Sohini Sen

Profile - Rohit Malkani: Coming Home

Malkani left Publicis Singapore to join the relative newbie in the agency business - Minority. But, while getting new clients may give him sleepless nights, Popo - as he is fondly known - knows that this will be the second best thing to turning an entrepreneur himself. afaqs! speaks to the new CCO of Minority to see where things are headed.

Why does someone leave a big, plush agency job in Singapore and move back to India to head a much smaller team? Agility, feels Minority Brand Creation and Management's new chief creative officer, Rohit Malkani.

Profile - Rohit Malkani: Coming Home
Popo, as he is fondly known, joined Minority in February, bidding adieu to Publicis Singapore where he was regional creative director. Is there a huge difference between India and Singapore in terms of working? "I don't think so. The pitfalls, the problems are very much the same. There are slight differences. Singapore gets a bit more organised, while India is a lot more exciting because we have our own industry," says Popo.

Malkani moved to Singapore a year-and-a-half back because the role and prospect of heading another market excited him. It was only in the last few months, when he figured that the regional role was becoming 'less relevant', that he decided to take up the offer from Minority's Yogi Vashishta and Suraj Pombra.

"The fact that the three of us have a lot of similar views helps. It's critical to be on the same page. Often, there is this huge clash of egos. But, we have our own distinct strong points. Yogi has been on the client side half his life, and in the agency side for the other half. So, his perspective often puts me back on track. Suraj comes from a strategic frame of mind and is strong on client relations, ops. It's a nice combination," admits Popo.

More than just returning to his country, this gave Popo an opportunity to almost play entrepreneur. "Is it the second best thing after launching your own agency? Yes. I think so. I have zero business sense, and creative guys are generally pathetic with money. Suraj and Yogi asked me to focus only on the creative product, which was great," he adds.

Popo's mandate has been to get more and more media visible clients, create disruptive work and attract more talent. Digital has been slated for phase two. Having worked in Grey, Bates 141, Publicis Ambience, Planetasia and JWT before, could it be that, from a brand perspective, this is a scaling down for Malkani? He does not agree. "The mistake we often make is because it sounds bigger. To me, it is about being happy in where you are and doing the kind of work that you do. And, I think the pleasure of working with a bunch of people and sailing your own ship is a separate high, not a scaling down."

He lists the advantages of working for a smaller agency - agility and processes being the topmost on his mind. "A smaller agency also makes you a little braver. You go to pitches, guns blazing and nothing to fear. The promise you bring is of a smaller, but dedicated, bunch of people working on your brief," adds Malkani.

Malkani is fond of working with the younger lot. Fostering and mentoring has always been something he enjoys. He strongly believes that the only way to become bigger is to nurture and develop people. He is also "fiercely" protective of the creative flock.

It is not that Malkani does not worry. The pressure on him to get new businesses is immense, especially keeping in mind that Minority has only got its game together in the last few months. That shouldn't be a problem since he has worked on many brands including Red Label Tea, Kingfisher, Acer, McDowell's, Van Heusen, ESPN, Sony Music,, Vicks, Bisleri and ING.

"Somewhere, you have to strike a balance between getting clients who are truly great partners and just getting business. Getting the right kind of partners, from where we will shine and attract even more people, is what keeps me awake at night," he remarks.

Malkani feels that the industry has given him huge highs. But, at the same, "it has lost the conviction of going to a client and saying 'either you buy this or forget it", he says, adding, "the sense of being a boardroom partner as opposed to a supplier (of creative ideas) is decreasing, and this is something that has disturbed me. We need to change that and bring more value to conversations."

(The article was first published in afaqs! Reporter in the March 15 issue)

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