How Sideways survived Covid despite a ‘no full-monty pitch’ policy

Abhijit Avasthi, Co-Founder, Sideways, on the big account wins, his process with the clients and much more

e4m by Neeta Nair
Updated: Oct 12, 2020 9:20 AM

The past six months comprised a time when most agencies, big or small were bending backwards to accommodate clients and pitch wherever there was a window, but Abhijit Avasthi, Co-Founder, Sideways says the agency stuck to its ‘no full-monty pitch’ policy, without any compromise and didn’t just weather the storm but also managed to add a few clients to its roster in this period and come up with innovative work like ‘Havmor Passport’.

You turned 5 in August but just last week released an anniversary video which says Sideways doesn’t fit into a box, a genre or a type…so what is Sideways if a client were to define you?

Sideways is a creative problem-solving company. It’s a curious mix of a consulting firm, an advertising firm, a tech solutions company, a product design studio and a circus maybe. We can solve problems and explode opportunities in surprisingly impactful ways. If you’re willing to let go of old legacy methods and be a tad imaginative and brave in approaching issues, then we would love to partner you.

Sideways has always had a no pitch policy…did you at any point in the past year have to compromise on that? What are the big accounts you won in the past year?

Yes, we have been firm on that. In the past 5 years we have managed to stick to the ‘no full-monty pitch’ policy at all times. After a client partner expresses interest, we take them through our case studies, they meet the team, and we share an approach note on their issue. This seems to be working for most clients. While we have a few retainer clients, bulk of our business tends to be project based simply because of the nature of the problem – most have a finite timeline to them. This year also we have had some significant projects come in. Some of these are for P&G, Pidilite, Citibank, Ashirvad Pipes, Havmor, Lubrizol, Urban Company, Nature’s Essence, Great Learning, Niyo, Sporjo, Thomas Cook, Mangalam Camphor, Industree, Suhana Masala and Indian Cancer Society.

While you have a very unique kind of agency, would you say your identity is still attached to Ogilvy in a big way? Do people still refer to you as a celebrated NCD of Ogilvy more than the Founder of Sideways?

Both journeys - the long Ogilvy one and the fledgling Sideways one – have shaped my identity in different ways. In my initial days at Sideways, the overwhelming legacy of Ogilvy was obviously hard to avoid because it gave people an easier handle. But now, after five years, I think I am extremely blessed that people introduce me as ‘the Founder of Sideways, a new-age creative company. In his past life, he was the NCD of Ogilvy’. Fifteen glorious years at Ogilvy will always be a big part of me, and I am thankful for that.

You created Great Learning’s maiden TVC… tell us about the recent/ upcoming work which you are excited about.

There’s a fair amount of exciting stuff that has recently got launched or is in the pipeline. Some that come to mind immediately are: a unique travel show (yes, in these Covid times) for Havmor ice creams on digital, the launch of Dr. Safe (a new range of sanitization products) for Pidilite, an interesting new service for Thomas Cook. And yes, if all goes well our own range of toys and games, developed in partnership with Reliance Brands, should hit the markets soon. 

Tell us about the insight behind the Havmor travel series… what kind of response has that got so far when people are physically unable to travel much?

The series is called Havmor Passport. It’s a unique travel show wherein Gujaratis get to travel around the world alongside Malhar Thakar, a much-loved performer from the state. During the pandemic, Gujjus lost out on travelling – the one thing they love as much as Havmor. So we decided to bring that joy to them by involving Gujjus from around the world to be virtual guides for fellow gujjus in India. Besides seeing new places, it is replete with Gujju humour too. Only two episodes have been released so far. It has opened to a fabulous response, and many more are yet to come.

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