After 18 years at the helm of Ogilvy Delhi, this July saw Krishna Mani appointed as CCO of BBDO India’s Delhi office. The BBDO India’s chairman Josy Paul called the interview between himself and Krishna as ‘love at first chat’. This is something that Krishna echoes when pondering his decision to leave such a long-standing role for a new challenge. “I just stuck around till the point where I said, ‘now I feel I've reached a point where I'm doing the same thing again and again.’ And sometimes you feel the need to just go out to refresh yourself and see what is out there. Because different agencies have different cultures, sometimes they just revive you and make you start thinking in a different way.”
Krishna is no stranger to using different ways of thinking and over the course of his career has worked on a diverse range of campaigns and clients. Though, his career could have taken a different path had he followed the wishes of his parents. He describes his childhood as saturated in the belief that test scores were everything. His father was an engineer, and it was assumed that this would be the default career path for the young Krishna. He says: “I hated being forced to get into that field. I think somewhere in the early ‘90s, we used to have this program in India called The Dream Merchants and it was hosted by the who's who of advertising at the time. It used to be a half an hour program where they would show ads which they liked or loved. I was 13 or 14 at the time but I really thought the advertising was cool.”
Krishna enrolled into the inaugural batch of pupils at Mudra Institute of Communications college (now MICA). “We would sit through and watch reels after reels of Cannes and go through books and lots of ads. When people speak about advertising as a career or as work, I generally look at it as play where you are thinking of stories and thinking about coming up with stories that the other person might like. So that's how I got into it. Incredibly though, my parents still don't know what I do.”
Lucky for Krishna, MICA ranks as one of the top 20 schools in India so despite having ‘no clue’ about advertising, his parents are very much up to speed in understanding what an achievement his education is. He adds that now they make sure they research each agency he works for and checks out their campaigns before he joins.
Post-graduation Krishna decided he had to work in Lowe Delhi, despite the agency having no roles for him. “I'd go every day and just sit in the reception and say ‘can you give me something please, I want to try something.’ After two weeks of just hanging around there, I think the creative director just got frustrated and said ‘okay, come sit here.’.”
In India, Mumbai is often considered the noisy, creative hub. It’s the home of Bollywood and has a thriving agency and production scene. But Delhi is an enormous business and political centre, so how does Krishna see the local advertising scene, having lived and worked in the region for all of his life. “The way the clients in Mumbai work are a little differently from the way clients work in Delhi. Delhi is a lot more protocol driven; the clients like to see designations coming to meetings. There are also very few clients who also look at good work the way an agency looks at it or even things that would change the society.
“I think Bombay has had a lead in terms of how advertising has grown and Delhi has always been playing catch up in terms of the bigness and in terms of the mindset. Delhi is really becoming big as a hub. Earlier, we used to say that all the big giants were in Bombay. That has changed with startups and telecos coming in. Delhi has a certain culture in itself as a city, so it's a question of how we build that in to create something which is a little different, a little unique, but still lends to the BBDO network.”
Though, none of this takes away from Krishna’s passion and that is to find an interesting solution to a client’s problem. “It's exciting. Going to a presentation and not being able to wait to present is the first sign that you've done something interesting.” He adds that previously he was jealous of being at events and seeing clips passed around of people’s works… however recently more and more the work that is passed around is turning into his own.
Understanding India’s market can be a tricky and complex thing when you look at the mix of different religions, languages and cultures but despite this for Krishna it all boils down to one thing: the common threads of human behaviour. “The way we react to emotions, people, instances, stories - that is very similar across the length and breadth of the country. I love talking to people and listening to stories. Just the different people that you meet and the different stories that come makes a nice library for you to have. It can also give you a pointed insight about the way someone reacts to a product.”
Krishna and his team are currently making Diwali campaigns and launching pieces for the long-awaited end of the IPL cricket tournament. But although he’s busy, Krishna is a creative who makes time for life outside of work. For him this looks a little like spending time with his child, travelling and picking up fantasy novels. He adds that as someone who thrives off human interaction and observations, his biggest motivation will always be the reactions he gets from people for the work he’s put out.
It’s still early days in his new role Krishna is focussed on building a team and looking at how BBDO’s culture can feed into the local office. He’s excited about the opportunities ahead and the chance for the Delhi office to make a name for itself within BBDO India, as well as helping to raise the creative reputation of the city.
“It’s a case of how do we a) align with the culture and b) what will be our differentiation within the BBDO network in India? I think each one of us should bring something a little different to make it better and richer.”