Profile: Satbir Singh: The Keen Observer

By Saumya Tewari , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Advertising | March 11, 2015
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The newly appointed chief creative officer of FCB Ulka talks about the key learnings and influencers in his two decade long career.

While growing up in Kolkata, Satbir Singh was studying to be a lawyer. His younger brother got into advertising as an art director in Hindustan Thompson Associates (HTA, now JWT) and Singh felt that even he can pull off a writing job in an agency.

Satbir Singh

"I went for a copy test at HTA and couldn't crack it," he says.

Eventually he tried his luck at Trikaya (now Grey) where Swapan Seth has just came on board and got through. Singh's first assignment at the agency was to write a headline for Bata's new soon-to-be launched range of Tennis shoes.

'Advantage you,' is what I wrote.

He stayed with the agency for a year and then moved to Contract Advertising in 1994 for exactly one year-long stint. Equus was his third stop where he stayed for three months.

"During the initial years of my career I hopped jobs frequently. I think it was a mix of immaturity, attractive and better paying offers that attracted me," he says adding that the initial salary bracket in advertising is fairly low his first monthly pay being Rs 2, 000. However his first hike (Rs 500) at Trikaya is the most cherished one.

Till now, Singh was working in his hometown Kolkata. He left the city to enter a bigger market and joined Ulka in Delhi. He worked with some of the biggest agencies like Leo Burnett, Ogilvy & Mather before joining EURO RSCG (rebranded as Havas Worldwide) where he handled various roles for almost a decade.

"I enjoyed the ride in Havas. I joined as Delhi head and in about two years I got promoted to national head which entailed extensive travelling and looking after the three offices of the agency," Singh recalls.

In his two decade long career, Singh worked with the best talents in the industry and interacted with the biggest brand custodians both the private and public sector. For him, the biggest influence on his career will always be his first boss Swapan Seth.

"He always lead by example," states Singh adding if a brief is taking longer than usual then he will never pester.

"He will quietly come and put the copy on the table. Therefore, over the time the sole aim was to be faster than Swapan. I learned observing how he wrote and edited his copy," he adds.

His second most admired person is Ogilvy head Piyush Pandey who, in his opinion, is a fantastic ambassador of advertising fraternity. Singh also loved working with Havas Worldwide ex-CEO Suman Srivastava who taught him to stay 'calm' in an otherwise highly restless ad world.

Singh believes that over the last decade the advertising industry has gone through tremendous change with introduction of new media everything is changing. But for a creative resource one of the best learning is to 'observe' and 'absorb'. A simple observation from a daily life can turn into a brilliant campaign idea.

"We get a brief it is always about a problem or opportunity that the brand wants to tackle. It is not just about your creativity but viewing it from the brand's angle," he stresses.

'Digital', he believes, is another factor that is influencing not just the work but also the personal lives.

"All the magazines that I read are on my iPad. I'm on Zite, Flipboard and I get my daily dosage of news and connections from Twitter. Digital has made the world smaller but one has to be interesting to have a powerful digital footprint," he suggests.

Singh who leaves Delhi to join FCB Ulka, Mumbai in mid February is open-minded about the change keeping his observe and absorb philosophy intact.

"Some of the senior most resources in Mumbai have started their work in Delhi whether it is Prasoon Joshi, Ashish Khazanchi, Raghu and Manish Bhatt. I grew up in Kolkata there are many similarities that the city shares with Mumbai, the latter being more energetic. I'm looking forward to the challenge," he adds.

When not working, Singh prefers spending time with his kids and loves to go out and pick fresh produce from the market. A foodie at heart he likes experimenting with the food occasionally whipping up a Thai curry or Italian pasta.

(First published in afaqs! Reporter in February 1-15, 2015 issue)

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