What ad veterans have learnt from the younger lot

19 Feb,2015


By Delshad Irani


At work, like in any human tribe, there are two kinds of people – the Elders and the Young. The latter, of course, are eager to conquer the world. The elders, who have been there and done it all (or so they’d like to think) remind the impatient youth, Rome wasn’t built in a day.


‘No schnitzel, Sherlock!’ is the response, generally. While it’s not the elders’ job to shatter the young’s exaggerated sense of self-belief, it is however their duty to voluntarily impart pearls of wisdom and teach a lesson or twelve. That is if the children aren’t of the know-all variety with brains like sieves.


However, at no other point in history has there been such a high premium on youth and the mad dash to make everything from buttocks to board rooms look younger is testimony to that fact.


Yet, rarely are inhabitants of corner offices conscious of the learnings they’ve gathered from the younger tribe. It might not seem so but there are some important lessons to learn. And we’re not talking about teaching grandma to text and abbreviate every word known to man here.


In advertising agencies, there are endless corridors of hormone-fields. It’s one of the youngest industries, where millennial minions slave day and night to create ads for unrelenting and often unreasonable clients so their award-winning bosses can scale the Palais in June, every year.


So whoever said the millennial is fickle or needs constant validation and expects “Look maa, I drew within the line!” to be followed by a treat and a cuddle or that they are as loyal as a mercenary is nucking futs.


Well, there are exceptions. But amid the myriad of contradictions, millennials have come to represent quite effectively, the new generation of adwallahs. They too have priceless wisdom to share with the generations that preceded them, even if they aren’t quite aware of this yet.


In an attempt to bring these to light, Brand Equity asked advertising’s “seniors” about the valuable lessons they’ve learnt from their juniors.


Striking the right work life balance, not being averse to risk and cultivating a very low embarrassment threshold, are just some of the beautiful learnings but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.


Read on to see the lessons advertising’s heads have learnt from the legs that prop them up.


Prasoon Joshi, Chairman Asia Pacific & CEO of McCann Worldgroup India

What I have learned from the younger generation, is the work life balance. My generation (or at least speaking for myself) were very extremist, single minded and did too much work. We’d go to Cannes and it was like a project: go and return.


The younger lot tie it up with travel and exploration. With youngsters, right from the start, there’s a more holistic approach to life. They believe it’s good to take breaks, even short ones. And so to someone like me, with a crusader mentality, I’ve learned a lot.

Moral of the story: Take as many breaks as HR will allow.



Bobby Pawar, Director and Chief Creative Officer, South Asia, Publicis

The lessons I’ve gathered from my youngest colleagues? Holy-moly, where do I begin? Tenacity. Irrational passion. Being curious of the changing world. Trusting my instincts as much as my experience. Experiment. When to step in. When to sit on the sidelines and applaud. Rediscovering that this business is supposed to be fun. Patience. The list grows almost every day.


I believe, if you aren’t learning from the people you are with, you have the wrong people, or more likely you have the wrong attitude. One day at work we were discussing ideas. It was a big brand, big brief, big budget, big stakes. This kid had an idea that sounded cool, but it was pretty much out there. And I said, I don’t think we can take a chance like this on a billion dollar brand. The kid looked bummed. He remained quiet for a bit, while we chatted.


Then he said, “Bobby, failure is temporary, success is permanent.” I said, “Getting fired is temporary too, but it stings.” Everybody laughed. What he said haunted me. The next day I caught up with him and we spent time trying to make his idea work. Let go of your professional prejudices. A new marketing order is coming and it will be shaped by those willing to shape it and be shaped by it.

Moral of the story: Don’t save your precious aphorisms for Twitter, try it in conference. Even if it sounds dumb. Never stop being bold and curious. Christopher Columbus wouldn’t have gotten far if he weren’t a nosy fella.



Ambi Parmeswaran, Executive Director and CEO, FCB Ulka

The youngsters taught me how use technology to solve problems. Sometimes what looks difficult is really a piece of cake.


The younger lot have innovative skills that they bring to the table. It’s great interacting with trainees from management and creative. They are supposed to make a 20 minute presentation to us at the end of their stint, and I remember a boy making a video presentation in the form of a daily diary to his mom. It was great because of the ‘We haven’t seen this before’ feeling.


Their approach to work is very different, which we often criticise, but there are plenty of takeaways. I remember the time when an employee was moving on from our agency, and I asked him to give me a call in case he wasn’t happy at the new place. I told him there was nothing to be embarrassed about and we could definitely work something out for him if he decided to return. “Why would I be embarrassed?” he asked me. And he was back in six months.

Moral of the story: Never criticise before thinking. And if one is ever in need of a smashing presentation, commission the millennials in your employ.



Joseph George, CEO, Lowe Lintas

Their belief in the spirit of “moving on”, it allows you to not get stuck with any issue (good or bad) for too long. It allows you to accomplish a lot more. And it makes you a lot less emotional and more objective. It also allows you to stay focussed in meetings and conversations instead of the hangovers of an earlier issue or a previous meeting still clouding your head.


Many times, we seem to dismiss and brand this trait of the youth as being fickle and superficial. Or even accuse them of being disinterested. It took me a long time to realise that those were erroneous and lazy conclusions. I was interviewing this young planner ( I personally interview all planners coming into Lowe Lintas ), and as we concluded with me saying that HR will get back to him, he said in a matter of fact way “to not let his youth come in the way of his salary or indeed his designation!” There are three brand lines that sum them up “Move on”, “Impossible is nothing” and “Poochne mein kya jaata hai”?

Moral of the story: Life’s too short to cry over yesterday’s headlines, delusion of grandeur is a millennial condition and there is no such thing as a stupid question



Josy Paul, Chairman, BBDO India

One of the greatest things that my youngest colleagues have taught me is to be more authentic. They value that in themselves and they seek that from me. It helps me relax in their company and be who I am. It brings out the best in all of us. I feel the younger generation is a reminder medium of who we once were. They remind me of the strengths that I had, and have now forgotten. They revive and rejuvenate my authentic side. They point out things I once told them when I was a visiting faculty in their colleges. And they don’t let me forget. It’s a great source of energy.


“We work differently from how you work. You guys work really hard and are obsessed with excellence about work. But excellence for us is how we manage both work and life. We need more breaks, more away-time. That’s how we create excellence at work. For you work is everything. We work for life” – Hemant Shringy, senior creative director, BBDO Ashram, age 29. It’s an insightful jolt and a beautiful truth, and I have accepted it. It is important to me. Which is why I remember it. Reverse internship, osmosis and learning are part of my world. I spend at least two hours a week speaking at colleges. The best thing that an experienced generation of marketers can learn from millennial marketers is to let go! The best way to contribute is to get out of the way.

Moral of the story: Be real and weekends are not just Saturday to Sunday.



Kawal Shoor, National Planning Director, Ogilvy & Mather

I like their naivete and candour the most. I especially love their language, as yet un-corrupted by the dreaded ad lingo. And fresh language is often a window to new thoughts. No ‘target audience’, no ‘strategy’, no ‘360 degrees’ no bullshit. When they talk formally, they are pretty predictable and ordinary ; maybe they say what they think they’re expected to say, but when they let go, when they just chat with you, when they talk about how people are, and why they are the way they are, is when they can really say interesting things.


The biggest life lesson is that there are no rules. Yes, there are a few rules on how you anchor a thought f o r clients to feel comfortable with them, but for creation of new thoughts and ideas, there are absolutely no rules. I also think today’s young are a lot more confident, sometimes even before they’re able.


Exactly the opposite of how I was, or still am. And then I have a 14 year old at home who’s my anti-aging insurance. There’s a daily crash course I get on staying young. There are times I fail, times I pass, but I can’t say life’s boring.

Moral of the story: Speak without thinking.



Sunil Lulla, Chairman and Managing Director, Grey Worldwide India

“I work harder.” It was a simple statement made to me by a fresher at JWT in the late 80s. It expressed the strength of the individual and the difference one can make to one’s success. i.e. Work Harder, than anyone else, until success is yours. He was working really late hours and was undertaking very simple and humble tasks. It was late and I asked him to stop working and go home and complete it the next day. This response, “I work harder”, got me to agree, smile and adopt this attitude.

Moral of the story: Forget what was said about frequent getaways, work your backside off.



Subhash Kamath, Managing Partner, BBH

There are many lessons I’ve learnt from some of my young colleagues. Most importantly, I’ve realised that their youth is very different from how mine was. They’re growing up in a very different society, they’re far more optimistic and daring, far more capable of taking risks and exploring newer things than I was. And thanks to the digital age, they seem far more connected and have much better access to information than I did.


Sure, it’s much more competitive now than it was in the 80s, but I think today’s youngsters are upto it. Our generation was taught to play safe, hold on to our jobs, save for a rainy day etc. Today’s youngsters have grown up in a more plentiful society. They have many more options to choose from, more entrepreneurial opportunities.


Talent and ideas get rewarded more easily today than it did in my time. So the same values and priorities that I had don’t necessarily work for them. The one anecdote I remember very vividly that would perhaps illustrate this change was when, some years ago, I was doing an exit interview of a young star who’d decided to leave the agency. She had been doing extremely well, her colleagues and clients loved her, and she’d just been promoted with a hefty increment. But a month later, she put in her papers. I was completely taken aback. When I asked why, she said the job was keeping her too busy and that she was not getting any chance to spend time with her family and friends.


Trying to give her some sagely advice, I explained that even I had to go through this phase in life. That it was important to give it one’s all at this early learning stage to build a long term career. That one day she’ll be able to balance it having come on top of this service business.


To which she coolly looked me in the eye and said “But what makes you think I want to lead the same life as you did? I want to do it differently and enjoy both work and play now, not later.” I honestly had no answer to that. Just the strong realisation that things have indeed changed. This generation looks at things very differently. And the worst thing a senior person like me could do was to think of my own upbringing and youth in evaluating today’s generation.

Moral of the story: Don’t evaluate the world through the prism of your life. It’s not that great a life, after all, if a millennial doesn’t want it.



Rahul Jauhari, National Creative Director, Everest Brand Solutions

I guess the number one lesson is that these kids don’t take shit for too long. They are not as tied down by stuff like loyalty to boss/agency as we used to be. So if they don’t get a good deal (monetary or opportunity) they move on. They have innumerable options – advertising copywriting is not bigger or smaller than content writing or opening a wedding ideas shop with friends or something else.


I guess fundamentally, they are experimenting more than we did, they take less load than we did/do. Long ago, after I finished seeing a complete fresher kid’s folio, he asked to see mine. I kicked his butt for not doing his homework, but loved the attitude. We are in a people’s business.

Moral of the story: You can’t take designations and dignity to the bank.



Mythili Chandrasekar, SVP & National Planning Director, JWT India

The youngsters absorb so much from the world around at a blistering pace, and are intuitive culture and technology experts. They challenge conventional wisdom and it is good to be constantly tested. Free flowing and lateral thinking is something we can learn. Some very young colleagues have stunned me with their depth of work and speed of learning.


While one cannot generalise, I do find disrespect for dress codes, time and casualness in tonality ends up working against youngsters being taken seriously. They certainly seem to have better work life balance, and are able to switch off far more easily – too late to learn that! After a point it’s not about age, but character. Those who are tenacious, unrelenting, passionate, bold, and thorough are those who stun you and teach you every time.

Moral of the story: Study hard, study fast. Dress for comfort, but save the ‘Frankie Says Relax’ t-shirt for under the comforter.



Pratap Suthan, Managing Partner and Chief Creative Officer, Bang In The Middle

This was when I was a CD in Grey Delhi in about 1999. I had a trainee for about six months – he was really good at his job and had a lot of spunk. I wanted to hire him as a junior writer, but apparently we didn’t have the budgets. I kept delaying telling him because I wanted him on board, till the time he asked me what the status was.


When he realised that the branch head couldn’t bring him on board, he walked into his office, gave him a piece of his mind and got out, only to start his own agency. That boy is Sidharth Rao of Webchutney. That day I learned that if you are convinced about something, you should stand by it no matter what anyone says. All it takes is belief and some spine.

Moral of the story: Never listen to your branch head. And go with the gut every time. (At your own risk.)



Sumanto Chattopadhyay, ECD – South Asia, Ogilvy India

The most obvious fact is that the young colleagues are digital natives and we are digital dinosaurs. That is one area I have learnt everything from my juniors; I harass them and pick up a lot of internet and socialmedia related things from them. I can now ideate on digital campaigns today, and the only reason I can is because I had juniors who were complete whizzes at this. They’re born into it and have been using technology since the time they were in school.


Another thing that is amazing is their comfort level with all kinds of apps and software to get things done. They find ways to easily put together a little film for a presentation, for instance. These little things seemed so difficult but they’re not; they helped me break that barrier. We belong to the doctor-lawyer-professor-bano generation, where we were told to pursue our passions only after first securing an academic degree and a steady job.


Our mentality was to stick it out whether or not you’re enjoying your job. While there are good and bad sides to this way of thinking, I am going to say that the changes in the world and economy give youngsters the option to not waste their time at a place they aren’t having fun. The flipside is that they decide in three months that they don’t like advertising and quit. Three months! At least give it a year?


Sure, go ahead and explore if you like something or not, but three months is too short a time. Some people are too hasty in deciding if something is working for them. They just need to find their happy medium. I like that they explore and have the confidence, but just take your time.

Moral of the story: It’s never too late to learn.



Narayan Devanathan, Executive Vice President and National Planning Director, Dentsu India Group

The natural ease with which they carry themselves, knowing their place in the world (at the centre). Their ability to keep me grounded with an “Ae, kidhar ja raha hai, pehle good morning toh bol de.” Knowing how to be wrong with complete confidence, and most of the times, with a good idea of what failure looks like. Being completely comfortable with uncertainty, with “maybe” as a valid life choice.


Work hard, party harder (I haven’t been able to apply this as effectively as them though.) But time and again, the young ones have taught and reinforced to me the idea of embracing uncertainty. “We’re dating currently, but he’s at IIM Ahmedabad and I’m here in Delhi, and I’m not sure if we’ll be in the same city after he finishes. I might find somebody else by the time he comes back. Or he might. Ya, I know we’ve been together for five years, but who knows what will happen tomorrow? I’d like to marry him, but that’s too far away.”


This was a 20-year-old intern who worked with me several years back. I have no idea who she is with right now, but I don’t think she’s worrying about it. The value of persistence: A girl applied for a position in a previous job of mine, and after I met her, I was pretty sure I wanted to be on the same team. Except we didn’t have the budget to hire her then. So I told her, “Listen, I’m pretty bad at keeping in touch. But call me regularly. And if I don’t answer, message me. And if I don’t respond even then, email me.” She did all three for three weeks continuously.


I managed to wrangle a budget out of the management to get her on board after that. I hope I apply these lessons regularly. But those who work with me will probably be able to better speak about the impact. In life, I definitely am more actively trying to embrace the uncomfortable, the uncertain. As I said elsewhere sometime back, I’m discovering the joys of confusion. Clarity is overrated, if you ask me.

Moral of the story: Don’t date anyone at IIM-A. Embrace uncertainty and confusion every morning and there’s no shame in being stalkerishly persistent. However, try and stop short of a restraining order.



Pratap Bose, former COO, DDB Mudra Group

I remember once going through my worst crisis ever on the IBM account, and by the end of the evening it looked like we would lose the account through a horrible mishandling which had the worldwide IBM CEO and CMO threatening hell and high water.


At 9 o’clock in the evening, when I was in the depths of despair and totally at my wits’ end, a young colleague came over and said to me, “Sir, why don’t you go home and sleep on it? It never seems so bad in the morning after you wake up.” To this day, I follow that advice I learnt from my younger colleague. In life, no matter how disastrous or how enormous the problem, it always seems smaller after you have slept on it.

Moral of the story: Snoozes, not weekend getaways are the pillars of success.


(With Inputs from Ravi Balakrishnan, Amit Bapna, Shephali Bhatt, Mukta Lad & Priyanka Nair.)


Source:The Economic Times

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