Sunday, March 14, 2010

My tweets from the India Today Conclave 2010

In Delhi for the India Today Conclave. Lots of good speakers to entertain and educate me. First up Chidambaram & the ruler of Dubai.

Next would be John Chambers of Cisco. Was in the lift with him yesterday.

Aroon Purie starts the conclave with the opening passage from "tale of 2 cities" - "it was the best of times..worst of times..." #ITconclave

Charles Dickens still relevant to describe the first decade of the 21st century. #ITconclave

Chidambaram says Maoists are a bigger threat than Jihadists. #ITconclave

Chidambaram: maoists aren't pro poor. Just interested in seizing power. That's why they blow up schools, roads & rail lines. #ITconclave

In Q&A, Chidambaram very severe on Pakistan but quite soft on China. #ITconclave

Pak High Commissioner to India responded by saying there were no state players who sponsor terrorism and that they want talks. #ITconclave

The ruler of Dubai had come to Delhi but had to leave last night. Sent his cousin to speak instead. #ITconclave

Arabic to English translator so bad that the sheikh has decided to translate his Arabic speech himself. #ITconclave

Don't confuse Dubai World with Dubai state. The former is untroubled because of it's real estate business.Getting restructured. #ITconclave

Kamal Nath made a general political speech. #ITconclave

Brilliant speech by Dayanidhi Maran on how to balance politics and growth. Says he's managed both in his teleom days. #ITconclave

In 2004 it was illegal to have wi fi at home. Maran says he realized he was breaking the law. So he changed the law. #ITconclave

BJP president Nitin Gadkari didn't speak about politics but only of economic needs & ideas for progress. Great. #ITconclave

John Chambers of Cisco talking inspiringly about the big transformations of India and the role of tech in it. #ITconclave

Cisco'a goals for india. $1 doctor visits. $1 month/student. 1 million new jobs. #ITconclave

Interesting ad by Mail Today in it's own paper.

Nassim Taleb, author of Black Swan, is on next. I feel like a groupie around a star. #ITconclave

Taleb is a old trader but a young philosopher. #ITconclave

You can't predict which technology will do well. So you can't predict history. Taleb. #ITconclave

We live in extremistan but think we live in mediocristan. Taleb. #ITconclave

The banking system collapsed due to the rise in complexity and the rise of fragility. Taleb. #ITconclave

Debt has a 1:1 correspondence with hubris! Taleb. #ITconclave

Must read Taleb's article from FT that is about 10 steps to create robustness. #ITconclave

Taleb: the only thing more fragile than finance is the internet. #ITconclave

End of Taleb's session. Clearly the best session in #ITconclave so far. Great insights with great sense of humour

Nilesh Arora, the 4th President of Google is on next. The other 3 are the two founders and the CEO. #ITconclave

Google asks how can you disrupt the world with technology. Not how they can make money. #ITconclave

Nilesh says he scribbled notes for his speech during the Chambers session. I think that's rude to all of us who are here. #ITconclave

A great session followed by a really lousy one. I guess that's life. The Google guy was really bad. #ITconclave

@Kaj186 chap called Nikesh Arora. president sales & biz Dev.

Kapil Sibal talking about the challenges we face in the education sector. But no vision or strategy offered. #ITconclave

Kapil Sibal is one of our best ministers. Made a boring speech but getting into stride during the Q&A. #ITconclave

Spent time chatting with Chris Hughes, co-founder of Facebook & CEO of And I thought I was immune to celebs. #ITconclave

Aroon Purie now introducing Sir Salman Rushdie. The others need to learn from Mr Purie how to make introductions interesting. #ITconclave

Rushdie on the MF Hussain issue: are the forces trying to close the universe winning over those trying to open it? #ITconclave

Salman Rushdie's speech proves that not everything can or should be reduced to 140 characters. #ITconclave

Rushdie: what are the limits of freedom? Should we tolerate those who are intolerant & might destroy society? #ITconclave

Rushdie: Pakistan is a country "insufficently imagined". #ITconclave

Prabhu Chawla complaining that he gets to chair the
tough sessions. Yesterday on politics. Today on sex and spirituality. #ITconclave

Swami Vedant of Osho Univ talking philosophically about sex & sexuality. I think the crowd is wishing they'd slept in. #ITconclave

3 layers of sex. Biological. Psychological. Spiritual. Sex is the center of life. Not God: Osho via Swami Vedant. #ITconclave

Sant Ramdev is a good orator who doesn't seem to have much to say. #ITconclave

Did you know Swami Ramdev is worth Rs 500 crores? He says he's not apologetic about his wealth. #ITconclave

Having agreed that sex & spirituality can co-exist, the 2 speakers arguing about whether OK for consenting adults to have sex. #ITconclave

Vedant: men think of sex every 5-7 mins while women think of sex every 13 mins. "they're more conservative". #ITconclave

Rahul Gandhi is here. Not as a speaker. Just as a delegate. Listening to Prof Bloom of Harvard talk about demographic dividend. #ITconclave

Demograhpic dividend is not automatic & may be transitory. But it helped SE Asia grow 2% PA per capita for 30 years. Bloom. #ITconclave

2 breakthrough ideas of demographics: demographic dividend & healthier = wealthier. Bloom. #ITconclave

Bloom: demographic dividends will increase inequality between states and could lead to instability. #ITconclave

Ireland legalized contraception in 1979 & this lead to fetility rates falling & economic growth doubled: Bloom. #ITconclave

Alan Mullaly, Global CEO Ford, reading out a prepared speech. He isn't connecting with the audience. #ITconclave

Alan Mullaly doing a lot better in the Q&A. Says Product information is ubiquitous. The difference is the brand. #ITconclave

Art is under attack by those who don't understand it. So is science. Interesting session on the controversy starting up. #ITconclave

If the first pdt of electricity had been the electric chair, we'd be as against electricity as people are against GM food now. #ITconclave

The only reason that the Malthusian predictions haven't come true is science & tech. Michael Spector, writer. #ITconclave

Michael Spector making a strong case of benefits of green revolution 1.0. Says we now need green revolution 3.0. #ITconclave

Suman Sahai making the opposite case. Says genetic engg is a very random science. She's a genetic engineer herself. #ITconclave

Suman Sahai: you can make the case for BT cotton. But you can't make a case for 35 Crops with the BT gene. #ITconclave

Suman Sahai. This is the century of Biology. But rein in hubris. Since biology gone wrong can cause more damage than phy/chem. #ITconclave

Brilliant session. Both speakers convinced us they were right. And they are totally opposed to each other! #ITconclave

Chris Hughes, co founder of Facebook is talking about the impact on the real world of social media. #ITconclave

Barack Obama did not use social media to be cool or create buzz. But to get votes. : chris hughes. #ITconclave

The Barack Obama site wasn't about the candidate but about the supporters. It showed them & their reasons for supporting Obama. #ITconclave

That made supporters " responsible" for electing Obama. #ITconclave

Stage is crowded. Youth session with Ranbir Kapoor, asin, Tanya Dubash, Roopa Purshottam, Deepender Hooda, #ITconclave

Bunked the session on youth to watch Yousuf Khan hit a 100 in 37 balls. Back now to listen to James Cameron & Amir Khan. #ITconclave

Cameron: any technology that is sufficiently advanced is indistinguishable from magic. #ITconclave

I don't know if Amir khan is just acting, but he seems to be spellbound by James Cameron. #ITconclave

Cameron talking about an awesome technique called performance capture invented to shoot Avatar. Amir looking fascinated. Us too #ITconclave

Cameron: He had a problem finding theatres who would show 3D. Now with 3D TV screens, there will be a content gap. #ITconclave

Amir Khan simply not on the same level as Cameron. Maybe this discussion would have gone places if Raju Hirani had been here. #ITconclave

Cammeron & Amir having a great chat with each other. Great eye contact with each other. The audience is totally ignored. #ITconclave

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Defining moments: Suman Srivastava: "It was good to learn the science of advertising at Lever"

A feature on me appeared in the Brand Reporter and now in Afaqs. Click here to see the original article. Text below:

You may take him out of the confines of the planning department, but there's no taking the planner out of Suman Srivastava.

Few may know that Euro RSCG India's CEO, Suman Srivastava, wanted to originally be a journalist. It took an acquaintance who spoke of his disillusionment with journalism and Srivastava's days in the Indian Institute of Management - Ahmedabad, that gave Indian advertising industry an established planner, and one who witnessed the emergence of planning as a separate discipline in India, at that.

Srivastava's first turning point arrived while at Lintas - his first job - when he was deputed at Hindustan Unilever for a year (after working on HUL brands for three years) and was further "Leverised."

"The rigour that Lever's had was great. In those days of the early '90s, there were very few clients who got into the science of advertising. I think it was good to learn that science at Lever's," he says.

Among his key defining moments are shaping two start-ups: Lowe Lintas' second agency SSC&B Lintas in 1994, and Euro RSCG India. "SSC&B was a part of Lintas and at least the infrastructure was right there but Euro RSCG did not even have an office. It was an out-and-out start up. It was great fun of course. Definitely a defining moment," Srivastava grins.

While he admits to have done a lot of "ghost planning" while working in the servicing team at Lowe (Lintas), he recalls his formal entry into the world of planners in 1999 at Euro, as one of the most important moments in his career. With planning then being a relatively new discipline in Indian agencies, there was uncertainty and his move was not considered to be a good one. Yet, Srivastava refers to the four years of undiluted planning as the best phase of his career.

"Planning then was underrated and everybody was suspicious of it," Srivastava explains. "The client servicing guys thought that the planner would do all the 'sexy' parts of their job and there wouldn't be any fun left, while the creative people saw it as yet another layer and another person who could say 'no' and kill an idea."

And despite being the CEO of Euro RSCG, Srivastava says he has not ceased to be a planner, and takes pride in the evolution of planning from a stage when the creative team was sceptic about it to today's theory of 'one planner for one creative'.

Two key men who influenced Srivastava greatly include former bosses Ishan Raina, chief executive officer, OOH Media and Ajay Chandwani, non-executive director, Percept.

"He (Raina) was my first boss when I entered advertising," he recalls. "I was interviewing with Contract Advertising but there was no befitting role for me. So when he started Euro RSCG and wanted to take Contract people with him, I was one of the first ones he took on board. Ishan is an amazing man-manager. He can bring out the best either by needling or encouraging a person."

For Chandwani, Srivastava says, "It is tough working for Ajay but he is brilliant. Our styles were very different, but I learnt a lot from him as a strategy guy," he says.

At Euro RSCG, another key hallmark moment for him was cracking the Set Max Deewana Bana De campaign which was all about the role of television in a person's life. "Our insight was that Max should be a friend you would like to watch movies with. We gave the channel the role of this friend who knows all the stats and is a reference point when you watch movies and cricket," he explains, and thus were born properties like Extraa Innings and Extraa Shots. The second insight was that when one watches great entertainment it stays with you for a while, which led to the words Deewana Bana De.

(Defining Moments is a regular column which talks about the incidents that shaped great advertising, media and marketing careers.)

Monday, March 08, 2010

Comparative Advertising and euphemism

This generation of youth is not into euphemism. Perhaps every generation of youth tends to use less euphemisms than the generation that has gone before.

So is it surprising that this generation would name the competitive brand in their advertising rather than being content with referring to it as "Brand X" or the "leading brand" or whatever? My only surprise is that there aren't more commercials already that actually name their competitor.

As for being comparative, my view is that all advertising is competitive. The whole idea of Positioning is that you try to create a distinct place in a consumer's mind with respect to all other brands. So that is comparative advertising.

My final point is that when claims are made in advertising, then they need to be backed up by scientific evidence. If not, then there needs to be strong penalties that should be levied. That would ensure greater truth in advertising.

Once that is in place, we should refer to competing brands by name - it will save everybody a lot of time.

The above piece was written for afaqs reporter in the context of the Rin commercial shown below.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Everybody loves a planner

Clients love planners
Except when agencies charge for their time.

Clients love planners
Except when they are too passionate about their ideas.

Creatives love planners
Except when they suggest that their ideas are off-strategy.

Creatives love planners
Except when they become another layer of approval.

Creatives love planners
Except when they start using jargon.

Servicing loves planners
Except when they are feeling low about their own jobs.

Servicing loves planners
Except when they act like creative divas.

Servicing loves planners
Except when the spotlight moves away from them.

Servicing loves planners
Except when they get promoted ahead of them.

Top management loves planners
Except when times are bad.

Top management loves planners
Except when its time to promote them to general management.

Everyone loves a planner
Except when they act obnoxious & know-it-all.

(Written as an anonymous article for Brand Equity)

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Dialogue (with Exchange4Media)

It’s been two decades for you being a part of advertising industry, according to you how has the industry been shaped since then and now? Any alarming fact to be observed comparatively…

Over the last two decades the advertising industry has evolved for the better. I think the quality of the work we do is much superior to the work done then. Earlier a lot of advertising were derivative of western advertising. Today we can be proud of an Indian school of advertising. Earlier brand propositions didn’t need to work very hard since there was limited competition. Today the reverse is true.

Euro RSCG Worldwide per se undertakes various surveys and studies to understand the trends in advertising. Any recent studies that you have undertaken and that you would like to share with us…

We have a series of papers that are titled “the future of _____”. So we have a study on the “Future of retail”. Another on the “Future of luxury” and the most recent one on the “Future of value”. These studies are shared with clients and potential clients for whom these studies are relevant.

Do you see an increase in mergers and acquisitions by international networks of Indian advertising agencies? And does this mean that the stranglehold of foreign agencies will increase further?

Acquisitions take place because there are strong local agencies available to acquire. So before M&A can happen, you need local entrepreneurs to create strong agencies. We can see around us small boutique agencies opening up – in creative, digital, events, PR, you name it. In due course these agencies will get acquired, but that is not about a stranglehold of foreign agencies. It is more of a tribute to Indian talent.

Please share your views on the new media and digital landscape and what role advertising agencies can play to harness the potential of these mediums.

Our view of new media is the same as our view of old media. We think it is wrong to think of digital or new media agencies as a separate discipline. We don’t have a separate TV division, so why do we have a separate digital division? You may have a production facility for digital that is separate and staffed with specialists.

Please take us through the growth that Euro RSCG has seen on the revenue front in the last three years? (At least in terms of percentage if not the exact figures)

We have grown at more than 30% per annum for the least 3 years.

What is the growth target for 2009?

It all depends on how the slog overs pan out (we have a Jan – Dec year). We are optimistic about the next 4 months and expect to end the year with a small growth over last year.

How much has the current economic slowdown affected the Indian advertising industry?

We have had our share of problems. In general the multinationals (clients and agencies) were more cautious than the Indian companies when the downturn started. That negativism spread through the whole economy. But now things are looking up again.

During the slowdown, many advertisers took extreme steps to brave the recession. When things are back to normal, how do you think these steps would have changed the industry?

It would make us leaner and meaner.

Speaking about talent and the slowdown, there was a sudden hiring freeze. Now as we are seeing some sign of recovery, there is again a buzz of hiring happening across levels. And on what criteria’s are these hirings taking place?

Agencies are now making the most critical hires. In our case we are also hiring some people to accelerate growth.

How is Euro RSCG tackling the problem of talent crunch in the industry and retaining skilled people? Is there any specific strategy for that?

Yes we are doing a bunch of different things to retain people. Covers a wide gamut from better structured salaries, to training programs, to welfare activities. The objective is not to reach 0% attrition. The objective is to ensure that people are happy and contribute at a high level when they are with us.

Lately, many agencies including Euro RSCG have announced internal elevations/promotions. But these promotions have come without any increments. How do you view this development in an agency favour of retaining your talent? It is believed that many have otherwise quit agencies due to this. Is this an advantage or a disadvantage in regards to retaining talent?

Recognition is often as important as rewards in retaining people. When you can’t afford to reward, you can still afford to recognize. Rewards will follow soon.

What are the weak points of the Indian advertising industry today that you feel need to be addressed?

I think we are still very TV centric and need to grow our capabilities in other disciplines. Also while we tend to do great work for theme ads, we treat tactical advertising like step children. That’s not how the consumer sees it. We need to handle those with the same love and affection as the theme ads.

What are the areas that Indian advertising practitioners need focus on to create a wider global impact?

Our people are smart and many have already created a mark on the global scene. But we need to be a little bit more process oriented and much more punctual in our work. If we tighten up on those areas, Indians can dominate the global arena.

What are the two things that you would like to change about the Indian clients?

I don’t want to change anything. I just want more of them.

My Profile - Written for Campaign India's A List

Current position held (designation and company, official address)
CEO, Euro RSCG India. 1, Brady Gladys Plaza, Senapati Bapat Marg, Lower Parel, Mumbai 400013

Office land line number

Place of birth
Patna, Bihar

Career highlights
Have been at Euro RSCG for the last 13 years. Before this I was at Lintas for 9 years. I joined Lintas straight out of IIMA. During my Lintas stint I spent 2 years in SSC&B Lintas. Behind this high inertia career path lies a lot of interesting assignments. I have been part of two start ups (SSC&B and Euro RSCG), run strategic planning for a region, been on deputation to HLL, worked on a variety of interesting and challenging clients.

Why are you good at what you do? (Answer in 10-15 words)
I fear failure and so I work hard and learn more.

Greatest influence: 15-40 words
My maternal grandmother. She was out of the box in her thinking before the term was invented.

Fantasy business partner
Steve Jobs

Biggest risk taken
None – I play safe.

Best job outside advertising/ media/ marketing
Being a father.

Favourite media

Favourite gadget
Amazon Kindle

Clubs you are a member of
MCA Bandra, Club Millennium Juhu.

Most admired politician
Barack Obama

Perfect day

Fictional hero
Phantom – the ghost who walks.

Who should play you in the film of your life?
Sidney Poitier (some people said he looked like me in “To Sir with love”)

Hidden talent
Making cocktails

Most expensive purchase
An apartment in Bandra

Desert Island favourite objects
Kindle, iPod, Laptop, power for everything.


Every suit thinks he is creative. Especially suits who have risen to the top of an ad agency and therefore no longer considers himself bound by the confines of a department. So most suit CEOs don’t understand what the debate is about – you need to be creative and a suit to be the leader. ☺

Of course, the biggest trait you need to become a leader is to live in a distorted reality world and convince enough other people to believe in that distorted reality. It’s usually called “Vision” which is nothing but an attempt to twist the current reality into a desired one. If you are successful, you are a great leader. If not, you are considered a cracked pot.

The best leaders in every field lived in a distorted reality world. Buddha, Christ, Mahatma Gandhi, Steve Jobs, Ratan Tata, Barrack Obama, Piyush Pandey. All of them set out to change their existing realities in ways that perfectly reasonable people thought couldn’t be done. Who thought that India could achieve freedom thorough non-violence or that a black man could become President of the United States or that a stodgy old “people-friendly” advertising agency could become a cutting edge creative shop?

At this point, it would probably be appropriate to list out a set of traits that a good leader should have. I am going to resist the temptation.

I read a book some time ago called “Why should anyone be led by YOU?” This is the best book on leadership that I have ever read. It simply says that you can’t model yourself on any other person and still expect to be a leader. To be a leader you have to be yourself; to be authentic and real. Even have warts and weaknesses. If people like what they see, they will start to follow you.
I found this a really refreshing argument, because so many leaders fall into the trap of trying to be perfect. Leaders try to be this brilliant all rounder who could be in the team just for his batting, bowling or fielding. Not to mention his captaincy. This kind of a leader gets insecure when others appear who are better than him in any discipline. And that puts off a whole lot of followers, who tend to drift away. Thus damaging the organization.

Coming back to the central point of the debate of suit versus creative. The point I am making is that you need to be authentic and have a clear vision. If the suit is a faceless bureaucrat then he is unlikely to get any followers and therefore will not be able to achieve much.

(This piece was written for the 5th anniversary issue of Impact magazine)

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Right Sizing The Cabinet

The voters have given a clear mandate to this government to govern effectively. The people have made it quite clear that we value performance about all else.

In light of this I am dismayed to see the size of our council of ministers and the way it has been put together - with the focus being on pleasing allies and balancing regional interests. In any case, the way the government is structured is hardly conducive to good management.

Management gurus say that a manager should not have more than 7 direct reports into him. Our PM has 40 direct reports just in the council of ministers. This is not including other advisory bodies such as the Planning Commission. Clearly he cannot do justice to supervising all these people.

Several of the ministries exist for legacy reasons. Why do industries like Shipping, Mines, Coal, Textiles, Chemicals and Petroleum have separate ministries when there is anyway an Industries ministry and a labour ministry. Not to mention Finance and Commerce (although the latter is more about Exports, notwithstanding its name).

Clearly, the Cabinet and its performance would improve if we were to issue a few pink slips.

I spent a few minutes playing God (or Sonia) with the ministries and came up with these two diagrams. Figure 1 shows the 10 super ministries that would report directly into the Prime Minister (click on it to see a larger version).

The logic for the above is quite simple. To begin with we need a ministry for internal affairs and a ministry for external affairs. Those are obvious. Given our focus on development, it would be best to have ministries focused on the three main sectors of the economy - agriculture, manufacturing and services.

Next is HRD. Clearly India's big strength is its people and we all talk about the demographic dividend. Clearly there is a need to focus on people. Also I felt that in a large country like ours, transport is important enough to justify its own ministry. And going forward, we will have to find a way to grow without polluting the environment, so we need a ministry to focus on that. And finally, we need a finance ministry to focus on the money.

Those, then are the 10 super ministries.

Figure 2 shows what happened to the various other ministries. You will definitely need to click on it to be able to read it.

Most of the above seems obvious to me. The only one that I debated for a while was whether Defence needed a separate ministry. I decided against it because I feel that war is the last resort for the diplomat, and so I thought it would be best to combine the two into one ministry.

I am quite pleased with my last hour's work. Let me know what you think.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Importance of Grit

I have always felt that in order for a brand to sound authentic it is critical to have a little bit of dirt - something that is less than perfect. It is like Betty's sandwiches that Jughead doesn't like until they have a little bit of sand in them!

I follow a blog about fund raising for non profit organisations that found this "commercial" for Trader's Joe that sounds really authentic. Follow the words and you will see my point about grit.

Friday, March 06, 2009

BJP has better orators

I'm sitting in the India Today Conclave 2009. Just heard a brilliant speech by Shivraj Singh Chouhan (CM of MP).

Last year I was impressed by Narender Modi. Another year. Another BJP Chief Minister.

Congress is represented by Ashok Chavan (CM of Maharashtra). Omar Abdullah (CM of J&K) represented the middle front.

Both spoke well, but read from prepared speeches. Shivraj had no notes but had better turns of phrase & more data.

Notice that the self made politicians speak better than those who are products of dynastic democracy.

Sent on my BlackBerry® from Hutch