Having a partner at the top gives me time to hone my writing skills: Azazul Haque

As part of the Power Sharing series, Azazul Haque, CCO, Mullen Lintas, says sharing the responsibility of leading an agency eases the pressure and helps manage time more efficiently

e4m by Neeta Nair
Published: Oct 26, 2020 8:56 AM  | 6 min read
Azazul Haque

He is no stranger to partnerships having had led Ogilvy South as CCO with Mahesh Gharat for a long time. But when he was given the opportunity to lead an entire agency i.e. Mullen Lintas did he feel a joint partnership with Garima Khandelwal was the way to go. In a candid chat Azazul Haque, CCO, Mullen Lintas, explains whether power sharing is equivalent to clipped wings for the leaders or having a partner helps them to fly higher together.

Edited excerpts:

What was your first reaction when you were told that you are going to be made the ‘Joint’ CCO of Mullen?

I had first met Amer Jaleel before joining Mullen Lintas. Amer was very clear about my role and Gari’s elevation as a CCO as she was pivotal to Mullen’s growth. As I was in partnership with Mahesh in Ogilvy for six years, for me it was a change of partner. I was perfectly fine with sharing responsibility with a partner for the creative output of an organisation as I had experienced it in the past and knew the pluses of having a partner. So my first reaction was ‘Thank God!’ Though leaving Mahesh as a partner was a big worry for me. But even with Gari, we clicked at the first meeting. 

When you were climbing up the corporate ladder and of course dreamed of reaching the top, did you ever factor in the possibility of having to share the top role with someone?

I never dreamt of reaching the top. I always wanted to be a writer and even now I am a writer at the core of my heart. And I always had creative partners who had my back. So I always preferred having a partner even at a very senior role as it gives a lot of working flexibility. And also gives me time to keep honing my writing skills that I love. 

How do you divide responsibilities at the agency, who takes care of what?

Between Me and Gari, work responsibilities are quite flexible. On most of the brands we both are equally involved. Just for better time management, we lead certain brands depending on who is relatively free. But while cracking campaigns and working with teams on various campaigns we work together. It really eases the pressure a lot and also helps us manage our time more efficiently. 

Also, are there any shared duties and what happens in the event of a difference of opinion between the two of you, who wins?

Almost every duty is shared. We consult each other on almost every campaign. We divide duties amidst each other for leading different campaigns as it’s practically impossible for both of us to be involved in every campaign. As of now we have never had a huge difference of opinion. We actually build on each other’s point of views. And one of the best campaigns that Mullen Lintas had produced is an outcome of that. Like on Saffola World Heart Day Campaign, one of us had cracked the main idea of ‘Heart ka Exam’ and the creative execution idea of Learn by Heart came from the other one. So we don’t just complement each other, we supplement each other. 

What do you always agree upon and what do you almost always fight about?

We agree upon almost most of the big ideas. We have never had a disagreement on big campaign ideas. On executions we sometimes might have a different point of view, but even that is very rare. 

What are the advantages and disadvantages of having a partner at the top in the same seat?

The biggest advantage is the feeling that someone has your back. Also because of partners, you can think of planning a holiday without work worries. Also at one point of time there is never immense work pressure as it’s always divided. The only disadvantage is that you have to share your vision for a place with someone else. But to me that’s also somewhere a plus. 

Would you say Mullen has performed better after the two of you were given the joint responsibility vs. when you had one leader leading it?

The creative culture of Mullen was founded and formed with passion and love by Amer. And Mullen grew in size and stature with his creative vision. For me and Gari, continuing to add to his vision is important while we add our own flavours in Mullen’s culture. Post he handed over the creative responsibility of Mullen to us, our endeavour has been to grow Mullen in size and stature and it has reaped fruits as well. But it’s a long journey and we have just begun. 

How have the clients reacted to this power sharing system?

Clients and brands get to benefit two thinking tanks instead of one, so for them it’s a win-win situation. It also makes sure that one of us is there to supervise creative output in case the other is not there because of any reason. 

They always say for the team members it is always easier to follow the vision of one leader. Do your team members complain of the confusion they face because of having to follow two different ways of functioning?

Yes, when it comes to the style of working Gari and I are very different. Gari is methodical, punctual, responsible, thorough bordering perfectionist. I am the exact opposite. More spontaneous, not that punctual, a bit ‘follow the gut’ type of a creative. And the team is enjoying both the flavours of leadership. 

Do you look up to any duo, or any leaders who have been in a power sharing role at any of the organizations you have worked with in the past?

Rajiv Rao and V Mahesh from Ogilvy will always remain my most favourite and a duo I will always look up to. They were the best of buddies, a stellar team, maestros of their respective skill sets, and creative leaders the entire industry respected and were in awe of. 

Do you think other creative agencies should have one CCO at the top or a joint leadership like in your case?

Totally depends on the type of person an agency is hiring at the top. Some people just can’t work with partners. At the top level even if one of the partners has that temperament then the entire agency might have to suffer. A partnership model works only if the two partners supplement each other and can comfortably co-exist. If they can, then a partnership model has its benefits.

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