Profile: Kamal Basu: Crossing over

By Devina Joshi , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Marketing | March 13, 2012
Kamal Basu, Skoda's head, marketing, discusses the key learnings in his career so far, and how the Skoda assignment came about.

What is a man from a good 'advertising family' doing in marketing? Meet Kamal Basu, Skoda's new head of marketing.

Kamal Basu

When three brothers and a sister in the family are in advertising, it would be safe to say that advertising runs in the blood. And if one of them moves out to the client's side of the table after a quarter of a century, it is news. So, when Kamal Basu, former CEO of Ace Saatchi & Saatchi, was appointed as head of marketing, Skoda, it created a flutter.

A 'Bombay boy', Basu studied at Sydenham College and went on to obtain a degree in marketing management from the Jamnalal Bajaj Institute of Management Studies. After he graduated, Basu's family was concerned that he was getting into 'dark spaces' regarding a career choice. One of his brothers, DK Bose, who was at Ogilvy at the time (Basu is the youngest of 10 siblings), introduced him to advertising and Basu found himself in the client-servicing department at RK Swamy/BBDO.

The first thing that he was told to do at RK Swamy was to change his wardrobe, which consisted of jeans and T-shirts. He also learnt that no work is too small. On his second day, Basu was asked to go to the airport and send off some advertising material to Chennai. B Basu, (the brother who was in the creative department at Clarion) had advised him: "There will be times when you will find that the work doled out to you by superiors is something that could be done by someone from the dispatch department. You could choose to look upon that as a learning and a chance to get to go across to the client's office, have a cup of coffee and get to know him better." That bit of advice stuck with Basu.

After a short stint at Chaitra (now Leo Burnett), Basu found himself stationed at Clarion (now Bates 141) in the late '80s. There is another slice of advice that Basu refers to often. It came from Neena Varma, the head of Clarion. The lady had once put him on to a difficult client, who had a reputation of 'throwing work out of the room if he didn't like it'. Varma stilled an apprehensive Basu's fears by telling him to "never get emotional about work, because the workplace never gets emotional about you. Find ways to keep the two separate."

In 1993, Basu joined Ogilvy, stopping over at Rediffusion for a short while. He considers himself "lucky" enough to have worked with two legends, Mani Iyer and Ranjan Kapur - and two vastly different schools of thought. He worked on both Indian and international brands like Asian Paints, Pidilite, Amex, Seagram's and SmithKline Beecham.

A stint at Ogilvy Sri Lanka was his first encounter with overseas markets, but Basu found the place heavily influenced by the socio-political environment in the country, and was back in Mumbai a while later to work on the HUL business.

After eight years with Ogilvy, Basu came to Saatchi & Saatchi, the agency he became synonymous with later on. A meeting with V Shantakumar, Saatchi's head, had him buying into the agency's culture. "Culturally, Saatchi was strongly networked, but completely apolitical. Shanta ensured there was no room for corridor conversations." Basu also learnt about the concept of cost efficiencies and applying them to an agency structure. "Shanta taught me to be pragmatic." At Saatchi, Basu, on his part, is credited with roping in Sourabh Mishra and Ramanuj Shastry in 2009.

His move to Skoda is not the first time that a client poached him. had hired him as the marketing head during the dotcom boom. And it was a time when he forgot his thumb rule of not being emotional about work. "It was a little risky, but heady. It taught me a lot about freedom and responsibility, and soaring too far, too high, too soon," Basu chuckles.

Skoda "happened", among other reasons, because of his passion for cars. "I have spent more on cars than on real estate," declares Basu, who has worked on brands such as WagonR, Hyundai and Mahindra in his advertising days.

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