Ranjan Kapur
India
Ranjan Kapur
  • Country Manager, WPP (Advertising)
Born Lahore, India, 1942; died Mumbai, India, 2018. MA English, St. Stephens College, Delhi University (1964).
“I think the uniqueness of India lies in its diversity … But then we don’t look at it [this diversity] as a barrier. We see that as an opportunity…”

Summary

Ranjan Kapur was the former India country manager of WPP, the world’s largest advertising company. In this interview, three years before his death in 2018, Kapur reflects on the start of his career as a banker at Citibank in India. With a strong desire to move from banking into advertising, Kapur was promoted to head of advertising at Lintas, an advertising agency then owned by Unilever, and less than a year later joined Bensons (now Ogilvy & Mather). Kapur worked for Ogilvy in both New York and Singapore before returning to India in 1978.

In this interview, Kapur describes the dramatic changes in the advertising industry over the course of several decades. He reflects on the industry in the 1960s, where there was an emphasis on the English language in the Indian business, and explains two major differences between then and the industry today. The first was that there were no specialized departments for public relations, media, and events – everyone worked as a generalist. The second biggest difference was that copy and art were housed in separate divisions. Kapur goes on to discuss the opening of the Indian economy in 1991 and the impact it had on the advertising industry. He argues that the elimination of the so-called License Raj brought in more clients and without a restriction on capacity, India saw a steep increase in levels of production, global investment, and expenditure.

Kapur then moves on to describe his experience of turning Ogilvy into a top advertising agency in India. Upon returning to India from Singapore in 1978, Ogilvy was viewed as a middle-of-the-road agency. Kapur explains that his previous work in Singapore gave him foresight over his competitors. He turned the company around by changing the status quo and setting up a series of principles to operate under. These principles included empowering employees, growth acceleration, setting achievable milestones, developing creative products that lead to profitable growth, seeing diversity as an opportunity, and balancing the creativity, finance, and profits as “three legs of a stool”. Following this path, the agency grew 50% in the first year and continued to double in size every two years.

Kapur discusses the introduction of digital marketing in the early 2000s and explains that many large agencies collapsed during this period for three reasons: a lack of planning for the transition, overinvestment, and being unable to break into the digital scene. He then explains that the primary way for advertising agencies to successfully handle the arrival of businesses such as Facebook and Google is through collaboration and creating alliances rather than viewing them as competitors. Kapur describes the merging of media and data, the creation of client-tailored products, and how the move into the digital world with programmatic buying and customization has led to the loss of creativity. Kapur explains the change in consumer behavior in India as a result of e-commerce and heavy price discounting, which has resulted in the loss of brand loyalty and the declining value of brands. He then shares his views on global branding and global expansion, cautioning companies not to run away from their home market base before having a majority share.

To conclude the interview, Kapur reflects on the importance of work-life balance after spending fifty years in the advertising industry. In 2015, Kapur launched two initiatives. First, he helped establish the ISDI WPP School of Communication, which was created out of the need to have trained people going into the advertising agency. He explains that the school is unique because it contains a work-study program and the curriculum is developed by the WPP companies based upon their hiring priorities. Kapur also set up the WPP CSR Foundation, which focuses on improved educational outcomes for under-served youth by increasing retention in secondary schools, improving academic performance, enhancing work-readiness skills, and addressing deep-rooted social norms to increase livelihood.

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Ranjan Kapur was the former India country manager of WPP, the world’s largest advertising company. In this interview, three years before his death in 2018, Kapur reflects on the start of his career as a banker at Citibank in India. With a strong desire to move from banking into advertising, Kapur was promoted to head of advertising at Lintas, an advertising agency then owned by Unilever, and less than a year later joined Bensons (now Ogilvy & Mather). Kapur worked for Ogilvy in both New York and Singapore before returning to India in 1978.

In this interview, Kapur describes the dramatic changes in the advertising industry over the course of several decades. He reflects on the industry in the 1960s, where there was an emphasis on the English language in the Indian business, and explains two major differences between then and the industry today. The first was that there were no specialized departments for public relations, media, and events – everyone worked as a generalist. The second biggest difference was that copy and art were housed in separate divisions. Kapur goes on to discuss the opening of the Indian economy in 1991 and the impact it had on the advertising industry. He argues that the elimination of the so-called License Raj brought in more clients and without a restriction on capacity, India saw a steep increase in levels of production, global investment, and expenditure.

Kapur then moves on to describe his experience of turning Ogilvy into a top advertising agency in India. Upon returning to India from Singapore in 1978, Ogilvy was viewed as a middle-of-the-road agency. Kapur explains that his previous work in Singapore gave him foresight over his competitors. He turned the company around by changing the status quo and setting up a series of principles to operate under. These principles included empowering employees, growth acceleration, setting achievable milestones, developing creative products that lead to profitable growth, seeing diversity as an opportunity, and balancing the creativity, finance, and profits as “three legs of a stool”. Following this path, the agency grew 50% in the first year and continued to double in size every two years.

Kapur discusses the introduction of digital marketing in the early 2000s and explains that many large agencies collapsed during this period for three reasons: a lack of planning for the transition, overinvestment, and being unable to break into the digital scene. He then explains that the primary way for advertising agencies to successfully handle the arrival of businesses such as Facebook and Google is through collaboration and creating alliances rather than viewing them as competitors. Kapur describes the merging of media and data, the creation of client-tailored products, and how the move into the digital world with programmatic buying and customization has led to the loss of creativity. Kapur explains the change in consumer behavior in India as a result of e-commerce and heavy price discounting, which has resulted in the loss of brand loyalty and the declining value of brands. He then shares his views on global branding and global expansion, cautioning companies not to run away from their home market base before having a majority share.

To conclude the interview, Kapur reflects on the importance of work-life balance after spending fifty years in the advertising industry. In 2015, Kapur launched two initiatives. First, he helped establish the ISDI WPP School of Communication, which was created out of the need to have trained people going into the advertising agency. He explains that the school is unique because it contains a work-study program and the curriculum is developed by the WPP companies based upon their hiring priorities. Kapur also set up the WPP CSR Foundation, which focuses on improved educational outcomes for under-served youth by increasing retention in secondary schools, improving academic performance, enhancing work-readiness skills, and addressing deep-rooted social norms to increase livelihood.
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Video Clips by Topic

Government Regulations

Ranjan Kapur, the former India country manager of the WPP advertising agency, describes the dramatic growth in the advertising industry in India after deregulation, and how his previous experience in Singapore before his returned to India in 1997 shaped his perspective on the industry.



Human Resources

Ranjan Kapur, the India country manager of the WPP advertising agency, describes his human resources philosophy: empowering employees (which he describes as "letting the tiger out of the cage"), using a lean staff to produce more, and giving workers a clear goal and road map to get there.


Innovation

Ranjan Kapur challenges the suggestion that only small agencies can be creative, and encourages big businesses to promote creativity.
Keywords: India, Innovation


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Additional Resources

Additional Resources

  • WPP--Integrating Icons to Leverage Knowledge [HBS case]
  • "The High-Growth Areas Are in Non-advertising: Ranjan Kapur” (Interview with Country Manager, WPP and Chairman, Bates India), Business Standard, April 2, 2012
  • "Will Bates India be Ranjan Kapur's Elusive Perfect Snowball?” The Economic Times, March 28, 2012
  • “'Advertisement Agencies Should Stop Devaluing Their Services,' Q&A: RANJAN KAPUR, country manager (India), WPP," Business Standard, July 30, 2008
  • "Kapur Assigned to Country Manager Role for WPP India,” Media, March 26, 2004
  • "O&M India Unveils Strategy Post-Kapur Retirement,” Media, July 11, 2003
  • "Ranjan Kapur: Life after Ogilvy,” Economic Times, November 19, 2003
  • “Ranjan Kapur Striving to Make O&M India a Worldwide Player,” Advertising Age, February 21, 1994
  • Video file of this interview available at Baker Library Historical Collections, histcollref+hbs.edu. Harvard ID holders can access the full-length video above.
  • "A visionary and a gentleman who transformed Indian advertising industry,"Economic Times, January 29, 2018.

Interview Citation Format

"Interview with Ranjan Kapur, interviewed by Sunil Gupta, August 5, 2015, Creating Emerging Markets Project, Baker Library Historical Collections, Harvard Business School, http://www.hbs.edu/creating-emerging-markets/."