Advertising Interviews

Priti Nair

Managing Partner | 09 Oct 2009

It is not nice to do work for just the heck of awards. It is putting our industry in a bad light. I know that these are expressions of creativity, but we should be very clear that these are the ads that are specifically done for that. Why should we hide this fact? Yes, it is tough, but we are going to make sure that the work that we do for the clients is award worthy, but not on the cost of scams. We have to start getting the youngsters to think larger, they have to start being more responsible on brands.

Priti Nair has spent more than 17 years in the advertising industry. Prior to joining BBH India, Nair was associated with Grey Worldwide as National Creative Director. Previously, she was Executive Creative Director at Lowe Mumbai and Delhi, and had also spent time at Chaitra Leo Burnett.

Throughout her career, Nair has worked on over 40 brands, including GreenPly, Camlin, and Idea Cellular. She has won several national and international awards, including wins at Promax, Asia Pacific Advertising Festival, New York Festival, as well as Abby and Clio Awards.

In conversation with exchange4media’s Tasneem Limbdiwala, Nair speaks at length about BBH’s growth in India, scam ads, and new wins.

Q. It’s been almost nine months now since BBH commenced its operations in India. How has the journey been so far?

It has been very interesting, different and new. For Subhash (Kamath, Managing Partner), Partha (Sinha, Managing Partner) and me, we have spent a lot of years in advertising in a certain way. And now with a start-up, there are a lot of new things that happen and we want to do it differently. You see, there is a three-way partnership in every discipline flowing into each other. Maybe they were there before, but somewhere it was left behind along the journey. So it’s nice to have this fluidity coming back in.

Coming back to the point of new and different, maybe it was because it was not so cohesive. Also, it was a start-up, so there were a lot of hiccups and the struggle with the clients coming in, business growing and accordingly people coming in. But now we have to look at every bit and piece of our new home. Hence, anything new is exciting, and advertising by itself has always excited me. I have been happy before, and am happier now. All this newness that is brought to the table keeps the excitement up.

Q. In the last few months, BBH India has bagged Rediff.com, and recently the Star CJ Network and Vaseline accounts. As Managing Partner, do you think the agency is now on track of your targets?

The businesses coming in have been quite fast. Marico was a big one and so was Rediff.com. So, the growth has been on track, but the plan will be of course to expand faster. Though the businesses that have come in are fine, I think it can be better.

Q. In creative terms, where would you want to be as compared to the other top creative agencies in India in the next 2-3 years?

We would like to be in the new media space in a big way, besides television, which will remain big. In television, we want to think differently for the medium. It’s basically a new age kind of thinking, because the way communication is moving today. If we are saying that the scale has shifted to a younger India and 70 per cent of the population is young, then the communication channel should also be looked at differently.

New age media includes a lot of channels like digital, social networking, and mobile, which are growing at an increasing rate in the country. So, these are the channels in which you would want to have your communications differentiated.

Another thing that we want to clearly do is to give long term brand solutions rather than sourcing just commercials or print campaigns.

Q. Currently you have four different hosts of clients. How do you then intend to source these clients with these target points?

Even if it’s a conventional medium, you can’t get away with television because television is the main medium and it will remain so for some time. What my point here is how differently we can do advertising on television. Even if it is a 30-second commercial, how can we break the format and do it differently? And there is scope to do that. So, we have to explore a lot of things on that front, and finally, you have to make a difference as the consumer has to see you, believe you and at the same time he has to enjoy you. The slicing of attention today has become so minute, you need to communicate slightly differently to be picked up.

Q. In the last trip made by Simon Sherwood, he had mentioned that he was appalled by the number of scam works that were produced. What is your take on this?

I personally feel sad about scams. It is not nice to do work for just the heck of awards. It is putting our industry in a bad light. I know that these are expressions of creativity, but we should be very clear that these are the ads that are specifically done for that. Why should we hide this fact? Say the truth that this is a particular work has been created for awards. If I need to give a comparative example, for instance, the clothes that you see exhibited at fashions shows are not seen to be worn by the masses. But that fashion industry clearly says that they had been created for specific fashion shows.

My point is that if you want to have creative awards, let’s not camouflage them by saying that they are being done for brand building. So, we as an agency on principle will not do ads specifically for awards. Yes, it is tough, but we are going to make sure that the work that we do for the clients is award worthy, but not on the cost of scams. We have to start getting the youngsters to think larger, they have to start being more responsible on brands.

Q. Speaking on awards, you have judged at international award forums like Cannes, any specific difference between the criteria in Indian and international judging processes?

We need to be a little more stringent. From my experience at Cannes and NYF forums, they need the nominated juries’ resumes before they tick you off, on what you have achieved, how many years you have been with the industry, what are the kinds of awards that one has got, what are the brands that one has built… The entire profile is scanned. I don’t know if that gets done here, I think that exercise is to include everyone.

As for leaking of awards winners’ names, I think why this does not happen at Cannes is because it is immediate and is inclusive of the medium. It’s not like that the judging takes place two months before and hence, there is a frenzy to know who the winners are before hand. I feel perhaps this could be avoided at awards events like the GoaFest if the judging is done during the event itself.

Q. In one your interviews, it was mentioned that you are known as a tough boss and you had agreed. Are there some specific rules that you have laid down for your team to follow, which, in turn, lets the creativity flow in waves?

This is what everybody would say about themselves. I don’t think I am tough, but it’s just that I am strict about discipline. What I mean is that you can’t be unkempt. In this business, lots of money is dependent on us as advertising people. The client trusts us.

There was a time in advertising when people would carry scripts in their pockets and write them on the back of envelopes. Those days are long gone. You can’t do it in today’s times. So, the issue is not about being in suits or jackets, but it is about when and what you talk and how you present yourself. That is important.

Q. What processes have you introduced to unshackle creativity within the agency?

There has been no organised stimulation to unleash the creativity. Personally, I feel when you organise just routines, creativity becomes further locked. What we have done here is that we have broken the barriers between the boss-group relationships. Here, everyone is known as Brand Partners, here we all are equal.

Q. Recently, BBH India had created the Rediff.com ad. But according to many industry reviews, the ad has received negative feedback. What, according to you, was the reason for this negative feedback?

I don’t know… but most of the work that get noticed will have a polarising effect. It will be liked or disliked. It is subjective because creativity is all about that. You can’t set off by saying that everybody on this earth has to be happy with it. I am sure that there will be somebody who will have a problem with even the best creative or campaigns. So, I have no issues on who likes it or who doesn’t. I know many who liked it. I also know that there are many who liked the casting and those who hated that guy in the ad.

But the point is that we are talking to a TG where talk-ability is the key, passing on is the key. So, the brand is talking to the youngsters who are on their computers on social networking sites and passing around the virals. Whether people like it or not, it needs to have that kind of fluid effect.

Q. Please name three ads in recent times that have impressed you with their creative work.

Obviously, Vodafone’s Zoozoos. The second is Halls, the one with the Snowman, and the third one is the Max NewYork Retirement Plan commercial.

Q. You had previously said that Balbir Pasha was one your special works. Any other such campaign that you have loved working on?

Actually, Balbir Pasha is my favourite, besides that the GreenPly campaign is also very close to my heart.

Q. You are one the few women creative leaders who are at the top post. Do you see it as a challenge as compared to other fields? How do you manage your time?

At least in this industry you don’t feel that difference, especially in creative. Maybe because we are so open and also because I am a bit of a tomboy when it comes to the way I am.

In terms of managing time, I think all Indians can manage it quite well. As a woman, while growing up we keep balancing so many things like your parents, your siblings, your school, etc. Intrinsically, I love to be at home, love to cook and love to clean.

Q. You love cooking…

I am passionate about cooking. In fact, I have been to Kerala and done a course on different kind of cuisines. For me, cooking is more of a de-stressing factor and it is very fascinating when you have something specific in mind. I usually have the dish in my mind, the way it looks, and then I experiment to get that flavour. So, here again it is creativity and I enjoy every bit of it.

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