Profile: Russell Barrett: Copy Right

By Ashwini Gangal , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Advertising | April 04, 2012
Russell Barrett, BBH Mumbai's newly appointed managing partner, admits that he has been an admirer of the agency for years. "There's no place for politics at this exclusive creative place," he says, while taking afaqs! through his journey so far.

Barrett, who narrowly missed making a career in hockey, drew inspiration to join advertising from his older brother Gavin, who currently runs his own agency Barrett and Welsh in Toronto.

Russell Barrett

A product of St. Andrews School, Bandra, it was his love for writing that drove Barrett to make the switch from Khalsa College to St. Xavier's, where he graduated in English Literature. "From a very early age I knew I would be associated with a writing career," he recalls. After a six month-long stint as a journalist at Asian Age, Barrett found his calling in advertising. "Thanks to the idealistic, Ayn Rand-inspired version of the field, I joined journalism but soon got into copy writing," he shares.

Rediffusion-Y&R is the first agency Barrett worked at. He fondly recalls being interviewed by Adrian Mendonza in 1996. "I had no portfolio to show; just had some poems and articles in the college magazine," he admits. After a copy test, he was taken on as a trainee. The accounts that he worked on included The Taj Group of Hotels, and a few projects of Telco and Colgate.

Barrett worked at Rediffusion for the next three years, till he joined Ogilvy as senior copywriter in 1999. Sumanto Chattopadhyay and Bobby Pawar hired him and he started out at the agency by working under Ramanuj Shastry. "Ogilvy was like a university for me," he exclaims, "Here I learnt about the business of creativity and the importance of paying homage to 'the creative idea'." Besides getting the opportunity to learn from "the creative genius", Piyush Pandey, Barrett also did some memorable work during his tenure at Ogilvy.

"I got my first award in Ogilvy for an in-shop poster for Lakme that nobody wanted to do! At the time, even being a finalist at Clio was a big deal," he says. He also worked on the award-winning Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation 'tick' campaign that required him to travel across Maharashtra shooting different destinations. At Ogilvy, he worked on different brands and creative briefs and it was here that Barrett got promoted to the post of creative supervisor.

In 2003, after four-and-a-half years, Barrett moved to Leo Burnett as creative director. This jump in designation was part of KV Sridhar and Arvind Sharma's initiative to source young talent and give them big responsibilities. Fondly recalling his time working with Agnello Dias, he narrates, "Leo Burnett was the opportunity for creative people to win a lot of awards as the agency respected and promoted the culture of awards to a great degree." Thus, creating award-worthy work became a responsibility for the creative folk at the agency, including Barrett. His most awarded piece of work at Leo was the print campaign he created (along with Santosh Padhi) for Luxor highlighters in 2008.

In 2009, after spending five years at Leo, Barrett moved out. "In the ad world, that's a lifetime," he jokes. He was then hired by Sonal Dabral and joined Bates India as the head of its Mumbai office. "At Bates, I got my first exposure to being an ECD," quips Barrett, adding that the scale of things suddenly increased after this move, in terms of the number of brands, people, meetings and client interactions.

After a year, though, in 2010, Priti Nair contacted him and well, "BBH happened". He joined as brand partner. So, what's his agenda as managing partner? "The only strategy I come to the table with is the strategy of doing brilliant work." That is something BBH wouldn't be unhappy about at all!

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