MUMBAI: Leading Indian agencies are having to take on more short-term project work to make ends meet and in doing so are finding it increasingly difficult to maintain long-term relationships with clients according to leading industry figures.

The agency role as brand custodian is consequently under threat, as they are reduced to simply providing TV campaigns. Anil Nair, managing partner at the Law & Kenneth agency, told the Economic Times: "You have perfectly normal national marketers, among the Top 100 Most Trusted Brands according to Brand Equity, trying to pit agencies against each other for a TV bid."

But that approach by marketers is missing the point according to Arvind Sharma, the outgoing chairman and CEO of Leo Burnett. "Brands are built over time with consistency of purpose, language and medium which is impossible to achieve on a project basis," he argued.

It was a view echoed by Shubhranshu Singh, marketing head at Star Sports and whose previous experience has included stints with Visa and Hindustan Unilever. "I can't think of a situation where project-based tooling up will give the same sense of perspective and depth as I get from a 365 day 24/7 relationship," he said.

The eventual outcome, on this argument, is likely to be what the Economic Times described as "a radically impoverished ad business".

But others were less pessimistic. "Very few clients engage with all verticals of an agency," said Sagar Mahabaleshwarkar, national creative director at Bates141, adding that most did not have time for a ten-year strategy. "Whether you like it or not you will stand out for and be approached for something specific," he added.

And Dhunji Wadia, president at Everest, pointed out that when talking to a youth market "what you did five years or six months back could be irrelevant". What was critical he said was to "anticipate what's expected going forward".

One major brand that seems to be successfully straddling both approaches is PepsiCo which works with two agencies of record (AORs), in JWT and BBDO, to develop planning and a communication strategy that is consistent across three years,as well as working with Taproot.

"We have an understanding with our AORs that we'll leverage Taproot's cultural insight to refresh our creative every once in a while," explained Deepika Warrier, vice president - beverage marketing.

Data sourced from Economic Times; additional content by Warc staff