Profile: FCB Ulka’s Nitin Karkare: “We haven’t made a song and dance about most of our business wins”

A quick chat with the recently-appointed CEO of FCB Ulka.

Nitin Karkare has no doubts about one thing. “The values and the culture in FCB have remained constant. There is a certain philosophy of partnership that we have had with our people, clients, and with all our business associates. We always treated them as equal – and have always treated our client’s business as our business and worked with them with that intensity and passion,” says Karkare.

So, what has changed in the last 30 years? “I think the difference is more environmental than within the agency. Clients’ expectations from agencies have changed as time has gone by. For the last few years, businesses have been under pressure because they are not firing so that puts a different perspective,” he says.

Individual Strength

Nitin Karkare

FCB Ulka was a Board-run company for a very long time and now it is an agency run by individuals. “As a Board-run company, we were more geography-driven in that sense. We are now more talent-centric than geography-centric so what it does is that it integrates all resources under one person rather than being divided by geographies,” says Karkare.

According to him, Ulka has traditionally been a low-profile agency. “But,” he declares, “Going forward, we will be a feared competitor in the pitches. It is not like we have not won pitches, we would not be where we are if we had not consistently added new business.”

Is the agency not ‘feared’ at present? In the decade beginning 2000, Ulka got on board clients like Zee Network, as well as LIC, ICICI Bank, Tata Chemicals and IndianOil. “We have not made a big song and dance about most of our wins. We should probably have and then would have been seen as a lot more feared. Rohit and I are going to be aggressive in our pitching and we need to up our game in the profile area as well. We cannot afford to be low profile,” he adds.

For Karkare, the high of being in advertising is about the fresh challenges thrown at him every day. New categories gave him a lot of cross-category learning. According to him, the other high is that he gets to work with the top management at the client side which, for him, is a great learning experience. It is the diverse way of doing business, diverse philosophies and cultures that makes everyday interesting. “I would work on lubricants, salt, milk and entertainment – may be all in one day. Now, that’s as diverse as it can get. That is what kept me engaged and interested in advertising,” he says.

Thankfully, the lows have been very few. “A low is always the loss of a client and the loss of people who you worked with very closely. (Is he referring to Satbir Singh who quit FCB to launch Thinkstr?) Over the years, I have learnt that I need to be alert and pick up signals from the eyes or the body language when someone is about to quit. I still make mistakes. But, I will get better and hopefully retain people and clients,” says Karkare.

Talent Hunter

As CEO, what is it that keeps Karkare up in the night? “My obsession today is talent. How do we get the best talent and retain them? It is not as simple as throwing titles and money at people. That is not a long-term way of retaining talent or attracting them. I am a good sleeper, by the way, so I don’t keep awake much, but if I stay awake, it is this that bothers me,” he says.

According to Karkare, every industry is facing a talent crunch in different degrees and that advertising may not be as exciting and attractive a profession today as it was 30 years ago when he joined. “Different industries keep coming at different points of time. The entertainment business is the big opportunity for a lot of people today and they may not see advertising as a big opportunity,” he says. But, he looks forward to work upon getting good people into the business.

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