Rohit Malkani
Guest Article

How to tell a brand manager by the lunch he/she orders

Read this carefully. It'll either fetch you a pot of money... or save you a load of grief.

When you've lived most of your life being an intrepid foodie and food critic and have spent two decades of that time in advertising, it qualifies you to hold forth on a topic like this. Heck, I could even do a bloody thesis on it but I am told 1,000 words is all I get. It's a bit like dreaming up a 60 sec. commercial and then being told that the client only has the budget for a 15 seconder. But that's another story, for another day.

I've been subjected to a plethora of 'working lunches' in my career, some of them sublime, some eminently forgettable, and some that leave my arteries rolling like Neymar on a good day. But do a gastronomic post-mortem and each one of them tells you exactly how to size up your client. Read carefully, learn how to analyse them and find your way to the top of the Gunn Report!

How to tell a brand manager by the lunch he/she orders

Rohit Malkani

The job of ordering food during a working lunch (typically, during a meeting/presentation at the client's office) is often left to the hapless junior brand manager or worse still, a secretary. This is the poor guy who was conned into joining the company with the promise of being a key member of the strategic decision-making team. But right now, he feels like a groin scratching waiter in an Udipi restaurant. If, however, you have a marketing head who likes being part of the lunch decision process, cling to him, hold him close, these are the precious guys who will alter you career path and that of the agency. They are usually born foodies themselves and believe everything can wait when the clock strikes 1:00 pm. But allow me to put my occasionally strategic mind into some kind of order and rate clients according to what they order.

1 Star: These are the saddest lot. They often call you for a meeting at 11:00 am, work through till 3:00 pm, then shake hands and say, "Arre, you guys must be hungry, na?" No dude, hungry is Somalia; I just want to chew your head right now! Beware of this lot, lunch time or crunch time, you will always be treated like a DTP operator.

2 Star: These guys are slightly higher up on the food chain (pun intended)! They make sure you don't have to work through lunch, by either calling you at 2:00 pm or by making sure you leave by 1:00 pm, so they can have their lunch in peace! They are as concerned about whether you have your lunch two hours later as Trump is about immigrants from Ulan Bator. They are the same guys who will add three more RTBs to your 'brand film' script each time you present, but insist you stick to the original 20 seconds.

3 Star: These are the guys who will order you a working lunch and that's the good part. The bad news is, lunch means Domino's Pizza or Shanti Sagar Veg. Chinese. Now don't get me wrong, I know I am a bit of a gastronomic snob, but Triple Veg. Szechwan is not one of the things Hiuen Tsang brought to India on his travels. The least you can do is throw some shredded chicken on top to make it palatable...and maybe a fried egg...and Bakkwa on the side! If it's Domino's, the aforementioned junior brand manager or secretary is the one who is sure to make two orders, Veg. Pizza and Chicken Pizza. "Makes it simple yaar" he will quip after putting the phone down. Leaving you wondering where his love for simplicity goes when he judges a layout! These are the same guys who will slash budgets with Valerian steel, leaving you with C-grade budgets but demand A-grade directors and work.

4 Star: Now it's getting better! These are the guys who make sure you don't leave their office without eating a good lunch. Usually the 'top man' has a small say in the ordering process. "Make sure you order something from Gajalee or Royal China" he will casually say as the junior scurries away to place the order. A plebeian suggestion of Subway is met with a withering look and a grunt of displeasure. When the food arrives, he asks the agency to dig in with aplomb even though he is the first off the blocks. These are the guys who value your opinion and are frequently heard saying 'you guys know best'. Words that can make a hapless creative guy sob in happiness.

5 Star: Ah! The joy of having a client like this. He spends as much time on his annual business plan as he does on a lunch time decision. Lunch orders are decided only by him and carried out by the aforementioned hapless junior brand manager. He is clear about their executional capabilities and is convinced (unfairly sometimes) that they need to climb a couple more rungs up the corporate ladder before even being allowed a suggestion from the menu. He will consult the agency head and team on every item that is ordered. There will be suggestions thrown back and forth, venues and menus discussed threadbare, and finally there will be a sublime decision. One that makes your tummy grunt with happiness even before it's fed.

When the food arrives, he insists it's served up in proper crockery and cutlery, and the agency is always asked to help themselves first. There is little or no talk of work during this working lunch. Just simple contented sighs and further discussions on where to order from the next time you meet. These clients are the most precious. They will hear you out, engage with your vision and share theirs with you as well. They are true partners and friends and when the time comes for a brand review, it's always over a lunch which helps smoothen all the mess ups you have made over the last year. You will depart with a contented burp and a promise to serve him faithfully for years to come!

I've been blessed to have some truly '5 star' clients in my career and continue to do so! I always believe there is a correlation between food and people. Nowhere is this more evident than clients, agencies and the classic working lunch. So, cut out this article, pin it to your board and use it as a ready reckoner when you're evaluating your client. Because there's no better thought, than food for thought.

(The author is Executive Creative Director - National, at L&K Saatchi and Saatchi India. The opinions expressed are purely personal)