careers, clients, creative, insight

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


“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 – 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.

clients, digital, social media

Frog Blues (Or, How To Screw Up On Social Media)

unfortunately, kissing this frog had left the princess a

Being a digital communications professional, I get very excited to see brands I like or use establishing a presence on social media.

Unfortunately, not every brand knows how to use social media appropriately. Neither do they realise the damage they can do by misusing it.

Here is a story that’s more a personal experience than a case study.

Blue Frog is on social media. They have a Facebook Group(many in fact, to keep up with their numerous members) and a Twitter account. A quick visit to their social media pages will show you that they use social media to:

  • Announce schedules and upcoming gigs
  • Give out further information on said gigs
  • Share good music
  • Drive people to Blue Frog with incentives and contests
  • Respond to conversations

Keep in mind that last one. ‘Respond to conversations’.

Now for the story.

The wife, a friend and I heard that Indian Ocean were playing at Blue Frog. Being longtime fans, we decided to go. It was too late to book a table, so we figured we’d just go hang with other general janata.

frog tweet 1

The line stretched really far back. Then we overheard someone asking a bouncer, “How many people are in already?”

“400,” replied the bouncer.

“And how many do you plan to let in?”


We shook our heads, dug fingers in our ears to make sure we’d heard right. 700 people packed into that (relatively) tiny space?

We had.

When we entered, there was no room to move. We dug out a space at the bar and hung on for dear life. The concert began. People kept entering, squeezing past us in tight confines, smelling of sweat and booze and stale cigarettes. Others went out for a smoke, and came back in, pushing and shoving on each leg of the journey.

It was so bad, we could hardly focus on the awesome music Indian Ocean was playing. It was like listening to a CD in a car.

Irritated, I tweeted.

frog tweet 2

I waited for a response. After all, @thebluefrog had tweeted something just nine minutes earlier. Surely they could not ignore this message.

They did.

A girl standing beside us began to feel claustrophobic, and sat down on the floor, leaning against the bar. A spontaneous group formed around us, with the guys trying to cordon off some space using our bodies to block the relentless crowd.

And still the gates remained open.

Now I was bloody upset. Blue Frog isn’t cheap. The ticket cost Rs. 300, and the first round of drinks (a beer and a martini) set us back Rs. 1400. And it just wasn’t feeling like an experience worth paying for.

frog tweet 3

No response.

The band announced that they’d be back on Sunday for all the fans who couldn’t get in. Blue Frog tweeted about the repeat gig. Apologised for the long lines. Apologised to individual tweeple who tweeted about not getting in.

And somehow missed out on apologising to me.

An hour-and-a-half into the concert, we decided that it wasn’t worth it. We left. Before the band had played Kandisa, their signature song. And before we left, I lashed out on Twitter for the last time.

frog tweet 4

Needless to say, we didn’t.

How did Blue Frog goof? You might say that they did apologise, they did plan a repeat gig.

But I say that they focused (and continue to focus) on reaching out to prospective consumers, enticing them, wooing them. And completely ignored those of us who had already bought the product and weren’t happy with it.

@thebluefrog continue to sell on Twitter, announcing gigs, responding to praise. “All is well,” to use a much-abused line.

But unless they begin to respond to all conversations rather than just the happy ones, they’re gonna have a social media fire on their hands…sooner rather than later.

clients, digital, industry

Ten Commandments For Digital Clients

When all else fails, break the tablets on the client's head!

It feels nice to be giving commandments to our clients, rather than being on the receiving end of them. Even if it’s only on the blog.

So here goes…ten commandments for digital clients, derived from my experiences at Linteractive thus far. (Excuse the slightly irritated tone.)

  1. Thou shalt not ask for digital unless thou wilt do it. Yes, digital is the new 360-degree. But, just as a fat woman can’t pull off a tight top, not every client can pull off digital. First decide if you can pull off digital. Don’t make us work if you’re going to turn around and say, “We’re not going digital this year.” I could’ve spent more time with my wife instead of working on your never-to-be-released campaign.
  2. Thou shalt not brief without knowing what thy seek. If you go without knowing where you’re going, you will get very lost. Be very clear about what you want it to do for you, what your desired ROI will be. It’ll help us understand your needs better, and develop a campaign that truly kicks some ass.
  3. Thou shalt not keep secrets from thy digital agency. If you’re doing an offline campaign, tell us about it!!! Don’t make us crack a contest idea, develop the micro-site and all communication elements, and then change it the day before we were due to launch – just because it’s not in sync with an offline campaign we didn’t know of.
  4. Thou shalt not argue unreasonably thy digital agency’s timelines. Give us the same amount of time you’d give your mainline agency. Just because a website loads in 30 seconds doesn’t mean it takes just a week to make. Great creative and flawless coding need time. And we’d like to get it right the first time around.
  5. Thou shalt not be parsimonious. Open your wallet. Digital isn’t as expensive as making a TV commercial. But it ain’t cheap either. Not if you want something really good. What’s that old adage? Good, fast and cheap…we can give you two out of three.
  6. Thou shalt not covet thy competitor’s technology. Digital’s a medium where it’s easy to get carried away by technology. Just because you saw some brand do some great augmented reality work doesn’t mean you should too…unless you have a better reason than, “My wife and I really like this stuff.” Evaluate the idea, not the technology behind it.
  7. Thou shalt not disappear. If you like a concept, and you tell us to flesh it out, we do, and we give you three scripts, don’t disappear for two weeks. And tell us who you’re getting to execute the idea we’ve cracked. And don’t resurface a month later demanding the finished product in three days.
  8. Thou shalt not hide from thy agency thy level of commitment. If you’re commitment-phobic, stay away from social media. Everyone loves knowing which Friends character they are. But unless you’re willing to pay for a dedicated writer to update your Facebook Fan Page, Twitter profile and blog, don’t get into it. Social media is a long-term strategy, and not for everybody. If you can’t handle it, tell us in advance. We’ll do something just as creative, but use some other channels.
  9. Thou shalt not make wrongful use of digital.Digital is an engaging, interactive, user-driven medium. You need to do what’s right. Aim to do what your brand needs – get your fundamentals right before you move ahead. There’s no point doing a brilliant contest if what you need to do first is revamp your website.
  10. Thou shalt not be boring. The most important commandment of them all.