Joining Ogilvy in the early 1990s as a fresher was my first defining moment. It was significant because I was fortunate enough to work in a full-service agency in the 'full-service era'.
There's a lot to learn from the hybrid culture of a full-service organisation. In today's specialist world, the one thing we've lost out on is well-rounded communication professionals. Everyone is a master at what they do and know little about the peripheral industries.
One of my defining campaigns at Ogilvy was the relaunch of Cadbury Dairy Milk. I was the junior-most media planner on that business. That's when I learnt how to look at media not just from a 'numbers perspective' but from an overall brand point of view. Here, I learnt some important things from Roda Mehta - being meticulous, paying attention to detail and knowing that every decimal matters. She taught me to spot errors in voluminous amounts of data.
Moving to HTA (now JWT) Bangalore in 1995-96 was my second defining moment. I worked primarily on the Unilever beverages business including Red Label, 3 Roses, Taj Mahal and Lipton. Since these were relatively smaller spending brands in the overall Unilever portfolio, it became important for them - and us - to be innovative and creative.
During my time at HTA, I honed my planning skills and learnt about the rigours of planning for FMCG brands. This was when more sophisticated data had started coming in and TV planning had started becoming more complex. Besides, being in a branch office taught me some amount of profit and loss management as I had a lot of interaction with the revenue projection side of things. This came in handy all through my career.
The GroupM Phase
In 2001-02 came the exciting phase of starting up GroupM - it was primarily Mindshare at the time. As the GM of Mindshare Bengaluru I had to get the office up and running, apart from media and planning and handling administrative and managerial aspects. I learnt the importance of owning client relationships. It taught me that being one's own boss comes with great responsibility.
Another great learning came through the process of integrating different agency cultures because teams came in from Contract, JWT and Ogilvy. It was nice to learn all this in a small, self-contained environment. I wouldn't have got this kind of independence in Mumbai, perhaps. The memorable brands that I worked on, at this stage, included the entire UB Group (we did lot of creative work like pub crawls and integrated film marketing for this account) and IBM, which is the most structured and process-oriented client I have ever seen.
My fourth defining moment was moving back to Mumbai in 2003 as the head of strategy for GroupM. The most important thing I learnt here was to pitch! Earlier, pitching was a pretty genteel affair. I learnt how to manage cut-throat pitching, right from putting together pitch documents to presenting them. I learnt a lot during our successful pitches for Titan and Britannia.
Asian Paints and Cadbury were two pitches that we didn't win but learnt so much from them, anyway. This learning came in handy later when I moved on to set up MEC in 2005.