Like Water For Concrete

Advertising. Would I have become a part of the industry had I known what I would be doing? Probably not. All I know is that if you did your non-IIM MBA from anywhere outside Mumbai, agencies such as Lintas would say, Don’t call us, we’ll call you. Possessed with no mean mind but no special literary or artistic affinity except the need to read, I found myself often wondering what I should be doing with my life. I don’t have an answer yet. But advertising was something that I had to do. So I did. Did my summer training in it, my dissertation in it and sat home till I found a job in it. I worked in advertising agencies. Started as an account executive and stayed in account management till I joined a manufacturing company with own brands. It was fascinating work. Advertising agencies were not the skeletons they are now (sorry to whoever is offended. but the truth is the truth and it shall offend). The media deptt was still a part of an agency and not a separate agency. Clients paid full commission (15%) and creative charges were separate. In fact when I moved to the brand side (as it was called) it was to retain relationship with both, the media and creative, as they were being split at the agency end.

But account servicing as a function is quite a thankless task. You bring up a baby mostly someone else begat, sometimes you helped with the naming, sometimes it was the creatives who did, and often it was the client’s wife. Why the baby cried was supposed to be known to the planners, while the creative and media people were the doctors. People saw you as a kind of go between (I’ll get back to you and all that). A salesman. A manager. A coper. Interloper. Jokes were cracked by creative types who smoked too much and had too much coffee while producing too little creative work and that too of suspect quality mostly. Not all, but enough to make that a cliche. They were usually sulking over the last great campaign of theirs that the agency couldn’t sell or the stupid client shot down. But you worked. So I did.

During my entire career especially the 10 years in ad agencies, there have been countless instances where the line had been written by me, the logo design dictated by me, event conceptualised by me, name given, this designed, that ideated… but with no credit to me. It’s crazy. That’s something that I think most account persons have endured. If you think up of something you’re just doing your job. And if someone else does, what a wonderful job they’ve done! The hypocrisy came so easily and naturally that no one minded or objected. Credit has been taken by seniors, juniors, bosses, clients so many times. Everytime it happened with me, I felt charitable and didn’t bother, I will get more ideas I thought and so far I always have. Thankfully.

My late mother, was always confused about what I really did. My account group head designation not helping at all here. when I showed her a few campaigns where I had written the copy she got it. But later on, when I showed her the campaigns she asked me what I had done in those. She pointed to the picture. Had I taken that? No. The words? No. Logo design? No. She kept pointing to each possible element. I gave up and started thinking. Then a few days later. thought of a brilliant answer ( I thought). So, I went to her and asked her that did she want to know what I did? She said yes, my sister had told her. So I never got around to telling her. The answer has helped shape my life since. Its simply like water for concrete. No structure possible without it. And after all is built, there is no trace of it. No cement, sand, iron can make a pillar stand without water. Yet when you break it down there is no trace of it. That’s the kind of role I had Ma.