Profile - Dheeraj Sinha: The traveller

By Shibani Gharat , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Advertising | October 11, 2012
From small town to big grind, Dheeraj Sinha has travelled the distance. Now, the head of planning, Grey India, South and Southeast Asia has started on another journey.

A planner's greatest trait is to understand a variety of things. And Sinha has had his experience early on. Sinha's family moved to Bareilly when he was very young. Life thereafter was a series of small-town-big town-bigger town movements. He has lived in Patna, Bihar Sharif and Hazaribagh, Pilani and Delhi. "It helped me see and understand a lot of India," explains Sinha. That understanding now extends to people.

Dheeraj Sinha

Graduating in Economics from Shri Ram College of Commerce, Delhi, Sinha landed a job in KPMG. Soon, he discovered that he was good at debates and that he had a knack for communication and understanding people. "That made up my mind and I decided to go to MICA (Mudra Institute of Communications) to study," says the planner.

After passing out of MICA in 1999, he was picked up by McCann and employed in Psl Erickson. Sinha put his power point skills to good use in his pitches and the agency won many businesses. But Sinha felt that he wasn't getting anywhere because he was neither doing planning nor account management.

"Everyone said that unless you spent 5-7 years in the industry, you can't get into strategic planning." He was all set to quit, when McCann's business started turning around. Sohrab Mistry and Santosh Desai offered him a planner's job. "I got to work with a lot of senior planners and on brands such as Reckitt Benckiser, Mastercard, Goodyear and LG." Sinha stayed there for seven years before moving out to join Euro RSCG in Delhi to head its planning for Delhi, in 2005. A few days later, he was back in Mumbai.

"It was a difficult time. At that point, my wife was expecting and she quit her job. Hence from double income, we went to single income." His stint at Euro RSCG Bombay lasted eight months.

Sinha joined Bates as associate vice-president, planning. "At Bates, there were small businesses worth a few lakhs, and with McCann I was used to big businesses. I wondered what I would do." That was when he decided that he had to find the way himself.

"At my welcome lunch at Bates, I was briefed on a Marico pitch - for a new soap that they were launching. We won that business and came on the Marico roster. "From there on, we started mapping the corporate culture for the company. One of our campaigns, 'Uncommon sense', went on to win a Gold Effie in India, was an APAC Effie finalist and became a case study at IIM Ahmedabad."

Sinha was also the chief architect of Bates' new positioning - the 'changengage people'. He helped the agency win several new business pitches and create some spectacular award winning work on Virgin Mobile, Fiat and Tata AIG.

"Our point of view had to be so sharp, so sparkling that the client could not deny business to us, because being a small agency, our starting point was zero."

Citing the Virgin story, he recalls, "The client said that it had shortlisted two agencies and that one of them was lunatic." Sinha feels that there was a tremendous sense of energy and camaraderie at Bates.

Sinha is also a published author. His first book, Consumer India: Inside The Indian Mind And Wallet, came out last year. How did that happen? "I used to write papers to document stuff. The first paper - Changing Mindset of a Billion Minds - won the coveted Atticus award from WPP. That was the starting point."

Sinha feels that Grey "has a great role to play, both regionally and globally. It is in a very high-energy sort of phase. My short-term plan is to start to understand the people and their work. The long-term plan is thought leadership. We have to create content that is glowing," declares Sinha.

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