For an agency that started on May 1st 2015, or Labour Day, calling themselves ‘The Womb’ is not only symbolic, but it's apt too. And for The Womb’s founding partners Navin Talreja and Kawal Shoor this moment heralded a new phase in both of their careers. The duo previously held senior positions at Ogilvy India, but during the last year of their time there they realised they weren’t concentrating on ideas than they would have liked. “We enjoy the process of creation, the process of both strategic creation and the creation of ideas and that had somehow stopped happening at Ogilvy in the last 12 months prior to us leaving. We became management and a lot of time would go on stuff that has nothing to do with brand consumer ideas, advertising, communication, marketing, solving clients problems, none of that,” recalls Navin.
He adds that they didn’t want to go ‘back into the same trap’ of being CCOs at a big agency because the pair are more ‘blue collar souls’. Navin explains that at The Womb he and Kawal have been “the blue collar souls in white collar roles since the day we started.” Nowadays both co-founders split themselves between strategy, account management and creative - but perhaps what makes the agency stand out the most is that they don’t pitch.
An agency that doesn’t pitch seems totally unheard of in a world where discussions centre around this agency and that create pitching for a certain brand. However, Kawal explains that instead The Womb has business conversations, something that no agency normally does. He explains: “If you know the consumer well, if you have a real insight into what makes somebody tick, you don't just end up creating campaigns, you can help clients solve business problems because everything is a chain.” He adds that his experiences with watching pitches happen where agencies pick their top creatives to come up with an idea can lead to a lot of time for little compensation.
“You pick the best people in the agency, you've wasted a month of their time to prove to a client that you are worthy of working with them. We said we won't do this, our time is too important and we said we just engage the client in a business conversation.”
Navin adds that the statement isn’t as dramatic as it comes across. “It took us a while to explain to clients, this was not coming from a place of arrogance. Any agency that comes you get two to three weeks for a pitch, right? So we had to tell clients any agency that is going to come and tell you that in two to three weeks they have a solution to a problem that you've been grappling with for years or months is only bullshitting you. Because if you really want to just get a grip on the problem and define it correctly, it takes a while.”
He explains that when forward planning The Womb don’t prospect for new business but instead gain their business from recommendations from existing clients. “We share our work, we share our point of view, we share how we work, how we think, some case studies of the work that we've done, we have a conversation around their brand, a discussion. It's a fairly lengthy two, three hour meeting and usually, typically, after that, it's either yes, we'd like to continue or oh, thank you. And we're okay with thank you, because, intrinsically many people have said you're an independent agency. We disagree with that.”
Navin explains that sometimes The Womb are on the other end of the ‘thank you’: “The work motivates us, ideas motivate us and our reputation motivates us. We've said no to Netflix three times. We've said no to Spotify, despite the CMO calling us from Stockholm. We've said no to Unilever, we've said no to MTV. We've left a lot of money on the table. I'm probably OK with that. Because you can't have a principal that does not cost you money. It has to cost you money if you have a principal, otherwise it's not a principal, it's convenience.”
Kawal explains that sometimes when working with larger corporations, creativity can be stifled but for established agencies who have worked on iconic pieces of work, their reputation goes before them. So for a smaller, newer agency like The Womb, things can be tougher. “I’ve developed this belief that we’re an imagination business and if imagination businesses start getting controlled by stock markets then somewhere down the line many things get compromised.”
Navin adds that he views creativity like a cricket match, “every ball has to be a boundary over six, it’s not test matches where you can let a ball go.” And with the company being able to work on a maximum of 20 projects at a time, there really is no room for error.
Going back to the pair’s younger days it seems a life in creativity was always in their destiny. Navin was a budding actor and for a while had no plans but to pursue just that – until he realised that as the sole child in his family, this wouldn’t be an accepted job role. Instead, while waiting for the exams for his administrative services to roll round he studied for a MBA in Marketing. A chance conversation with a professor who recognised his ‘restless mind’ encouraged that advertising was the perfect place to unleash all of his creativity.
Kawal’s entry into the industry wasn’t as obvious. With a background in IT, he was selling his company’s server at an exhibition and happened upon the CEO of Indian agency Rediffusion – who may not have bought the server but offered Kawal a job. “If you’ve got a restless mind there are actually very few industries you can go to, because you can keep doing new things on literally a daily basis,” he muses.
Now that The Womb are approaching six years of being in the industry, the mantra that ‘we are not a creative business, we are an imagination business’, is one they still live by. And while they admit to never planning for opportunities, the agency sticks by its values and principles and as Kawal so aptly puts it: “We’ve not been the planning kind, we know the kind of work we want to do and people we want to work with.”