Sohini Sen

"I do not intend to pitch; Our work will get us clients": Abhijit Avasthi

Abhijit Avasthi, or Kinu's decision to leave Ogilvy & Mather in October last year took the advertising world by shock. While some people guessed that he may bring an international agency into India, some thought he would bid goodbye to the creative field. But the man who gave us the Google Reunion film as well as 5-star's Ramesh and Suresh has just announced his creative problem solving outfit 'Sideways'.

Sideways will work on a multidisciplinary approach, with people from creative, tech, engineering, research backgrounds coming together to offer innovative and interesting solutions to brands. While a core team of 10-12 people will be there, most others would work on a collaborative role. The agency is already handling the mandate for Maharashtra Government and Aamir Khan's Jalyukta Shivar Yojana which promotes small storage structures for rain water harvesting to make villages water-sufficient We catch up with Avasthi to understand the gap in the industry. Edited Excerpts:

Edited Excerpts

What exactly is Sideways? What are you planning for it?

Sideways is a creative problem solving outfit. I don't think there is any organisation like this which exists. So I cannot slot it as an ad agency, neither can I slot it as a pure design house. Our philosophy is that creativity is a business tool, it is a tool to solve problems. It is something which till now has primarily been used for branding and design, but I think it can be applied to any aspect of life. Whether it is personal or it is professional, it is just that people have not done that till now. I think there is a big opportunity in looking at life differently.

Why did you go with the name, 'Sideways'?

Sideways is a metaphor for looking at life differently, approaching things through a different route. Also one of my all time favourite books is 'The Art of Looking Sideways'. It documents the magic of sideways thinking across different fields. And then, I also loved Sideways - the movie.

What kind of people are you looking to work with?

In today's day and age, the solution to any problem can come from any medium and any discipline. It is a multidisciplinary aspect. When you come together and collaborate, I think, something truly spectacular can come out of it.

I am a big believer in the power of collaboration. What we are hoping to do is put together a multidisciplinary outfit. People who love solving problems, with expertise in their own skill sets are the kind of people we are keen to work with. If the solution lies in advertising, then we will do advertising, if it lies in interesting services ad, we will do that, or even an app solution or tech solution. What we are also doing is, we are building a pool of experts whom we would be collaborating with depending on the project. So there will be about 10-12 core members and then there will be collaborations.

Do you mean to say, the collaborators will work on a freelance basis?

Could be. See, it is a journey we are starting out on. While there is an indication of the kinds of projects that are coming our way, but I think it is so vast that we cannot understand, as of now, which kind of expert will be used very often.

Initially we will do it on a project basis, like a freelance basis. For example, the chances of us getting a project in say, Bihar might be just once in three years. So no point hiring someone who is an expert in that.

I think some core expert guys, some creative thinkers from any background. I am looking for people who like thinking absolutely out of the box and they are not wedded to a particular solution. There are people who love solving problems and some who are in it only for the craft. I think I am looking for the former. Whether it is writers, regional writers, art guys, designers, technology experts, engineers etc.

We have already laid down the internal process of how we will go about analyzing, diagnosing and re-framing the problem and then briefing our creative team and engaging with the client as the journey goes along and arriving at what together we believe is an impactful solution.

So, what exactly will Sideways do that others haven't been able to?

Let me give you an example. Today there are a lot of companies which send their dealers to interesting exotic locations every year. They have got into a rut and have stopped questioning why were they doing it in the first place? And that was to build some kind of dealer loyalty and reward. But who says sending them to Paris will keep them motivated? Maybe, the same 6-7 lakhs that the company spends on sending the dealer abroad, can be used to fund some interesting scholarships for the dealers child. That way it builds the same loyalty with the dealer but in a much more effective and interesting way.

So, what Sideways will do is, have an array of interesting solutions depending on the problem and we will try to figure out which is the most effective, how can we build it upon each other and so on. It is about coming up with the optimum and elegant solution.

Obviously you saw a need gap?

Oh yes, definitely. One hundred per cent!

You are looking at three target areas - large companies, start-ups and social sector. How do you plan to differentiate your strategy for each of them?

Our basic problem analysis methodology won't change. That will be fundamental. It is just the nature of solutions which will change for each task. The kind of engagements with the different clients will change, and probably the collaborative skill-sets that we will rope in. I don't think too much of the rest will change. For example, when we help start ups build the business and design the products, that will need a different kind of skill-set from when we are solving certain big problems for a big company.

What would be the pitching strategy for you?

This idea has been floating around and we already have a fair number of projects on the table. If the solutions I offer to the existing businesses do well, then automatically others will come. So our work will get us clients. Outside of that I do not intend to pitch.

When do you go full-force into Sideways?

We have incorporated it. Some of the hiring has been done, some I am looking for. My sense is once I am back from Cannes in July, is when things will pick up steam.

Will there be any cross over of talent and client from your previous agency?

No. I don't think so.

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