Former Starcom boss Ravi Kiran: Client pressure prompts media agencies to spend a ‘ton of money’ to make innovation ‘noticeable’

Ravi KiranRavi Kiran, the former Southeast and South Asia boss of Starcom, who now runs a startup accelerator firm in Mumbai, has said that the pressure put on media agencies by clients to be innovative results in agencies spending “a ton of money” to make their work “noticeable” with small, tactical ideas.

“Since brand managers demand innovation quite regularly from their agency partners, agency folks put too much emphasis on tactical and incremental innovation and put a ton of money on it to make it noticeable,” Kiran said in an interview with Mumbrella.

“So you can question what makes it noticeable – the idea and execution or the money. Award shows and how they are organized also add to this problem, but enough has been said about that,” he said.

Kiran, who runs startup firms VentureNursery and Friends of Ambition, said that he partly agreed with a speech made by former MediaCom Australia strategist turned entrepreneur Nic Hodges at Mumbrella360 earlier this year, who claimed that media agencies do not truly understand what innovation means, and pass off media firsts as innovation and are “happy to see novelty as innovation”.

Kiran said that there are two kinds of innovation, radical and incremental, but the media industry tends to see them both as the same.

“I feel there is a role and need in business for both kinds of innovations – radical and incremental, the economic, business and customer context decides where we apply ourselves more,” he said.

“The problem in media, I feel, is we don’t differentiate between the two types of innovations and therefore end up claiming incremental innovations as radical and force people like Mr Hodges to say what he did.”

He added that only once both sorts of innovation, big and small, are recognised for what they are, then “we will be less defensive, and be able to deploy the right resources and create the right processes for each type and achieve more radical innovations, which I feel should be the goal of all businesses.”

When asked what entrepreneurs think about the media industry, Kiran said he didn’t think the startup world “knows enough about advertising and media to think much of it when it comes to innovations.”

“They look more for business innovations and I don’t think media and advertising has provided the world with many examples in that area,” he said.

“I guess most people, including startups, know that innovations can help break clutter in a cluttered world, but I don’t think the startup world refers to what we [the media industry] call innovation as innovation,” he said.

Kiran worked at Lowe Lintas and Initiative in India before moving to Starcom in 1998, where he spent much of his career, latterly as CEO, Southeast and South Asia and Asia CEO for specialist solutions. He moved on from the media agency world in 2011.


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella Asia newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing