Nishad Ramachandran is the VP and Digital Experience at the analytics-based marketing services company Hansa Cequity. He has over 20 years of experience in advertising and marketing. Starting out as a copywriter, he headed one if India’s leading digital marketing companies, iContract.
He has worked on award winning advertising campaigns for some of the biggest brands in India like Shoppers Stop, HSBC, Cadbury, Asian Paints, Visa, Tata Indicom and more.
Highlights of his career include: being on the jury of the 55th Cannes International Advertising Festival as an India representative. Being voted India’s best boss at a survey conducted by Times Jobs in 2008. He likes to call himself a technology optimist.
His journey from a small town, Kannur in Kerala is inspiring!
How did a career in Advertising come about?
Till Grade 12 I was in military school Bangalore, my dad hoped I would join the services. However by the time I finished class 10, I was sure that I was not cut out for life in the forces. And after 12th I got back home and pursued a Bachelor degree in English Literature.
I had always loved writing. In the final year of college I had volunteered to write a series of posters for a friend of mine who was contesting the college elections. One of the professors saw these posters and told me that that I may do well in advertising. I had no clue what advertising was and that people made careers in this business. This was in the late 80s, and then while browsing through one of the magazines, something caught my attention – a story on Chris Rozario, one of India’s best ever copywriters, he is in the US now. How he earned 30,000 Rupees a month writing ads. 30K in those days was a huge amount, even the President of India earned 10,000 Rupees, I think. So I said, this is it, and I have never looked back, even though it took me years and years to earn that kind of money writing and making ads.
Please take us through your career so far…
I started out working for a now extinct agency, Four Aces out of Calicut, Kerala as a copywriter. In a few months I moved to Bangalore. The early days were a big struggle. Earned just enough to pay rent. Not enough for food or to take a bus, but I loved being in the business of writing and making ads. Winning new business for this little agency. Reading about the best and the biggest ad campaigns from around the world. It was a life of hope and promise…
Two years into this life, I got a call from the head of one of India’s most creative agencies. They had seen an ad of mine in a magazine, figured out the agency and called out. Soon I landed a job in Contract Advertising. This was late 1992. I spent about five years in Contract Bangalore, then moved to SSC&B Lintas, Bangalore and then Mumbai, went back to Contract Mumbai and spent another half a dozen years there before my current stint at Hansa Cequity. I even dirtied my hands in the dot com business in 1997 with my then boss from Contract, trying to selling Ayurveda online. But that’s another story.
What other factors do you think played a role in your career?
During my childhood, I enjoyed the company of my uncle’s who was this big collector of books. He had some 5000 odd books in one big room at home. He was a well-known journalist in North Kerala. His work and life inspired me. Like him, reading and writing was a big part of my life early on. It still continues.
Also, I have this slightly odd curious streak in me. In school my house master, the man who ran the boarding, used to tell me that I always acted like I was in a new town. Always distracted, looking hither and tither even when I was to stay still, lined up in a parade. Curiosity, now I know…
And this curious streak got me to where I am.
Also I always came up with unusual ways of solving problems.
Like this instance in my first agency, I was like 22 years old or so. We discover late one evening that for some technical reason Deccan Herald, the leading newspaper in Bangalore those days, cannot run an ad for a client who was launching a store in town. We get this news at around 6PM, the day before the store launch. So all of us in the agency are depressed, and the client is screaming mad. So I thought why not print the ad as a leaflet and insert it in the newspaper the next day morning. So we did exactly that. Got the ad printed at night and we were ready, 4 AM with glossy leaflets that were sent around Bangalore to all drop off points of Deccan Herald to be inserted in the day’s paper.
What do you love about what you do?
I enjoy solving problems! Most advertising creative people think ads when they get a brief. I think of it as a business or marketing problem. So sometimes the solutions are not ads.
What are the skills important for your role?
It is important to put a lot of different things into your head. So that when the moment arrives, you are ready to make connections. I once made a mistake of printing a colour ad on a black and white laser printer. When I got the printout, I discovered that the printer had read all the pastel shades in the ad as tones of grey. And all that it printed out was a patch of grey. No pictures, no text. I was intrigued and thought about it for a while. Then many years later, when I was doing another piece of work, someone asked if we could do something to make it photocopy proof. Those days there were no colour photo copiers and even if they existed, the cost per page was very high. So I thought why not put to use the discovery I had stored away in my head. And we did. The first book ever that could not be copied using a traditional photocopier.
What does your typical work day look like?
I bring myself in the most unique original way to work. I am an early riser and have most of the routine work finished before I reach office. Being a creative guy, I can do this. Even today, most of the thinking, strategizing, making presentation work that I can do alone is done early morning. I even finish up my regular emails before reaching office. So I am relaxed and easily available to people for chats and meetings that can add value to all around.
Please share some memorable moment/s
I think the highlight of my career was when I was on the jury of the 55th Cannes Advertising Festival. Sitting in the same room with some of the worlds best advertising talents, many of them my heroes and judging the best work from around the world. You can’t describe that special fortnight.
For three years, 2009, 2010 and 2011 when I headed iContract we were voted by peers to be among the top digital agencies in the country. This was an annual rating done by Economic Times Brand Equity. Specially in 2011, when we came in second. Unbelievable.
To be voted as the best boss by Times Jobs was fun too.
So what makes you the best boss?
I am a great storyteller, inspire the team, stand up for them, and bring in a lots of fun! We have had all kinds of fun things in the office. Doughnut days, watermelon days, mango days, wine and cheese days (almost all of these things were not funded by the agency or the company I worked for, but by me, impromptu). So when I talk to ex colleagues about the good old days, these are the moments we talk about. Not about clients or campaigns. But the fun and good times we had, as friends.
What are your dreams for the future?
I am a corporate guy, to work in a steady company, with people and structures around me. Like to get a salary cheque come into my account every month. No start-ups or entrepreneurship for me!
Who or what are your inspirations?
I think quality of minds. Working with people who are smarter, better, more talented than me. I was reading an interview of Bill Gates in Time Magazine. This was many, many years ago. Where he talked about this annual event he did at Microsoft, when a few people from the leadership team would take a week off and go to some part of the world, that year was in some place Zanzibar, I think. And they normally took along a few smart people who didn’t work for MS. So that year they had invited anthropologist Donald Johanson who had worked on Lucy, one of the oldest humanoid fossils ever found. Bill Gates was interested in finding ways to connect human intelligence, carbon based, and silicon based processing power, which he and Microsoft was leading the charge.
What career advice would you like to give?
If you don’t enjoy your work then run away, don’t scam it! Know what you are good at. People who say, tomorrow I will exercise and set the alarm, snooze it in the morning when it rings are cheating themselves. Why do it? Today there are so many options. Why do it when you so hate it. People talk about work as being painful and Goa holidays as Nirvana. I ask, how can you make Goa your work?
Also, consistency is important. Switching jobs is not the best plan you have for your career. When Geoffrey Boycott the great cricketer from England was asked why he never married. He said, he had two choices: be the best married guy in the world, or be a great batsman. You have to give up something to achieve something! I meet Ashwari, the customer service person at HSBC branch in Andheri, I visit the branch maybe once a year, you know for something. And she will greet you, Mr Ramachandran… I mean how does she remember me? Some people can even make the most seemingly uninteresting jobs, amazing! And why not?
Bring your Goa state of mind to work everyday. Don’t get distracted, the Hollywood waiter syndrome, I want to be an actor, for now I will wait tables. Your mind is never there when you wait tables, thinking of the acting career. And you are not acting either, so not getting better at that. And don’t fool yourself. If you want to run a marathon, run the marathon. Don’t just display your bib on Facebook.
Image Courtesy: Nishad Ramachandran
http://www.indiantelevision.com/mam/headlines/y2k12/july/julymam9.php Nishad Ramachandran joins Hansa Cequity as Digital Experience head
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