14 years in advertising. 10,000 hours of strategic thinking. 120,000 minutes of brainstorming. 30,000 seconds of anxiety just before delivering a major pitch presentation. I finally took the plunge to the dark side. Sworn to always be true to the world of brands and advertising. Here I am changing sides. Or maybe not? An ad man behind enemy lines can by a worthy ally wouldn’t you think!
Speaking of changing sides. When I started my career in 1999 the last thing I ever wanted to do was work in advertising. I guess my career is a perfect example of a narrative fallacy. It would have been hard to imagine at that point in my career that I would up end up where I am today but looking back, somehow it all makes sense.
Why I hated advertising? Growing up my experience of advertising was abysmal. The industry was still in the “please-don’t-squeeze-the-Charmin” era. Repetitive. Interruptive. Hard Sell. And I hated it. For some primetime shows an hour of TV had 20 minutes of advertising in between! It was ridiculous for someone who couldn’t care less for what was advertised. Most products would either be targeting my mom or kids and I was neither. The fact that advertising paid for the TV channel to be up and running in the first place was illusive to me. Naturally my hate for advertising turned to hate for the people behind them as I entered the job market.
Why I fell in love with branding and advertising? I guess I owe it all to one person – Shoaib Qureshy. He is a true branding professional. Having worked at P&G he chose to work on the advertising side of the business. He was driven purely by the love of advertising and branding. After graduating I spent a year at Aventis Pharmaceutical typically seeking a marketing job at a multinational like most graduates. However this was nothing like what I had hoped to be. On Dec 31, 1999 I resigned. I truly believed staying at home, reading books and searching for a better job was better than any minute spent there. Within weeks I learnt of an opening at Ogilvy and the person recruiting. I jumped in after I heard about Shoaib and his background. The best move I ever made.
Why I chose to be a branding professional to this day? As I started working as a strategist I realized how challenging the job was. No one day was ever the same. Everyday you are learning something new. Each pitch, each brief was a new challenge. You get to learn a little more about the product you have been working on or a new category entirely. You get to read research, both global and local. You get to learn from case studies on how the “best-in-class” did it. You get to see the award winning work that delivered results and blew people’s minds. And then it all comes together. The countless hours of brain-wrecking gets articulated as a strategy. The aha moment when you know you are onto something. A feeling further amplified if when you started working on the project you put yourself in the room of the unknown. This brilliant paradigm that ensures you give it your best each time by starting with a clean slate, knowing that you that know nothing! How it frees you up to accept to new possibilities, new approaches and new ideas.
After all is said and done and if you are lucky you win the business. Ah yes. The winning. The thrill of the kill. And more losing. Yes, you lose more than you win but you enjoy the journey all the same. Winning obviously brings with it great recognition and respect. Losing brings a lot of learning too. The effort is never really wasted if you can handle the pressure. If you and the team knows you gave it your best shot then all is OK. Regardless of the outcome though you can never really rest on your laurels and say “but I did brilliantly on the last presentation” as an excuse for screwing up on the next one.You are ONLY as good as your last piece of work. This made the work even more challenging.
The one thing I cherish the most about being a strategist though is learning to think. In all the time I have spent working I realized that people generally don’t do think so much. Like actively think. Think about life. Think about why things are the way they are. Being a strategist I was trained to think, to ask why. This sort of spilled over as a trait into everything I do now. So here I am leaving it all behind. Taking the plunge, exploring new frontiers with only one goal. To accept the big bold ideas many of my clients rejected and to make big ideas happen as a client myself. Let’s see what happens…