You began your career as social communication professional. How did the transition to advertising happen?
I think it was gradual because I always wanted to be in advertising since I was a kid. I am from Lucknow. I studied at Welham Girls’ Boarding school in Dehradun. I remember sitting in front of the TV waiting for ads. I always wanted to be in advertising and I did my mass communication from IIMC. I was very fascinated with Indra Sinha and wanted to do something to make the world better. I started my career in social communication. However, all I was doing was writing leaflets on vasectomy as a population-controlling initiative. I did not want to do that. After spending two years there, I chose the more ‘selling’ profession. I joined Ulka in August 2003 as junior writer.
How has the journey been so far?
It has been very exciting. It has been 10 years here. People ask me why I haven’t left yet. Frankly, I haven’t felt the need. I have always worked on very good accounts and brands. It’s always been good. It is the work I like and I have been trying to do justice to the briefs. Ulka is a nice place to be.
Did you feel you were stagnating at any point of your career at Ulka?
In advertising, you are always governed by the thought that grass is always greener (on the other side) because 97 per cent of the time you are dealing with disappointments. Your great idea that would have made your career or won you a metal gets bombed. You always think you should move to a different place, and things will be magically different.
But I have always taken a different view. There will always be good times and bad times. I don’t lose track of what I have here. I have always had freedom in this place. I have got opportunities to work on good accounts and varied accounts. I have had great mentors here such as Sanjay Sharma, Simon Hayward and now Chax (KS Chakravarthy). I have learnt and am still learning so much under Chax’s guidance. I started with Jeevansathi.com, Naukri.com, 99acres.com, Shiksha.com (all Infoedge accounts). I have worked on John Players, Hero, Godfrey Philips India (for a short period), Bata, KFC, and now Tata Docomo. I never had time to feel stagnated.
Yes, there was a time I thought of gaining international experience and had a discussion with Mr (Arvind) Wable about moving to the Singapore office and he was supportive, but then Docomo happened and now there is no question of it.
You have been associated with Docomo for the last four years...
I love working on Docomo. I always wanted to work on a telecom brand and I am doing that and I am pretty happy with how it’s going. I think my focus will be on the new ‘Open up’ concept of Docomo and to see how many new media we can take it forward in. Focus has to be to do great work. It has to be across. It has to be ideas.
What was your first project at Draftfcb-Ulka?
It was a film campaign on Jeevansathi.com. I was very excited about it. However, a week into it and with all my films rejected, I did not feel that excited. But then, after presenting about 20 scripts, it finally happened. My then boss, Sanjay Sharma, liked this one film. We presented it to the client and they loved it. The film was on the thought of – ‘Don’t marry the worst mistake of your life’. I had done a film on a woman who was treating her husband like a pet. And no, this wasn’t a latent wish of mine (laughs)!
Any brands you would like to work on?
I wish I had worked on few commercials though. I wish I had done some of the Thai commercials, Movistar (telecom brand) and wish I would have done Cadbury’s ‘Shubh Aaramb’ kind of series.
Who have been your mentors in the industry?
I have mostly been in Draftfcb but I have been very happy with the mentors I have had. My ex-boss- Sanjay Sharma taught me the art of ideation and to never give up. I have learnt just about everything under Chax’s guidance such as paying attention to crafting, how to build a brand, the importance of strategy and believing everything is possible.
When we had to do the ‘Stand Up’ campaign, we had to shoot 40 scripts in two days. And I was working myself up in a tizzy on how we will ever manage that. Chax told me that it can happen. We did it without comprising on quality.
I look up to Chax, Aggie (Agnello Dias), Rajiv Rao, Keenu (Abhijit Awasthi) and Raj Kurup; but I am also inspired by a lot of peoples’ work, like Kartik (Smetacek), Manoj Shetty, Malvika (Mehra), Ayappa and Vivek Kakkad.
What have been your learnings in this industry?
Never to underestimate or turn your nose up on a brief. Every brief has a basic potential that it can reach and our job is to make sure that it at least reaches that potential.
What I have learnt is to pay importance to craft and execution. I know it is the greatest cliché but it is the most ignored one. Especially as creative, we work so hard to get an idea through but once it is through we are almost like ‘our job is done’ and we can rest easy. But the thing is if it doesn’t come out well, no one cares how great the idea was when you pitched it. What you are left with is something mediocre.
The challenge is with your own self. We should not get stuck up and say this was the best idea. We did five rounds before ‘Unlimited’ happened. If we had stopped at (the) first and said that was the best idea, we wouldn’t have reached ‘Unlimited’. The biggest challenge is to abide yourself to the brand rather than abide the brand to what you think is good. For Docomo, we need to do justice to the brand tone. The ideas need to fit the tone rather than the brand fitting the idea.
What motivates you?
Every new brief motivates me. I just like the idea of getting a brief and thinking what it could be. Seeing the work out and people liking it motivates me.
And do awards motivate you?
Awards please me but do not motivate me. I have won at Abby and Effie awards. A creative person should not be talking about Effies (chuckles). But I like to talk about Effies as well. That said, who wouldn’t want to win D&AD, Cannes Lions!
Your view on scam ads...
I think if there are people who need to showcase what the brand could do, it is fine and should be legalised. It is perfectly fine if someone wants to do something proactively. I would not say scam but if someone wants to do something proactively for awards, we should legalise it and say these are contending for proactive awards. Earlier, I was violently against it. I was young and hot headed. I have matured and mellowed.
What ails the advertising industry?
I think lack of good talent. Portfolio Night is a big step in that direction. The way the future is going, I think we need to invest in this profession. Invest in terms of trying to find new talent, to cultivate people, try to adapt ourselves to how things are changing. Digital is coming up even though it will take still some more time in India to truly see its colours, and to adapt ourselves to new technology. We are missing the good talent across the industry - even in servicing and planning, because a lot of people are joining the client’s side or choosing something else. There are so many professions now. Talent is getting scattered and we are missing out on good talent across departments.
What is the first thing you tell a fresher who joins Ulka?
I tell them not to chase money or designations because all of that will come. I tell them to focus on what work they will be doing. A lot of people who come, they need to work on good accounts, brands and good projects rather than just a salary and a designation. I think the rest follows.
How does Draftfcb-Ulka cultivate and retain talent?
We have the Star One workshop, which is a good step towards building new talent. They are put through an intensive two-month training of which the first month is classroom sessions conducted by senior managers from the company and noted personalities from the industry. I take a session on ‘How to make better ad films’. They also do a month-long sales training with client organisations to understand the ground realities of sales.
We also try and sustain talent. If someone is exhausted on one particular account we make it possible for the person to shift group and city. The culture here is free from politics. There is transparency in the system, and it is not hierarchy-driven. It makes it easy for people to stick to Ulka. Everyone here gets equal opportunities.
Where do you see yourself five years from now?
I see myself doing the same thing. Our jobs never change as creative people. What I was doing when I started and what I am doing now is the same. I just have more responsibility, and a more mentor-oriented role but my job is still the same. I still have to come up with ideas and solutions.
Maybe not in five years from now, but eventually I would like to work with an entertainment channel and improve the content of the Indian TV soaps. There are interesting films so why can’t we have interesting TV serials? At the end of the day, we needed a Dil Chahta Hai to change Indian movies. I think we need a Dil Chahta Hai kind of moment in TV serials as well. You can’t really have your ads coming in between a bad soap.
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