and learning a few things. We've now realised that brands are just a currency for organisations to engage with people. The core point is how do organisations engage with people? And how do you create new behaviours among people so that clients benefit. So there have been a lot of those kinds of new learnings,” shares Shoor.

Talreja, on the other hand, says that unlearning and being agile works on the lower end of jobs. On the strategic front, clients still seek utmost accuracy.

“So it has to be a combination of being correct and agile. But what comes first in any new client relationship is that you have to be right. Therefore, sometimes agility is overrated but you need agility for day-to-day jobs like the poster or dangler you make -- because those needs are sometimes last minute and on the top tasks, you need to invest time and do your homework and go in-depth to understand every aspect before you come up with a solution,” explains Talreja.

Roadmap ahead for The Womb

The Womb is eyeing to close FY2020 with at least ₹20 crores, which is about ₹60-65 lakhs productivity per person. The agency has achieved this high productivity by only hiring employees with a minimum experience of four years.

When asked if it’s their bias against the freshers or lack of willingness to train, the founders deny and say that they want to add value in every conversation they have with their clients instead, which comes with certain stature and experience.

Talreja and Shoor have set a two-year goal for themselves. They want to change the conversation on effectiveness, help marketing stop being seen as a cost-centre for companies and as an investment in business growth.

“Hopefully, we will also make a little more money along the way,” Talreja breaks into a chuckle.

To sum it all up, the founders say all they have done till now is take baby steps towards bringing back the respect that the advertising industry has lost in the years gone by.