Basics don’t change for Madhukar Sabnavis

21 Feb,2013


By Ananya Saha


This Valentine’s Day would have been especially sweet for Ogilvy & Mather India. Madhukar Sabnavis, Vice Chairman and Country Head, Discovery and Planning, O&M India, was one of the 12 new members appointed to the O&M Worldwide Board. Having spent 25 years at Ogilvy, Mr Sabnavis is only the second Indian after Piyush Pandey to become a part of the board. (More here:


“At a personal level I am delighted! It’s clearly a reflection of the growing emergence of India in the network. It’s a recognition of Ogilvy India’s performance on the twin peaks of creativity and effectiveness. And the agency’s sustained strong performance over the years,” is how Mr Sabnavis summarised his reaction to the news.


The news has humbled the disciplined man even further. He remarked, “My twenty-five years in Ogilvy have been a continuous journey; it’s a continuous attempt to keep up the excellence the company has achieved and keep pushing the bar up in terms of quality of work.” How does he manage to do this? “The basics don’t change – continue to find communication solutions for client problems. However, it needs to be done in a new environment and new media that makes it both challenging and exciting.”



Future Ogilvy India bossman?

Many in the industry who track Ogilvy believe there is a larger role in the Ogilvy India fold that is possibly being written for Mr Sabnavis. “Experience within our set-up and age are on his side,” one senior executive told MxMIndia on conditions of anonymity. A former O&M executive remarked that there are three clear pillars of the agency in India– Piyush Pandey (executive chairman), SN Rane (co-executive chairman) and Madhukar Sabnavis (vice-chairman). “Madhukar is a suit, but not the client servicing person in the traditional mould,” said the senior Ogilvy exec. “Being a planning whiz and his understanding of brands makes him a key constituent of the succession plan.”


It’s early days yet, but, in the meantime, it’s business as usual.

– MxM Bureau

A graduate of the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (1983-85), Mr Sabnavis has been writing for various publications as well. In a yearender article in 2012, he remarked that it was a quiet, uneventful and forgettable year for the A&M industry. However, despite a slowdown in the overall economy, he reviews 2012 as a challenging year for the industry. He said, “We saw a slowdown in the overall economy that put pressure on marketing; but the industry responded quite well. While there were quite a few interesting campaigns, what stood out for me was the interesting use of digital power – whether it was on the internet through social media or otherwise, or whether it was on-ground activation or the DTH platform.”


“Attempts were made to break the mould that portends a trend for the future. A commercial had its soundtrack debuted on the net before going on the tube; the makings of commercials were showcased on the DTH platform – and even in traditional media, a move was made towards longer duration to break the mould. Clearly marketing and advertising is rethinking paradigms and we hopefully should see more of it this year and in the years to come,” he added.


According to Mr Sabnavis, the biggest challenge the industry currently faces is ‘talent’. “That’s something one would like to focus on a little more and work harder at attracting new talent and keeping the best within the industry fold,” he said.


And has Ogilvy fared well? He definitely thinks so. According to him, Ogilvy India has been built on the two pillars of creativity and effectiveness and “we have been doing pretty well on those two pillars in the last few years. The task to keep this momentum going remains. In the last two years our global Marketing Services Center in Bengaluru has strengthened and shown strong growth. That’s the third pillar we want to grow as we go into the future. It has a strong delivery arm and a strong data analytics wing that caters to clients across the globe.” For him and Ogilvy, the way forward remains focusing, strengthening and growing the three pillars – creativity, effectiveness and delivery.


Having spent nearly 28 years in advertising, Mr Sabnavis thinks he is fortunate that the right things have happened to him at the right time. “I have had the chance of working on some of the best clients at the right time in the ’80s and ’90s (and this continued into the new millennium when I moved into planning) when the market was opening up and brands began attempting to establish themselves, and this was very enriching. I have had the opportunity of setting up a second agency for Ogilvy – RMG David – which was a very liberating experience and then in the last decade the opportunity to set up and drive Planning in Ogilvy. During this journey I have worked with some great seniors, each of them having contributed their bit in shaping my thinking and approach to advertising and business,” he said.


The biggest influencers on Mr Sabnavis, as he says, have been the teamwork and clients. “The Teamwork – I have worked with over the years; the creative people I have worked with – and have been fortunate to work with many stars – have helped me learn the importance of ‘magic’ alongside ‘logic’ – the importance of iteration as part of the process of creation and the joy of seeing yourself as co creator rather than just the brief giver. Second, the clients who over the years I have seen as partners in this process and equal contributors to the process; so the best work comes from the quartet of client, creative, servicing and planning. And in the last decade, the planning and servicing people I have worked with have been stimulating. The Ogilvy planning team has been quite inspirational with the diversity of ways in which they approach problems and the breadth of understanding they bring. Much of what I achieved as a servicing guy in the ’80s and ’90s was enabled by wonderful servicing partners who worked seamlessly with me,” he said.


“However, in planning in the last 10 years, I have learnt how strong servicing people can provide a bedrock for others to drive and deliver great thinking and work. Simply put, the Ogilvy teamwork has been perhaps the biggest influence – the biggest glue for me to the agency,” concluded Mr Sabnavis.


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One response to “Basics don’t change for Madhukar Sabnavis”

  1. Balakrishnan Satyam says:

    A hardworking, unassuming and modest person for sure – kudos to him, and praise for a system that can elevate someone non-flamboyant to Vice-Chairman in a fluff-oriented industry like Advertising!!

    I had been seeking to meet him in late 2008, as a mutual friend had referred me to him, and he actually came down to where I worked, and we met in a nearby Barista. Can’t think of many people at that level who don’t use their professional pedestals as a skateboard on the move 🙂

    Any hotbed of imaginative talent needs a planning team not to rein it in, but to ensure a good likelihood of client gains from the creative output. Gold Pencils are poor solace for brand owners who have lost market share to their competition. Planners help agencies to fulfil their commitments to their clients’ brands.