afaqs!

Profile: Ashish Khazanchi: The Creative 'Businessman'

By Devina Joshi , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Advertising | April 22, 2010
Publicis Ambience's erstwhile NCD now finds himself vice-chairperson at the agency. In an interview with afaqs! Khazanchi shares his journey so far

And here's to another creative person who has hopped across to the other side of the table. In this report, afaqs! profiles the NCD who is now the vice-chairperson of Publicis Ambience.

On the business aspect, Ashish Khazanchi isn't entirely in alien territory, though. Seventeen years ago, he started out on his advertising career in client servicing. In 1993, when he passed out of IIM Bangalore, Khazanchi didn't even bother trying for a marketing job, as he was "dead-sure" he wanted to be in advertising.

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To Khazanchi, advertising was the essence of marketing. "This is where strategy meets people, and what happens is either magic or crap," he grins.

Khazanchi's first two years were spent in Rediffusion - Y&R's client servicing department. At the end of this period, he felt he had learnt 'everything there was to know about this business' because he often found himself exposed to media planning, crafting copy and art as well as doing studio work. He quit to start his own agency, Index Communications, at the age of 23.

"It was the conviction of that age when you feel you can conquer the world. I thought in two years I would be as big as Ulka Advertising (now Draftfcb Ulka), and in another two, as big as RK Swamy/BBDO was!" he laughs. Index pitched against mid-sized agencies ferociously and won quite a few accounts. The trick, he points out, lay in choosing businesses that don't require humungous scale.

Khazanchi recalls a pitch for Moser Baer in Delhi with just two layouts pasted on an ivory card as his presentation, while bigger agencies armed themselves with full teams, point of sale (POS) materials and signages while waiting at the reception. "I went in there with my idea and told the client, you'll either love it or hate it," he recalls. He clinched the deal.

Index, however, lasted just two-and-a-half years. But it helped Khazanchi understand a fundamental truth - that creative was his calling. After wrapping up his venture, Khazanchi joined the creative department at Contract in Kolkata. After two years, Khazanchi left and did short stints at Ogilvy India and Publicis (now Publicis India) before moving back to his first love, Rediffusion (this time in Mumbai). In 2007, he 'settled down' in Publicis.

"We had a ball while in Ogilvy," smiles Khazanchi as he recalls some of the sunniest times of his professional life. "We were a seriously happy bunch of like-minded people coming together. Ogilvy had the same kind of blood flowing in its veins through generations, and people like Anil Bathwal (the creative head then) had the agency really buzzing," he says.

Amongst the many campaigns he worked on, the one that got people to sit up and take notice was the launch of Daily News & Analysis (DNA) in Mumbai. Khazanchi - and Rediffusion - followed that up with the quirky launch campaign for Tata Sky (Jhingalala). The campaign reflected Khazanchi's own stubborn, almost idiosyncratic streak.

"One year, two harebrained film ideas and a whimsical baseline later, the idea was approved," is how Khazanchi describes the pitch. He admires the fact that the client supported a bizarre idea at a time when people didn't know what DTH was.

So what changes for him, now that he walks the business side? Would that automatically imply more trousers in his closet than jeans? "Nothing of that sort," he laughs. "I had started doing the kind of work I am doing when I was the national creative director. My role had broadened beyond looking at the creative output a while ago, when I started partnering Aniruddha Banerjee (the chairman) on other aspects. The only change for me now is a new designation on my business card," he says nonchalantly.

That sounds suspiciously like one 23-year old who couldn't stick to what he had been told to do in the servicing department. "Maybe," Khazanchi grins at the inference.