35 Years in the World of Advertising
Milestones in the Journey
I think, I wished I had the wisdom, which I now have, because when I started out, it was actually fairly uncharted. Like many young people when they start off, they don’t know what they want. But I think what drive you to succeed if you have if you motivated want to do well or better your lot so to speak in family, I think this is a best way.
- So the critical factors what drove me was must have a passion for what you do. Without that passion it doesn’t make sense because you not going to like to get up every morning and go and do the same job over and over again. Think passion is extremely important, if you can’t find the passion and the love for what you doing, don’t do it. It’s better to make a mid-course correction and do something fresh. Passion is primary top of my list to what I think I would have had or what people think should have.
- You must have lot of knowledge – without knowledge not being curious about trying to understand what it is that drives a particular industry or a business or the profession you choosen at that point of time, you won’t get very far. So you got to keep breast you got to read a lot, you got to listen a lot, you got to try and get experience from all the people who have already done that, been their, and from them and their learnings. I think .
- Also impotant I think is you must have a right attitude. Because if you don’t have the right attitude, I don’t think any job is worth doing. So it’s a combination of knowledge, passion and attitude. Of-course am saying that all things being equal. You already have the aptitude to the intelligence and therefore, I presume all of us have same where with all, is how we all finally use that.
So I must say after 35 years in advertising we were at a time where India was full of shortages. So the drama of India’s first “Maruti” which now became ‘Suzuki’ and went on to become a big success, or the first “Nikitash” television, so I go back in time and I think of how those categories were formed? So, the story of advertising and India, story of what we did at that point of time, was to create these various categories. Which today have gone on to be what they are, so whether it’s 2-wheelers or 4-wheelers, banking or retail banking and as these categories exploded, I thinks that’s the story of “how India was built” and we have seen a lot of it.
My good fortune was to have a worked with lot of people who are instrumental in creating these companies. The companies which today we know as being famous. For example, Hero Cycles, Hero Motor-cycles. At that point of times these were big things which were happening, we couldn’t believe after having just an enfield or SD prior to that a Java suddenly you had a Honda, you had Kawaski, you had Yamaha, you had a Suzuki motor-cycle and that’s the category of a or the space the advertising was leading. So when you think of “What we did?” in those days was the formation of categories which went on today to become a large categories all of us are familiar with.
What I learned from all the people who created these categories. People who either started these companies or worked for companies, there are 2-3 different ways of looking at that, there are people who are entrepreneurs for example, Ritu Nanda & Nikita Shah, and of course she was married to Nanda’s from escorts frame, but she created Nikita Shah range of kitchenets, TVs and 3Ds and innovations at that point of time. You learn a couple of things.
- You learn about innovation, you learn about sheer drive about what it takes to succeed in a business which is a formative stage. None of them ever had money. And you know you partner that, because I know that we sometimes never got paid. But we knew that the journey they were embarking on was long and you had to just partner them. That’s the way we were. So, in a milestone of all these you know, clients, categories which we worked with for example there was “Hero” And where it was hero cycles or hero motor cycle than hero Honda. All of them went through a certain journey cycle. And
- It was somebody had the vision. You learn from them VISION.
- You learnt SCALE, somebody wanted to scale up, to address country like India.
And, India is not a few states. India is a wide India that we know today is a billion people or billion+ people. These are the people who had scaled, they had vision, they had a tenacity to keep at it. Money was always in short supply. And don’t get fooled by the start-up what we see today. At that point of time there was no money. And everybody it was hand to mouth, hand to mouth for agencies, so you learnt about resilience, a character of some clients and the character of other clients. Now people who refuse to pay, who didn’t have money to pay, we been through bankruptcies. So I have seen a lot and all this I think is somewhere you imbibe from these people who are admired who are in a sense the people who been crystalized or catalyzed the growth of India. So you learn from them, what it is to be a leader you learn from them what is to be always trying to build a company from a perspective. Of course there is personal wealth as a driving force of any company which is being built. But it’s also trying to go into a category which is not been done before and trying to see what you build from your acumen.
Firstly, you know, to just say and advertising agencies really is to narrow it to, too narrow, just ot start a little broadly again.
Story of advertising is of working in categories. In those categories and every category you dealing with a different facet or a different multiplier which you work with subsequently. When I think of my role models, I definitely think a technology role model has always been there, so you think look at Bill Gates, or you look at Steve Jobs, always role models. Role models because they had technology and they put in design. They put in simplicity. These are elements which are role models for me.
If you look at Indian environment and India business eco system, I definitely think, Shri Brij Mohan Lal from Hero, definitely a role model. He always had, I would just say, he was a giant, a leader and he always had qualities which you could easily want to be like. So you always see yourself in that person. You may never has his wealth or you may not have what he has achieved but you definitely imbibed those characteristics those core areas which has made him what he hasn’t therefore you hope that some of them rubs of.
So I think of companies like GSK smithline beachem there was gentlemen call Simon Scaf, he was british guy, he was here for may be 30-40years he still current chairman I think. From them you learned to be gentle, how to be assertive without being aggressive. These are qualities in life which you learn. It’s easy to be aggressive but that doesn’t get you far. You know you learn about team work. You learn about being gracious. These are qualities which they don’t teach you. So, you got to learn from people who walk that path ahead of you. Think those are role model, even today think a casting stone. Would I wish to be like them? I wouldn’t.
Mistakes commited and Learnings
In anything, you know the best of strategy is not great or good enough if you don’t have a right execution. And I recall, this is something which I learned, which I now called a golden mile, is to see that job right down to its last element. This is the day when Indira Gandhi was shot And Mrs.Nanda, Ritu Nanda of Nikitasha fame then wanted to run an ad in condolence. Acknowledging who she was and what had happen. And we had gone to publication then to “Hindustan times so I was given the role of, you know we had created the ad which went on to speak of what all Indira Gandhi had achieved. But it also had to have image of Rahul, sorry, Rajiv who was gone to takeover. And I went to the publication, we looked at the images which were available, and there were two very distinct once of Rajiv.
- was with him laughing and
- He had a somber kind of face
So I said whatever happens, don’t run one with smile. You got to run this. Because you going to put him up in an ad in a campaign. Which should have him in a right expression. I hate to say this, but next morning, publication had goofed it, they put the one with a smile. Not a good image at that point of time. So before even the office started I had called Mrs. Nanda and apologized. She said come and see me, don’t worry, it’s already done. So what were my learning? My big learning was “your golden mile is where it happens” Because between failure and success,
- is what happens there.
- From client I learned, the very fine quality of being able to let go. And accepting what happened just then was not an error of judgement or error of fault, which happen because somebody wasn’t dealing when it happen
So, I think golden mile making sure that last bit is manage correctly till the last point if you are responsible and accountable. If you not, doesn’t matter than somebody else will be! These are some of the big ones.
So I had to go and apologize! She was gracious, said “that’s fine”. But that was the greatness of some of the client I worked with. And it was very honest mistake. It was probably made at the point before it went into print. But, it happened! It was their casting stone forever, because that’s how the ad appeared. Sot that was one and there have been many. Because the advertising business everyday, you have an opportunity to do great work or to mess it up completely. And that’s true. So every new idea every new campaign becomes a rolling success or it can be a failure. On that rests your profession, because the market is not kind. Let say the industry is not kind.
So if you do something which is incorrect you are going to have face the consequences. That was then, thankfully there was no tweeter no facebook and there was no social media. But in today’s context, I would be toast. Because our company would have been toast and that would have been terrible for everybody. Finally I probably would had to pay a greater price than just getting away saying “I am Sorry”
The proudest moment
I think the proudest moment is in Time, Across a career of many years, there moments were really on top of the world. So there are many proud moments. But I think I was in a company were I always knew that I could be the head of the company. And I think, so, so I really want to lighten this to a marathon runner – it was about having set your site to wanting to lead this company. There was no owner in HTA then. And that’s the big difference because I knew that there was no owner, I could be head of this company. The various thing you did try an achieve that career goal career objective.
The proudest moment was
When I was given an office, those days Chennai, it was Jerry Rao who said that somebody must move to Chennai and I went there and lived for 5 years. And that taught me that if a company thinks it’s right for you and somebody thinking though your career, it’s a good step to take. Which I did. Why would I want to do it today? I wouldn’t, because if you had to sends somebody at New York every body says “yes” Would you take a bad job or a bad allocation before you take a good one. I think something I learnt, I went to Colombo in the middle of the war again that was the managing director for the company JWT there, would I have taken it? I did that, I had the courage to take it, because I knew, it was again another career step. Finally I came back to India and I took over Contract from Ram Segal. These were famous, very famous legends we grow up admiring.
So, when I took over from him, I think that was great learning experience, I learnt on a smaller operation – how to manage it. The value of people, talent, team work and all the things which you know take you to success or failure.
But the proudest absolute proudest moment was when I was offered the HTA job then, from Mike Khanna, had just taken over from Goshal. So if you look at the line of proof very famous people, who had lead this company. I would have been the 6th CEO of the company. So there was Mr. Goshal, there was Mike Khanna then I took over, think that was a happy day. I mean I secretly must have smiled a lot that point and we had a Champagne toast, in the office, though we don’t encourage that. And that’s how it all began. So those are proud moments. I also attribute to myself, in any job to be successful, you got to give it your own. There is no short cut to success, as there is no shortcut to wealth. You got to give it your best, all the time. You are on, you cannot say you are half on or half off, there is no such thing as personal life, there is one life and you go to manage both ends of it. So you got to keep going, you got to be a absolutely clear as to how you want to do it? Your people are very important, you got to carry large teams. The growth of global companies is extremely important. So you ensure you meet that objective as well. And in all that if you end up having fun, which we encourage people to do. Then it’s a job you want to do so after a point it’s no longer a job, it’s only life you living. And if you enjoying it so much the better for you.
Advice to youngsters
You got to say it, firstly like a marathon, you know there will be every 10 years something is going to change. And you got to be ahead of your game. For me it was
- A hardwork , I worked so to speak “like a dog” I had to. It was not about sourcing my thinking. It was always trying to do it yourself.
- You got to be persue you can’t give up. You got to keep at it. It will happen.
- Most important is you never give up. To keep going for you wanted to do in the first place.
Now in a career, a career is long, 30-35 years, you got to want something. If you don’t want it, anyway you not go to get it. And nobody is going to think of you know where you want to go. You got to make sure you articulate it to everybody. And in many instances I have asked, “who wants to be CEO” and you will be surprised, in a group of 40-50 in a senior leadership meeting 3 hands go up or 5 hands go up, very disappointing.
So first thing is, if you write down 3 things you want to achieve in next 10 year, 20 years and 30 years. If you don’t have CEO there, then you know you going be specialist or a practioner of something else. It’s best to seek that.
Now in my case I wanted to be a CEO, in some cases people may not wish to be a CEO. Because with that comes with a lot of responsibility, accountability. You always at the end of a somebody asking you, Where is growth? Where is money? What’s the…? What you doing? People don’t like that. People today in today’s context , things have changed.
I just want to talk about today’s context. Today life is very different. Because you can create the category or a company and lose it, as fast as you created. So the time it took us 20-30 years, that’s changed. Today age is of that. “if you great at what you do” and have skill which nobody else has and you are faster better, cheaper, you gone do much better faster. So if you look at and don’t get fooled. All that start-up is all a dream. Those figures you see if very few. You got to think of yourself of being, you not going to be the only one who is going to become the next Bansal in the world. Not possible. So you got to think from here, if not going to be next Bansal, what am going to be. And therefore are you going to work in a company? In what category interests you? Whether its banking or Insurance or financial services or private equity. Everybody wants to get rich. Doesn’t happen like that.
What you need to do is, try and understand what you really want to do with your life and a career. You know one of the things we say is rolling stone gathers no gratuity. But today’s generation don’t care about gratuity. They think they going get somewhere else. And I can tell you for every person who is over the moon for having been successful; there are million others who are absolutely demotivated, rejected because it didn’t happen for them.
Setting Clear Goals
This came up with the under 40 most successful achiever award recently which ET had, where everybody in the audience were under 40 because of the nature of the award. One of the youngster, am using the word “youngster” must be in 30, probably must have made million in new startup company. He talked of the “Uncle Company”, the phrase uncle company comes from if you are 35, in a start up company or in a technology eco-system, so 35 you are an “Uncle”.
Obiviously, people who give you that nomenclature, people who are 20-25years or 30-35 years. And Mr.Shiv Kumar from Pepsi has this to say, he said by the time you are 40, if that’s what you want to achieve? What you going to do after 40?
The important thing is to think of a career as a long career but go with your milestone or goal post which you think are important for you. I don’t think there is a solution to, you wanting a success, what you going become CEO at 30, then what? Chopping and changing jobs is great, if you know why you chopping and changing it. But don’t change it or leave a job just for a very little money. It doesn’t work at all. You should move, as element that adds value to you. Adds new skills to you or a dimension or makes you a better practitioner in whatever field you are. That’s the only way it will work. Just to change, I’ll come back to advertising agency business, ours is a business where people are expected to leave. People say that if you not change jobs 5-6 times, it doesn’t really help, because you going to get little more money every time you move.
If you look at the people who lead in our industry space, they all been there 30 years -35years, all of them. So, I think that’s the way to go. If that’s the success matric, the people who runs companies today, have been in those jobs for many years! If you look at out of the advertising agency business, the people who running companies today are people who always give 15 on 20 years to a company, through the foundation, through their formative years , it’s only when they achieve greatness or skill they require, they decide to take one or two changes. But it was never about 20 changes.
So, Advice to anybody is get your skills right, understand what you want to do. Follow that, follow your dreams, follow your passion and stay with that. But changing a job for a job change sake is not something I would prescribe..
Ad Industry Aspirants
First, it’s not the trend. It’s the way, we going to air we breathe; this digital eco system. Todays, consumer, the entire customer engagement cycle is not of what was traditionally know as media firms; the newspaper or television, because that’s not going be future as well. I would really suggest, you spend your time to understand this technology platform.
Now, in marketing or in advertising, it’s all about targeting a specific individual or customer, to try and get him/her buy what you selling. You not in advertising just for art sake; you are in advertising to do a role. Role is to grow somebody’s sales, or to build a brand, or to grow a category, so future growth is protected. And that’s the value of building a brand. It’s going tp be build today, on a digital platform.
The other element is what I call as “zero moment of truth” irrespective of what brand and the value of brand had, when you get on to that laptop space or your mobile; your entire thinking has changed. Suddenly you are in a comparative zone. Your zero moment of truth is where the brand you thought you were looking for fades because something else has something better to offer you. It engaged you little differently; it seems to have a personality it appealed to you. And you end up buying something, many times on price, that’s the amazon, snapdeal world. But it’s not always price! At that moment or zero moments of truth, you can go somewhere else.
So, I would advise everybody, firstly, understand this space completely it’s the space. Spend your time, you have to learn code, learn from the ground floor, do what you want but stay in that space. The rest will follow because great creativity and ideas, that’s something ofcourse still most important thing irrespective of what space you are on but that will be there too. But don’t shy away from this technology world. The way we looked at in JWT or on advertising is that finally this generation; the new generation is going to be native in this digital space. So if you not the native already; I suggest you learn how to become a native and learn that language. That’s going to be the only differentiator in future.
So you got to forget lot of the past, you know how this works? Change is going to be the biggest thing. And every day this change will be upon us, now you got to either embrace it or run away from it. I would advise all youngsters, all people who are in any business embrace technology embrace digital world understand what’s happening, understand that eco-system and see how you can get into it.
Multitasking your way around
So the days of really being, you know mothers are being defined as ”being multitask”. I think in agency business you have to multi task.
- You got understand what an “idea” is? Whether you are on management side or what we call strategic planning or if you in creativity. If you don’t understand what an idea, you not going to be a part of or welcome part of a team, which presents an idea or a proposition around a brand to a client. Understanding the idea, understanding how to take that idea an amplify it and give it the best lead, so that the idea can travel is important.
- Also understand how you can take that idea amplify it. that’s where digital world comes in. It’s idea creation, whiles they are people in creative. It’s not that you don’t understand it. Or it alien to you because your judgement of advertising is no different form consumer judgement of advertising. So chances are if you don’t like something, you probably right, consumers not going to like it either. Never give up your dis-earning eye. For years I have said you don’t have an dis-earning –eye when you see a piece of work or an idea and you don’t articulate an objection or an approval of that idea. You not really part of that team. Yes you need that bit.
- You also need to understand, marketing. You need to understand what that idea is meant to do? As a proposition around that brand. You got to understand that bit. And you got to understand that brand are not short term; brands are longer term than careers are. There is somebody who is buying this idea to create a brand idea which will have legs and which will travel to trans end markets and be the best let’s say the ingredient in that brand life cycle. These are many things, so you got to really understand much-much more than just, I like my ad or I like my client or I think this strategy id great.
Possessing the right skills
This is very interesting question, because
- Everybody is a commodity when they come into a company. You are as good as next guy because beyond a point, whether you topped your class or you didn’t topped your class, beyond a point you going to do a job henceforth. On the day when you come in, you are cookie cutters anybody else. It’s a question of what can you do different? How well can you do it? so, the skills, there is a gap because we see it quickly. There are firstly gaps in attitude. If people believe if they were born into or entitled to what they going to achieve in a company, those days are gone. You got to be able to or want to prove yourself. That’s an attitude element.
- Whatever you learnt or you been taught that’s great, just see that as spring board. What you going to do for client is very different. It’s got to be real time contextual to a market and therefore you will understand those differences. It’s great to have the knowledge. It’s greater to understand what works and what doesn’t. The difference is what somebody can do? I think what you can do is skill yourself better while you in the job. Because earlier you were in a university, somebody was funding you. And it didn’t matter what you achieved. Here somebody is paying for you. And therefore they want to return; and that return on their investment is what makes you successful or a failure. Just remember that, money you get from a company, is there as long as you are able to delivery to the expectations of that company. My advice to everybody is, there is gap, nobody knows everything, today thankfully you got Google, and you can half way get there. But if you don’t have dis-earning eye you won’t be able to choose right from wrong. So, it’s about experience, it’s about hard work, it’s about the depth and width of understanding the category which you working on. Nothing superficial; works in any category today. So you got to give it a time. You got to learn a lot more. You got to read a lot more. You got to understand the category lot more. You got to understand your engagement with your customer lot more. Finally a company is about take-take-take. And it’s about you giving-giving-giving. With that, you probably arrive at a successful career going forward.
Getting to the Top
You know, just for a minute, to move away from advertising in this world of business. Take Sachin Tendulkar, he was 16, when we first cast him in the boost ad. You know “Boost is the secret of my energy”. Do you think he had a vision of weightness their or is he still so young and he would not have known that he would go on to be that. I don’t think he knew that. I don’t think he knew that he had the talent or the tenacity or the pursuance to do what he achieved. But in his career life, he mapped what he wanted to do and he never gave up. It’s no different in a job. When you join, that day on that morning, you no different; there’s 35-40years ahead of you. You got to think of all the milestones, which will get you there. Now if you know where want to be… and I must say that, nobody knows where they want to be. Definitely nobody knows where they going to end up. There is no harm in saying “I want to be top of the company, am working with”. So that’s a good starting point. Just say that simply as this, I want to lead this company. You may subsequently change. But at that point in time, just say “I want to lead this company”. And what do you think I need to do?
Now in that, you realize that there are lot of things, which you need to do every morning coming to office which will just make you shine a little more than the person next to you. And is there a long line of people who want that same ambition there is. Everybody wants to get rich quick. Every wants to be top boss. It makes sense, I mean why would you not want to be the leader of a company if you were given the choice. But it comes after having you have to work for it. Unless you working for your fathers company or less you have the good fortune being the industrialist son, where you know whatever happens industrialist son is going to get that role. But if you not, enough companies are there, where you can be the boss. All you got to do is take the right steps in your own future.
Am sharing really life’s learning’s
- You must read a lot. No course or no curriculum can teach you as much as you can just by reading. And if you are in a particular field or a space, just read up all there is. And today you got google, so it’s a simple set n learn category you wish to lead to or the category with which you want to be an expert on and keep yourself abreast.
- If you look at online education or if you look at continuous education post your formal education, it can only help. Because all it will do is it will keep you abreast of what’s happening? But it will deliver it to you in a different way. It will deliver what’s current at that point of time.
Now if you look at again education or learning or continuous knowledge, every 5-10 years something is changing. So there is no harm in keeping, I would say in-fact there is an advantage in understanding what’s changing? And being abreast with somebody who is just passing out because that’s only way you can be as good as if not better. At that point in time when you competing with somebody who is 10-15 years younger than you, who is the current crop of this new generation of what is changed. It can help you because you know that and you have this as well So it’s really and-and situation. Continue to learn. Continue to understand what they are learning. What’s been taught to people who are 5-10years younger than you and if you have got now, which is the wisdom of 5-10years at this point of time. You are so much better equipped.
There is no substitute to hard work and even learning. And there is no substitute to your hard work in your role.
I think the huge advantage of this generation is that everything is available. And it’s available at home on your laptop, on your phone, wherever, on the go, you want to do it on a train, wherever it’s available. Today even on an aircraft you know the first 50 whatever they give free and you give $1 for 500 megabytes of data. So
- learning is continuous.
- If you continue to want to learn, you know learning is not something that somebody can give you a spoon or prescribe, please go and learn. It’s what you want to do. It’s about your innate belief that if I continue to know more than somebody else, I will definitely do little better than somebody else. That is intrinsic, that has to be core of your being.
Try and always be more knowledgeable than somebody else, the day you are that, you will be noticed, you will be spotted. So, in a herd of 5000 people and today companies are known to have 10,000-20,000 people in an organisation. What makes you different? Why should somebody pick you up? Because you are not entitled to being picked up. The other peoples as good as you, right. Other people are still persuing their dreams, their hopes, their aspirations, their ambitions, you got to do the same. And you got to hope like hell. So there is an element of luck, never give up. Be motivated, self driven, forget, you know, passion is everything in anything you do. Whatever you do, you don’t have the passion or you end up being lack luster and you know dead on the job, it doesn’t make sense. So, I tell everybody please, whether you have whatever its bud see which gets your energy levels up. Get your energy levels up and try and do better. Because if you don’t want to do better, no parents gone come and beyond a point they can’t push you. And it’s your life!
Message to UpGrad
I think, up-grad by sheer definition of UpGrad, I like the name, so am sure its intent is to take an existing set of talented people, because people have talent. And trying to add skills or dimensions to this set of people, who are interested, interested people who want to upscale their own talents and try and cope better in a very competitive world is what up-grad can give you. I would say go for it. At the least you will know more than you knew before and at the best you will be probably picked up faster because you would have added dimension or skills which you may not necessarily have got being on the job. Just a point, when, you are in a job, you will never ever have enough time to do this and that. While you can; please do it.
Indians on a global stage
We fortunate in India we always competing, you know, it gives us a skills. A skill to want to do better than somebody else and our parents push us more, education system pushes us more, our best friend will push you more because others, they going to do it better. There is little competitive spirit in all of us. But when I look at it from a global stand point actually one or two people do not, I don’t think we have enough Indian in a global world. I don’t think Indian companies are global enough. Indian companies don’t have the ambition or the stomach to want to go as global as they should want to be. Now if you take China or you take Japan, Japan would have 3000 global brand every category, they have so many global brand which are truly global. Take the Korean, take Samsung, take LG, in every category they lead.
Now you count in India, how many truly global brands do you have? Yes Indian companies had the gumsion or the ambition to be able to go out and buy companies. I think, Tata’s have done a fabulous job by buying Jaguar, Land Rover. But that’s not enough. I think Indian companies must have the appetite for more gro wth, must have the appetite for taking their own brands global in a larger sense. Otherwise we are very happy. India is a large market we are 1/6th or 1/7th of the world as long as your brand are doing well, why should I waste my time trying to go to countries where there is no growth. If you go to Europe you wonder where the growth will come. But I dis-agree with that. Finally there is a future world. And all things do change, are we as good as anybody, anywhere else in the world. I think we are. Do we have the talent? Definitely! We have the talent. It’s a question do we have enough opportunities?
Now if you join a global company, greatest opportunities are already half way there, because these companies are anywhere global but to be to make a mark there you got to be extremely talented or very special. I think of say Diego or now Microsoft and various companies like that, Facebook which was last week where’s Indian have really make their mark. They must have been extremely special and can everybody be like that? Very difficult but I would think people today in India given the fact that it’s a very level playing field. You must have that ambition don’t give up that ambition.
So, If I have to say what is that one ingredient which you must have? You must be greedy yourself and that greed must definitely have ambition at the root of what you want. If you can articulate that I want to be the big boy any global company try and persue that dream. Don’t give it up, because if you give up you already into your nightmare phase, which you don’t want, so at this point while you can dream stay with the dream. Hope like mad.