Defining Moments: Nakul Chopra: Learning Curve

By Devina Joshi , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Advertising | December 09, 2010
Nakul Chopra, CEO, Publicis Communications, South Asia, reveals some key moments that shaped his career, in a freewheeling chat with afaqs!.

Nakul Chopra, CEO, Publicis Communications, South Asia, is an out-and-out advertising man. He shares some of the many key moments.

It was 1985 and I was 26. Through a family connection, I got in touch with Roddy Dewe who headed the UK-based, financial and corporate communication consultancy, Dewe Rogerson. I went to work with him as a trainee.

I learnt how to have a vision, how to see the big picture. In this business, your vision can run the risk of going from campaign to campaign. That's a trap I learnt how to avoid. I also learnt how to be prepared for how hard it can be. A key moment there I recall was when he entrusted me to create a business plan. All I had was a simple plan (I had never been to business school) to go by. I learnt things from scratch, bought myself books, read up and researched and submitted it. Luckily, my plan was approved.

The second moment in my career was at Trikaya Grey, under Ravi Gupta, who was an ideas person. The high arrived when he made me an offer to head Trikaya in Delhi. At 30, I found myself heading a branch. He painted a nice picture of the growth of that office but, on Day 1, I had cold sweat on my palms. As I sat with the employees at lunch (I thought it would be a good idea to get to know the key problems they faced at work), I remember a fellow piping up, "The flush in the toilet doesn't work." That is when I realised that when I am in a leadership position, any problem is my problem.

This was an office with heavyweight talent such as Mahesh Murthy, Gullu Sen, Freddy Birdy and Naved Akhtar but the financials were a horror show, contrary to what Ravi had told me.

However, after rebuilding the office over the next 24 months when I left the Delhi branch, I had made it exactly what Ravi had originally painted it out to be.

Another moment came (at Trikaya again) when we worked on the Arvind Mills corporate campaign. We had to get back to them with a strategic point of view. Ravi asked me to brief Christopher Rozario in the creative department. Three or four minutes into my briefing, Ravi got up and said, "Can we stop?" and asked for a moment alone with me. Once Chris had left the room, Ravi told me, "That's not a brief. Do me a favour and never brief a creative in this agency."

I remember feeling horrible about it. I went for a smoke at the reception and there was a board in front of me containing print ads by the agency. I realised that they were the most outstanding print ads. Suddenly a thought occurred to me. I had worked in HTA (JWT) and another agency, Seasons, and no one had ever told me that I could not brief a team. But then I thought to myself, never have those briefs resulted in ads like this!

I went back to Ravi and asked him to tear the resignation I had typed. I told him I need to learn about briefing. What I simply did then was to observe Ravi in briefings. Lastly, I remember Ravi telling me in his car one day, "I enjoy working with you but it's such a pity I will do it less and less." I asked if he was planning to sack me. "No, you don't need my help anymore," he declared.

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