Not sticking to the script

How Glue Brandworks and Gauge Advertising want to reinvigorate the staid ad industry with their ideas

Vishal Koul

It’s hard to forget Ashok Goel, especially once he hands you his business card. The ‘card’ is a yellow sticky note, with a caricature of him doffing a hat and details of his company in what appear to be scribbles and doodles in pencil. Actually, it is a carefully crafted way of standing out in the crowd of branding and advertising agencies in India. “The tagline of our company is ‘Ideas that stick’ and we thought this would be a great way of conveying that,” says the 50-year-old co-founder of Delhi-based creative agency Glue Brandworks. It’s not the first time Goel has tried an offbeat idea that’s worked out well. Indeed, for the past 14 years, he has made a business out of quirky, unconventional thinking with his companies, Gauge Advertising and Glue Brandworks.

An ad industry veteran who worked with blue-chip agencies such as TBWA, McCann, Trikaya Grey, Lintas and HTA, Goel started his first agency, Gauge Advertising, in 2000. He teamed up with his snooker buddies Pawan Chohan and Surender Keswani and the three friends pooled in ₹10 lakh from their personal savings to launch the agency. The idea from the start was clear: Goel and Co would not do business as usual. Instead of building a brand by tom-tomming its pluses to an outside audience of customers and suppliers, Gauge decided to focus on internal or B2E (business to employee) communication. “We are a people engagement agency. Employees are the biggest brand ambassadors of an organisation and keeping them happy and satisfied contributes greatly to the organisation’s image,” Goel explains. 

Focusing on the IT and ITES segments, Gauge typically works with large companies with over 10,000 employees. “It makes sense for a company to invest in professional communication and get value for money if there is a large base. It makes even more sense when the company has a multi-city presence because then it is the communication that binds people,” says Goel. Gauge currently has over 30 clients, including big companies such as IBM, Wipro, Deutsche Bank and Concentrix in the B2E vertical, capitalised billings of over ₹21.5 crore in FY13 and an estimated revenue of ₹26 crore in FY14.

So, what does Gauge do? Its work starts from designing a brand strategy, internal communication across all three stages of employee lifecycle (acquisition, retention and attrition) as well as reaching out to channel and business partners. Tailor-made solutions include referral campaigns, communication for campus hires, helping in orientation of new hires and planning special days for organisations (such as family days, town hall meetings etc.). “All these campaigns are ultimately aimed at engaging employees to drive the business objectives while lowering attrition rates,” says Pawan Chohan, co-founder of Gauge and director, IT and digital domain. But why would companies be willing to shell out anywhere between ₹5 lakh and ₹60 lakh for a campaign that should be handled by the HR department? “HR has moved from being a staff function to a sales function, where they are given targets of ensuring quality, participation etc. If HR has to continue this way, its communication would end up totally one-way. We believe in more creative and interesting ways of communication, which involve more engagement from the employee,” says Goel. 

The approach seems to be working, going by customer testimonials. Blackberry India, where Gauge largely works on B2B communication and enterprise management, professes to be completely satisfied with Gauge’s work over the past three years. “We have seen y-o-y growth in our customer base as well as more awareness for our solutions in the market today. Our choice of agency was based on Gauge’s understanding of our portfolio. At the end of the day, it came down to returns, which we have seen,” says Manoj Khilnani, country marketing manager, enterprise products, Blackberry India. 

Working in the B2B and B2E space, Gauge wasn’t doing much conventional advertising work. Last year, though, to keep pace with the industry, Goel saw the need to tap into the creative side of advertising and communication as well. This led to the launch of Glue Brandworks, a sister concern that functions as Gauge’s core creative shop, and Goel roped in Gautam Mehta, who has previously worked with McCann Asia in Jakarta, as partner. Even with Glue, though, the accent is on not doing conventional work, explains Mehta. “We believe it is important to put your money on ideas that will be memorable. We work with clients who are brave enough to step out and do things differently,” he says. 

The agency has worked with clients such as start-up stockbroking company F6 Finserve, Zen mobile, Blackberry World, One Indiabulls and IBM. The ads are crisp and funny, something Goel attributes to sticking to the basics. “Big agencies often ignore the obvious and go for heavy-duty research. Our ideas are very basic and they work because they come closer to your heart,” he says. 

The company’s most recent campaign, for the One Indiabulls housing project in Gurgaon, also stays away from conventional celeb endorsements, incentives and promotions. Instead, Glue’s communication for the housing project (a ₹40-crore account) focuses on an ‘Old World charm’ theme, using the opulence and extravagance of the colonial lifestyle to highlight project features. 

With revenue of ₹1.5 crore in its first year, Glue is a very small minnow in the ₹32,600-crore advertising industry. But Goel isn’t worried. “Our approach is different and leaves no room for comparison,” he says insouciantly. It may be a while before Gauge and Glue become as ubiquitous as the sticky notes Goel distributes as visiting cards but meanwhile, they’re certainly sticking out of the crowd.