Episode 15 Exploring Clarity & Chaos In A Creative Agency

On this edition of Thoughtcast by Onething, Divanshu sits down with Kunel and Sayantan, Founder and Senior Partner at Animal respectively. The animal is one of the largest creative agencies in India and has continued to wow audiences with its unbelievable campaigns, and inspirational approach. Kunel breaks down the inception, and humble beginnings as well. Furthermore, we take a deep dive into some of the unique projects Animal has ventured into over the past years. Eventually, the conversation reaches a point where the trajectory of the agency is discussed. To wrap up, Divanshu inquires about the Agency’s long-term goals, and how they end up balancing growth, with maintaining reputation. Another major point of discussion is how the agency finds and adjusts talents into a complex structure.
Don’t miss this venture into the creative madness, on this week's edition of Thoughtcast!

Episode Transcript

[DIVANSHU]

Hey, everyone. Welcome to a fresh episode of Thoughtcast. Today. We are with two very creative people. In fact, I am right now sitting in their house. They were kind enough to have us over and shoot this podcast. I have with me the founder of Animal, if you are into the creative space, if you’re in the brand space, he would have known this name and you would know Kunel. He’s one of the most creative people I have known that I’ve met and I’ve been a fan actually have followed him in his work for the last four or five years. And I got an opportunity to actually talk to him today. I have with, me Sayantan, his co-founder and partner. He came on board, with Animal, I think three years ago. Yeah. And I think they’re doing some kick-ass work in the space and we thought, why not have this podcast with them, which is, probably, in the last few episodes, one of the most, exciting, you know, chase for me, I wanted, Kunel and his partner to be part of this podcast. And actually thank you for, you know, accommodating this and, I’m sure you’re a busy man.So Kunel before jumping into the heavy part of the discussion or the complex part, I want to ask a very cliche question. How did Animal as a name come up in your mind?

[KUNEL]

Okay. So, I mean, it’s a bit of a cliche to answer that because it’s been asked so many times, but. Our experience has been working with agencies across, different sectors. And, most of the agencies were all traditional companies and, we would only end up working with say a press campaign or an outdoor, or, you know, like a TVC. So my idea was, and for all the other things, because there were other things that we were also working on for the campaigns, but they would all go out to like other agency partners who that man would have. So there’ll be an event company that we work in event-based collaterals. And there’ll be a digital company. That’ll look at the digital creative stuff. So we wanted to, I mean, and you’ll, as a creative, never get chance to work on those things. And even when you kind of came up with the concept and idea of someone else essentially takes it away from you and then does whatever they do with it. So I want to make it a place where all of them can be worked. One with people who are working in the company so people at Animal come from different backgrounds and they have their own kind of talents that they bring in and they collaborate on a lot of projects. So, and that was the idea. So that’s what I want to do. So basically just running all different directions and, you know, stay as wild as they say as possible. So that was the idea. Just want to keep it simple. 

[DIVANSHU]

So, and the logo and the logo.

[KUNEL]

I mean, there wasn’t, there was another logo before this, that was just a ligature of the word animal. And that’s how we launched actually in, because. Open it out to like artists and designers to render it in their own style and their own animal, that the animal that kind of speaks to them the most. And some of them chose to use like their spirit animal or their pets and all of that. So we got a lot of entries and other artists and designers started reaching out to us and kind of exploded a little bit, which also gave us a good amount of talent pool to work with, which we ended up collaborating with later on projects. So, we kind of revise the identities on something more contemporary, something that kind of spoke our language a little more, recently and about three years back. So we’ve been running with that now. Yeah.

[DIVANSHU]

You were part of the advertising space for a while and then you started Animal, right. So how easy or difficult was it for you to get that first set of clients or build that portfolio, which was only Animal’s portfolio and not something that you kind of did, you know, back in the day, you know, because it’s very critical. For, you know, even large enterprises to actually work with that company, which has its own portfolio. And, you know, you know, they want to kind of associate with, Hey, you know, this company has an amazing portfolio. We should work with them. So how was it for you earlier on?

[KUNEL]

Yeah. In the first year, we were only working with startups like smaller companies who would not have that much budget but would want to do something crazy or interesting and something that we’d also want to do. So we ended up starting with, started working with like gig posters and all of that. For some brands, there was this beautiful bar in Haus Khas Village called Barsoum. We designed a lot of gig posters for them. And, while we were doing that, we would also keep doing other projects on the side, which had to do with some collaboration with artists or. Just you know, like a card set that’s like a playing card said that was designed by 52 artists or 54 artists. So we would do stuff like that and post online. And our Instagram was essentially being followed by a lot of people from these brands and, Housing, which was our first big account, reached out to us by looking at some of that work and they wanted to do something like that with their logo because they had just gotten rebranded after moving brands with their new logo and they wanted to bring attention to that new identity. But they failed to do so because of the first campaign that launched the identity, which was meant to launch the identity, but essentially ended up just becoming an advertising campaign again, because of the whole traditional nature of the way it was executed. So they came to us and they wanted to do a campaign that would just bring attention back to just this beautiful logo that they’ve got. And how can we just do outdoors with just the logo and that’s it? So, and because we had done so much different kinds of work looking at the same silhouette of a piece of work, we ended up creating an entire campaign for them, which kind of went everywhere on outdoors and all that. So that kind of gave us the one. So that’s, that’s actually all, you know, the way we’ve worked always, you know, just putting stuff out that kind of gets us the kind of work we want. So somewhere the sensibility essentially is, it keeps flowing, you know, the brands kind of come to you for the sensibility that you’re throwing out and that’s how we’ve kind of managed to work.

[DIVANSHU]

Okay. So you think Housing actually changed everything for you? 

[SAYANTAN]

It’s still one of our biggest campaigns. 

[DIVANSHU]

I still remember it actually, so it did have that impact that you kind of wanted. 

[KUNEL]

That actually helped us scale a bit, so, we got, we managed to get some new talent on board. Some really new people, some really good people joined us and we started doing some bigger work and much more interesting work. So also experiment with people who we’d rather, who would not know what to do with, but we got them on board, just experiment and, you know, give us a little leg room to try different things out. 

[DIVANSHU]

How many people did you start with? 

[KUNEL]

It was just me and then, Sharon, who’s my wife, she joined me six months later and it was just the two of us for the longest time. Like for the first one or 2, 1 and a half years, it was just us working. You have a photograph of it. The table across the table, just one table, like in a small room, we were like sitting and working.

[DIVANSHU]

I think every good business, every nice bootstrap business starts small. I think that’s the beautiful beauty of it. It’s not like you want to burn through things and, then actually, you know, keep doing mistakes and then, improving them. Yeah. I think going slow. It’s nice. And it suddenly changes things for you. That’s what, maybe I was in the, yeah, yeah. 

[KUNEL]

There’s that one moment you realize that this is something we could do and we’ve been doing the selection. 

[DIVANSHU]

So, you know, housing is something that you did, and it obviously received that, you know, recognition, et cetera, then would be work that for you are creative benchmarks, but maybe they, they did not perform or, you know, got accepted the way you expected them to be. It always happens, you know, creative, outflow can go in either direction. Do you want to share some of that work that you thought could have been, you know, the superstar work of yours, but it didn’t turn out maybe that way 

[SAYANTAN]

Once the trigger is pulled. I think we always have the thing but from the moment from where the conceptualization has happened, where we think it’s going to be great to the point where the trigger is actually pulled by, by the client. I think there have been like missteps at that point, but thankfully I think, which I think is a good thing also, like even. If there is a misalignment of expectations or sensibilities, things have got, things have stopped between that stage.

[DIVANSHU]

 So you know how to manage when the client says, you know what, banana ko 10% our happy kar do, you know.

[SAYANTAN]

We manage, we try. I think over conversations with this. There is, an understanding of sensibility is the first step to any project. Like you, not just a merging of this is how they come into it. And this is your sensibilities. And is there a meeting of those sensibilities? I think that I think is always very important for us. And once that happens, then I think we understand the business and it’s not like, you know, that we are going to throw toys out of the pram and like nahi Karna. But then understanding the business, understanding maybe if there’s a matching, have the sensibility, then you can go forward and create work that you’re both proud of. You know, neither of you is like, or we may be messed up inside of it because you want as adults to create something. But that thing has to happen, you know, beforehand, which I think is really important. 

[DIVANSHU]

Yeah. So now things must be really different. You know, you would be getting so many queries, you know, work with you and all that. How you. Maintain that niche. How do you filter out that we want to work with this and we, because as a, you know, as creative people, you end up preempting that what could be the end result, right? I mean, you know, you can already imagine it, you know, this would, this could look like this, this could grow to this. How do you, how do you do that? How do you create that filter? 

[KUNEL]

I think in getting the work, it’s. Of the kind of work, they’re putting out. So the work that goes out essentially gets us the kind of work we want. It’s almost like a circular flow of things. So I think we, the brands that reach out to us are already the kind of brands that want to do the kind of work that we’re putting out. So, if they want to do the kind of work that we’d rather not do they’ll they don’t reach out to us. So that’s, that’s kind of already a filter for us. And, over and above, if there is a misalignment, we already tell them, like, in the beginning, that it’s not going to work because even at the briefing stage, we can like, not here’s, like you said, we’re able to visualize how far this particular campaign or this brand can go. And we see the potential and often we see a bigger potential than, the client themselves, in some cases, in a lot of cases. And, that has also like, I mean, backfired in some cases in a good way, because, then there is no synergy. And so then you don’t go forward with something like that. But, over and above, I think we’ve got a good understanding of the kind of brands that come to us. They know they already know what they are expecting and you know, that’s how.

[SAYANTAN]

There are quite a few factors, actually. I don’t think there is an exact science of whether this will work out or this won’t work out. There’s always thing of a, what are they looking for and what is the kind of sensitivity they have, why have they come to us? I think we normally like to do a couple of conversations before. Just to have an understanding of what is it, what is it on the table actually, you know, and that conversation really determines, not just about, the job at hand, but also in terms of, their openness. Like, are they open to doing the work? Do you know what I’m saying? Are they close-minded about that? You know, this is the work I want, and this is exactly the work I want. Then if there’s a, if that work then doesn’t define like, if becomes too constricted, then there’s no point for that to explore too much more than anyone can come and do that, that work. So I think just that openness of, how they interpret the work and whether they’re open to other interpretations of it. I think that is very important to us. And then just. Sometimes it’s just the scope of it can, can excite us sometimes just the cut-through value of it can excite. So different, different things that excite us the brand could be really exciting. Do you know what I’m saying? Then you’ve grown up in advertising. So there are always these brands like that you’ve looked up to see the process. You’re like, yeah, sure. I would like to do something about this. Do you know what I’m saying? So there are different things, but there is overall this thing of what is the potential, what is out there? What’s the job. How the clients and how they interpret the job and whether they’re open to adaptations of that, that is what we’re looking for. 

[DIVANSHU]

Right. So somebody is approaching you, hypothetically, you’re pretty open. It’s the size of that company or, you know, background on the company. Doesn’t initially matter. You want to listen out to people that are reaching out to you, so you would open and then you want your creative, roadblocks to not be there. You know, the brand is open, you are open to kind of, you know, maybe, you know, explore with them for that. Nice, nice, nice. So, so that means the way you positioned or the way you imagine your position to be probably four years ago or five years ago, you are close to that equation. You know that, Hey, we want it to be this. And, that’s, how we are positioned right now, or is there you see that gap right now? Like I’m asking for my experience because. Maybe UX/UI domain is something which is still coming up. So people still confuse us with a lot of, other things that we could do. But for you, is it pretty clear that Animal can do this? Yeah.

[SAYANTAN]

I mean, I’m making it up as we’re going along. What we’re trying, what is, what we are quite clear about, is our sensibility and what we try and bring to every project, you know, is, a design sensibility. Combined with human insights that that’s, that we believe is, is our, is our sweet spot. You know, now the application of that sensibility is open. You know what I’m saying? Like we would like to do as many things as possible to apply that sensibility because you know, like everyone wants a canvas and you want as wide a canvas as possible. So we are always looking for things like, I think last year was it last year we did the, line of clothes. For Budweiser. Yeah. So, which is completely a new thing for us. We’ve never like we like designed, clothes and, and create them in this thing. And then, and then for that line to go on, to go onto Myntra, that’s a pretty that I don’t think he, like four years ago we were thinking like let’s design clothes.

[KUNEL]

I think that broad idea was to just keep evolving as much as possible. And that’s where we are. That’s what we’re still doing. So I think I would say that we’re, exactly where we kind of, you know, broadly envisioned it to be a good thing is that we’ve kind of not stopped. So we’re like, we’re now doing tech. Like we were just discussing it. Like we’re making products and, you know, we’re exploring ourselves in like, newer ways and creating platforms and all of that. We did Indian Arma and that was a great success because we will fit so many artists. We got so many people who we then eventually I started working with on projects or, you know, as employees and part of a team.

[SAYANTAN]

And that reflects also the way the industry is, you know, like everything is evolving, everything is up, is open for grabs, you know, like, because technology is changing so fast and you never know what are the implications of it? Like, what are the implications of, NFTs and this and this. Like, there’s so many implications of it. So if you’re too this thing of like, this is where I want to go, then I don’t know whether that’s going to even hold true a year from now. Like you’re constantly having to reevaluate, look at the scope and say like, how do I stand apart? How do I, how do I look? Like, you know, stay ahead of the curve. I think you have to keep evaluating and just keep making it, making the path as we go along. 

[DIVANSHU]

So are, are you at that juncture right now? You have, you, you have to decide to either do sustain, this level of, growth or, you know, kind of go all out and maybe grow even, you know, probably what you are right now. So, you know, you always have that flux, you know, should we, should we, you know, accept the flux of incoming leads that are coming businesses that we are getting, or, you know, you know, kind of be happy where we are right now and then probably, grow gradually, you know, there’s always that balance that you have to build, you know, there’s a P and L that you have to balance, and then there is a, well, there’s a demand that is, that is being built right now know it could be permanent for next three years. It could be very, dodgy. It could be just, you know, for the next three months. So how do you manage that? 

[KUNEL]

I mean, yeah, it depends on a lot of different factors. I mean, one is we don’t let numbers decide that. But how much, in what directions do we want to go? Or like, what are the kinds of things that we want to, indulge in and the kind of brands we want to work in. And, also how much bandwidth we have because we like creative controls. We want to be involved in each and every project that we work with. So we also want to keep it closer to us. So we were able to have full creative control on all the projects and everything that goes out. So between there somewhere, there’s a sweet spot of trying to balance the scale without compromising the quality, right?

[SAYANTAN]

Quality has always been. Yeah, but that, I think it’s always been like, of course, PnL is important. Money is important, all this, but we’ve always erred on the side. It’s let’s see. Let’s see what, what happened. Let’s hire that person and see what’s happens.

[KUNEL]

I think somewhere it’s balanced out in a way that we’ve been lucky to have met some interesting people who’ve gotten on board and then they went out and did great things with us. And we’ve created like wonders whether it’s campaigns or like projects, or like readers of like, you know, a product of our own, or like, you know, two things like these have kind of all come out of people who we just kind of experimented on and to see whether, you know, where this goes. And those actually have been our best bets to just expand the company in a direction, which we don’t even know exists.

[DIVANSHU]

So you’ve here the nail on the head with that point there Kunel, I think nurturing talent. It’s one of the biggest responsibilities that as an entrepreneur or as an organization you have for that talent to grow for that talent to contribute, not just in your company, but wherever that person goes in the future because ultimately that person somewhere connects back to your organization as well. And as founders or as, you know, as, as designerpreneurs, it’s very important that we let. Talent growth’s own wings and give them, give that environment to that particular person with that, you know, I’ll, I’ll wrap up the first part of this episode. We’ll come back with more such interesting conversations with Kunel and Sayantan 10 till then keep listening, subscribe to Thoughtcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and Google Podcast, and send us your feedback.

Thank you.

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