Over a coffee, we get to know Pratap Bose's recently appointed chief creative officer, Deepak Singh, whose job it is to head The Social Street's creative function. What made him join Pratap's offbeat outfit? What does being CCO in an agency that doesn't make TV ads mean? We also take a look at some of his work over the years.
At what point did Deepak Singh, 41, arrive? When he lost track of the number of creative awards he's won (over 500)? When he infiltrated the big bad world of mainstream advertising after spending years doing back-end work in creative studios? Or when Pratap Bose hired him as chief creative officer of his biggish boutique, The Social Street?
Ask him what he brings to the table at the agency and Singh says, "Well, when you press a button, I know what program is getting triggered behind that button," referencing his software background; he holds a masters degree in software engineering and management from Indore University, post which he worked at a couple of software companies. "But I was not enjoying my work," he recalls.
"Since childhood, I had a inclination towards art but never thought it could become a profession. Then a friend told me, 'There's a thing called advertising; you can explore that...' So I started working at a small agency called Oberoi Multimedia as a studio artist. I started with studio work like cutting-pasting and photoshop. I felt I could do good work... that I just needed to be in a place where people would give me a chance," he says.
From there, he moved to Marching Ants as a visualiser. "It was like a temple for me; I learnt a lot," Singh says. Then, he moved to McCann. "There too, I was in the studio - cutting pasting, re-touching, working on adaptations and making dummies," he sighs, marveling at how he has traversed the distance between "drawing and doing layouts" to a zone where "suddenly, it's all about ideas and thinking."
How did that happen, exactly? The turning point was in 2005, when Vikram Gaikwad brought him in as art director at Grey. "That was a brilliant year for me. It was my first year in advertising... I mean, in an agency setting... a non-studio setting. I won a lot of awards," he says about this phase, during which he worked with creative folks like Sajan Raj Kurup and Priti Nair.
"Then one day, KB (Vinod) met me over a chai outside office and asked me only one thing - 'When will you join?'", Singh smiles, recalling the meeting that paved his path to Leo Burnett, "I thought it would be an interview!"
After less than a year, both KB Vinod and Singh left Burnett to join Mudra, where he worked with Bobby Pawar, Vipul Thakkar and Sonal Dabral. Then, after a brief stint at Dentsu, he joined TBWA as national head of art. Soon, he moved back to Dentsu as executive creative director, art, but moved out within a year. "It was an important time for me to figure out what I wanted to do. When Rohit (Ohri) quit, I moved on to explore..." he says.
And explore, he did. At The Social Street, Singh has around 30 people reporting to him. His canvas comprises outdoor, digital, promo, activation, experiential, space/stage design (designing showrooms) and events. The so-called mainstream platforms, particularly television, are not part of the mix at the agency. Moving to an agency focused on the 'peripheral' fields of communication was a conscious decision for Singh.
"Beyond a point, it (mainline agency work) wasn't paying me the way I wanted it to. Not in terms of money, but in terms of getting a chance to do good work. I thought it would be great to use my 'other' skills here. My experience in software, something I was not using at far, can actually add value here. I am looking forward to some interesting innovations. For example, if there's an installation, a set design, or a stage design to be made, why can't it be concept-based and interactive? I can bring that in," he states.
And the business has changed too, he insists. "Today, promo/activation is a major part of every major ATL (above-the-line) pitch. Previously, the creative 'hot-shots' made mainline campaigns. No one looked at outdoor and activation as a big thing. Now, suddenly, there's a shift in the way people think. It's no longer only about mainline. It's about biology mixing with art, chemistry mixing with computer science and technology... Client briefs have changed too - they now think of activation that can be converted into viral-able content. Experiential advertising is growing," he says.
However, Singh concedes that most of the time, at least in the Indian market, the link between activation/promo and the mainline campaign is missing. "That's where it becomes interesting for me... I will help bridge that gap. Slowly everyone will think digital, interactive and activation; in fact, mainline is struggling to get into these fields," he says, adding, "All the winning ideas at Cannes are interactive ideas. Even in the media industry, everyone's talking about activation."
On being Pratap's creative chief, he says, "This is not a small designation that's been given to me. Pratap is a creative guy, more than a business guy. He never asks you about money; he asks you about ideas."
"At Mudra," where the two first met, he goes on, "I saw the way Pratap was backing the awards stuff so brilliantly; I've never seen a business guy going so crazy with awards! That's where I first saw his passion for creativity."
Pratap stayed in touch with Singh beyond the latter's Mudra days. When he started The Social Street -- Singh was on his way out of Dentsu, at the time -- he said, and Singh quotes from memory, "I'll be more than happy if you join me."
"He didn't insist on seeing my work. He already liked my creative (style) and my inclination towards winning awards. Instead, he called me over to his house and told me all about his company. He explained the structure and told me how it is different from 'mainline' agencies." The next day, Singh received the offer letter.
Now, eyes firmly set on the future, Singh says, "Pratap is expecting a lot from me."