Profile: Kunal Jeswani: Digital Warrior

By Sohini Sen , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Advertising | March 13, 2015
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Kunal Jeswani takes over a post left vacant for six years. What does this digital expert's appointment mean for O&M?

The sign on his door at the Ogilvy office says- 'Make it Better'. And, that is exactly what the newly appointed CEO of Ogilvy & Mather India is planning to do. Kunal Jeswani is among the new breed of CEOs who have acquired knowledge while working in different divisions, and has been loyal to one agency. Having worked in client servicing, account management and then in digital, his appointment as the CEO of one of the biggest advertising agencies of India puts not just Jeswani, but also the digital domain on the map."Everything is a learning. Account management helped me to understand the real challenges that people go through when they are really young in the business, and it has made me very pro-youth. The planning bit gave me a sense of the importance of getting the brief right and the impact that it can have on client presentation on a pitch. A hard part of the creative business is getting rejections. When you spend time in planning, you figure out that you can stop that by understanding the client's point of view and get a sense of clarity," says Jeswani.

Kunal Jeswani

After his B.Com from Jai Hind College, Jeswani enrolled for post-graduate diploma in communication at MICA. His first stint in the advertising world was with Enterprise Nexus in 1996, which he joined as client servicing director. After seven years, he moved to The Republic, where he met Kersy and Maia Katrak. By then, Jeswani had already worked with a list of clients that included Charms Cigarettes, Emami Fairness Cream, IL&FS, Standard Chartered Bank and Ambuja Cement.

In the decade since he joined Ogilvy & Mather as senior vice president, Jeswani has handled the launch of the Indian Premier League (IPL) and all advertising for the league in the first few seasons. In 2010, as the president and country head of OgilvyOne, Jeswani was managing the digital P&L in the country. Soon, he moved on to become the chief digital officer where his role was to grow digital across the country in all disciplines, including creative, public relations and activations.

"A large part of the role was about services and capabilities, understanding what we have, what we don't. We acquired two companies in the course of two years." Jeswani takes over from March. Does he feel the pressure of sitting on a seat that has been vacant for six years?

"The people who run this company have done a fabulous job of running this company, irrespective of which roles are filled and which are not. The pressure is to get into that role and make it better. How do you take the best thing and make it better?" asks Jeswani.

Ogilvy has two ways of approaching a business. "One is a list of businesses and those are the ones we go after proactively. The second is the people who want to work with us," says Jeswani. That is not going to change. Will 'digital' CEOs become a trend?

Jeswani feels that though digital is an emerging space, it does not mean that in the next few years many digital heads will become CEOs. According to him the experience helps but it is ultimately about the people who get selected to lead businesses. What does he bring to the table then? What exactly is his brand of leadership?

Talking about the mental paradigm shift, he says, "The idea is simple. When you come to work, you have to believe that the responsibility to make a difference lies with you - you need to make it better. Make the work better. Make the work environment better. Make the quality of service better."

(First published in afaqs! Reporter in February 15-28, 2015 issue)

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