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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creative, digital, industry, trend

What’s Dead, And What’s Not

It’s become fairly fashionable in digital circles to pick on trends and describe them as ‘dead’.

And if you were to listen to every doomsayer out there, you’d probably believe that the digital marketing world was populated by brain-eating zombies.

Fortunately, to misquote Mark Twain, the rumours of certain deaths have been greatly exaggerated. So here is my take on what’s dead and what’s not.

The Digital Dead

The Digital Agency Is Dead

Doomsayers here, here and here.

Well, there’s no question digital agencies are the need of the hour. Unfortunately, not every digital shop has the ability to really think from a brand and business point-of-view. Most are still in the ‘engagement’ business, and spend their time coming up with different ways to give away iPads on Twitter.

The challenge is that the independent digital agencies in India have become acquisition targets for mainline agencies. Given time, mainline agencies will probably begin to truly integrate digital thinking into their mainline processes. Which means that digital shops may end up becoming nothing more than digital production houses.

The big “Unless…” here is that integration may happen the other way around. Where the digital shop may integrate video production, PR and event capabilities. They may start thinking from a brand and business perspective. And suddenly, they’ll be eating into the mainline pie.

Verdict: The digital agency isn’t dead…but unless they change their medication quick, they will pass on peacefully in their sleep.

The Full-Service Agency Is Dead

Obituaries here and here.

Sure, they’re coming under pressure from digital shops right now. But see above. Eventually, integration – whether driven by traditional agencies or digital agencies – will win out – from a creative, brand, business and economy point-of-view.

Verdict: The full-service agency is visiting the doctor regularly, and the pills are bitter, but the long-term prognosis is still good.

Email Marketing Is Dead

Eulogies here, here and here.

Yeah, look. As much as I choose to send most emails I receive straight to the bin, I have to admit that email marketing is far from dead. Gmail tabs notwithstanding.

Yes, open rates have dropped. But here’s another way to look at it. I was recently tracking Open Rates and Click Rates across a bunch of brands, and sure enough, they’d all declined to some level after Gmail tabs. However, Clicks Per Unique Open were up. Which showed me that I was engaging with my most meaningful customers.

Across all our brands, email marketing continues to drive conversions, cross-sell and up-sell. Based on smart analysis, segmenting and targeting. And it’s working for our clients.

Verdict: Alive and kicking. And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Real-Time Marketing Is Dead

Evidence here, here, here and here.

Oreo screwed us all. What started as a single, beautiful (if opportunistic) tweet has snowballed into a flood of desperate attempts to capitalise on news. What Amul did in India on hoardings decades ago, brands are doing now on Twitter and Facebook.

And, let’s face it, 99.95% of all real-time marketing tweets are crap.

They’re a force-fit. A desperate attempt by a brand to sound cool and ‘with it’ by jumping on to an event that the brand might have absolutely no connect with. An event that may not even gel with the brand’s personality. And with creative that will most likely suck.

Verdict: It’s alive, but I wish it were dead so that brands could focus on what’s relevant to them and their audience.

Social Media Marketing Is Dead

Opinions here, here and here.

My take here is really simple. The last great innovation I saw on social media was Skyrec (Google it). Right now, I see brands busy spamming News Feeds and Timelines with “engagement posts” and, worse, contests. (More about that here.) It’s still driving clicks to e-commerce, but…

It’s become a numbers game instead of a quality game. Instead of following a funnel from broadcasting to narrowcasting, brands and agencies are sticking to broadcasting. 5 million fans? I have 10 million. And 30,000 Twitter followers to boot. Fuck you too.

Most importantly, Mark Zuckerberg has proved thrice in the last two years what I’ve been saying for a while longer – that social media cannot be owned media. Because you, as a brand, don’t set the rules. First, Zuck reduced the reach of Posts and made advertisers spend money to reach an audience they’d already spent money to acquire. Second, he introduced Timeline, and put paid to all those Facebook apps brands had spent crores creating. Thirdly, he gave image posts the maximum reach last year – and, this April, chopped that down, sending social media managers into a tizzy.

Over time, Facebook will become a brand’s RSS feed. And Twitter will become a brand’s influence marketing platform, once (if) agencies realise that contests are doing sweet fuck-all for a brand’s image and bottomline.

Also, from an agency standpoint, social media management is pretty much a loss-making proposition. Lots of man-hours, piss-poor retainers, ultra-easy to screw up. So yeah, it’s not exactly a bed of roses.

Verdict: Yeah, social media is dead, and I’m kicking the corpse on the way out.

Content Marketing Is Dead

Tears shed here and here.

Again. It’s a question of creativity. Most of the content going up on brand blogs and websites is repetitive, redundant and boring. There’s no newness, no novelty, no differentiator. Often, there’s no focus on a brand’s tone of voice. Most content is just clutter.

But, that said, we’ve just begun to explore content marketing. And, every now and then, brands like Red Bull will come along and do a space jump and content marketing will once again be the new darling of the crowds.

Verdict: Content marketing is alive, but just a toddler, and needs some hand-holding to grow up.

Banner Ads Are Dead

The shortest take yet. Yes they are. When was the last time you clicked on one, eh? Or failed to get annoyed by a pop-up, a pop-under or (that new darling of publishers) auto-play video?

Verdict: Save yer money, cut the life support, let banners die. And look for more organic ways to engage.

This kind of a topic sort of demands a poll, so I’d love to know what you think.

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design, digital, industry, insight, trend

Digital Thinking. Design Thinking. #SameThing, I’m Thinking.

The real insight that came out of Kyoorius DesignYatra 2013 was, simply, this:

Digital and Design have a common goal – to solve human problems.

The notion occurred to me sometime on day one, during DigiYatra. It could’ve been sparked by the conversation that I had with a colleague on the flight to Goa. Or by the conference theme itself – Create Change. Or by something one of the speakers on the first day – Sanky, Joao Cardoso Fernandes, Laura Jordan Bambach – said.

You’ll find the proof in any products, digital or design, created by a brand or otherwise. As illustrated briefly below.

Granted, the scale of the problem may vary wildly, from personal to societal. But the essence is the same.

Identify a problem. Then build something to solve it.

The theme was hammered home on day 3, when Raj Kurup forcefully put a message across.

Everybody is a designer.

It’s true. In our world, you don’t need Photoshop and Illustrator to be called a designer. It’s not about what you do, it’s about the problem you solve.

In fact, tomorrow’s creativity may be all about identifying the crux of the problem, for the solution is often obvious.

The best digital and design agencies do exactly this. Identify a problem, design something to solve it. As do the millions of startups that churn out product after product, hardware and software, to address problems they think are worth the effort.

If those solutions can also solve a brand’s needs, then you have truly great marketing solutions.

It’s all about a human-centric approach rather than a brand-centric one.

Not a bad way to attack your next brief, no?

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challenges, digital, india, industry, trend

The Battle To Own Digital In India

I was at the Effies the other night, and something struck me hard.

We, Jack In The Box Worldwide, were the only digital agency shortlisted in the category Digital Advertising.

We got a bronze. But the golds went to Ogilvy and Taproot.

It’s time those who claim that mainline agencies don’t ‘get’ digital shut up and take a long, hard look at the awards tallies.

Image Courtesy: rotane.deviantart.com

At the Abbys, Ogilvy’s Fox Crime campaign swept the Digital Grand Prix. The same story was just repeated at the Effies last Tuesday.

And media agencies, the third wheel of our growing ecosystem, were nowhere to be seen.


Let’s face it – at both of India’s premier award shows, where digital agencies and mainline agencies compete in the same field, the mainline agencies have come out ahead. 

They may not have won as many awards as the digital and media agencies but they have won the top prize twice in a row now.

The disparity in the number of medals can be explained by the fact that mainline shops get much fewer digital briefs than digital and media agencies.

In fact, the only place you’ll find digital and media agencies competing and winning are at specialist digital award shows – Campaign India’s Digital Awards, the IDMA, etc.

But, and not very quietly either, mainline agencies have been working to catch up and get past the competition.

Lowe, as Joseph George announced in a recent interview, is working to ‘mainline’ digital.

Ogilvy presents and executes an integrated campaign for almost every brief.

JWT has, under Bobby Pawar and Max Hegermann, set up a very capable pan-India digital team.

Leo Burnett’s Creative Directors are, in their own words, asked to crack the digital idea before the TVC.

BBH is competing with their clients’ digital agencies, pitching digital ideas along with their mainline campaigns.

BBDO has integrated so closely with Proximity that the latter even pitches (and executes) TVCs, on occasion.

It won’t be long before they’re winning digital duties, either as part of an integrated package, or stand-alone.

They have the clients, they have the money to hire good digital people, and they can play the long game more easily than small digital shops. 

They also have better creative folk than media agencies, whose key business is in the planning and buying of media space, not creative solutions.

And which client wouldn’t want to give their business to a place that has proven their understanding of the brand time and time again, and shows that they can do it in digital as well?

Us digital folk are fighting a battle we haven’t fully realised we’re in. And we have two options in front of us now.

One: Sell out. Every network agency is shopping for digital agencies in India. There are at least two digital shops I know of in serious talks, and another that has already been stealthily acquired. Integrate with the network agency and play in a larger field, quicker than you would’ve otherwise.

Two: The option former Campaign India editor Anant Rangaswami suggests in his tour de force, The Elephants In The Room. Hire people who ‘get’ brands, across servicing and creative. Show clients that digital agencies can act as brand custodians too. And once you’ve consolidated your digital business, start attacking the mainline agencies by pitching for their mainline business.

What started off as a niche industry has become a full-blown battleground. It’s the Jedi versus the Sith, and it’s unclear, as of now, who’s going to emerge the winner.

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