Madras Brand Solutions creates a nimble business model with a global reach

The name Madras has several meanings. It could be the heady curry blend that tempts palates worldwide, the former name of the Indian city of Chennai, or the colorful patterned texture and lightweight cotton fabric commonly used on shorts of the same name.
Feb 15 2017: All those come together for a new agency that has chosen that moniker – Madras Brand Solutions.
“There are roots from the company that were in India – our parent [company] is the Ad2pro group out of Chennai, and Madras was the old name for Chennai.” said chief creative officer, Andrew Ladden. “The perspective we take on it is that it’s a woven fabric and it’s the coming together of many different things to create one seamless, beautiful pattern, it’s reflected in our logo as well.”
The agency was launched by Ad2Pro earlier this year and put ad veteran Fred Schuster, formerly of RedWorks (WPP) and Craft Worldwide (IPG), in charge as chief executive. He said that the typical agency model is front-loaded and expensive, meaning that by the time strategy and ideas come to life, there is little time or budget left over for amplification. When consumer behaviors shift or competitors pivot, as they often do, brands struggle to find the funds to react quickly and effectively, and Schuster and company sought another way.
“Marketers need to be ‘always-on’ and have constant engagement with their consumers across multiple channels. The traditional agency model is just too linear and slow to accomplish that. It places too much emphasis on initial strategy and creative development, leaving little funding left for ongoing development of communications to keep a campaign fresh,” said Schuster.
He added that they designed Madras around a continuous engagement model where the company’s strategic and creative talent not only develops powerful brand platforms but is constantly seeking opportunities to develop impactful content, so marketers can respond quickly to changes, opportunities and threats that appear every day.
Whereas top creative directors typically disengage after delivering the initial big idea, Madras creative leads stay connected to address clients’ changing needs fluidly. By focusing on longer-term engagements, Madras enables the heavy creative investment to be amortized over the course of evolving campaigns.
“We see ourselves as a new type of full-service agency and look to an AOR model that is able to generate more work for our clients against the same marketing budgets. Thus returning agency value beyond just ideas and insights,” Schuster added.
A familiar duo helps create success
Ladden is new to the company. He and co-chief creative officer Bill Davaris came to the agency in November of 2016 before the official launch and they fit the mold of the company perfectly.
“Bill and I have been partners for 20 years,” said Ladden of their collaboration. We started at a small agency where we met, called Karlin + Pimsler where we worked on the British Airways account,” said Ladden.
The two then went to Ogilvy & Mather to work on the Sheraton account. In their time there, they met Schuster. The three clicked within the corporate structure, but didn’t always run their end of the company like a traditional agency.
“We always felt like we operated in this boutique-y, hands-on kind of way even when we were at Ogilvy, but we were always in the big agency, the gigantic holding company. It’s great – obviously we were there so long. But this is a chance to build something that’s more independent – I think that independent vibe is really strong,” said Ladden.
Ladden and Davaris stayed at Ogilvy for 17 years through several departments. During that time, Schuster stayed in touch with the dynamic duo and eventually brought them over to Madras.
“We just kind of lived and grew at Ogilvy, taking on several different roles and actually running one group called RedWorks, which Fred took global. As years went on, we started another group called The Shop, which functioned as an AOR for mid-sized businesses, doing brand work and strategic creative for lots of opportunities that Ogilvy wanted to take on but maybe couldn’t quite figure out how to do with their model,” added Ladden.
Now re-teamed at Madras with Schuster, the three have an opportunity to run the model they way they planned.
“We’re storytellers. A storyteller is a storyteller, no matter if you’re at Ogilvy or a small boutique shop. The big differentiator for me is offering our clients a new engagement model,” said Davaris.
“What I love about this model and why we’re so excited creatively is that we’re telling the client that we don’t want to just create content now, we want to create content and themes throughout the year and allow the brand to be this opportunistic brand,” Davaris added.
Global independence and a streamlined approach
Madras is essentially an indie shop with a global reach, which Ladden sees as a positive.
“The global nature of it is that we have the capabilities. There’s a management team and a structure in place but it’s not as beholden to shareholders and holding companies. So if we need capabilities, whether it’s out of London or out of India or anywhere else in the US it’s just a phone call away and we’re all working together. It’s really seamless – there’s no bureaucracy or red tape. We can just click into gear really quickly,” he said.
Schuster added: “Our business model brings world-class insights, ideas and implementation that delivers more creative and more content. This allows our clients’ brands to create more meaningful and connected customer experiences. To do this, we identify strategic insights and develop creative solutions in our near-shore hubs of London and New York, then cost-effectively executes them via our off-shore content and production teams in Bangalore and Chennai.”
For Davaris, he sees the Madras way as a newsroom mentality but doing it in a very high-touch way – not trying to do all the work and spend all the money in the first three months.
“We’re saying ‘let’s turn the brand on right now and have the brand react to a trend, truth or topic.’ Let’s say a brand has $2m. $1.2m of it gets completely eaten up by the strategy, discovery, creative expression, in the first three to four months, and the client’s left over with $750,000 to go make some stuff. The brand kind of tapers off. We’d rather have a different engagement model, where we put some skin in the game. We do some big, thematic strategy work up front and try and show the client that we can be more cost effective and keep some of that budget so that we can make more compelling work throughout the year.”
Madras has broken its model into four types of content to help define its touchpoints:
• Why content – Why does the brand exist and what is its purpose?
• How content – Proof that they’re a thought leader in the space.
• What content – Informative, regarding services and capabilities.
• When content – Madras’ concept, which is all about timing, including events, PR and anything else timely.
“We’re saying to the client – we’re willing to do the upfront strategy for a much lower cost for the why and to create some themes for the how, so we can keep more of the budget available in case we need to do when content. When something breaks in the news and the brand should really react to it, jump into gear and make something,” said Davaris.
Without a typical siloed approach, the agency is making it financially easier so that they can shift some of that strategy cost towards making and doing more. They are realistic about that, admitting that they can’t turn $100,000 into a $3m campaign. But if it’s an AOR-type relationship, they can put the budget into the Madras model.
Finding the perfect client
A perfect client for Madras would be a retailer, because they have seasonal and event needs, but also have brand awareness and cultural needs.
“We want to remain flexible to communicate throughout the year,” said Ladden. “We can help them to be very productive during the busy times but we can help them to be relevant during the times when things are typically slower.”
Even though Madras is in its early stages, it’s already seeing chances to grow.
“I think the story we’re telling is intriguing a lot of clients. We’re not having to pull, we’re being pulled in,” said Ladden.
Creatively, the team is looking for clients who are entrepreneurial creatives, those who are searching for opportunities and always on. They’re also looking for what Davaris calls ‘social geeks’, those who understand video, and behavior on a mobile and social level.
Davaris and Ladden think Madras is poised to be opportunistic with their more nimble approach to business.
“We have to be pitching our clients on great opportunities all year. What Fred Schuster has allowed Andy and I to do, is say, ‘I want you to have at it. Make it as if it’s your brand. Constantly look for opportunities.’ Because we know that’s where the great work is going to come out and we have to prove great work right away of stage one,” said Davaris.
Added Schuster: “Madras focuses on what’s important – making it financially easier to create more continuous and impactful content for our clients.