careers, clients, creative, insight

How I Moved From Creative To Client-Side, With Google…#truestory!

what-i-do-at-google

“Good! Good!! I can feel your interest!!!”

In the nearly three years since I joined Google India, I’ve lost track of the number of times people have asked me what I do.

(And no, the designation doesn’t seem to help.)

I’ve also been asked, several times, about what it’s like for a creative director to move to the client side in a brand role.

And that’s why I thought it was time for a blog post to answer these questions and satisfy the world’s curiosity. And, as is my wont, to offer $0.02 worth of gyaan that may help you if you’re contemplating a similar decision.

(At this point, I suggest you step out for a bio-break, or a cup of coffee. This is going to be a #longread.)

“How did you get into Google?”

My journey to this point began more than two years before I actually joined Google. When I was working as Creative Head at Jack In The Box Worldwide, back in 2011.

I’ve been (and remain) a longtime Google and Android fan. I was among those who wept when Google Reader was shuttered; among those who found a reason to use Google Wave and other awesome Google services; and a very vocal advocate of Android.

I also followed Google’s creative work closely. Especially the awesome interactive experiences that the folks at Google Creative Lab built – cultural experiences built atop products, which made me fall in love with the brand all over again.

One night in bed, faffing on my laptop, I started chatting with my wife about how Google would be the one client I would kill to join. And about how perhaps they could use an agency Creative Director to help build great integrated marketing campaigns for the India market. On a lark, we navigated over to google.com/jobs – and was blown away to find that there was an opening for a similar role in Singapore.

With complete excitement, I swiftly polished up my CV and uploaded it to the job listing, said a prayer and called it a night.

And completely forgot about it for the next two years.

Cut to November 2013. I’m prowling the halls of a Delhi hospital, nursing my father-in-law. And an email from a Google recruiter pops up in my inbox. It seemed they had a role open in India, and my CV had come up in their database.

My first phone call, purely for screening, happened the next day from the hospital. I was then connected with a recruiter for a more serious conversation – the ball was rolling.

Nine interviews later – nine gruelling, thought-provoking and absolutely amazing conversations later – I bid adieu to home, Bombay. And the wife and I winged our way to Gurgaon, where we’ve been ever since.

“So what exactly do you do there?”

The role I was hired to play was a new one altogether for Google. So, I don’t hesitate to admit that it took me – and my colleagues – quite some time to figure out how to make it work. I walked in expecting to work like an in-house Creative Director. With the kind of responsibilities that an agency Creative Director bears. But I was mistaken. My designation – Brand Lead – pushes the in-house Creative Director envelope quite a bit further. And goes beyond a traditional brand marketing role, too.

I head up Brand & Creative Marketing for Google India, and am hence responsible for any and all creative work for Google India. This includes, primarily, our marketing campaigns. It’s my job to work with Product Marketing Managers to tell great stories for our products and initiatives, across every medium possible. TV ads, YouTube videos, digital, social, traditional media…you name it.

Apart from being as creatively strong as possible, it’s on me to make sure that the work we do is “on-brand”. That it reflects Google’s core values; that it looks, feels and sounds Google; and that it accurately reflects our brand mission of helping make information universally accessible and useful.

I lead the thinking on our social media strategy. I lead our creative agency relationships, identifying great partners to work with and managing them end-to-end. And, lastly, I look after a bunch of special projects that fall under Brand Marketing.

A lot of this sounds like a regular Creative Director job, I know. But here’s the difference:

I haven’t been hired to write the scripts, or craft the copy. That’s the job of our agencies. My job, as I see it, is to set the parameters, create the sandbox, in which our agencies can play. To be a bridge between us and them, thus guiding and shaping the work in a fluid, fast-moving environment. And, if ever needed, to put on my copywriter hat and work side-by-side with them.

There are several aspects to this. One: I work very closely on the brief. Making sure it’s clear, contextual, single-minded and inspiring. Trying to foresee the kind of work it will lead to. Two: I bring our different agencies (brand, digital, social) together to build a campaign that’s not just 360°, but truly integrated. Three: I work to make sure our brand and products are being depicted correctly. Four: At the risk of sounding immodest, I try to keep the benchmark high, pushing our agencies to consistently deliver work that’s truly worthy of Google.

The big difference that a creative person can make inside a client org is to bring creative agency knowledge into a client institution. It means that, as a team, we now have a better understanding of how a particular brief or feedback will impact the end product, with lesser room for miscommunication and misunderstanding. This leads us to sharpen our briefs, consolidate and hone our feedback, leading to better work, with fewer iterations.

I’d like to think I’ve also helped ensure that we’ve avoided the “agency v/s client” mindset that occasionally creeps into client minds, by being a bridge to and supporter of our agencies.

“Sounds great. What does it take to succeed at the role?”

Every person who takes on this kind of role is going to tackle it differently. I don’t believe one size fits all, but this is how I tried to make it work for me.

Your first priority should be to understand the organisation. Ad agency structures are pretty simple, and one always knows who one’s stakeholders are. It’s a lot more complicated at a client, especially one with the scale of Google.

Leadership isn’t about dictating a way forward; it’s about taking everyone forward together. Be a team player. Try to take your peers along. Most marketing managers don’t have the inside knowledge on how agencies and advertising work that you do. Few have been to a shoot. Few have built large-scale campaigns. Make them your friends and allies. Take the time to explain your point of view. Consult them for input on the work you’re doing, and take feedback constructively, making sure everyone’s on the same page from the start. It isn’t always easy, but I’ve learned that it will save me time, money and heartache on every single project.

Great work depends humongously on the people doing it. One of the things I’m grateful for is having great partners to work with. They’re worth their weight in gold. The best agencies bring a great mix of humility and self-confidence to the relationship, are open to feedback, and willing to fight to see a good idea come to life. They learn from their mistakes, and are committed to helping you learn from yours. They’re keen for me and my team to learn and contribute more to the advertising process. And, most importantly, they’re not assholes.

The converse of this is that you need to really support your agencies. Be honest and transparent. Don’t shy away from glowing praise or constructive criticism. Stand up for them when I know they have a great idea, no matter what the opposition. Help them navigate the organisation. Don’t conduct business just over email and the phone. And pay them fairly – it’s the only way they’ll be able to give you the work that you want. 

Expect to stretch yourself in ways that you never have. On my first project, I handled everything, including deliveries to media. I negotiate with agencies, and draft their contracts. Not quite what an agency creative director is used to, but par for the course on the client-side.

The most important thing, though, is this: let go of your ego. Every creative person worth their salt has an ego, probably well-deserved. You have to realise that you’re surrounded by smart people who know their business better than you. And that you’re working with agencies (and creative icons) that collectively have far more wisdom than you alone. Be open-minded. Walk into office every day believing that there is someone else out there who can bring a new perspective and make your work better. It’ll help you get the best out of your agencies, and keep you from competing with them.

“Do you think I should also shift client-side?”

There isn’t a black-and-white answer to this. And there are several things to consider, notably the difference between working in an agency and on the client-side.

The first thing most people ask me is about the work-life balance. Truthfully, even though we work really hard, it’s been better for me than in my agency days. Even a 9-5 day is intense, simply because we go without the Counter-Strike breaks that agency folks take – and need to, frankly! That changes when we’re neck-deep in a launch, when my team and I work the same long hours as our agencies.

I’ve also been asked if I miss coming up with ideas and writing scripts. Well, I’m still coming up with ideas. All the time. It just happens before the brief, rather than after. I begin most projects with a mindmap full of cross-platform ideas, which we then build upon together. And I have occasionally put on my creative hat to help our agencies crack an idea or craft a script, so I do stay in touch with the trade I’ve learnt over the last 16 years.

The one slight doubt I had, which has disappeared over time, is this. Most agency creatives enjoy working on a variety of categories and brands, rather than just one. I did too. You learn a lot more than you would working on one category. And can implement successful ideas from one category for another too. You won’t get this freedom if you move client side. But, if you work for a company with as varied products and initiatives as Google, you do have a wide variety of things to work on.

Doubts and questions aside, I think you should just ask yourself one thing.

If there is a brand that you’re truly passionate about; whose purpose you truly believe in; whose products you’d publicly defend to the death; for whom you’ve secretly been coming up with portfolio ads; you may have found the client-side gig you’re looking for.

I know I’ve found mine.

As always, the views expressed here are personal and not intended to reflect those of my employer.

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careers, creative, industry

Note To Self

Over the course of my eleven-odd years in advertising and digital marketing, I’ve been lucky enough to work with some of the greatest bosses one could ask for. They’ve taught me not just how to do better ads, but also about how to be a great boss. So, every now and then, I find myself recollecting – and scribbling down – their words and deeds, trying to constantly teach myself how to be a better leader. Here are some of the notes I’ve written over the years – from my bosses to myself.

First: don’t worry about the boots you’re stepping into. You’ve been hired for a reason. Either you’ll continue where your predecessor left off. Or bring a new, much-needed perspective to things.

Be happy with what you’ve inherited. Change comes later.

Not every role needs you to change things around.

Give yourself time to judge the people you’re working with. Understand them first, form opinions later.

Spend time with each of your team members in your first couple of weeks. Have several meetings – with the whole team; art; copy; ACDs; ACDs + teams. Understand how they work and what work they do. Allow them to decide how they work, so long as it isn’t too out-of-sync with the way you work.

Get to know your team at a personal level. Have those non-work conversations. Every day.

Remember your own ambition: to build India’s best digital creative team.

Lead by example. Don’t waste a minute of your day. Work harder, think smarter.

Remember your principles:

  • Every brief is an opportunity to do great work for a brand. Aim for a great idea in every piece of work that crosses your desk.
  • Chase perfection in execution. Every word of copy, every element of art.
  • Every post, every tweet, needs to be perfect. Be ready to pick fights about this.
  • Aim to crack a beautiful idea every time. Something that people have never seen before. Something that’ll blow their minds.
  • Corollary: Sometimes the simplest ideas work best.

Compromising with yourself kills greatness. If there’s even the slightest hesitation in your mind, speak up. Take work to the client only when you’re thoroughly convinced by it. You aren’t here to win a popularity contest – you’re here to do great work.

When you’re assessing work, be frank. Be honest. Be brutal. But be constructive. Your team looks to you for the solution. Provide it.

You’re in digital marketing. And more often than not, you will need to move the client along to where you are. Be ready for fights, heartbreak, disappointment and long hours. You’re getting paid to deal with that kind of shit.

Don’t get trapped in your cubicle. Get up. Move around.

Shut the lid of your computer when you’re working on something. Twitter won’t do your thinking for you.

Get out of office to brainstorm more often.

Follow your own creative process. (Below is mine.)

  • Re-read the brief.
  • Do some research online. Soak in the world of the brief.
  • Make the words collide. Don’t stop making the words collide.
  • Refer to the Wall Of Tech.
  • Think visually.
  • Your idea needs to make people laugh or cry or whoop or feel ashamed – basically, evoke an emotional response.

Find inspiration around you. Open your mind to people, culture, design, technology, art.

The quickest solution isn’t necessarily the best. Wherever possible, take the time to think through your actions.

Put yourself in your client’s shoes when working on a brief. But don’t keep those shoes on for too long.

Drink lots of green tea at work. It calms you down. And reduces your cholesterol 🙂

Keep the focus on the work. But remember it’s talented, motivated people who can give you that. Focus on the people and the work will take care of itself.

Stay calm. Don’t yell. Unless you absolutely have to.

Praise in public. Criticise in private.

Don’t overdo the praise. Avoid the superlatives. Because when you then use a superlative, it’ll mean so much more.

When you’re interviewing a candidate, interview them like Google would. It’s easier to wait three months to find the right candidate than to hire the wrong one in a month.

Try to get people to work during office hours. Rather than before and after them. Creative people get inspired by the life outside the agency doors. And deserve to enjoy their personal lives too.

Be strict. Don’t be rigid and inflexible.

Your door always needs to be open.

You succeed when your team succeeds.

You need to protect your team.

Trust your team to get the job done. But be ready to step in at any point if things go wrong.

Collaborate. Get to know tech, media, search and everyone else. They’re just as special as you think you are.

Delegate. But always know what’s going on.

Run a weekly job stat meeting with the team. And daily ones with the ACDs.

Continue to give credit where it’s due. You don’t need to be seen as the writer on every job. And remember, your name appears on the credits by default – so make sure the work is brilliant.

And, lastly: if you’re not having fun, then you’re not doing it right.

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careers, challenges, creative, industry

Confession And Inspiration

Advertising is supposed to be the most fun you can have with your clothes on.

But somewhere down the line, you tend to forget exactly how much fun it can be.


It begins when you allow yourself to get sucked into the quagmire of briefs, deadlines and client issues. Before you know it, the term “fuck-all” has become a part of your daily lingo.


“This is a fuck-all brief!”


“How can I crack a great idea with this fuck-all deadline?”


“What a fuck-all client! He just doesn’t get it!”


The attitude you develop in your formative years is the attitude you take with you into your middle years. 


At some point, you realise that your Creative Director is being paid a lot of money. And you start thirsting to reach that same level. The journey is forgotten – all you think about is the end destination. You lose the Zen, the ability to focus on the here and now, and life suddenly becomes about hitting a target. And whining when someone hits that target before you do.


Along the way, the nature of your work changes. Gone is the edginess, gone is the humour, gone is the youth. You end up trying to play Creative Director when you’re not ready to yet. You may not notice. But your bosses do. And in that process, all you do is push that end goal further and further away.


The time comes when you manage to put out a significant piece – or pieces – of work. Or you take a path less travelled. A couple of jobs later, you’re where you wanted to be. The designation. The salary. The cabin overlooking the sea. A bunch of bright young people reporting in to you. And the ego boost to go with all this.

Then you find yourself in a rut again. Caught up in “senior management” things. Targets. Results. Client relationships. Processes. Evaluation. Playing mentor. Board meetings. Visions and missions. The whining begins. Again.

Slowly, it begins to feel that your job profile is, very simply, to deal with shit.

Where’s the fun in that?

Sound familiar?

A few days ago, I finished reading Dave Trott’s Creative Mischief.

Creative Mischief. Available on the Kindle store: http://amzn.to/NrBh2p

Dave Trott is one of those names you’ve seen in the award books fairly often. A former CD at BMP, he’s now at CST The Gate, a London-based agency with a global presence.

Creative Mischief isn’t the best primer on advertising there is. But it is by far the best primer on the attitude you need in the advertising business.

It’s exactly what you need when you’re feeling mentally jaded at any point in this exciting, fun, dirty, all-consuming, incestuous, joyful, overworked, underpaid, vain, glorious industry of ours.

It’s certainly reminded me of the mindset I had when I joined Lowe fresh out of college. It’s made me think, once again, of how much fun this business can be. It’s made me want to feel the fun again. No matter how long it takes. No matter what stands in my way.

It’s made me write this blog post. And, for the first time, write on this blog as the Creative Head of Jack In The Box Worldwide.

To all those young men and women in my team, I say this:

Find the fun in your job.

The fun isn’t about joking with your teammates and colleagues, or downing a beer with the boss on the terrace. It’s about the fun of coming up with an idea – under extreme stress, for a tough client, without a clear brief – that’ll solve a business problem. A headline that’ll make people laugh or cry. A web design that you’ll be proud to show off to your mom. The process is fun. The idea is fun. The joy is infectious. You just have to want it to be.

If you can’t find the fun in your job, maybe this isn’t the job for you. Maybe you’ll be happier doing a similar job in another agency. Maybe your fortune isn’t in advertising. In either case, I will be very sorry to see you leave. But I will be the first to encourage you to find something that makes you truly happy.

Don’t crib. About deadlines or briefs or clients. Look at it this way. Somebody out there is giving you the license to get creative by developing a campaign for their brand. Without them asking, you’d never have gotten the chance to show off your creativity. Yes, you need time and clarity to create the work, you need support to sell the work. But remember: the shit will always be there. It will only increase as you grow up. Whining won’t clean it up.

Don’t get bogged down by rules and restrictions. Yes, your work will always need to be on-brief and on-brand. You can’t do a sob story for Happydent. Or an adult joke for Surf. But ask yourself, “What are the boundaries and how far can I push them today?” If your idea isn’t doing that, push harder. Boundaries only expand when you push them. If you don’t, they’ll close in and strangle you.

Don’t knock the mundane processes. Job lists and job status meetings exist to make relatively unimportant tasks mindless and easy. Every ounce of your attention should be devoted to one thing and one thing only – pushing that boundary to create the best work you can. Work that solves the problem and makes you happy. Make the job list the mundane, not the job.

I could go on, but I’d rather advise you to buy Dave’s book. It’s the best $9.99 you could spend. 

Happy people = happy work = happy clients = happy people.

We all have big dreams. For ourselves. For our company. And we can only achieve them if we’re happy while achieving them.

And if I seem to be forgetting these thoughts at any point in time, you have my express permission to whack me over the head and remind me of them.

Let’s do this.


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campaigns, careers, digital, industry

Next Is What?

Ever since I made the transition to digital marketing two-and-a-half years ago, I’ve spent my first two hours in office every morning reading. I catch up on social media news, tech talk and the latest in digital creativity from around the globe. It’s a fixed routine, one that has helped me build my understanding and set the benchmarks for the work I want to do.
In the last few months, quite a few campaigns have caught my attention, and had me wishing I’d done them.
It starts with Old Spice. The online commercial that went viral, sparked a stunning Twitter response campaign and led to a YouTube war between the two Old Spice guys.
 
Three pieces of work stood out at Cannes: Rom, Tesco and Bing.

Before that, there was the world’s largest concert.
Even further back, we applied for The Best Job In The World and blended the world’s latest gadgets.
What do all these campaigns have in common?
Well, they’re not quite advertising; they’re not quite PR, direct, media innovation or activation either. They’re not just social media; they’re also content, SEO and online display advertising. They’re not quite online; but they aren’t mainline or traditional either.
What they are, put together, is a great showreel of integrated marketing. And an eye-opener for me.
My last post and several before that have pushed the cause of integrated, technology-led marketing. I realised about three months ago that I wanted to be out there doing this sort of work. Not just developing content and banners, not just posting Facebook and Twitter updates, but bringing into play all possible media and technology platforms to deliver results for my clients.
A fortnight ago, I resigned from my post as Creative Partner at Yahoo. And signed on to work with Roopak Saluja, Prashanth Challapalli and their merry men and women as Creative Head, Jack In The Box Worldwide.
Jack In The Box brings together digital marketing, mainline advertising, video production and content creation. The sort of mix that should, hopefully, result in work as good as the campaigns I’ve showcased above. I believe that there are few agencies in India that are doing this sort of work. It’s a privilege to be associated with one of them – and an opportunity that’s too good to pass up.
I’m grateful for my time at Yahoo. I’ve learnt so much, not just about the business but also about people and how to handle them. I’ve met and worked with some fantastic, talented folks, and done things that I never thought I’d do. It’s been a shorter stint than I’d planned, but this is a step I need to take if I’m ever going to achieve my career goals. 
I leave Yahoo on 15th September, and join Jack In The Box a month later. I have a good feeling about this (with a wee bit of nerves too, honestly), and am really looking forward to 15th October. There are lots of plans and ideas bouncing around in my head (and on emails and tweets with Prashanth)…but for now, the only thing I’m going to plan is my upcoming vacation!
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careers, challenges, insight, opportunities

Where’s A Lifeguard When You Need One?

They say – and I do too – that the best way to figure out if somebody’s up to a challenge is to throw that person off the pier into the deep end.

If he (or she, in which case you’d better push her off the pier gently) can stay afloat, and if the sharks aren’t particularly hungry, then you know that he (or she) is up to it.

This week, I find myself in the water, and the sharks are smelling blood.

The next five days will be game-changing for my career.

Either I will be completely shattered, left with little or no confidence in my creative abilities, destined to be a follower…

Or I will come out believing I’m ready for bigger things.

In the last three months or so, I’ve moved from being a small fish in a large pond to a (relatively) bigger fish in a smaller pond. The move from Lowe Lintas to Linteractive has brought with it serious responsibility and expectations – to lead a creative renaissance in our digital wing, helping to build it into a powerhouse that’ll chart the agency’s course for the future.

On Friday, we go into a large, extremely competitive pitch. The spends are huge and the pressure is immense. The product is a parity one, a category I’ve worked on fairly often before – which means that it’s even tougher to crack.

The nerves are jangling.

This will, after all, be the first time I present creative at a pitch – not counting freelance pitches, of course.

This will be the acid test.

For the next five days, my creative partner and I will live, breathe, eat and sleep with this pitch. We will take the brief and turn it upside-down, inside-out. We’ll squeeze it dry. We’ll look at it in a mirror. We might just tear it up and start afresh. All for that one idea that’ll hopefully win us the business, and the recognition we deserve.

And if there’s any insight I might have gleaned from these last couple of days, it’s this.

You may spend your whole life preparing for something; but when it comes, you’re never as prepared as you thought you would be.

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advertising, careers, insight

Going Places

It’s important for a professional – in any industry – to regularly pause and take stock of his or her career.

One must look within, and look without, and see clearly and objectively where one is going in one’s career.

One needs to know whether one is moving forward, standing still, or – worse – moving backwards.

One needs to know where one stands in the organisation, vis-a-vis one’s colleagues and competitors.

One also needs to know where one wishes to go, and how to get there.

Here are my answers to the aforementioned questions.

I have looked within and without, and I see clearly where I have just gone in my career – to a 2-seat cubicle with a window seat. The window overlooks CR2, with an interesting view of the mall’s circular parking lot.

I have moved forward, in the same direction as before. Imagine a rectangle with four corners – A, B, C, D. I started around A, moved to somewhere between B and C (closer to B), then moved to C, and now am around the midpoint of the segment CD.

I am well aware of where I stand – and sit – in the organisation. In the cubicle in front of me are Ocean and Playboy. In the cabin behind are Loud and Low. To my left is my art partner, LooksGayButClaimsHeIsn’t. Beyond him is the rest of the Linteractive team. To my right is the window.

I know where I wish to go – a window seat in a cabin with a sea view. The sea view coincides with a view of the swimming pool at the Hilton, which satisfies all my voyeuristic tendencies.

How do I get there?

By grabbing this opportunity with both hands and delivering some kick-fucking-ass digital campaigns. Or taking credit for some 😉

Now, after having completed this high-priority exercise, I shall get back to work with the suggestion that you too do the same, without any delay.

PS. LooksGayButClaimsHeIsn’t has requested (begged, pleaded, bribed) me to change his nickname on my blog. So I shall be referring to him as MetrosexualMan from my next post.

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