Planning To Get Into Advertising?

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The good thing about being in advertising is that you will constantly learn. Whether you like it or not, you will learn all kinds of things.


Chances are that you caught the advertising bug. And you cannot but ignore the lure of this business. Allow me to welcome you to this fantastic industry.

It’s been more than a 25-year-old romance for me, and I can’t quite see it waning anytime. Despite all the aches, pains, tears and bruises. Along with the occasional whoops of delight, triumph, victory and kisses.

I hope this piece will offer you some real world learning. I suspect and hope it would be more generic than specific. I am also sure that people interested in careers outside of advertising, will gain from these points.

You will learn every day.

The good thing about being in advertising is that you will constantly learn.

Whether you like it or not, you will learn all kinds of things. How fertilizers are made, how much dough goes into making a pizza, what rural India thinks of tight jeans, how the average ten year old has seen more gore that you have in your lifetime, and how gold is made and how consumers are cheated.

You will also learn how e-com is reaching out to senior citizens, how similar Bengalis and Goans are on Twitter, how Google Fiber is going to change the Net as we know it, how and why there’s scope for an Indian version of FaceBook, and how butterflies look when they flutter in ultra slow motion at 100 fps, 500 fps, and even 25,000 fps in cyberspace.

My own agency that now handles every possible side of advertising from old media to new media, and everything real, digital, and in-between, is an accumulated product of this learning.

I didn’t drop anchor at one port. I moved with the changes in the landscape to become a mutant. And I am happier that I have much more of a canvas to create.

Oh, and before I forget. The bad thing about being in advertising is that there is no bad thing about it. Big smiley.

There’s no job for you in advertising.

Friend, if you are looking to find a job in advertising, strip, drag, and execute that thought. You don’t prospect advertising for employment. That’s sacrilege.

You get consumed in and into advertising. You become one with it. You will be the living breathing extension of your love.

You will become a whirling dervish of the clients, brands, and businesses you will work on, the briefs you will read and trash, the people you will meet, the consumers you will listen to, the places you will visit, the many parties you will miss, the many domestic quarrels and fights you will have, and the hundreds of nights you will stay back in the office.

If you have another think coming, get off this bus right now.

It isn’t that I was unlike you. I was equally naïve. I too walked into my first day thinking of advertising as a job.

The first evening told me that I was wrong. It isn’t a career. It isn’t a salaried occupation. It isn’t a vocation.

Instead, it is a passion. It is a hobby. It is an obsession. 24x7. 365 days a year.

Get in to it fully knowing that it is Hotel California.

You can check in any time you want, but you can never leave. I am still having a ball. I am still making peanuts. But this is the place where I will always live. I am a permanent citizen.

You think you know everything?

Sorry to puncture your envelope of complacency. But you know nothing. You have no clue about anything.

The whole discussion on how distant textbook advertising is from the actual world of advertising will come alive to kick your ego every day.
It isn’t a myth. It’s a zillion dollars of truth. It’s so true that it’s funny.

There are no similar briefs. There are no similar products. There are no similar case studies. There are no similar budgets. There aren't even similar audiences at times.

Because every client or brand comes with his, her and its own filter, point of view, idea, perspective, guide, history, background, and even religious peccadilloes.

Keep what you learned back in the institute as general knowledge and background music. Just be hungry every morning.

Life in this business is a slightly bigger beast on the prowl, and those claws will hurt.

Jargon will get you nowhere.

PFA the one truth that you should mail yourself ASAP.

The world is far more jargonized that it was when I started my love affair. We had a couple of fashionable words to throw around called psychographics and demographics and OTS and 30 seconds.

I used to borrow a few more for added radiance from my colleagues who were IIM A grads. But they never helped. Never could. Clients yawned. Commonsense ruled.

Today, there are enough and more acronyms doing the rounds and getting hammered out on Powerpoint decks.

You’d find CPCs and CPMs and DSPs and RTMs and HTML and PEP and SOV and TRPs and SEO and SEM and RGBs and CMYKs and Java and Magneto and Alexa and Radian6 and 33Across and RSS feeds and everything else to confound any big dude CEO.

But sooner or later you’d meet a grounded hard-nosed someone who will tell you to cut the crap. And speak in English or Gujarati or Tamil or Greek.

While you should know all this, don’t hide behind it. The rock of jargon isn’t big enough to protect you.

As Einstein said, if you can’t explain it simply, you haven’t understood it at all.

It’s Not okay to take it easy once in a while.

Check everything that goes past you. Double-check everything. All the time. When you are on the job, even if it has nothing to do with you, fling an eye out.

You could spot a catastrophe, and save your agency.

I was once working on a campaign for Netlon Insect screens. It wasn’t even my work. I was covering for the actual writer who had gone on holiday.

In those days of zero internet, zero jpegs, and zero digital formats, everything had to be hand-made.

Artworks for print ads had to be couriered, and since national newspapers never had the same dimensions, almost every artwork had to be physically put together.

The headline was ‘If you don’t don’t let the mosquitoes in, you don’t have to chase them out.’ The second don’t was a blind spot.

While I checked the first couple of ads, and carelessly missed the mistake, the boring repetition made me lazy.

Hundreds of ads went out to newspapers across the country. They got printed. Many crores got spent. And no one saw the mistake.

A few months later, a very sharp art director came to me and showed me the ad. I drowned in sweat a hundred times. But thankfully, the client never saw it.

Don’t let your designation define your life.

Sure you have an MBA or something like that, and you are well qualified.

There are things that brilliant you are paid to do, and things that lowly others are paid to do. Just how wrong can you be!

There were a bunch of us, IIM A grads included, working through the night to get a presentation ready for GSL – a spinning company based in a remote area called Amleta in Gujarat.

By 5 am, after we finished the work, we asked one of the studio assistants to take the work (physical layouts) down to the car.

After 6 hours from Ahmedabad, we reached GSL to realize that we had left the work behind. The studio guy hadn’t put the work in, none of us had checked the boot of the car, and we paid with red embarrassment.

All of us took it for granted, and all of us thought that it was below our dignity to pick up, carry, and ensure that our work traveled with us.

From that day, if I am presenting, I carry my own work. No one else. God is in the details. So is trouble.

You must never pray for an awesome boss.

If you get a boss who is fantastic at his or her work, he or she will have no time for you.

No time to teach you. No time to train you. No time to even bother whether you had breakfast or lunch.

Chances are that you will also have very little to do. Everything will be in order. Everything will be organized. And you’d be clucking over the fact that you have very little to do.

This is precisely where you lose your opportunity to grow.

One of my bosses was pretty much bone lazy. And I was the hyper enthusiastic cutlet. I would wait for him to give me work, and I would finish ahead of schedule, give more options than he wanted, and take on more work off his plate.

Soon, he started depending on me for much. He came to work late, left office early, and took off on trips to the beach.

I covered for him and I grabbed opportunity with both hands and legs. Thanks to him, my career took off rather well.

So if you land up with a slithery sloppy slimy slow boss, work harder, and keep that smile going. He/she is the first rung of your ladder.

Nobody is waiting for your brilliance.

No one listens to the junior person and the fresh recruit.

Advertising is a swimming pool with deep ends on both sides. And a few snapping crocodiles sloshing in the middle.

It was bad when I joined. It’s a hundred times worse now. This might not have too much relevance to the average MBA or copy cub who walks in, but you can be sure that the attention paid to entry-level professionals is less than scant.

As a fresh copywriter, I used to be loaded with regular work, and all kinds of briefs that the seniors offloaded on to me.

Happy as I was in the plentitude of work, in those days, the job of a writer pretty much ended with writing the headline and the body copy. Getting all of that laid out into an ad, was the art director’s job.

But then, the older gentlemen in the system had no time for me, and I kept getting pulled up by the servicing people for delays.

I decided to innovate then, made use of the photocopier machine to copy pictures, worked with basic tools like tracing paper, markers, blades, rubber solution, and scotch tape, and made my own layouts.

They were basic, but they did the trick. My enthusiasm, some level of aesthetics, and my raw layouts became a hit with the lot, including the Chairman.

Once he started approving my layouts, the art directors were forced to follow and finish my layouts. As I had effectively made them redundant.
Soon enough there was really no senior art director who didn’t want to work with me from scratch.

While life has moved on, and advertising isn’t what it used to be, there’s always room for a new spirit. But for that to get noticed, you’d have to find your own original way.

Trust me, it works like magic.

Your best friends are insecurity and fear.

Maybe the books have taught you the other way around. Perhaps in most businesses it’s important to be confident and fearless.
But in my business, insecurity is the one fuel that keeps me searching and exploring for new things.

Unlike other options out there, in advertising, the products that we manufacture in our heads are ideas.

They have no formula. They have no pie charts. They have no paths. They have no logic. They have no shape, colour, sound, nothing.
The only thing that will give us ideas, is a constant supply of insecurity.

A gnawing primal vacuum that pushes to keep me unconsciously and subconsciously considering all kinds of connections.

What kind of an idea should it be? Should it be based on emotion? Should it be insight agnostic? Should it redefine media parameters? What if it’s not a digital initiative? How do I do this within the budgets?

I am all question, question, and question. And unknown to me my neurons are bristling with lights, sparks and bulbs. I am on invisible energy overdrive.

It’s the most positive thing that I have in my arsenal.

While I don’t know where the next idea is going to come from, and when the next idea is going to strike me, I do know one thing.
I know it will come to me before the deadline, and I also know that it’s going to be a killer idea. I don’t deal in mediocrity as a policy.
Fear and insecurity aren’t negative. That’s passion and more passion. They are your wings. Fly with them.

Finally, take your spine to office.

There’s only one thing that clients buy at presentations. Especially at pitches.

After all these years, I am convinced that they aren’t usually sitting there to buy the most awesome idea. They are sitting there to buy your conviction.

90% of clients don’t have the ability or the power to chose the best idea from a bunch. It’s not in them. They aren’t designed to be ad idea sniffers.

Only one thing sways them. Your conviction.

Are you so unflinchingly rooted in the strength of your idea? Does your own belief in your idea come through? Does your gut and gizzard sing and dance? Is your spine and all its 26 vertebrae taking a fierce stance?

Start turning jelly, and start becoming jellyfish, and your idea will do a mushroom cloud for you. They will throw you out without mercy.
I had this client once. The MD of a Korean MNC. He was tough, brutal, and constantly pissed all the time. He used to walk around his office kicking walls and doors at random. No one said anything. No one could.

I was presenting a campaign to him once, and while he liked it, he turned around and asked me - 'If this campaign doesn't work, can I call you a monkey?' I couldn’t see that coming.

But I held my calm and I said, 'Yes you can. But if the campaign works...?' I didn't complete the sentence. He filled in the blanks himself. And then he smiled the widest and said 'You are a very clever man'.

Managing Partner
Bang In The Middle, India
Parvati Patil (Guest) I guess, advertising is not as easy a job as I thought. We need to work hard, or maybe even harder in this industry as compared to anyone else.
25 Apr 2016 Reply
Alina Chowdhary (Guest) You must really love your job if the romance hasn't waned in 25 years. A very informative and intriguing article. 
25 Apr 2016 Reply