Advertising Interviews

Prasoon Joshi

Executive Chairman and CEO | 23 Mar 2012

Awards boost creative excellence and give us a sense of what can be achieved when we push ourselves to do better. However, I believe that this should not be done in an unhealthy way. McCann will never promote anyone who does not contribute to clients, their growth and their business but just keeps providing a few metals. Metals are a creative director’s personal glory and it is all good as long as it is pushing them to do better work.

Prasoon Joshi, Executive Chairman and CEO, McCann Worldgroup India and President, South Asia, is one of the few creative directors in India whose excellence has been celebrated on a global stage. By leading McCann Worldgroup Global Creative Leadership Council as its first Chairman, he played the role of a global chief creative officer equivalent for an advertising agency. He also was the first Indian creative director to be invited to Cannes Lions Titanium Jury, which is the only Lions category that does not work to represent different countries but only includes creative professionals of stature with proven track records. His success in Bollywood has not let his advertising interest suffer and he has led McCann well over the years.

In this interview with Noor Fathima Warsia, Joshi talks about his role as the Chairperson for McCann Worldgroup Global Creative Leadership Council and McCann’s area of focus this year. Excerpts:

Q. Tell us about your experience as the Chairperson for McCann Worldgroup Global Creative Leadership Council?

The vision that Nick Brien (Global CEO, McCann Worldgroup) had for the creative council was completely different from any other such initiative attempted in the past. He did not want a representational creative council, wherein there is one person from every market and every discipline. He wanted a council of excellence that had people of stature with proven track records. This made the job of anyone who would be chairing this council very easy. So, as the Chairperson of this Council, I was not dealing with any egos but with extremely talented and accomplished professionals.

Brien himself was on the council. He trusted me to lead it and I tried my best to get everyone together and create standards that would set McCann’s future growth agenda. The creative council had standards that were charted in a collaborative and collective way. The council guides creative teams in different markets on how they can better their work. But these things are very gradual – they do not show results in one year, it takes at least a period of three years.

On a personal level, it has been a great experience. Being a person of poetry, literature and music has actually helped me in this role. I have read a lot of literature across the world and I have travelled a lot for music. Also, the experience of chairing a Cannes Lions Jury, where you are working with creative directors of many markets, and AdFest has come in handy too. It does not intimidate me that I have to deal with so many cultures. I feel very comfortable and I enjoy it.

Q. After a period of two years, another creative head from McCann will take on this role. Is that right?

We review it every year in fact and that is the way it is designed. I am a soldier for the company, I believe McCann as an entity should do well and I believe in the overall game plan for McCann. My individual drive should help the collective drive. I took on the responsibility for the first year because the company wanted me to do it. The company would want the council to now benefit from someone else’s vision, so that would be the right thing to do. That is how the council will work.

Q. You are now also in charge of South Asia and handle Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. How has this shaped up so far?

I was always consulting in some form or the other for these markets – it has now only been made official that they are reporting to me. We work very closely with the Pakistan team. Sri Lanka and Bangladesh need some attention and I plan to spend more time there.

We collaborate with the Pakistan team in many ways. We have created work for Nestle in India and sent to Pakistan. For reasons you are aware of, it is not very easy for me to visit Pakistan regularly. We have an affiliate there, Masood (Hashmi), who runs the company effectively. We have to now find an aggressive solution for that market. It does depend a lot on Pakistan’s political situation but we are hopeful. Despite everything, Pakistan has a lot to offer.

As a creative person and a writer, I have always been very fascinated with Pakistan. Having grown up in Lucknow, Pakistan holds a very special place in my heart. I have read a lot of poetry from there and in a way it has been very easy for me to understand the Pakistan market.

Q. Now that you have direct charge for the South Asia market, does it affect your daily involvement in India operations?

The real need of my time would be in India. I am both, a hands-on and hands-off kind of leader. On certain things I am very hands-on. A few clients expect that I provide my time to them and that is the reason they come to us. For them, I need to be completely involved. There are some clients that the teams can handle by themselves and I am required for some very critical decisions at best. I am not the kind of a leader who sits in an ivory tower and with the help of a binocular observes what is happening in my kingdom. I am not that old and it doesn’t work for me or excite me.

Q. The awards season is beginning again. Do you set awards targets for your agency?

We hope we do better but I don’t want to set targets and create a culture of scam. I am not against proactive work and as long as it is in line with the strategy and a client is happy releasing it, it is alright. I am not going to give anyone a raise just because they got 10 metals by hook or crook.

Eventually, awards boost creative excellence and give us a sense of what can be achieved when we push ourselves to do better. However, I believe that this should not be done in an unhealthy way. McCann will never promote anyone who does not contribute to clients, their growth and their business but just keeps providing a few metals. Metals are a creative director’s personal glory and it is all good as long as it is pushing them to do better work.

Q. Some big creative heads have moved this year. Do you think we have an interesting year ahead?

These things will keep happening. Our industry will have an interesting year, irrespective of whether such moves happen or not. The Indian creative industry is very conscious of experiments and I have a lot of hope from youngsters. I expect great work coming from them. As long as they are not misguided into short term gains and a quick fix, we have a very bright future.

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