Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Why this world needs mavericks.

As a young Account Director in a large, perhaps the largest network agency, I had earned quite a reputation for myself and had given my bosses quite a few headaches. I was known to hold my ground - when clients demanded changes for no apparent reason and had even gotten into a few arguments if our work had been rubbished. Soon I found myself working on the Mumbai circle of a famous telecom brand headquartered out of another city. This client had the penchant of inviting pitches for everything from a greeting card to a double-spread ad.
But one day a call from our client galvanized the entire agency. This company was merging with another telecom entity and the top management from both companies were reviewing a new name, identity and positioning for the behemoth that would emerge. While everyone from the CEO of our agency was involved in the pitch & it was being led by branch servicing the client at their head-quarters, I and my team were completely sidelined by our own branch head.
Had we been invited to share our ideas, perhaps I & my tiny team may not have reacted the way we did. But BECAUSE we were ignored, we decided to do something about it. Here I'll break to introduce you to my team of untouchables: There was KP my 2nd-in-command, who refused to speak unless forced to. And when forced, he believed in being stingy with his words, often replying in monosyllables. Then there were my creative team: art and copy - given to dressing in psychedelic colors and dabble in similar material. The four of us got together, took one look at the staid brief and said aloud, "To hell with this! Lets knock this one out of the park!"
Easier said than done! After struggling for a week, we entered a phase of self-doubt. But in the wee hours of one morning, KP pulled out a single ad he'd done, all by himself, mind you -he was a servicing guy! It showed a gorilla! (long, long before Cadbury's discovered it!) Now we had something, we were energized. Working many nights in a crazed frenzy we came up with the very antithesis of the client brief!
We swam away from the mass-market in our presentation, our campaign was about a cult: A handful of people who lived, breathed and lived on the edge-of technology. It was zoned out, edgy & terrifying stuff! And we took this to our bosses.
I recall the NCD and the Branch head taking a close look at us. Four disheveled 20-somethings standing in front of them with bleary red-rimmed eyes that oozed fire and brimstone. I think their courage failed them in telling us that we were crazy and this stuff nuts. So they politely told us that they'd call us later.
That 'later' never came and our work was never shown to the client. What was presented was the boring, regular stuff done by another team, which the client openly mocked at during the presentation calling it, "Exactly what we expected from you!" This almost cost us the campaign, when one day the client's man-Friday landed up at the agency's branch office for some work and chanced upon our campaign- handed over to the local team.
All hell broke loose! The man-Friday loved it and took it straight to the owner who said that this was what he'd been looking for all along. He took the campaign to the other patriarchs and they all loved it. Finally they chose a name that began with the same alphabet, in the same inverted manner and in the same zone as suggested by us. But I reckon our recommended name was better because it left far more to the imagination and possibility than what they settled for.
In any case, my contribution to their story ended there. But it lives with me till today. Even now when a young, angry and brimming-with-ideas youngster from my team presents something outlandish to me, I look back to that moment. I know that the next few days will have me holding my head in my hands while everyone from colleagues to clients will question my judgement in letting that outlandish idea be presented. But I will take it all and defend that idea. Not only for the merit of the idea but also because I know and firmly believe that an outlandish idea is often the break-through we're all searching for in this rough-and-tumble corporate life. It's what creates huge economic value, recharges economies and creates wealth and prosperity for nations.
This world needs mavericks and their crazy ideas. And because they're not common, they don't fall under 'acceptable' parameters. They're rare. They stand out in a world that's increasingly getting dumbed-down. Where all the 'smart' guys hedge their risks. And everyone want to be in the good books of everyone else. In a grey world, full of yes-men, tricks sell in the place of genuine ideas. Sometimes with the limited objective of winning awards.
So hold you head, keep a pack of Disprin ready, work on your calming statements that'll cool down your clients. But back these kids to the hilt. let them off the leash. give them the run of the place. let them defy everything and pull down every logic. Let them create that new world.
Let a million mutinies bloom!

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Champion Attitude

Nadal & Federer have confounded the pundits, beaten younger players and importantly overcome injuries, to reclaim grand slam titles & the No.1 slot . They are true champions and exhibit a champion's mindset, reflected in this recent quote by Federer, “What I’ve just come to realize is when you don’t feel positive, you just won’t beat top-10 players. That’s where both,  Rafa and myself say, ‘OK, enough of this negativity. Let's give our 100% and win!" The path to winning is, to not worry about what you lack, but to make the most of what you have. I recall watching a young & visibly sick Dean Jones hit a century at Chennai, years ago. He turned to his captain, Border and asked if he could retire hurt. Knowing the job was far from done, Border told him to keep walking to the airport. Jones went on to hit a double century even as he continued to throw-up at regular intervals. Australia won that match and the series and built the World's best cricket team on the back of that attitude. Winning is about believing that what you have is fabulous and then putting all of it into the task. Sooner than later, you WILL win.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Art is as important as commerce.

Our newspapers, digital media and TV channels  don't get tired of repeatedly covering companies, CEO's business leaders, entrepreneurs and high-profile investors. How many of such companies and people do you recall from 50 years ago?  Perhaps 20.  And from 100 years ago?  Now the numbers drop to a single digit. 200 years? None! So what tells us about our history? What tells us about how we lived, the cities we planned, the battles we fought, the famines, plagues, celebrations, events from 100, 200, 500, 1000, 2000 years past? It is the ART from those times. The architecture, stories, poems, folk-dances, folklore, paintings, sculptures, temples. E.g. To know how people lived in the 1950's, watch Gurudutt 's flicks for a taste of city life & Mehboob Khan's will provide insights into rural ones.  Yet there's not a page, not 5 minutes spent on the artists of today. All the money that takes up our time, all these business barons will be forgotten. But 200 years hence, on excavating the ruins of this coast, a few remaining bricks containing a street artist's paintings on the walls of Elphinstone station, will tell the inhabitants of the future world, that there once was a great city here, where  23 innocent people were killed in a mindless stampede. Value art. 

Monday, November 13, 2017

Mad moments from the ad world!

I began my career with an agency, in a time before flying was the norm. This agency, had a famous doyenne heading its media department, known for her short fuse as much as she was admired for her incisiveness. This fierce dragon had a mouse of a man for her secretary. Poor Larry would quake and shiver as he scurried around office trying to manage both, her impossible demands and fiery outbursts. One such incident remains  etched in my mind. At 7:30 pm one Friday, Larry was seen bolting from Madame's chambers at the speed of the Mangalyaan rushing unerringly towards the travel desk. Madame had to urgently travel to Delhi the next day. She needed a seat, any time, any class.  Unfortunately all seats were booked all flights running full! We felt sorry for poor Larry as he rushed back towards Madame's door wringing his hands and beating his chest. His courage failed him at her doorstep, but was replaced with an extraordinary idea that blended his innocent ignorance of air-travel with his middle-class Indian upbringing. Time stood still as Larry rushed back towards the hapless travel desk, his words cut across the office and is remembered even today with great mirth, "If all airline seats are booked, can't you send her standing?"

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Generation gap

A teenager at home is also a bridge to understanding your young co-workers.
My 16-year old son's project on conservation was to be reviewed by a global think-tank. I offered to drive him to its plush office where he had to present his model to a very senior scientist.
Even though my part would end at the waiting lounge of the organization, by force of habit, I was dressed in my sharpest suit. 
Imagine my shock when my son emerged wearing a collared tee-shirt, jeans and sneakers! 
"Don't you think you should be in err...more formal attire?" I asked.
He took a good look at himself and said with his most winning smile, "Dad, I'm in a collared T-shirt and jeans! This is formal wear." My mind flashed to his regular clothes: shorts, vest & sandals. 
The nickle dropped. 
Mentally I reorganized my perception of a young man's wardrobe today.
A generation gap is bridged. 
Partly at least :)