Ashwini Gangal

What's in the designation?

In the communications industry, designations say it all, especially when they are funny, entertaining and even daring. afaqs! explores the story behind these quirky designations.

For long, the corporate world has used designations as an ego-boosting tool for its employees. The advertising and media industry was no different.

What's in the designation?
But of late, the Indian advertising and media industry has found a new functionality to designations. They are not just funny and entertaining, they are daring as well. For instance, a senior member of a popular digital agency is called 'Hunterwali' on the official card.

Designations like 'Brandsmith', 'Son of a Glitch', 'Media Evangelist', 'Head Maven', 'Chief Incelligence Officer' and 'Brand parent, friend and nurturer' have become commonplace of late. And interestingly, the trend is not restricted to the junior and mid-level employees. People who'd otherwise be called 'CEO' are making no bones about calling themselves 'Right Brain'.

On the international circuit, there have been innovative titles in the past as well as recently - remember Neil French, the 'Creative Godfather' of WPP? And more recently, Peter Vesterbacka, creator of the super hit video game Angry Birds, who goes by the title the 'Mighty Eagle' at Rovio Mobile.

When it comes to designations, Indian communication agencies have taken a turn down Funnyville. afaqs! unfolds the story behind these quirky designations and finds out what motivates professionals to take to such bizarre yet innovative and sometimes entertaining gimmicks.

Summing up the job role

As it turns out, these designations are more than just bizarre words. They often reflect the job role of the person in question.

For instance, at The Glitch, a digital marketing and creative agency, co-founders Rohit Raj and Varun Duggirala go by the designations 'Right Brain' and 'Left Brain', respectively. As the titles suggest, Raj heads the creative department and Duggirala heads the business side.

What's in the designation?
What's in the designation?
What's in the designation?
What's in the designation?
"When we first started pitching for work, it didn't make sense for us to have cards with 'CEO' and 'CD' because anyway there were just the two of us in the company. So we thought this was the best way to define our roles," explains Raj.

When the staff strength grew, this culture got carried forward. Employees coming in insisted on similar designations and weren't satisfied with titles like 'Producer' or 'Copywriter'. Initially all the senior level producers were called 'Son of a Glitch'. Gradually this became the culture of the company. Today, the agency even has a 'Postmaster', the authority who heads post-production work.

Conveying the agency's role

Dig a little further and there are a few other purposes that these fancy designations serve.

For some, resorting to innovative titles is a quick way of conveying what the agency has to offer. Rajeev Raja, who could've easily gone ahead with 'CEO' or 'MD', instead chose the title 'Founder and Soundsmith' when he started his agency BrandMusiq, a sonic branding company.

This serves a larger purpose -- it not only embodies the nature of his own role at the agency but more importantly, sums up the agency's role in the market -- the company plans music strategies and soundscapes for brands.

"We are in a unique space. Had we gone for the usual designations like 'Founder-Director', we'd have missed a trick. This way, we stand out and get to explain what we are all about through our designations," Raja explains.

He tried to capture the novelty of what the agency does through his designation. The high recall value of the title is just an added bonus, he insists. Raja's partner J Mani is 'Founder and Brandsmith'. So this way, their respective roles are also clear to clients; Raja crafts sounds and Mani does the brand thinking part.

Reflection of personality traits

For Naren Multani, director at Equinox Films, his former designation of 'Chief Happiness Officer' at McCann Erickson had a lot to do with the fact that he is a fun-loving person. "Prasoon (Joshi) gave me this designation because I am a cheerful and quirky person by nature. It was like labelling my personality," he says. Besides handling the films department at the agency, he was also responsible for spreading happiness in the organisation.

Did his colleagues take this part of his job description seriously? "Yes," he says, "They'd actually come to me with their problems." Multani adds that often such bizarre titles are a means to motivate people internally. It's an indirect means of getting people to bond. Besides, such designations can make an agency a fun place to work at, especially if it is a start-up.

Double meaning

Also, sometimes, the quirky designation has two meanings, that is, it doubles up as a serious, descriptive job title as well as a light-hearted and entertaining label for the person. For example, Mogae Media's Tushar Dhingra is the company's 'Chief Delights Officer'. While the title sums up the nature of his job, namely, to look after the discounts, deals and delights space at the agency, it also tags him as someone who is responsible for spreading joy within the premises.

Are clients cool with it?

Entertaining as they are, clients can react to this trend in one of two ways: A whimsical, out-of-the-box designation can either be an active demonstration of the agency's creativity and tip the scales in favour of the agency at the pitch stage, or it may be interpreted as an indication of the agency's flippant and casual attitude towards business. So which one is it?

What's in the designation?
What's in the designation?
Ekalavya Bhattacharya, head, digital, MTV India tells afaqs!, "It's a great conversation starter. And it makes the agency come across as a company that does things differently and has taken the trouble to position itself differently. Fun, youth brands in particular love such stuff. Yes, sometimes it can be a culture shock, but a pleasant one."

He, however, cautions that things like funky visiting cards or whacky designations work well when executed properly. "It's important not to be in-your-face with it. If it comes across as too forced, it can be risky as it may appear weird. It should be subtle. The subtlety brings forth the underlying creativity," he warns.

Raj (Right Brain) says, "It gives clients a certain amount of confidence in us. Once, I handed my visiting card to a CEO. He just smiled. Later I found out that he was adamant that we must handle their brand. His son loved my card and title."

Other ways to be different

And then there are those that prefer to stay away from designations altogether. At creative start-up Salt Brand Solutions, no one has a designation, not even the founders. Co-founder (a title that germinated more in the media than at the agency itself) Mahesh Chauhan explains the reason behind this, saying, "We play as a team of equals. Ideas don't acknowledge hierarchy; they can come from anyone. We prefer to let respect be commanded not demanded."

Either way, looks like resorting to such tactics is an upfront, daring and sometimes risky attempt at showing a certain amount of self-belief and standing out in the crowd.

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