Opportunity to do a social impact project for India is a dream: Abhijit Avasthi, Sideways

Avasthi opens up on the journey with Sideways as it turns three, why the agency refrains from pitching and more.

e4m by Misbaah Mansuri
Updated: Aug 2, 2018 8:56 AM

A little more than four years ago, Abhijit Avasthi, former National Creative Director of Ogilvy India, decided not to stay cocooned with a fatter pay cheque and a larger role in one of the world's largest agencies, but take an entrepreneurial leap of faith with Sideways.

"I loved Ogilvy, I love Ogilvy and that will always be the case," he gushes as he reminisces the Ogilvy days and working with advertising maestro and his uncle Piyush Pandey.

Avasthi, the man behind some of the most iconic campaigns such as Fevicol Bus, 5 Star 'Ramesh-Suresh', Asian Paints 'wah sunil babu' and Mentos-dimaag ki batti jala de, terms Sideways as a creative problem-solving outfit. In just a matter of three years, Avasthi has established it as one of the most sought-after agencies. From designing a toy for Disney to working with the Bombay Anti-Narcotic Cell, this one is no ordinary agency.

In an interview with exchange4media, Avasthi opens up on Sideways’ journey as it turns three, why the agency refrains from pitching and more.

Here are the edited excerpts:

How has the journey with this creative problem-solving outfit been? Tell us about the highs and lows?

End of this week, we will finish three years and it has been a thrilling ride. I think the most important thing has been that we have come together as a team beautifully. There has been a humongous amount of learning in our journey and that is because we are doing something that no one else is doing. Of course, we have had our falls but we have learnt quickly. And, in fact, I would say that things are just getting started. Now I have a lot of confidence in what we are doing. I doubt others can pull off things that we can.

The most heartening part of the journey has been the adoption of our offering by clients as demonstrated by the variety of projects we have done over the last few years besides advertising. And of course, the fabulous, curious bunch of people who have joined Sideways on this adventure have been the icing on the cake. I am thankful to each one of them.

We work with big corporates across problems, start-ups and social sector projects. Besides client work, we are also developing our own products.

If you were to rate the agency's performance and growth out of 10, how much would you give it?

Since I am never satisfied, I would give ourselves 7/10. But honestly, it is for others to rate us. We are just enjoying what we do.

Tell us about the expanse of work that has been happening over these years

It's been overwhelming. Neither my partner at Sideways Sonali nor I could have imagined that we would do the variety of work that we have actually done.

We're fortunate to have people with different skill-sets in Sideways. Our partner network has also become robust. If I had to analyze Sideways today, I would say half of our business is advertising, branding and communication; and I am happy about that because that's where our roots lie. People connect is in our DNA. The other half has no definition.

In the last three years, we've designed a toy for Disney. We have re-imagined India's biggest retail chain - a prototype store of it is being set-up as we speak. We've redesigned the service journey of a fast growing digital bank. We're working with a Singapore-based fin-tech firm and helping them put together a digital payment solution. We are partnering with India's most forward-looking university which will hopefully redefine the future of higher education in India. We are doing an end-to-end project with a large FMCG firm starting from identifying the ingredient that should go into the product, right up to the marcomms. We have launched unique HR initiatives for our clients. We are building cutting-edge e-commerce websites and are also partnering with Maharashtra Khadi Board.

So the expanse of work that we've done in the last three years has been really satisfying. And now I believe there is no limit to the scope of what we can apply our minds to.

How has the agency's unconventional model of hiring people from different backgrounds panned out?

It's our core strength. We have been able to find people with different skill-sets who like collaborating with each other. Our model will be successful only when say the product designer loves sitting next to the tech guy who should love sitting next to the writer and they should all love brain-storming together. And it happens because we have fostered this culture from day one. It's not easy to infuse this into an existing set-up. Of course, we also have a long way to go.

You have always said that you don’t intend to pitch and your work will get you clients. Does it still remain the same and has it worked out in your favour?

Yes, that principle stays. It has absolutely worked in our favour. Clients have been great. They've understood that what we bring to the table is different from what other agencies do. In three years, we've not participated or presented creative work in even one pitch but I can happily say that our success rate has been phenomenal.

So how are client budgets on a craft level?

What we bring to the table is definitely a differentiated offering and our value-addition is far more. So yes, we price ourselves ahead of the others. Our clients have experienced what we do and I believe they appreciate it. We're ahead of the curve and that's how we want it to be.

What are your immediate priorities for Sideways as you go forward?

I would say last three years we have been proto-typing our offering, and that is why we have been under the radar. Now we have got many success stories. We rather let the work talk than beat our own drum. Because our work has been gathering great word of mouth, clients have been coming to us. We have not gone out and sought business. God, and our current clients, have been kind to us. We would also be putting up this body of work on our website soon.

Now it’s about bettering what we're doing. We're chasing quality and impact over quantity of work.

I would say if someone is sitting with a problem and doesn't know whom to turn to, the thought that should strike their mind should be "Lets go to Sideways, they'll find a solution to this."

And yes, an opportunity to do a massive social impact project for India is a dream.

For more updates, be socially connected with us on
WhatsApp, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook & Youtube