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Profile - Soumitra Karnik: Family Business?

By Anushree Bhattacharyya , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Advertising | May 15, 2012
Soumitra Karnik, Dentsu India's national creative director feels that had his grandfather not been in advertising (in Lintas, now Lowe), he wouldn't have been in the profession.

Karnik who lived in Saket, a south Delhi colony, suffered from car sickness. After completing high school, he took admission in College of Vocational Studies in South Delhi. "A basketball player, I got in through the sports quota and opted for travel and tourism. While I missed attending a regular college, I had a great time and made many friends," says he. However, he failed in History in his final year exams, and after that never returned.

Soumitra Karnik

Karnik, who was quite clear that he wanted to be a copywriter, tried hard to make it in the big world of advertising. His grandfather would not play godfather, however, and he was unable to find his way in without a struggle. In 1991, he joined Pace Advertising, a small ad outfit run by a husband-wife duo in Saket. "I spent a year there, earned a stipend of Rs 500, and did everything apart from writing. They had retainers to write and I used to sit there thinking that I could write much better," recalls Karnik. With no copywriting work coming his way, Karnik left the agency.

It was an accidental meeting with Navin Gaur (now executive director at Lowe and Partners) at a traffic signal in Delhi's Defence Colony that actually initiated Karnik's journey in the field of copywriting. "During our conversation I asked if he was looking for a copywriter and, as luck would have it, he was. I joined Anubhuti Advertising in 1992," Karnik adds.

After spending about two years there, he moved to Percept as creative group head. The Delhi office of the agency had just started functioning, and he was part of the core team. "At Percept, I worked on a lot of financial advertising, but after a while got bored," he says. While working at Percept, Karnik's dream to work in Lintas became a reality.

Interestingly, he declined the offer and joined Rightangle, a boutique agency set up by former HTA (now JWT) employees in Hauz Khas Village. "I really liked the place - it comprised young people with dreams in their eyes." At the agency he was part of the team that launched Domino's Pizza in the country but eventually the agency folded up and Karnik moved on.

He went back to Lintas in 1997, where met Losang Gyatso from BBDO New York. Gyatso hired him as associate creative director. "When I moved to Lintas, I realised that there was a pattern emerging in every movement I made. What worried me was that I was not able to settle down," remarks Karnik.

In 2000, he moved to JWT, where he spent the next 11 years. He worked under Anuja Chauhan (the former executive creative director) on the Pepsi account. At JWT, Karnik got the freedom to work in his own style and learn and adapt new thoughts. "While I enjoyed my time, I also saw many ups and downs both on the brand as well as on the category. At JWT, I matured and learned never to fall in love with my ideas," adds Karnik. The agency taught him how to tackle big marketing problems "because as a rookie writer I always asked what is wrong in my ideas. JWT taught me that I have it in me as a writer."

At Dentsu, Karnik will partner Rohit Ohri (executive chairman, India) on various projects.

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