IT IS ALWAYS A PLEASURE TO SPEAK TO PEOPLE WHO HAVE BEEN SELF EMPLOYED AND HAVE EXPERIENCE IN THE CORPORATE WORLD. Perhaps a personal bias, but it always leads to great and interesting interviews.
So with that said, it was a pleasure to catch up with Sidharth Loyal to get his views on what it takes to prosper in the creative industry.
“My interview started and I was told that I could remove my tie, if I wanted. I did, and I think removing my tie that day was symbolic of also getting rid of the big “career” burden.”
Q:How did you get started in advertising and specifically planning?
Sidharth Loyal: Back in the day in India, there was very limited access to internet, cell phones or cable TV.
On reflection, I am glad it was that way as it gave me a lot of time to read interesting books, watch movies, make bad mixed tapes, collect shady magazines, play a lot of sports and meet new and interesting people.
What all this did for me very unknowingly, was give me a lot of reference points during conversations with people and gradually, my social circle started to expand.
I quite enjoyed marketing as a school subject and got inspired after my father gave me Lee Iacocca’s Autobiography (circa mid 1990’s).
The story of how he helped create and market the legendary Ford Mustang was absolutely, spellbinding.
So after college in early 2000, armed with a degree in marketing, dressed in an ill-fitted black suit and one of dad’s ties, I went for a series of job interviews.
Sweating in the Delhi summer heat, the tie was suffocating and my nervousness was not helping. It was a miserable week and after interviewing with some top companies, I knew that even if I did land a job, I wouldn’t last long.
Just walking through tube lit corridors of people wearing suits and punching away on their computers in cubicles, made me want to run away. (I say this with no disrespect, but I just couldn’t see myself in that situation)
I dabbled in event management & TV and was content, but something was missing. I happened to get introduced to somebody in advertising and got myself invited to an informal chat with a head honcho of an agency.
My interview started and I was told that I could remove my tie, if I wanted. I did, and I think removing my tie that day was symbolic of also getting rid of the big “career” burden.
This was the first job interview I really enjoyed. We exchanged ideas, talked music, marketing, famous campaigns and I could officially use the “F” word!
My supposedly 30 minute chat lasted 2 hours and I got a job then and there. I started in account management but started spending time with planners and soon I wiggled my way into planning.
Q: How has founding your own agency influenced your work and thinking as you moved into other people’s agencies?
Sidharth Loyal: I have been happily employed for a few years now, working across S.E. Asia and now Australia.
I never started an agency but did start a consultancy, Trium a few years ago and I have to admit, I really enjoyed it.
My learnings at Trium really helped me understand what it is to actually run a business and my background in planning, helped in creating an operating structure which helped me get work.
Running your own business is like street fighting — there are literally no rules. You fight with what you’ve got and you have to give it your best shot, every day, every time, and in a highly complex, cluttered and competitive market place.
Here is what I learned at Trium that helped me win pitches, establish relationships and conduct internal workshops:
- The work comes first, talk is cheap and money is everything;
- Client need to see real work in context of their business problem to help them figure out what they want. Stop referencing what others are doing (everybody is sick of the Apple, Nike & Virgin references!);
- Its easy to get into pitches, very difficult to play the politics to win the business;
- Network shamelessly;
- Always be polarizing;
- Fitting in culturally is the second most important thing (after money);
- Keep your friends close and the creative community closer ;
- Learn, learn and learn (read books, learn a software, see films, music; anything and go to Burning Man!)
I strongly recommend that everybody, at least once in their life, start something — its will be tougher, lesser money to begin with and you will need to fend for yourself — the perfect training ground if you want to do something substantial and meaningful in your career.
Q: What are some of the risks and opportunities facing the creative industry?
The creative industry thrives on knowledge. Yet, knowledge is a double edged sword in the context of what we do in advertising; it is both a risk and opportunity.
We have access to a wealth of information and tools at our disposal to create and share ideas and interesting content. And one has to admit, we as an industry are producing better work than before with engagement levels at an all time high; and there is a myriad of data available at our disposal to prove this.
So, let’s keep knocking out good ideas.
On the flip side, knowledge is also a big risk for the industry.
For every one idea that sees the light of day, 10 don’t. There is no denying that today, we all know too much. This means that we already have a point of view on things even before we have an idea.
The risk this holds is that we dilute the process of ideation, by creating a set of rules and assumptions on how and what the outcome should be.
The answer lies in throwing all assumptions out of the window.
Once the idea starts shaping up, use data, tools etc. to help support the idea, not the other way round.
Q: New technology has amplified old and created new forms of behavior. How do you decide what to invest time and money in to build skill-sets around?
Sidharth Loyal: Life can be simple. We tend to unnecessarily complicate it by adding layers to demonstrate the amount of hard work we have put in to justify time sheets and, in turn, to increase our FTE’s so that we can bill more.
If I had to decide where and what to invest time and money around, it would be Cool hunting. Literally getting back to the basics. A camera, a smartphone, pad & pencil and perhaps your Mac for iMovie.
The reason is simple. Our industry thrives on insights. I find more & more people sitting in offices, trying to find insight through social media, Google, Youtube, etc.
That’s very wrong — its a decay which has set into to our industry.
We need to be out there — every day — breathing and living life in 2014. It is where the magic happens. Only when we truly know what the world is tripping on, can we define a point of view that separates us from the rest.
And believe it or not, its what your clients will buy!
The basics never change, we are in the emotions business and no amount of new tech will take away the emotional fabric of our society — even Google glasses.
So invest in what’s happening in the world around you, everything else will automatically fall into place.
Q: What qualities do you look for in a successful Planner?
A planner who:
- has the balls to stand their ground and the rare ability to not shy away from the truth;
2. can articulate with simplicity and accuracy based on real insights;
3. has a life out of office (Its what you do outside your day job is what makes you interesting at your job);
4. Is a nice person (nobody likes arseholes).
Q: If you were to test a candidate’s skills by giving them a small project, what would you ask them to do ?
Sidharth Loyal: There are many interesting projects to give but I would perhaps give her 2000 dollars to go for a one week holiday.
The only catch is to document the entire week. Everything.
Culture is integral and if I’m hiring fresh candidates who have no work experience, I’d want to know what they do, where they go, what they listen too — basically, what the world is, that they live in.
The hidden agenda is to get a first hand, undiluted perspective into youth behavior and what their triggers in life are that gets them out of bed.
The idea is to get interesting characters on board who provide fresh perspectives to existing briefs and pitches and basically liven the place up.
We need more characters surrounding us — we’ve all begun to take our jobs too seriously in order to deliver the numbers — a little irreverence never hurts.
Q: What should students and graduates, looking to up their chances of breaking into the industry, focus on, in terms of skills and knowledge topics?
Sidharth Loyal: I often hear the young gang saying that they want to work in advertising because its really cool, with wild parties and people.
So, first of all, they need to change their mindset on it being about sex, drugs and hip-hop. Its completely the opposite.
Specifically, with regards to focusing on skills and knowledge topics, here are a few tips for new planners:
- Unlearn what your learned at school (especially Kotler; apparently they still have it in most syllabi). We want your fresh perspective, not what we already know, most of it which is not relevant in today’s context;
- Support your arguments with facts. Do your homework. I hear a lot of top line statements that cannot be substantiated. Facts help you get to the point faster and more importantly, help you gain respect;
- Throw any preconceived notions about people, clients, industry, money out of the window; you are entering a world of opportunity, so the less baggage the faster your ability to run with the ball;
- Don’t hide from the truth. Ever;
- Embrace culture, music, films, art and technology;
- Learn the basics about finance and business — this will always help put briefs in perspective and in context;
- Master something you love to the best of your ability;
- Pay attention and absorb all the interesting things happening in and around you.
Q: In his essay on how to build brands in the digital age, Martin Weigel writes: “There is as much to unlearn as there is to relearn”. What are you unlearning and relearning?
Sidharth Loyal: I’ve not read Martin’s paper, so this is purely my take. It’s all about context. And for me, the context is change.
The three things that I am relearning are:
- the uses of my mobile phone and what all new stuff I can keep doing with it, literally on a weekly basis;
- my interactions on social media — including etiquette, sharing of information and whom to connect with;
- the consumer centric approach to building brands — consumers today build brands and not the other way round.
And the three things that I am unlearning are:
- My approach to content: user generated content is more authentic & valuable than what industry experts, teachers and authors say — and choosing what content and where to source it out from, is another extremely important aspect to take into account;
- My approach to youth: no prizes for guessing that they are the future, but more importantly their take on life, underground events and technology helps define mainstream culture and we need to spend more time with them — as real people, not as boring marketers;
- My approach to technology: love it and embrace it or at least pretend. You can’t not go without it anymore and the sooner you get more tech savvy, the sooner you’ll be able to get more stuff done — its no longer a novelty value, available to a select few, or only for the geeks.
Q: With the way that tech, design, comms and product development are merging, what would you advise 20 year old self, if he asked you where to work? Why?
Sidharth Loyal: 2014 is an exciting time to be 20 years old — there is immense opportunity, for everybody. And the best part is that today, there are no such things as right or wrong rules.
You just go with the flow and create, collaborate, share, exchange and basically do whatever it takes, to get stuff done.
With this premise, I would strongly recommend becoming an entrepreneur and doing all the things that one really wants to do.
With the available wealth of information, access to tools, talent, technology and funding, one really doesn’t need “job experience” in the traditional sense anymore.
All you need is your big idea and the balls to see it through to make it happen. And the world will never run short of wanting good, big or better ideas.
However, if you really need to go and work for someone, go and work with the creative community, inventors or social tech companies.
They keep culture and society at their core and tap into real insights when they start to create. If you can be there during that time; trust me that’s all you will ever need to get going in the world.
And if not that, then start with a small creative agency. You will learn faster and more, than getting lost in the corridors of network agencies.
Thank you Mr Loyal.
“Where the puck is going” is an interview series by GapJumpers. We ask people we like and find interesting to share their thoughts. Whenever we find someone willing to answer our questions, we’ll feature them. If you’d like to stay updated on more stories, please follow the collection.