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The making of a good creative director: Piyush Pandey at The Block

By , agencyfaqs! | In | May 03, 2004
The second session of the AAAI's creative workshop, The Block, had Ogilvy's creative honcho Piyush Pandey focusing on different aspects of creative leadership


What does it take to become a really good creative director? One who can motivate a bunch of talented juniors to conjure up clutter-busting ideas and lead the agency's creative product (and, as a corollary, the agency's creative reputation) by example? The question is extremely relevant to any young creative professional pushing his or her way up the hierarchy. And given the assembly of junior- and middle-level creatives at the third session of The Block - the 10-stage creative workshop being organized by the Advertising Agencies Association of India (AAAI) - which was held in Mumbai on April 30, it was apt that the subject of creative leadership was brought into focus. By none other than Piyush Pandey (national creative director & executive chairman, O&M India), arguably one of India's finest leaders of creative in recent times.

Getting the session off the ground, Pandey, true to style, announced that advertising was all about having fun. "Advertising is not brain surgery, despite reams and reams having been written about it," he said. "This is a common sense business, and also one where you try not to give too much gyaan. The best advertising doesn't give gyaan, but has fun while telling you something about the product being advertised. Similarly, I won't give any gyaan, but try and have fun by making this a fun session." Explaining why he had chosen to focus on creative leadership, Pandey said it had to do with the average age of those who were attending the workshop. "You will soon be going on to become creative directors and leading teams, so this might be of use to you."

Using a cricketing metaphor (there were quite a few of those), Ogilvy's creative honcho explained that for one to be a good captain, one has to firstly be a very good player. "And what makes a damn good player? The knowledge that it's all about the team - the knowledge that collectively, we are bigger than each one of us," he said. "It's also about passion, teamwork, doing the homework and complementing one another's skills. But the high point is passion… keep your passion intact when you become CDs."

Employing an interesting technique, Pandey then went on to share the opinions of some of O&M's creative directors on what they thought were essential qualities in good creative directors. Short audio-visual presentations by Abhijit Avasthi, Pushpinder Singh, Sumanto Chattopadhyay and Josy Paul (national creative director, rmg david) ensued. Avasthi was of the opinion that a good creative director should lead by example, should never kill his people's enthusiasm, and should be able to sift the good ideas from the bad ones at an early stage - "as bad ideas can do considerable damage to the brand if left to grow unhindered", he warned.

Singh, on the other hand, held that all that matters is the work that clicks in the market. "What works at the awards need not work in the market, so create work for the market," he egged. He also believes that good creative directors stand by their people, which is also why he asks would-be creative directors to be "gentle and not harsh with ideas". He also asked those gathered not to lose touch with their sensitive side, to work to gain the respect of peers and to be brave with the work.

Chattopadhyay believes that creative directors should have 'split personalities', where the child in them has fun and pushes the limits of creativity during the ideation stage, while the adult in them later stands in judgement of the ideas they themselves have created to test for things like relevance. He also pointed out that the "rites of passage" for becoming a creative director "is when you realize that you are not your target audience. You have to appeal to your consumer's sensitivity and do stuff to appeal to her." Managing people is also high on Chattopadhyay's list. But, perhaps most importantly, he asks for originality in a creative director's ideas. "Don't emulate what others have done. Try to be original. If nothing else, it will give you personal satisfaction."

Paul, in a hugely irreverent presentation peppered with strategically placed expletives and double entendres (suitably beeped out for greater effect), insisted that a creative director has to create an environment where ideas can grow. Daring those present, he demanded that only those with "madness" and a "childlike imagination" nurture thoughts of becoming creative directors. "Grow the plants, be a gardener," he growled.

Building on some of the points raised by his creative directors, Pandey said, "Never replicate or emulate anyone." Alluding to Mahesh V and Rajiv Rao at O&M, Bangalore, he added, "Be yourself, and create your own style. Mahesh and Rajiv have a humble and quiet style, but they are none the worse for it." He also agreed with Singh's idea of being gentle with ideas. "When Pushpi showed me the 'Cancer cures smoking' ad, I thought it was way too simple," Pandey admits. "But then we decided to go with it, and it won at Cannes. I am happy I let that one through. The point is, you have to take some chances."

Pandey also pointed out that a creative director might not be the best in everything. "The role of a creative director is to surround himself with all kinds of people and talents. Find people who complement you. That is when the good work happens."

In an attempt to put the session in perspective, Pandey then went on to share some of his learnings as a creative director in the Ogilvy of the eighties and early nineties. "One of the first lessons I learnt from Suresh Mullick was to do unconventional things and not play by the rules," he said, recounting the time Mullick (then the creative head of O&M) got an account supervisor in the agency (Pandey) to write a film for HLL's detergent brand, Sunlight. "He asked me to write the film because back in 1984, writers in the agency couldn't write for Levers. It was an unconventional move, but it discovered me. The bigger thing is that it signals to your partners the fact that you are open to experimentation."

Pandey also asked those assembled to learn and observe from life. "Ideas are not only found in the Books," he said, obviously referring to the international award books. "Look at life and observe simple human truths." He drew attention to his ads for Rath vanaspati ('mother makes the best food' being the insight), Luna ('chal meri Luna') and Fevicol ('tug-of-war') to make his point. He also asked creative people to try and beat the norm. "The public is smart, so you have to ask yourself whether you can do something different rather than the old routine stuff," he said, citing the 'pole vault' film for Bournvita ("at a time when everyone was talking ingredients") and the campaign for the National Literacy Mission ('Purab se…').

People and brands' past successes can, at times, impede creativity, and for the sake of the brand, Pandey urges creatives to find a way around this - even if it involves doing "a bit of patli-gali work". Citing the example of Lever brand Le Sancy, Pandey reveals that at the time the brand was launched in India, very clear guidelines were laid down on how the brand was to be advertised. Which, needless to say, left little room for original creativity. "We looked at the rule book and saw that no rules applied for print ads anywhere," chuckles Pandey. The 'Le soggy-Le Sancy' print ad followed, which eventually paved the way for original work in film as well (remember the 'paani chala jaayega' film for the brand?)

Pandey also made a case for sticking the neck out and going beyond the brief, using the famous Asian Paints 'pongal' film as an example. He revealed that while the brief for the commercial asked for a 30-second edit, the final version that was presented was of 60 second. "The client loved it and ran the full edit," says Pandey. "So don't always stick to the brief." He also said that there were commercials that he had created even when there was no brief from the client. "The 'merawalla blue' film for Asian Paints didn't come out of a brief. I was at the Pushkar mela when I got the idea. I called the client, told him I have a script and a Rs 10-crore set ready. He agreed, so we made the film." And no, he doesn't think that constitutes a scam. "The creative mind can come up with ideas anywhere, and as long as it is relevant, you don't need to have a brief every time."

Concluding the session, Pandey asked future creative directors not to let the pressure to deliver ever get to them. "Pressure is an opportunity to perform, so just chill," he said. He also urged creatives to put themselves into their consumers' shoes. "People have too much in their lives already, so the consumer doesn't care if something has .25 per cent more of something. It's only the client who cares. So humanize the brand so that consumers relate to the advertising." Rounding off the session, he urged creatives to forget about being creative directors. "Be a great player and a team player, and you will become a good creative director eventually." © 2004 agencyfaqs!

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