Ananya Saha
Nov 05, 2015

Close Up: ‘The choice was either to be…or to do’

Emmanuel Upputuru, founder and chief integrated officer, ITSA, tells us that craft is under threat from effectiveness, reflects on his journey, and the next phase of growth for the challenger agency

Close Up: ‘The choice was either  to be…or to do’
Emmanuel Upputuru doesn’t mince his words when he says creativity is under threat because it is judged from the prism of effectiveness (read numbers). The founder and chief integrated officer of ITSA says, “Creativity should be judged on the basis of craft.” 
Getting the basics right
His entry into the industry was pre-empted when he quashed his parents’ hope of becoming an engineer by scoring 33 per cent in Mathematics in class 10. His father, being a part of the finance department of Clarion Advertising, asked him to finish his graduation and enter advertising.
Upputuru began in the media department of Alfred Allan Advertising in Delhi in 1993, where he used to handle the billings. After a short stint, he joined Pressman Advertising in a similar profile. However, seeing a writer there who used to earn four times his salary, and spend less than half the time in office, ‘and not churning what I thought required becoming a Shakespeare’, Upputuru thought of shifting to creative department.
His copy tests at various agencies got him a job at RK Swamy in 1994. A year later, he got a call from Contract Delhi. There, he learnt from the likes of V Sunil, Shivjeet Khullar, Pradeep Sarkar, Jaideep Sahni, and Vidur Vohra.
“Contract helped me get my basics right. I started when English was still strong, and print was ruling. We (along with Raghu Bhat and Manish Bhatt) were the trainees, and used to get leaflets and instruction manuals to work on,” he reminisces. He spent close to four years there, won an Abby, and left when the team started disbanding, and realised that he was also underpaid.
He met Ganga (Gangadharan Menon)-Nalesh (Patil), joined PSL McCann and learnt minute details of craft from them. When the duo left to start Chlorophyll, Upputuru met Mohammed Khan in Mumbai and came to Delhi with Enterprise in 1998.  He started feeling restless after spending three months with the agency. He got a call from Shiven Surendranath in Leo Burnett, who asked him if he wanted to win awards.
“They used to rate the work around the world on a scale of 1 to 10. If the work scored more than seven, then it would win awards. Since I was obsessed with awards, I joined them,” admits Upputuru. He got his first Cannes shortlist while at Leo Burnett.
When Delhi Leo Burnett lost Coca-Cola, people were asked to leave. Upputuru, however, was asked to go to Mumbai and work with KS Chakravarthy (Chax). He worked with Aggy (Agnello Dias) after Chax left. Upputuru partnered with Santosh Padhi and together they won at Cannes Lions and the Abbys.
In 2001, he married and decided to shift back to Delhi. He met R Balki and KV Sridhar (Pops), and joined Lowe Delhi. Upputuru decided to make peace with ‘not-my-kind-of-place’ agency, and stick to it. However, he was ‘woken from his slumber’ and was asked to join Ogilvy Delhi as ACD by Prasad Raghavan (partner in Contract). “In one year (2003), we were India's number one creative team according to the awards we won - One Show, Cannes etc,” he recalls.
A ‘sincere believer’ in God, and a preacher on Sundays, Upputuru 'gave into temptation' to head Saatchi Delhi in 2003. “We (him and Prasad) were ACDs at that time. We joined, and won Saatchi's first Cannes Lion for Sony in 2004. However, things changed in Singapore, and it percolated here. It became very political,” he recalls.
Disillusioned with how the dreamy advertising world works (as a corporate), Upputuru decided to call it quits despite having seven job offers.  “But I had a family to run, and joined back Ogilvy on a lesser salary in 2005 as ACD with Prasad,” he says.
They started work on LG, and lost it after sometime. However, in six months, he was made the head of Delhi office and was paid double. His three brothers – Titus, Daniel and Joshua – were also a part of Ogilvy Delhi at that time. Piyush Pandey used to joke, recounts Upputuru, that while people accused him of promoting his nephew (Abhijit Avasthi) at O&M, Upputuru was working with his three brothers.
“In 2007, I was responsible for taking Ogilvy to the cadre to become one of the top 10 Ogilvy offices. We won Abby Golds apart from D&AD, Cannes, One Show. It was a high point,” he says.
He spent close to three years there, and got a call from Publicis to join as NCD with a mandate to get fame, and win awards. “Publicis had no reputation – and I decided to give it a shot,” recalls Upputuru, who moved on despite Piyush (Pandey) trying to dissuade him from leaving. He joined Publicis in 2007, and won the agency’s first Cannes Lion. Yet, close to seeing gratuity for the very first time, he quit to launch ITSA.
“I am the guy scoring the runs, people who weren’t the doers were running the show. That's when the penny dropped. A friend of mine introduced me to Vivek Suchanti of Concept, and that is how the journey of ITSA began. I said no to gratuity and no to a Cannes trip and quit in March 2012. The choice for me was either to be (designation) or to do. I said it is the best time because I still have some energy left and I still had a POV in the industry and equity in the market,” he explains.
The next phase
ITSA Brand Innovations was born in collaboration with Concept Communications. Anirban Mozumdar, ex-national planning director, Publicis, and Daniel Upputuru, former head of TAG McCann Delhi, were other partners. Calling it an unpredictable experience, Upputuru says that the agency has met its brief. One of the ideas behind ITSA is to make money, but it is the 'idea' that should make money, underlines Upputuru.
“In the first year, we were chasing only innovation. But it could not be monetised, though our 17 ideas are copyrighted and patented. Yes, it was a push back. Then we moved into communication, which was slightly easier for us to do,” he says. 
However, ITSA still has 20 per cent bandwidth to move into the ‘innovation’ gear anytime. Even though 90 per cent of work that ITSA does goes onto the digital platform, this Upputuru abstains from calling it a pure digital agency.
“The bottomline job is done, and this year also we will hopefully meet targets, and win local awards. The base has been set, which is non-TV work. I believe that none of the agencies can do what we do – e-mailers etc. for my clients. Without being on TV last year, we won 10 metals at Goafest on genuine work,” he says.
Now his challenge is to change gears and do mass work. To this aim, ITSA hired people like Ritu Sharda from McCann Erickson and Karthik Sekhar, who was working in feature films, as ECDs.
Noting that the advertising industry is in a very interesting phase, Upputuru contends that agencies and network should seek out opportunities, even as they face competition from specialist agencies, content providers and media.
He further notes, “The time of making annual plan is gone. Today, the agency needs to understand the perspective of the brand manager, and not per se the brand. Of course, you keep in mind the core values and essence of the brand, but it has become about the next campaign.”
“We want to be the gamechangers, and create a dent,” surmises Steve Jobs-inspired Upputuru.
The work:
HCL - Coolest Interview Ever
HCL - Coffee Table Book
Trycolour - American Express
A table for three - American Express
Sony Bravia - Serial Ab Tak
Dirty phones - Sony
Mrs bech de - Olx
Play the host - Oxigen Wallet


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