Swati Bhattacharya Curated
Chief Communications and Brand Officer at Bajaj Gr
CURATED BY :
How can you describe yourself in 3 adjectives?
Foodie. Romantic feminist. Doormat to a beagle.
Who is your creative icon you admire and why?
totally admire my bosses Susan Fowler and Fred Levron. Their interest and commitment towards my work and also towards me as a person is very very humbling. I come from a different culture and my work is very idiomatic, but they just get every little nuance!
What is the toughest and favourite part of your job?
he toughest part of my job is to be clear and patient. How to be gentle with a person and yet be tough with their ideas. My favourite part is getting an opportunity to interact with young people about the world and advertising.
What kind of positive things have you learned through out your career from the people you have worked along the way?
When you are young, it’s such a quantity game, and kids keep chasing that, “How many brands do you work on”, “how many films you’ve made”. Doing that one thing but doing it very very well… something that would change lives or change the path of the brand is really what makes a difference in the long term. that’s something I only learnt in the latter part of my career.
Can you tell us one of your best client story?
Every brave piece of work has an interesting client story. Very difficult to choose one. But yes, my women clients have been more sassy than my male clients. Shivani Hedge from nestle. Vibha Rishi from Pepsi. And Sucheta Govil from GSK are my best portfolio makers.
Tell us an experience that shaped the course of your career.
I feel I’ve had two such experiences, the first happened quite early on in my career. I was a 21-year old, bright eyed copy-trainee and was working on the Maggi hot and sweet sauce, ‘it’s different’ campaign. My boss then, Dennis Joseph let me work with the filmmakers for a month. All on my own. That experience really opened my eyes. I think the other one was when I became a mum for the first time. I remember, the first 8 months, I didn’t move from the couch. I was stuck to my baby…not wanting to leave her for a second. I was apprehensive about going back to work as I had no idea how I was going to do all of it. But in the first week at work I got absorbed in a massive Pepsi campaign featuring Amitabh Bachchan. It propelled me back to work and I realized that work-home balance isn’t an urban legend, it was achievable.
Ideally, how frequently should a team leader/manager check in on her/his team?
When you come on a call, you spend the first few minutes to know how each one of us is doing. Before the meeting starts, you can look at the faces and make (figure) out how they are doing. That’s, in a way, very important. The interactions are all organic. These things are best left organic, and shouldn’t be turned into a process. It’s more like parenting, and you should be always available for calls, instead of going around digging information. Right now, the most important thing for me is, I should be accessible. It could be for work, or just a chat. Also, I don’t like it when people turn off the video during video calls. It’s nice to look at everybody’s faces, whichever part of the house they are speaking from. I like it if the children walk in, or some food arrives. There’s a sense of intimacy in there.
What is your take on brands taking Corporate Social Responsibilities seriously?
Yes, I believe brands should take a social stance because millennial opt for brands with a social cause. Young entrepreneurs like Shantanu, who heads the Open Door Project, can make a difference. Entrepreneurs hate waiting for policymakers to do something. That is why I feel that brands should take a social stand. It has only been three-four months since the start of this initiative and we have Salam Balak Trust and Kat Katha, which work with children of sex workers, and many more supporting us.
What positive outcomes from this period do you see being taken forward into the working of the marketing and advertising industry in future?
What does eating an ice-cream mean to a child in this situation, when you’ve cut away his friends? Or that feeling when your part-timer came back? What was that sisterhood moment? Now that you truly realize what she brings to your life, are you ready to look at her salary a little differently? I feel the salary that I earn is made possible by someone’s support. We have to think of those things. Why are we scared of a Rs 2000 raise, but not scared of three muffins, two coffees and one soda costing that much? I’ve thought of that a lot deeply. All the fault-lines in society are clear to see. Meanwhile, so many people are putting up their ads and I feel okay, you are feeling kindly, but is it converting into something? So if Horlicks wasn’t really giving those bottles to frontline staff, and they just wanted to create this ad... I think it’s great that they were doing it but didn’t put it in their ad… it makes me take my job more seriously, because yes, I want to entertain you but I also want to connect with you.
Do you think advertising will have to work doubly hard post-covid to deliver results for the marketer?
Some clients are in the midst of their worst panic attacks because they feel that they were just razed to the ground. Even if you take the Times of India, such a big client, they’ve such a big account, when they say their readership has gone down by 50%.... what do you think that client is going through? I guess once the economy partially opens up, when people start to think a little outside dal chawal, mosquito repellent, sanitiser, floor cleaners, etc., then maybe people will start opening up and advertising. It’s going to be quite a journey. On the other hand, there are my FMCG clients who are actually doing pretty well at this point. So there are all kinds of moods I see in the boardroom.
In what way do you see the post-COVID workplace evolving in your organization and elsewhere in the industry?
Those trips, which used to be like just pack your bag for one meeting, for a while, they will be gone. We’re still deciding whether we should open up. IPG has said very strictly that we can’t force anybody to come to work. Then if it’s voluntary, how do we manage the numbers? Will it be a few of us who come on one day and then the next day a few of us? In India, the summer is so hot that a central air-conditioning system becomes necessary. One has to be very sure, but we still don’t know if this is the peak or if there’ll be another peak. So a wait and watch approach works so you can minimize risks.
Did the creative process become difficult during pandemic?
No, because we are practising isolation. As creative people, when we come to the Zoom call, we are bringing something that is better quality. The thought that is cooking in your head, it’s on a slow cooker. So by the time I’m saying something, I’ve nourished it with some silence and thinking. Otherwise, you are only in that tick box mode where you work within a certain schedule. But this is still the first phase. I don’t know how the juniors are feeling because I’m interacting mostly with senior people. The young ones locked up in their barsaatis, probably with a bad water cooler, I don’t know how they are feeling.
what will be the effect of social and physical distancing on industry?
In terms of jamming together, that is still happening. I personally have done two global pitches, and there were people from everywhere. Then I was judging the ANDY awards of the Ad Club, New York and again I was like, “Oh my God, we can judge like that!” So I must say technology has come to the party. It is a practice – the more you do, the easier it becomes. I feel there’s a lot more honesty, because you know the meeting will end at a particular time. The feedback system is better. I’m still learning, but it hasn’t come in the way.
How does FCB position itself in the market compared to other Indian agencies?
It’s crazy. Last year when we won for Sindoor Khela, it was the first time FCB India had won anything at Cannes. And now in 2019 according to WARC we’re one of the top 20 most creative agencies in the world! But of course awards are just a part of this big, beautiful journey we’re on. They’re not the destination. My feeling is that we’re part of a magical hour where FCB is managing to be a catalyst for lots of sustainable solutions for communities. I know some people scoff at the idea that agencies and their clients can change the world, but the fact is that the world itself has changed. Consumers no longer just want to buy something, they want to believe in something.
What is the current level of creativity in India?
I think in terms of storytelling we are at par with anybody in the world. Perhaps in the use of data and tech we are falling a little behind. In terms of the kind of tech you see at Cannes, the use of data visualization, there are still very few examples of that in India. But the good thing is that storytelling will live forever – I’m not sure how long this love of data and tech will last.
How difficult was it to break into the industry as a young woman at the start of your career?
As a choice of career it might have shocked some parents. But because my parents came from that world, I didn’t have too many “do’s and don’ts”. Even growing up, if I were to come back home late at night, and a young man with long hair and torn jeans was giving me a lift, my parents didn’t ask a hundred questions. So because of their attitude, it made things much easier at the start. I didn’t have to do any PR or lobbying for myself vis-à-vis my parents. The tragedy of this industry in India is that you see a lot of women at the beginning, but then post-motherhood they disappear, so you lose a lot of people at the mid-level. Very few of them come back to advertising. Which is a shame because in terms of storytelling, in terms of connecting, in terms of being curious – they are skilled at what we do, and a lot of what we do involves talking to women.
how did you make the switch to FCB in 2016?
I quit JWT because, well, it had been 22 years. I was a single mum with two kids, and I wanted to spend more time at home. Around that time I got an opportunity to be a judge at the Clios, where I got talking to Susan Credle, now global chief creative officer of FCB]. By then I was making a lot of short films and also trying to make a full-length documentary.
Why did you decide you wanted to work in advertising?
In a way it was my destiny, because my father worked for the Indian Newspaper Society and my mother was in public relations. So I always knew what I wanted to do – I never took a gap year to consider my future or anything like that. I did English honours, then I did my Masters in Public Relations and Advertising, and then I got myself a job a JWT. It was my first job – and I was in it for 22 years. I thought it would take a crane to get me out of there.