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Can you tell us about your background? How did you end up in an offbeat, unconventional and unique career such as advertising?
When the administrative officer at Mumbai-based ad agency Ambience Publicis, mentioned that the only vacancy was that of a head peon, Manish Patel took up the offer. In the few seconds it took to make up his mind, his heart secretly cried.
He had applied for the position of accountant, and his answer had shocked the interviewer. But as his father, a stock market broker, had just lost his job, he had no option. He had applied to several places after Class 12, but Ambience was the only company that reverted.
Three years later, Manish became a copywriter in the creative department located on the fourth floor, and went on to win a Silver Radio Lion for a campaign for BullZi Placement Consultancy. It is an unlikely story of hardship and success but Manish has never shied away from hard work.
As a peon, he gave his all, running errands from the fourth floor to the ground floor. Impressed with his hard work, the admin head promoted him to the position of administrative assistant. Life is full of surprises he says, and one surprise finding has been that money problems are never resolved with money. ‘Money doesn’t open doors. Hard work and initiative does.’
What was the turning point?
Manish’s life took a different turn when he was offered the job of a librarian at the agency. His salary then was Rs. 1,845, and he spent most of the time reading advertising books. One day in the library, he chanced upon the press ads of The Economist. That communication could be so simple, he was surprised. This is what he wanted do to: he wanted to write. Before that he had no idea of what he wanted as he never had the time to think about his dreams.
At school, as a student, Manish wrote and directed Hindi plays. ‘I was fascinated by theatre.’ But he remembers with shame how he had misused his writing skills to make fun of some classmates, by writing jokes and poems about them to please a group he was desperate to be a part of. Little did he know that one day, he would use the same skills to become an award-winning copywriter.
As librarian at Ambience, he began interacting with the creative department. ‘Everyone was accessible and helpful.’ Seeing the work of the art team, he did a course in web and graphic designing alongside his graduation, which he pursued through correspondence. ‘It was tough I was always chasing time.’
So every day after 6 p.m. when his official duties were over, he stayed back at the office and learnt Photoshop. He observed the works of art directors and dreamed of writing his first copy. Even today, as a senior copywriter with McCann-Erickson, he’s in the office most of the times thinking and writing Hindi ads. He plans to write a book one day. And it will be in Hindi. His schoolteacher had once discouraged him from taking up Hindi because he was a Gujarati.
How did your new skills help?
Elsie Nanji, Vice Chairman & Chief Creative Officer, Ambience, needed an assistant, and Manish was offered the position. ‘I couldn’t ask for more.’ As he did secretarial work for her he was exposed to the creative works of the agency. ‘Looking at their works, I thought I could do it too.’ Then, one day, he got to know that Nanji was going to Paris to show creatives from Ambience India to the creative directors of the network from all parts of the world. In Paris, the creatives were to be shortlisted for international advertising contests.
This was the moment Manish had been waiting for. He made a press ad for Revive, instant starch brand. It showed a man sitting on a stool, but reclining as though he were on a backrest, only that there wasn’t one. The idea being communicated was that the starch made the kurta stiff enough for the man not to take any support.
Nanji smiled at his work. Although, she wasn’t happy with the art work, she took Manish’s work to Paris. ‘It was a big deal for me!’ When she returned after two weeks, she called him in and said his work was appreciated. The press ad went on to win a Silver at Goafest 2006. This gave him the confidence to believe in his dreams.
Manish wished someone back in school had helped bring out what was inside him. He wanted to pursue arts but was told there was no career in drama and theatre. ‘The problem with our education system is that there are no counsellors or people to probe you and tell you what you could do. Because software engineers are in demand doesn’t mean that I will be good at it.’
How did the award help?
Ambience made an offer to Manish to join the art department, but he said he wanted to be a copywriter. It was a tough decision, as for the first time he had a choice. ‘Before this I had never had the chance to choose,’ he says. Here, on the fourth floor, in the creative department, he wrote the jingle for a client, the BullZi Placement Consultancy, which went on to win a Silver at Cannes 2008.
Of course he hadn’t expected to win. So the moment, he heard that his work had won the award – he went blank for a few moments. All he could coax out of himself was that the whole of Cannes heard him.