The client-facing or the media-facing colleagues, whether in creative or other areas, look like stars or as bright as the moon. The moon, which is fed by the light of the sun. Without the rays travelling to the stars and to the moon, these would be unseen and unheralded.
The colleague who serves you tea when you’re working at two o’clock at night, is enabling you to write campaigns. A colleague in client servicing, who’s providing you with information, or planners who provide you with insights or literally (and this is hugely important) any other person, young and old, who can make one single little point which sparks off an idea in you, is a part of the team.
These colleagues will not become famous instantly because of the little idea that they articulated or the tea that was served and helped provoke or enable a big idea or campaign. The media-facing and client-facing professionals become famous. David Ogilvy famously said, “Some of the best ideas come from account executives, researchers and others. Encourage this; you need all the ideas you can get.”
Har Ghar Kuch Kehta Hai (loosely translated, “every home has something to say about the occupants”) for Asian Paints was an idea sparked by my colleague, Madhukar Sabnavis, my planning colleague, and currently vice-chairman of Ogilvy India; but because he chooses to be under the radar, it’s his media-facing colleagues who get the credit.
To dismiss or underestimate the roles and contributions of the others by those who become famous is both irresponsible and dangerous to their own future work.
Let me illustrate this. In April 2020, during the early days of the pandemic, my team had me on a call to discuss a campaign that would encourage the wearing of masks. My wife Nita, who used to work in advertising, said, “Why don’t you look at children and the way we ask them to ‘behave’ and not expose their backsides when their shorts are falling off? Adults and children alike say, ‘shame, shame’ when we see an exposed bum.”
So, is there an idea there? The next day, my team and I explored this thought; eventually, we settled on another approach. But, if we had continued down the “shame, shame” route, does one forget where the glimmer of the idea came from? This was a personal experience, but it happens in office all the time.
During a brainstorm, someone innocently says, “you might want to look at it this way”. Or someone else chips in with, “I’m sorry, it may sound like a bad idea, but I thought...” And often, it’s not a bad idea. It’s a great idea. Youngsters and freshers may not feel confident to say it’s a great idea.
Very few creative directors can call an idea a “great” idea as it is being developed – and that includes me. But with experience you can recognise a good idea and have the understanding on how to develop the good idea into a possible great idea. What does this translate to? That the germ of the idea could be from anyone in the team, even those just “passing by”. I have so many colleagues who work behind the scenes and you never read about in media – and many of them are the originators of the greatest ideas that you credit to the “famous” and the “stars”.
There’s a place in the sun for everyone. Everyone plays their part. In these forty years, I’ve moved from a trainee, to a client servicing executive, to a member of the “Hindi” department to a creative director, to a CEO, to a chairman and now to a global role. Whatever the designation, I had to be a member of a larger team.
Several of you asked about my current role and whether it has hampered my “creativity”. The role of any leader, in this case a Global CCO (and, as this is being edited, I’m now redesignated, Chairman, Global Creativity) is, fundamentally, leading a team.
And continuing in the same vein of the cricket analogy, here’s how I would describe it. I’m a playing captain of the team along with my partner Joe Sciarotta; I’m not the manager of the team, not the enforcer of rules. I have to respect the team. I took on the role as global CCO only on January 1, 2019.
In 2021, I was given a new role and designation as chairman of global creative in addition to my India-focused role. I have attempted to learn from the examples of the great global CCOs I’ve worked with, including David Ogilvy. Fundamentally, they have tried to recognise talented professionals who understand the audiences in the geographies that they live in – and proceed to work with them as partners.
There can be little doubt that a creative director in Sao Paulo or in London will know the people, habits, languages, idiom and cultures in their offices far better than I ever could. You begin with a large dose of respect for the work they do and for the understanding they have – and then your role is limited to team-building, and encouraging sharing of great ideas and best practices.
The role of a global CCO is not the role defined by a hierarchy. I’m not the boss. It is the role of a world citizen. A world citizen who respects every country, and the country heads, no matter what discipline they come from.
If the role hampers my creativity, then I’m not fit for the job. Because if I have to encourage my colleagues and be the enabler of champions of creativity, I had better be creative myself. I’m a playing captain – the members of the team expect me to contribute positively. I cannot be scoring zeros and believe that I would remain the captain.
There’s a change in the role of a creative person as you grow older and get greater responsibilities. You have to be able to recognise the talent in the team, promote the deserving and their ideas, encourage them, reward them. In the process you have to look after them and keeping the team intact. That is the creativity that I’m consumed by in this role.
In the context of my current role, and in the context of advertising as a “mobile” career, a few asked about the opportunities and the challenges in moving out of your own country and moving to regional or global roles.
There is no one-size-fits all answer to this. I’ve already spoken about Neil French and Michael Ball who made names for themselves in Singapore, a country that was thousands of miles away from their roots.
There are some people who adapt well to every geography that they go to, and Neil was certainly one of them. Neil wasn’t alone; there are many like him. At Ogilvy, we had an Australian, Barry Owens, who had settled down in Thailand. He assimilated so beautifully that he was almost Thai in his thinking and behaviour. He understood the country, the people, the language, the food, the music, the colours.
As a result, he did some fantastic work and oversaw some fantastic campaigns created for Thailand, all created in Thai. Barry encouraged his team of Thai colleagues to express their own culture and their own ideas in their own language, but with Barry ensuring that the messaging was professionally done.
There will be many like Barry, capable of “becoming” local and loving a new geography. But, to those of you who think of leaving your home country and returning at a later date, I think it’s important, in this fast-changing world, that you do not lose touch with the constant changes in the country that you want to return to.
Take a leaf from the late Ranjan Kapur, my colleague, boss, partner and mentor, who worked for so many years outside India. While he was away, he kept in close touch with India, making regular visits, so that when he came back as the managing director in January 1994, he was completely in tune with the recent changes in the Indian consumer landscape.
If you lose touch with your home country and attempt to return, the many years of experience in an alien market will not matter much. When you explore options abroad, think about it very hard. If you’re like Barry, and can adapt to a new geography and culture, it works. Or if you’re like Neil French, who created ads not so much for a geography as for those who loved the language, it works. Or if you’re like Ranjan, who invested constantly in staying abreast of the land that he was clear that he would go back to, it works too.
Excerpted with permission from Open House, Piyush Pandey with Anant Rangaswami, Penguin Portfolio.