Senior Copywriter at L&K Saatchi and Saatchi
How do I prepare for an advertising interview?
This answer is for those preparing for a copywriting interview, based on my past experience. Before sitting for an interview, the first process is to write a good cover letter so that you are called for one. Unlike cover letters in other industries where a few lines on basic introduction and intent are enough, your cover letter for an advertising application is your chance to stand apart and force the interviewer to call you, irrespective of the achievements on your CV. So write a meaningful cover letter that gives the reader an insight into your creativity, abilities and relevant experience. If you are a fresher applying for your first advertising job as a creative writer, you will probably be asked to sit for a timed copy test in person, or over email. A copy test is a set of questions designed to check your language, grammar and creativity levels across different formats. It primarily checks how smartly you can think on your feet while following the brief, and how concisely you can present them on paper. A great way to prepare for this is to go through quick case-studies of award-winning ad campaigns online. You'll find many such videos on YouTube that will give you an idea of how to approach different kinds of advertising briefs. You can be asked to write a campaign slogan for an imaginary/existing brand, pen scripts for a 30-second TV commercial, conceptualise a social media campaign, develop a short radio jingle, in addition to other questions that challenge your creativity. You can also be asked to redo famous campaigns in a new manner. The questions will naturally vary from test to test. Next, it helps to stay abreast of the latest campaigns on different platforms, trends and pathbreakers in the advertising world, should you be asked pertinent questions. Knowledge of the work done by the organisation you are applying for is also useful. Finally, be prepared to answer why you wish t and what unique skill-set you bring to the table that no one else does. Your willingness to collaborate and learn from your teammates should also come through.
What role did your educational background play in your career?
My schooling at one of the best English-medium schools in Kolkata, has been of paramount significance in my advertising career. In my school, a lot of attention was devoted to language, both written and oral. We were encouraged to read, participate in debates, quizzes and elocution. Creativity was acknowledged, encouraged and celebrated. Thorough regular examinations ensured that students remained well-versed in grammar, composition, comprehension and literature, among other topics. My favourite subjects, English and Bangla, were unsurprisingly the ones I scored the highest in throughout my school life. I'm eternally indebted to all my teachers for their dedication. It has helped me immensely in crafting the career I follow today.
What do you do if an ad campaign is unsuccessful?
Learn from it and don't take the failure personally. There are many reasons an ad campaign can fail. From an uncertain tone of communication, wrong platforms of advertising, miscalculating the target audience, delayed launches to overpromising on the quality of product or service; reasons can be many. Sometimes, the particular insight into consumer behaviour on which the campaign was based turns out to be incorrect. Identifying the issue and addressing it in the next campaign is the way forward. Advertising is not an exact science. There are many people involved in a campaign, including clients who approve every piece of communication that goes out. So a failed advertising campaign is a collective lack of foresight, not an individual blunder. Don't beat yourself up about it.
Do you think a creative campaign overshadows the advertised product or adds value to it?
It depends on how/why the campaign has been crafted, and in turn interpreted. Many of Thailand's commercials have been known to be over-the-top, but remain extremely successful sales campaigns. Ideally, a creative campaign should add value to the product and not look to overshadow it. For a creative sales campaign, the purpose is to boost - sales figures. Brand awareness and recall are next in line. As David Ogilvy bluntly put it, "If it doesn't sell, it's not creative." The value the campaign is looking to add however is not always limited to blatant product promotion/immediate sales. Consumers might identify with a particular campaign because of its aspirational philosophy, engaging tone-of-voice, popular brand ambassador or empowering message, which is why they might be convinced to associate with the brand over a longer period. In general, as long as the product is organically integrated into the entire creative campaign, appeals to the customer persona and clearly solves a problem/offers a superior solution, it definitely adds value rather than overshadowing the product.
What skills should an advertising professional possess?
Some skills that have helped me as a writer are: 1. Command over language - the profession requires generation of interest and engagement through the written wordl. Beyond writing scripts for films/AVs, the job entails writing copies for print (newspaper ads/brochures/leaflets etc.), outdoor hoardings, social media posts, emailers, outdoor banners, brand taglines and so on. So a grasp on language and wordplay is essential. 2. Creative ideation, storytelling and visualisation - attention is the limited commodity that your creativity must snatch. If you have a hard time selling your idea to yourself, move on to the next one. If it excites you, develop it. Tell a concise, attractive story through your idea. Land on a message. Bring everything together. Can you picture the complete idea in your mind? Can you present it in 30 seconds? 6 seconds? One line? A single image? 3. Discovering insights to approach a solution - the ability to find an universal insight that applies to the product/market you're writing for, but not necessarily the most obvious one. The next step is to present the solution in an interesting way using the insight. For example, when Savlon wanted to improve student hygiene in public schools, instead of simply putting their products in the toilets, the creative agency researched and came up with an insight. They found that most children only washed their hands with water before having their mid-day meals. So they went ahead and added the product to something the students always had in their hands - the chalks they wrote their classwork with. Now even if the kids just washed their hands with water before eating their meals, they would be safe from infection! 4. Observation and interaction - there's no substitute to real-life experiences. Travel, read, explore, talk to people from all walks of life. All of these will enrich your mind and create a bank of distinct anecdotes you can pull from your creative hat. 5. Perseverance - you have to keep at it. Many ideas will be rejected, many concepts will be shot down, repeated feedbacks will be the order of the day - but never feel disheartened. Keep improving and you will surely make your mark. 6. Ability to work in a team - advertising is a collaborative field. Be prepared to help others out, develop your co-workers' ideas, brainstorm together to crack campaigns and approach them for help when you need it. 7. Multi-tasking and deadline management - there are usually multiple projects every day that need to be worked upon and submitted within a stipulated time. There are also last-minute briefs with extremely short deadlines. So one needs to develop personal strategies to stay on top of their work on a daily basis, and plan ahead.
How do you see your job evolving in the future?
I have already seen a steady increase in demand for digital campaigns over television commercial (TVC) -oriented campaigns in the past few years. Earlier, a 360-degree campaign meant developing content for TV, Print, Radio, Outdoor, On-ground promotional events and some digital posts/carousels. Advertising today is now becoming less TV-dependent. Higher budgets are gradually being allocated to social media advertising across the country. I see more AR/VR/Projection Mapping/Drone based on-ground activation events taking place. The era of experiential marketing/advertising is upon us. So, in my opinion, not just digital storytelling, the ability to create ideas for every possible communication platform and take advantage of evolving technology to present a message is probably the way forward.
What are the benefits and drawbacks of being in the advertising profession?
The answer is purely based on my experience in the industry so far, from the perspective of a copywriter. Pros: a) It's a new challenge every day. You get something different to work on, almost every day. So you are constantly thinking of new ideas. If you can pull that off successfully and make your clients and team happy, it's a very satisfying experience. b) Meeting talented, extremely chilled-out people from a wide array of backgrounds. So you're always learning a lot about different aspects of life. c) Going to shoots/meeting your idols is usually quite rewarding. d) Seeing your ideas come to life on screen/print/web/outdoor is a great feeling. If people relate and engage with it, that's the icing on the cake. Cons: a) Constant rejection of ideas might be difficult to handle in the initial days. However, there is no dearth of encouragement in the industry to point you in the right direction. The disappointment of rejection gradually disappears as you grow better at assessing your own work. b) Work hours can be long and at times stressful, especially during new business pitches or important campaigns. You might be stuck at work overnight or even work multiple weekends. However, some of my fondest memories involve long working hours, eating dinner together as a team and shuffling playlists according to everyone's preferences during overnight sessions. If you're passionate enough and are lucky enough to work with a good team, the process doesn't wear you down. c) The pay-scale isn't fantastic initially, but not too shabby once you gain a few years of experience and have a handful of successful campaigns under your belt. You can also earn from side-projects that you will inevitably come across. d) At times, you might feel that the clients are being a little unreasonable. However, it's their money that's on the line, so there's not much you can do about it other than accept their feedback and move on.
Describe a typical day at work for you?
No two days in advertising are exactly the same, so I'll try my best to illustrate a few instances with examples. a) If a full-fledged campaign brief/new business pitch comes in, the next 7-14 days are likely to be quite hectic. Plenty of meetings, brainstorming sessions, writing down of ideas, back and forth with creative superiors to fine-tune them, collaborating with the art team to create a fresh campaign look, finalizing the smaller details and going over the entire copy once the artwork is ready, and overseeing the final presentation deck are all part of the fortnight. Of course, your regular work for other brands, besides any other campaigns you might also be working on, continues parallely. Even after all this, you might have to rework everything with your team, in less than half of the previously allotted time in case the client is unsatisfied. b) If no major campaigns are underway, things are pretty relaxed. You might get a few different briefs everyday. Maybe a print ad needs some lines, a small Product AV requires scripting, an emailer has to be sent, scenarios for a 20-seconder digital film/series need to be figured out etc. You will be allotted your share of work, given reasonable deadlines that you need to adhere to. c) You have very little work. It rarely happens, but it happens more than you'd expect. On days like these, you can go out for lunch with your team, catch a movie with colleagues or even bond with your boss over a drink. On such occasions, great conversations unfold and lifelong friendships are born. d) If it's an ad shoot, then you might be asked to be present on set. This opportunity generally is given to copywriters if their script is the one being shot. It could be within city limits, or in a different city or even outside India, depending on demands of the script. You can also be asked to sit through and oversee VOs, music or radio spot recordings if you have been involved in creating the same. e) Sometimes, your team/agency/you might be involved in some piece of work that's up for an award. In such cases, a large contingent usually attends the ceremony. You get to meet friends from the industry, learn about exciting campaigns, cheer up your fraternity, be drunk on free liquor and stuff yourself with good food, or go up on stage to accept an award!
What is your biggest concern at your job? How do you manage it?
The one thing that I still struggle with at times is writing dialogues/headlines in Hindi. It usually isn't a problem because a quick chat with team members usually solves whatever grammatical issue I face. However, not thinking in Hindi at a conceptual level is a shortcoming I am still trying to overcome by consciously following the works of eminent vernacular writers in our industry.
How was your experience with your first job?
My first advertising job was at Ogilvy, Mumbai. I worked there for nearly a year before our entire team was seconded to Ogilvy's sister agency, Soho Square, a couple of floors below. It's now known as 82 point 5. It was a steep learning curve, I must admit. Ogilvy is always either the No. 1 or No. 2 agency in our country, and not without reason. The culture encourages pushing the boundaries of creativity, always looking to create distinctive ideas that leave a mark. Everyone collaborates on ideas and only the best ones make the cut. My colleagues were all industry stalwarts with years of experience and overflowing creativity. Even the interns brimming with new perspectives, were eager to present their ideas fearlessly. One can present the most complicated brief and find many hands thrust up in the air, ready with ideas; each better than the previous one. The good thing was I was pushed to the deep end of the pool, and had to come up with good ideas at a regular basis just to survive. Luckily for me, I worked with a team comprising of not just brilliant minds, but amazing human beings too. I was helped every step of the way, sometimes with very detailed explanations. There was no judgement ever. If I improved, the team would improve so it was a collaborative effort to ensure I understood the nature of the work as quickly as possible. Under the guidance of my superiors, I managed to write a few scripts that were produced within a few months of my joining. Watching my idea come to life for the first time as an Ogilvy writer helped my confidence grow. Thankfully, that confidence remains, along with the ambition of becoming the best writer I can possibly be.