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Asheesh Sethi

President | 20 Aug 2010

I hate to be a part of the rat race because even if you win it, you will still be a rat. We want to grow ourselves into an organisation that will proudly be having made more brands and will be linked up with successful stories. That will be the biggest achievement for us. Also, in the next five years, we also want to establish An-yahh!! as the world’s first art brand and set up the chain of retail stores across India, starting with North India.

Asheesh Sethi is founder and President of Noshe Oceanic Pvt Ltd, a leading advertising agency in North India, with a sharp focus on retail.

At the early age of 19, in 1989, Sethi set up Noshe Oceanic as an advertisement collection agency in Daryaganj, New Delhi, for the Indian Express Group. This was his first entrepreneurial step, but not his first brush with advertising.

The initiation into the world of advertising began much earlier. As a student of Class IX, St Xavier’s, Sethi was selected by the World Federation of United Nations Associations to be President of the India chapter. This was a closely contested and high-profile position. He was nominated for the President’s position by an International Steering Committee. Sethi became the coordinator for UN Associations in India. The exposure, in his own words, was tremendous and beyond the imagination of any student. He was responsible for the promotion of UN Students Associations across India. This led to regular interaction and engagement with diplomats, politicians and members of the international community. During his two-year tenure, Sethi also organised an international meet in India, for which he closely interacted with advertising and event management companies. As he says, he greatly appreciated their focus on strategy at the time, which left a deep impression on him.

Noshe Oceanic is a pioneer in retail advertising. In early 1990s, there were hardly any serious players in this sector. But right from inception, Sethi focused on retail and became a regular visitor with retailers and shop-owners.

Along with garnering advertising for special features published by the Indian Express, this hands-on experience stood him in great stead in later years as the agency evolved. The jump from an advertisement-booking outlet to an advertising corporate came when Noshe successfully created and published a series of retail advertisements for his first client, New Ways Department, Chandni Chowk, in the Indian Express.

The intuition was not developed easily. In mid-1989, Sethi lost his father and the family moved to Dubai. In the six months he spent in Dubai, he assisted his uncle in his garments business. Dubai was, at the time, the world’s retail hub and the various formats of retail in Dubai were almost futuristic in context, feels Sethi today. Retail was the big opportunity waiting to be encashed, and he did not waste the opportunity of learning the art of retail.

With early success, Noshe Oceanic became a full-service advertising agency. From 1991-95 was a period of consolidation and strengthening the foundation of the organisation. This was when some leading retail players like Ritu Wears, Chunmun Stores, Vansons Shoes, Harisons Furnishings, BonTon Inner Circle, Paul Garments and Bombay Selections became Noshe clients. 1995 was the dynamic year when the agency came into its own.

A decade later, Noshe services over 140 clients in all sectors of retail. To its longstanding credit, it has never lost a client. What began with an undying spirit, Noshe Oceanic has capitalised billings of Rs 120 crore. It has set for itself a target of Rs 150 crore in this year and by 2011, billings are expected to be in excess of Rs 200 crore.

In conversation with exchange4media’s Preeti Hoon, Sethi speaks about how the agency beat the slowdown, vision for the agency, tapping the mobile and Internet medium and why Noshe stays away from awards.

Q. How was 2009, the year of recession, and 2010 for Noshe Oceanic?

The year 2009 was worse than 2008. Despite the recession, we had the whole business to be lapped up. While the bigger agencies, which were aligned internationally, had to face more since the business wasn’t coming in, Noshe didn’t have that kind of a problem. On the contrary, we only grew since the businesses from bigger agencies came to us due to cost cuts. Unlike other agencies and companies in the industry, we were highly optimistic and rather than cutting down the salaries of the employees, we gave away increments. It was also a year of introspection, where we actually planned and decided to integrate ourselves.

We decided to set up our production houses and having our own public relations arm. We also decided to work towards our passion of art and form the world’s first art brand. We looked at setting up our facilities in Noida and make the offering large. And today, we are proud to be India’s first advertising agency to have an in-house production house.

In 2010, we moved to our Noida office and here, the efficiency has increased due to integrations and the turnaround time has reduced too. Employees are looking upbeat and optimistic, business is growing and we are adding new clients to our kitty. We are looking up to set up a retail chain across India for our art brand, An-yahh!!

Q. What is your vision for Noshe Oceanic? Where do you see the Group in the next five years?

I don’t believe in numbers, they are not important. Our vision is to make people proud and happy to be associated with us. We want people to have good things to talk about us. In the next five years, business will grow; business is growing on a year on year basis. I hate to be a part of the rat race because even if you win it, you will still be a rat. So, I dare not want to be called a rat. We want to grow ourselves into an organisation that will proudly be having made more brands and will be linked up with successful stories. That will be the biggest achievement for us. Also, in the next five years, we also want to establish An-yahh!! as the world’s first art brand and set up the chain of retail stores across India, starting with North India.

Q. Do you think mobile and digital marketing will pick up in a fragmented market like India?

Mobile and Internet marketing is growing fantastically, and especially because of the kind of penetration it has, it is fast and aggressive. India happens to be the largest market for mobile business and you see so many new mobile players coming and launching here. If there is more of sane advertising and sensitivity of the consumer and users is maintained, then it could be a very good form of advertising. It’s a big question and a big challenge, surely. The medium has to be exploited, and it can be. One has to rediscover it every day. I think it will evolve as a very strong medium of communication. Online penetration is also improving and increasing. Today, it has improved even in Tier II and III cities. Every household today has a computer and Internet. The addiction of the young Indian population is making it a force to reckon with. It is and will be the medium for the future as most of the brands and advertising related companies are looking at it strongly.

Q. Do clients prefer to work with a digital arm of an ad agency or do they prefer a digital shop?

Today, clients are getting more digital savvy. It is definitely challenging. Now is the time for integration, and clients these days look for super specialist agencies. From a client’s point of view, creating synergies for the brand while interacting with different agencies becomes a challenge. It is an opportunity for the digital agencies to get themselves integrated and create digital arms such that they have more to offer and the buyer too gets more options. Noshe Oceanic, too, is coming up with a digital arm. Online and electronic are two fields where we see ourselves aggressively pursuing in the next one and a half years.

Q. How does Noshe Oceanic measure its success? Do you compare the numbers or is it the number of awards?

All these years, we have never filed any nominations for the awards and have never sent our entries. We have never believed in awards for the simple reason we have been too busy in our own business and building up the brand. For us, the award is having retained the client for so many years. The award is when there are agencies breathing down your neck and you still outsmart them to win an account.

We have a lot of retail success stories since the time we started. CNM – Chunmun Stores – the brand is supposedly the largest in its category in terms of number of stores; then there is Chhabra 555, another brand in the apparel category that we have been quite successfully handling. In the real estate segment, we handle Spaze, which has grown from zero to Rs 10,000 crore in three years. I think there would be no award that would satisfy us more than the fact that we have been able to partner with our clients and be with them at the time they started, and today, they are successfully established.

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