I was a tad hesitant in taking up this job. The editor of Campaign India was a respectable position. But around five years ago I was unsure about coming back to the 'trade', having nested in the comforts of a financial daily. I had also earned a reputation for stepping into the shoes of the former editor of this title. It doesn't seem like a coincidence anymore when you do it thrice. But I did join, eventually.
When I look back at my stint with this brand in India (and briefly in the Middle East), I am grateful I took up the job. I am far richer for the experience than I ever imagined, and eternally grateful for the people I worked and interacted with in the course of my job.
So as I make way for the next editor of Campaign India in its digital avatar, I take the opportunity to recall some special and everyday events that marked my tenure. I would not want to name anyone in particular. This is not about getting back at or singing praise of a few. I'm just taking a deep breath and recollecting what transpired as I move on.
Firstly, my apologies to the creators of a super-intelligent piece of print work supposedly targeted at upmarket housewives. I could not resist asking them to admit that it was made for awards. I was not questioning the intelligence of housewives. My wife is one currently and far more informed and intelligent than I am. But to blatantly insist that a poster only (some) jurors will understand at first glance was mainstream, I felt, amounted to undermining the collective intelligence of the industry and the media. I am all for creativity and creative awards. But let us not confuse the real with the creative showcases.
On the other hand, a piece of work I greatly admired, along with millions of Indians and internet audiences across the world, was Ariel's Dad's Share The Load. I sent a friend who worked on the campaign a message after seeing the film, confessing how guilty I now felt each time my four-year-old played in her toy kitchen. I cringed within each time I watched the film. And then my better half told me one day as I was doing the laundry, that those marketers are real smart. Her conspiracy theory: whenever I did the laundry, I used more detergent - and fabric conditioner - than necessary. Could it be true of all men? We arrived at a conclusion after some debate. Be that theory as it may, men must share the responsibility, and that is what the campaign is about. But, to question the possibility of a tangential benefit accruing to the category, even if only for the first few weeks of men sharing the load, is not a crime. Not for a journalist.
Curiosity is inherent in us because it is our job to question. A lot of that questioning spirit fades with age but some of the core remains forever. Unless you know the whole story, you will not be able to say it with authority. Much like meandering around unsure of the route to take in the pre-GPS era.
So we must be forgiven because we are merely doing our jobs. Just as PR professionals are doing theirs when they try to sell journalists a story. Or a corporate communications person tries to spin something so much that it becomes a doosra. Or a spokesperson, however senior, hangs on to his inane talk points for dear life, akin to an accused by law insisting on speaking only through a lawyer.
I must also thank the PR and corporate communications folk who put up with our questions day after day. And my team members who had the thankless task of asking them. I must apologise for holding on to some old methods that seemed to work. For not doing e-mail interviews. For not publishing pre-written 'authored articles' establishing your clients' thought leadership. For not allowing our 'Opinion' pieces to be shaped by your clients' agenda. For not hanging out at events and pubs to get to know each other. For insisting on a black and white demarcation of what is a story and what isn't.
Especially within trade, these lines blur so very often. Sometimes with an advertiser. Sometimes with a senior executive of a large agency who says nothing worth reading despite pushing and prodding. I apologise for not agreeing to interview the TV rock star or network owner, when the condition was that the interaction would result in a cover story. It probably would have, but it cannot work as a pre-condition. Our loss too. I also apologise for not paying heed to the attendant 'marketing support' promised.
I will not blame anyone because this is perhaps how the world works today. I was doing my job the way I understood it. I fully respect that the PR frat, of which I was once a part, were doing theirs. They had clients and bosses to answer. And we were answerable to our readers.
I must apologise to all those we may have offended as we took a stand on ad industry associations and their events. It was my view that come what may, we exist because of this industry, and we must stand by its officially recognised bodies. Does that mean not criticising an industry event if something went wrong? No. On the other hand, it also meant going the extra mile to express solidarity with the industry as its senior statesmen rose to the call of duty to protect an industry-owned property. They can proudly pass on Goafest, along with the Abbys, Effies and Emvies, to the next generation. In my humble opinion, we were acting as we should have in the interest of this industry we serve. If we hurt those with other interests while doing so, I apologise. If I had to go through all that again, I would not change a single thing I did. But I'm glad it's over.
I may have lost other friends too, for different reasons. Hopefully, we will get back again someday for a chat when we can look beyond our work agendas. While thanking each juror who helped host the South Asia Agency of the Year in Mumbai for the last few years, I must not forget those who helped with our digital awards. When I joined, we were in the midst of judging one edition of the awards. From the next edition on, we did away with jurors from agencies and persisted with an all-marketer/client jury. The first year of effecting that change saw a huge drop in the number of entries. It has been going up ever since. I apologise to all those who took offence to the move. And thank all those who stood by us. I do not blame agency leaders for being as passionate as they are, or holding a strong point of view on work. That passion is what makes them who they are. But a few of them should not be allowed to influence the course of an awards show, I thought.
To the dear ones who asked me whether they were winning at our awards before the gala, I offer an unconditional apology. It was not your fault because you were merely asking so that you may attend, following standard industry practice. I also apologise for publishing one such text message from my mobile screen in the magazine. To be fair, we did mask the number. We were trying to be fair. If we told one agency they were winning, we had to inform everyone. If there was no suspense involved, we could well dispense with the awards show and improve the margin. I did not want to host an awards night with only winners in attendance.
Entry deadlines were among friend-killers, too. There were some who stopped taking my calls this year after the entry system closed on them. This was after the extended deadline of the South Asia Agency of the Year Awards 2016. Any extension had to be communicated to everyone, so that the benefit of it was availed by all. I thank those who understood our perspective on this, and am confident that the rest will come around. The 'Sab log karte hain' argument simply did not work for me because we did not want to be 'Sab log', with due respect to 'Sab log'.
To those who wanted to know the guaranteed number of trophies at CIDCA for sending 'x' number of entries, and were in for a rude shock that the answer was zero, sorry. To those who wanted to arrive at an agreeable figure to favourably consider their entries, sorry again. To those who wanted to negotiate the entry fee, rest assured that we did not engage in such conversations with anyone. Fewer and better entries help ease the jury process. It was a trade-off we were willing to do.
The Annual Report Card was another bone of contention, for some. We're sorry that we didn't see things the way they did. But the intention was never to keep everyone happy. I am sorry in hindsight for some harsh exchanges. Having said that, to try and arm-twist an editor with telephonic threats from an agency's regional offices, was uncalled for. The callers got it all wrong when they said they'd get my own employer to 'come after me'. Campaign and Haymarket stood by its Indian editor, for which I am grateful. For showing me the character of my employer, I am grateful to the callers.
I must thank industry associations like the IAA for allowing us to play a small role in initiatives like the IndIAA Awards and the inaugural IAA Debates. While doing so, I must apologise to those who may not have agreed with my point of view on more than one occasion. In the end, the net outcomes have been positive. Someday, we shall have a drink to celebrate those differences and share a laugh or two.
It is imperative that I thank NGO Population First for giving us an opportunity to serve them in some small measure. I was fortunate to have been the editor when the world's first gender sensitivity scores for ads were conceptualised. We are proud to have reached out to that glass ceiling long before the Glass Lions came into existence.
In sum, as I reflect back on this journey with Campaign, I will not say that I have done a great job. It could always be done better. In any case, that's for readers to judge. But I can say that I stayed true to my conscience, and exercised my responsibility without fear or favour.
We may have had our moments good, bad and ugly. But I choose to take along only the good, which far outweighs others. The bad and ugly bits were necessities of our jobs, and will now be respectfully buried in the past. The new year shall bring another avatar and its attendant manifestations.
I must have done something right at Campaign India for a senior journalist familiar with my work, to recommend me for a prestigious writing assignment. As I explore life as a consultant / freelance content creator, I draw inspiration from every piece of work I have had the good fortune to witness over the years. For that, I am grateful to every creator and every client.
There is an element of fluidity in the future as I exit this space with fond memories. As a dear lyricist friend once wrote, albeit in another context, some of us would be better off letting life flow. Behne Do.
(The author is managing editor, Campaign India, until 31 December 2016. email@example.com / @goks140)
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