Managing talent

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Ad agencies are taking on the role of celebrity managers as talent management proves to be a new business opportunity.

CELEBRITY MANAGEMENT A GROWING BUSINESS: A file picture of cricket stars Zaheer Khan, Sachin Tendulkar, Virendra Sehwag and Ashish Nehra launching adidas' `Master Blaster' series of shoes
CELEBRITY MANAGEMENT A GROWING BUSINESS: A file picture of cricket stars Zaheer Khan, Sachin Tendulkar, Virendra Sehwag and Ashish Nehra launching adidas' `Master Blaster' series of shoes

Purvita Chatterjee

The master blaster may have been missing all the action on field, but what Sachin Tendulkar does still holds significant interest for many. Cricket buffs apart, for an ad agency like Saatchi & Saatchi, it could mean lot more.

The `ideas company' and part of the world's fourth largest communications group, Publicis Groupe, recently floated a corporate entity in India, Iconix, a talent management agency. Iconix launched its operation by managing the interests of Tendulkar and will manage Tendulkar's existing and future brand associations.

Iconix's aim is to to create and execute strategic innovative initiatives for clients that will build profitable bridges between consumers and talent icons.

With the concept of brand ambassadors gaining ground, ad agencies are now donning the role of celebrity managers and looking at talent management as a new business opportunity.

While ad agencies such as Saatchi & Saatchi and Madison have floated new divisions for talent management, agencies such as Rediffusion which are already performing this role, are looking at this business with a fresh perspective.

At the launch of Iconix, V. Shantakumar, CEO & Managing Director, Saatchi & Saatchi India, said, "If you can value a brand, then you can also value a person. The future of the discipline is bright in India and needs a change in terms of management style and vision.

We believe we will bring our innovative ideas focus to make the difference." Iconix will also look at other icons in the areas of entertainment, in addition to sports. Saatchi & Saatchi also has global interests in sports management. And it's not that agencies want to function as `glorified model' outfits.

The fact that brands want to build equity with customers through a new spokesperson and that there is a need for synergy between the two, is what agencies believe they are trying to make the most of.

According to Punit Jagasia, Business Head, Lintertainment, a division of Lintas India, "It's all about creating the right brand fit. Agencies are better equipped to figure out who would be the right brand ambassador." And it's not just limited to brands which the agency already handles, but there could be new brands which want to appoint brand ambassadors.

For instance, Lowe's Linterland helped identify John Abraham and Bipasha Basu as brand ambassadors for the Clinic All Clear Brand. Linterland now is helping TV star Shekhar Suman launch his music album.

Managing celebrity talent also entails exploring brand fits. Says Jagasia, "We would help in fitting in the values of Suman as a personality and then talk to brands that would like to have similar values to go with the celebrity."

Conrad Saldhana, Chief Operating Officer, Showdiff Worldwide (a joint venture company between Rediffusion DY&R and cricketer Ravi Shastri), says, "The main line of business of every ad agency is brand management, focussing on the marketing communications aspect of it. Celebrities are also brands, but brands that are alive and evolving all the time. Why shouldn't an ad agency see this as a business opportunity?" Thus, like all brands, `talent brands' also need professional help to manage their image - because it is their image that will dictate the value they can command, the associations they can make and the revenues they can earn. They need professionals to help create a brand image that will maximise their value. The ad agencies are the acknowledged professional experts in adding value to brands, so it is a natural fit.

With ad agencies giving celebrity management a more organised structure, it's no longer a brokerage function on behalf of the celebrity who is simply paying up money to get some deals going.

At the same time, there are `individuals' who continue to operate in this space but double up as secretaries to the stars. But increasingly, celebrities have decided to go beyond the services of their secretaries and are seeking professional advice from entities such as ad agencies.

Even broadcasters such as the Star Group are eyeing talent management. Considering that their TV channels are already giving budding and established celebrities a platform, venturing into this business would be a natural progression.

Peter Mukerjea, Chief Executive, Star India, says: "Talent management is an opportunity and we are studying this market quite closely. Since we already have a platform, we have talent that we can sign up; but we will not be restricted to our channels. We are open to doing business with anyone. The business will get treated as an independent profit centre by the company." Not restricting the business to the entertainment industry, Star is open to signing up talent from different fields including sports.

Adds Mukerjea, "There are three levels of people that we are looking at. There are people who are already big names, people who are breaking through and around the corner and then there are the newcomers." Tapping into talent from all walks of life, the media company plans to cover all aspects of celebrity management.

"At present, the business is limited (in India) but there is an opportunity in this market. We have an understanding of this business and intend getting involved across the entire spectrum of the talent management business," says Mukerjea.

Using the credentials of the Star brand, the company is also offering an opportunity to advertisers who are looking at getting product endorsements from the celebrity management contract.

However, broadcasters lack the expertise that ad agencies can offer in the area of talent management. As Showdiff's Saldhana observes, "TV channels have the muscle (the content) which can help them leverage better contracts with celebrities. Content creation also helps them come up with innovative product placement with the celebrities on their shows. But ad agencies score when it comes to professional expertise in managing the brand image of the talent in the best manner."

At the same time, ad agencies have realised that the old conventional ad agency model is not exactly helping them grow the way they should.

With the needs of clients growing, brands are finding it tough to land contracts with stars who will also endorse their products. But several ad agencies are stepping in to find solutions for their clients.

For instance, Madison, which recently floated a specialist division for building entertainment brands - Mates - has extended talent management as an add-on service.

It has signed on Akshay Kumar to handle his advertising career; the agency is now looking to rope in more stars.

Observes Sam Balsara, Chairman & Managing Director, Madison Communications: "The cost of celebrities is going up and choosing the right celebrity is becoming a complicated and complex process. Ad agencies are providing this service since it does seem to make some sense to the advertiser. The value an agency can provide is far greater and celebrities realise that they are dealing with an organisation with specialist skills."

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated August 10, 2006)
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