Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

There is an opportunity for building a better agency, not just a different one: Manja's Prajato Guha

In an exclusive interview with Storyboard18, founders of Manja, the newest shop on the ad block, talk about their new company, business model, clients and why hiring remains the biggest challenge

Published: Aug 2, 2022 05:07:09 PM IST
Updated: Aug 2, 2022 10:55:14 PM IST

There is an opportunity for building a better agency, not just a different one: Manja's Prajato GuhaThe duo at Manja talks about their new outfit, business model, open-minded clients and why hiring remains their biggest challenge. Image: Shutterstock

After quitting their plush jobs at top agencies, Arvind Krishnan, the former managing director at BBH India, and Prajato Guha, (also known as Projo), the former national creative director at Leo Burnett India, have teamed up to launch a new agency called Manja.
The new venture aims to create full-funnel answers that can help power brands in the digital world.
Krishnan has over two decades of experience in the advertising industry, while Projo has worked for around 18 years with agencies like McCann Worldgroup, DDB Mudra, and Wunderman Thompson.

In an exclusive and candid interview with Storyboard18, the duo talks about their new outfit, business model, open-minded clients and why hiring remains their biggest challenge.
Edited excerpts.
Q. Tell us about Manja and how it is different from the other agencies.

Krishnan: About 8-9 months back, both Projo and I were introduced to each other by Aggie (senior ad executive and consultant Agnello Dias). We realised that we had very similar ideas around what we needed to do and the principles of that were very similar. We realised that the more senior the talent gets, the lesser time they were spending creating or influencing the work directly. We felt that genuinely good outcomes happen only when good talent gets to focus their attention and time on client problems. It’s about getting good talent, giving them space, and creating a culture where they can experiment to get to the good stuff. We felt that there was an opportunity to bring together a whole bunch of interesting people. Our model: We are building the top of the triangle with senior talent from varied backgrounds. I think a lot of the agencies have become very unwieldy in their structure.

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We are building an agency that can give the best attention and advice to clients. In some cases, we are also working with their in-house teams (teams that clients have already built). Clients can attract good mid-level talent in-house, but we can provide some kind of direction over there as well.
Guha: There is an opportunity for building a better agency right now, not just a different one that is a lot more relevant. We have already identified people with varied backgrounds, so it's not just standard big agency people coming together. We have hired people who have experiential, production, content, and fully digital backgrounds, and all of them are coming together and congregating around the problems that our clients bring us. For instance, one of the big projects that we are doing right now is a brand consulting project where a problem is being fixed from various angles.
Q. How is Manja going to be structured?
Krishnan: It is going to be a super flat structure. The idea is that senior talent directly collaborates with clients and owns outcomes more than owning ideas. Even when we plan to grow and do campus hirings, these hires will be working directly with Projo, me, the ECDs (executive creative directors), and strategists who will be joining us. This strategy allows us to go in-depth without losing much time. There won't be too many layers which are typically manufactured to keep egos happy rather than making any difference to the work.

There is an opportunity for building a better agency, not just a different one: Manja's Prajato GuhaArvind Krishnan (L) and Prajato Guha (R) of Manja
Guha: We want people who can sit across the table and contribute to whatever the answer can be. So, someone doing strategy conventionally is not sitting and writing briefs and PPTs, the planning person will contribute to the ideas very directly as well. We (Arvind and I) have been working extremely collaboratively, he (Arvind) has been writing some great lines, and I have been building strategy, so we just want to translate this across to whoever we hire in future. The idea is to collaborate over fantastic pizzas and simply contribute.

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Q. How big is your team and are you actively hiring?
Krishnan: We have hired six people that we are hitting the ground running with. We have taken a long time to select these people and tried to not hire the same old people from the same old places. For now, we have picked out a few people and are looking out.
Guha: Lots of conversations are happening. We are also not ruling out hiring freshers. Both Arvind and I have been fortunate enough to spend a lot of time with people who invested in us and trained us. That’s something I wish to do as well.
Krishnan: I do my bit by teaching in colleges such as MICA (Mudra Institute of Communication, Ahmedabad) and IIM- Ahmedabad. Projo teaches at Xavier Institute of Communications (XIC) as well. We thought why can't we build something where we hire bright people and invest time in training them, because every project is a great learning opportunity.
Q. What is your business model going to look like?
Krishnan: There won’t be much of a difference but being independent gives you a lot of flexibility. So, we got some retainer businesses and some projects. We are also in conversation with key startups and D2C brands to have equity as well. There are also parts of the business where we are looking at content where we will not be paid upfront but build IPs and take them to clients at a later stage. We are also built to add more partners as we go along.

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Guha: We are working with extremely large and established legacy corporations for whom we are trying to solve very modern problems. We have done work for edtech firm Vedantu, we are doing work for a VC company and also an auto major.
We are trying to solve full-funnel answers. It’s not just your top-of-the-funnel ‘big film,’ and then you don’t see us for two months. We will take every opportunity to get in front of the user and leave a positive impression and create momentum. We are doing brand identity work, very specific product marketing campaigns and brand consulting projects amongst others.
It would encompass the full funnel. It is the same muscle but it needs to be pointed at different places. With the talent that we have on board, we aim to do just that.
Q. What are your immediate challenges?
Krishnan: How soon can we find the right talent and onboard them? That is the biggest challenge we face. You meet 20-30 people, but you end up liking only one who stands for the values that we want Manja to stand for. The challenge is to bring like-minded people and we are always on the lookout.
The second is to find the right kind of clients, or should I say, like-minded clients. Clients who are open to collaborating.

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One of the biggest gifts that a new agency can give itself is the ability to say no. We want to work with clients who have not written and closed their book on ‘how to build a brand’…we want to build it with them. Very collaborative clients who will creatively challenge us as well.
Guha: We have been fortunate enough to have clients who have even asked to make new products if we want. They have opened not just doors to their board rooms but also their factories and allow us to give product ideas. That is the kind of deep collaboration we are looking at.
Q. What would be your targets for the first year at Manja?
Krishnan: Impact. We want to do three pieces of work that smash clutter and deliver results.
Guha: It’s all about doing good work and nothing else!

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