I vividly remember how we celebrated wildly on the last day of school. We were happy that it was all over and done with, and all we had to do was enjoy life like no one else had before. College went by in a similar vein. Whichever way you look at it, life is a great school. Every time you think you know it all, and there’s nothing else left to learn, it spanks you with a failure. The only difference is that, here you pick your teachers. And funnily, when given a choice, you don’t pick a teacher you can have a crush on. You only pick the best : only the best, even if it is your competition. So here I am … writing the 7 lessons I’ve learnt at the University of Life, most of them, from worthy adversaries.
The game changers take the cake: Twenty years on the trot could make you a beloved wife, but in our business the client always (always, always) has a choice. Take the JWT example. A huge agency in Delhi with a star- studded line-up of loyal clients that include a Pepsi and an Airtel. JWT is one giant cake that has a cherry on top – a Cannes Grand Prix. From the cake pops a young beauty eager to please the client, does a mind-numbing belly shake. The client forgets
the cake, takes the girl. Lesson: To beat the new girl, be the new girl. Always stay hungry, more so if it’s a long-term relationship.
The goal posts never change: Operating profits are the goal posts. Maradona could get fat. Beckham could go shopping. Messi could be in a mess. Recession could rear its ugly head. Clients could stop spending. The goal posts will never come closer, just because the conditions are tough. WPP is an Alex (Ferguson) in the field of financial discipline. He could laugh with you, he could cry with you – but at the financial review, he’ll plead amnesia or at best show you the financial corridors of freedom. That’s one thing I have learnt from WPP … OP margins are sacrosanct and financial control above all else.
Client is your Goliath: Pitches are not like the presidential debates. They’re like the David Letterman show. Plenty of punch lines, punctuated not by periods, but by music from the house band. It’s always about how my tools are bigger than yours. Most often in a pitch, it’s not the agency with the mightiest of weapons that wins. It’s the agency that figures out that the competition is not the other agencies, but the client himself. I’ve often come out of ‘the’ sexiest pitch, feeling we’ve nailed it only to lose to a lesser David – the David who’s carried a weapon that suits Goliath, a slingshot.
Pandey for CFO All of us were coached to thrive in
a culture of creativity. We were asked to democratise creativity. Everyone is creative, so we were told … the peon,
the chai-walla and the entire accounting function. Right, except accounting beat even the creative guys.
When the creative started tasting plain vanilla, the accounts guy saved the day with some creative accounting.
The books swelled with profits, even when the chest didn’t. Ogilvy’s lesson was different
– just make good ice-cream. The accounts department then wouldn’t need a Pandey. Good work became the glossiest calling card.
Friday ka hero If it were to be one Friday, Kumar Gaurav could get the Lifetime Achievement award for the box office burning Love Story.
Audience is ruthless. You can’t win big, because you ‘were’ good. Come Friday, you’re staring at Square One. You might have slain a few Lions, swept Goafest, and scaled the Spikes.
But this year is another year. Come Friday, Rocky
2’s toughest competitor is Rocky. You are your biggest competitor. To create history, we’ll have to always start from the first page. It’s sad to see agencies that have painted the award functions black (their house colours), become a blot the next year. Lesson learnt. In Black. Bold. Helvetica.
Facials > Pedicures. All of us spend more on facials than pedicures. Let’s not blame
the clients for paying more attention to the face than to what’s below the line. Dig a little deeper and you’ll hit a treasure chest - at the bottom of the pyramid, at the IPL, Sunburn and the IIFA, at the foot end of the advertising
spectrum. Agencies like Percept and Wizcraft make more money in a single property than what the bottom 30 ATL agencies
earn in a year, combined! The face is taken; the opportunity is at the smelly feet. Fair & Lovely, for feet. May be.
300 2. That’s the movie 300, Part 2. Starring Josy Paul and his small team at BBDO. Maybe he would chide me for not calling it 30, instead of 300. Ditto for Taproot. While we
sing ‘har ek employee zaroori hota hai’ and build armies
to conquer the world, these
30-somethings with agencies probably the size of our cafeterias, are winning hearts. What matters is the size of the fight in the dog, not the size
of the dog in the fight. Thus proved.
The lessons are many more, but sharp is the scissor that edits the text. That’s a lesson I learnt too.