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Ambi Parameswaran shares five stories from his life

An Interesting Path

A B.Tech in Chemical Engineering from IIT Madras, an MBA from IIM Calcutta and I took the advertising path. How did that happen? The summer internship interview process in IIMC had started. It was early 1978 and I was keen on staying on at Joka and doing an internship in Kolktata. I was told that an advertising agency was offering internships in Kolkata. I walked in to the interview room oblivious of the sudden change my life was about to take. I met with Subhas Chakravarty and Ajit Balakrishnan and discovered a new agency called Rediffusion Advertising. Both were IIMC alumni and they spoke with tremendous passion about how advertising was an exciting business of strategy driven ideas and how IIM graduates were making their mark in this new field in India. I also got to know that advertising was not just about clever ads and learnt that an agency team can play a very critical role in the fortunes of brands and companies. I left the room star struck and my affair with advertising had begun.

Nothing is too Small

I think the year was 1981, the agency team had presented a campaign for the industrial product client Thermax. Using my understanding of chemical engineering, I had personally briefed the creative team on a six ad corporate campaign. I was delighted with the idea of the campaign and the great look Arun Kale had given using the new logo of the company. The Managing Director of the company Mr R D Aga who sat through the presentation requested that I leave behind the rough copy of the ads that I had 2 cobbled together with the Thermax team in Pune and that they will revert with their views. Exactly ten days later the package arrived from Pune. It was neatly typed copy of the six ads that I had left behind. The copy was written exactly to fit the layout presented. The marketing communication team at Thermax told me that the copy had been sent from the MD's office. I went through the copy and found that it was perfect. I suspected that Mr. Aga had his hand at writing the copy [he had done literature at Oxford, I had heard]. What blew me away was that the MD of a large company took time to craft the copy of the corporate campaign ads. Nothing is too small to a man with a passion.

An Exercise Too Far

It was early 1987, Boots Company was setting up a new consumer product sales team and had promoted 16 of their brightest medical representatives to become the Area Sales Managers. The Director of the division and my long time mentor Anil Kapoor and the General Sales Manager A N Saini had asked me to devise an exercise which the new managers could do to figure out the intricacies of territory allocation and 3 route planning. I thought I had created a great exercise and had briefed them well till that ominous night in Goa. A N Saini pulled me aside during dinner to warn me that the exercise devised by an IIT-IIM guy should not derail the team which was just coming to grips with the new task. I decided to rush back to my room, do the exercise once again and visit each of the four teams to give them tips. They brushed me away and said that they will `crack' the problem, come what may. The next day morning the four teams presented one after another and proved A N Saini wrong. Not only had they worked through the night but had loved the exercise so much they thanked me and A N Saini for putting them through the torture. Remember those were the days before laptops, internet, spread sheet, power point, etc. Saini and I discussed how a tough task can actually end up motivating a team that is ready to take off!

Endless Discussions & Success

FCB Ulka had won the Tata Indica account and our team was hard at work developing the advertising strategy and creative. Anil Kapoor and I felt that we needed to engage the client, Rajiv Dube and S Krishnan in a discussion on the multitude of challenges the company could face launching the car in a market that was skeptical about the capabilities of TELCO [as the company was known then] to launch a car. What resulted were discussions that would start around 5 pm and run till 11 pm every night, for almost ten days on the trot. The agency and the client teams would engage in heated discussions backed by data. At the end of the day we would all depart to do more homework, only to reassemble the next day at 5 pm. Interestingly never did the teams feel that it was a wasted exercise. And each discussion ended building up on the points covered in the previous session. In my 35 year career I am yet to go through such an elaborate energizing exercise. The net result was a launch that took the country by storm and proved all sceptics wrong.

A Strange Suggestion

Prof P L Arya sprung it on me: You should do a PhD. I was taken aback. Here I was trying to manage a 9 to 9 job and taking a few hours off over weekends to teach and Prof Arya wants me to do a PhD? He went on to explain that several Indian Universities are offering flexible options for the academically inclined professionals to do their PhD. I thought it would not work, but I underestimated his and Prof Suresh Ghai's persuasion powers. I ended up doing a PhD from Mumbai University. I deeply mourn the passing away of both Prof Arya and Prof Ghai, but I will eternally be grateful to them for their words of encouragement. My thesis on the topic of `Religiosity and Consumer Behaviour' led me to write a book “For God's Sake - An Adman on the Business of Religion“, published by Penguin India in Jan 2014. Our lives are so all full of such enriching stories and people who motivate, guide and inspire us. God Bless Them All !

Ambi Parameswaran is Advisor to FCB Ulka Advertising; India's third largest advertising agency group.