We reach Lodhi Estate. Many people are milling around. The presenting team is inside the annexe office. The rest are seated on chairs on the lawn and porch. We take our seats and realise we will perhaps get our chance at 7 pm. Long wait.

I also look around and realise I am the only woman there who is leading an agency. Such a man’s world, this. Ah, but never mind. When I come to work, I don’t think of myself as a woman. Just a person. It is people who put badges. And I have so much to say on this topic.

For now, suffice to say: It’s hard work to be treated as an equal. More about that later. Some people find it hard to accept women in positions of authority. When I make eye contact with juniors who are men, some are shy, some sceptical and some plain arrogant. I can whiff these categories from far away. Wonder what these guys will be like. Soon I will know.

Paper plates with a samosa, a few chips and a sandwich are served to us. Hot masala tea, which is actually very good and uplifting. I glance around. The garden is expansive and pretty. Large dahlias are in bloom. It’s getting chilly. Teams are waiting. There are still three presentations to go before we can get in.

What I do notice is that as the teams exit the annexe room, they walk out of the long driveway without coming back where the rest of us are seated. We therefore have no clue of what is transpiring inside. I also notice they seem to be carrying a laptop, nothing else. Are they presenting from a laptop screen? If so, bad idea. How can 6-8 audience members peer into a small screen and give you attention? The screen limits you and puts a strain on them.

6.30 PM. The agency just before us has gone in. By now I notice for sure no one has brought equipment. So maybe they have it already set up in the room? We are joking and smiling outwardly. Inwardly, shivering from more than just the cold.

It’s 7 pm by the time we are told to go in. The first thing I see are paintings on the wall. There are 6 or 7 people inside including one man from a PR agency. All in white kurtas and shawls. Salman Khurshid is the only one we have met before. He says a polite hello. Ambika Soni, the only lady on the team, Ahmed Patel, Jairam Ramesh and senior Congressman and party treasurer Motilal Vora. They do look a bit tired. Not surprising considering the endless presentations they have listened to.

“Start!” we are told. Patience has probably run out. I tell them we would need five minutes to set up. Please give us that time. What setup, they are bewildered. Just start is the order again. It’s late. I hold my ground. Very firmly, I say, “We need to set up our screen and television. Our presentation needs to be seen like that, anything else would be suboptimal.” I say politely: “Please do give us five minutes.”

They look baffled. I am now sure no other agency planned ahead and brought the equipment – large screen, et al. They must have assumed that they would go to a conference room with all these facilities available just like all the regular clients. So much for pre-planning.

Our guys are in and we all hurry to get going. Their guys get up and leave the room. Perhaps stretch their legs and breathe some cool air. Five minutes becomes 10 minutes before we are all set and seated.

Ali is standing, he will present. I thank them for the opportunity and introduce each team member with a line or two about their credentials. Also, myself. Tell them upfront we have carried the full package and gone beyond the brief. Don’t know if it is making sense but they are listening intently.

Basically, I reiterate that we are going to show you every ad. Ali starts. He sets up the context. The situation in India. The competition. The consumer. Goes into the problem statement. What we are up against? Now he enters the meat of the talk. Our thinking processes. Our defined target consumer. Our message. Our slogan. The four phases of the campaign.

Before showing the creative, he says, “Let’s bring the consumer to you. The Vox Populi will be played which has a cross-section of our research.” The television screen springs to life and consumer upon target consumer (semi-urban and rural) appears in the room, literally, and says how their life has been bekaar in the last five years. How they have never heard of India Shining or Bharat Uday.

They are stunned. A group of weary people suddenly come to life. They look at each other and exchange excited glances. Jairam Ramesh asks us as soon as the picture fades. “Is this real?” And before I know it, I am replying “No. We held a gun to people’s heads and made them say this.”

Of course, it was meant to be a joke. No one laughed. They don’t know what to think of me, I am sure. But I am very clear. To me, this is a normal client. I am not going to be afraid or speak unnaturally. No one asks anything.

I amplify and explain the process of research. How we sent out teams all over India. How we edited hours and hours of raw footage and that they are welcome to see all the footage if they want. They seem convinced.

Can we see it again they ask? It’s played out again. Remember, I told you this was explosive stuff. Nothing like bringing in the potential consumer to the boardroom. There is a change in their body language. They are excited to see the rest of the presentation. Twenty minutes are over and we have a ton to present.

Here is what we present. Phase 1: “Aam aadmi ko kya mila?”

Don’t Forget 2004: Advertising Secrets of an Impossible Election Victory

Excerpted with permission from Don’t Forget 2004: Advertising Secrets of an Impossible Election Victory, Jayshree M Sundar, Vitasta Publishing.