Please tell us about yourself
Rajat Pandey, Senior Business Partner at BBH India, says he always thought being a storyteller would be the coolest profession. He began his career in journalism before moving to advertising. Today, he believes that storytelling is the biggest talent that an ad professional can possess
Advertising was never my first love or rather my love at all. I came into advertising to try something new and since then have been trying to do something new everyday within advertising.
I grew up in a very small town near Mt Abu in Rajasthan and since then have lived in eight cities across India. So the question where are you from is always a tricky one to answer. Since childhood I had this love for stories. Just like any other kid, my grandparents introduced me to the world of stories. Listening to various stories ranging from mythology to history was an everyday routine after school. That’s when I realized the power of storytelling. Stories, which were told thousands of years ago, still interested people and that is when I understood that “Stories never go out of fashion”.
While growing up, becoming a storyteller sounded like the coolest profession and I guess that’s why I love being in advertising. My friends often tell me that my stories never end, every story ends with a conjunction and then the next story begins. I actually enjoy it. I always have so many stories, they are either my own or told to me by others, some are interesting some are boring but I always have stories which I want to tell people. Not everyone gets a chance to tell stories at a mass level the way advertising professionals do and this is what excites me about being in this profession.
I have always believed that telling a story which can make people forget everything is the biggest talent that an advertising professional can possess. Immaterial of whether you are a creative or account management mastering the art of storytelling is important.
What did you study? How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and unique career?
After doing my graduation in Journalism from Manipal Institute of Communication and starting my professional career as a journalist, I was all set to get into investigative journalism but then in the battle of ethics and passion, ethics won and I got into something which I had never thought I would. I started my advertising career from a small agency in Pune. Though working on small local businesses didn’t give me the necessary exposure it did teach me the basics and in the absence of any firm processes I was made to do everything on my own. It was not an ideal but a rock solid foundation.
Tell us about your career path
After spending about two years in Pune it was time for me to take a leap and that’s when I decided to shift to Mumbai. My first major agency was Contract, a fabulous place with some really amazing people. That’s where I started to understand advertising as a business.
For the four years I spent in Contract it kept challenging me with new things, whether it was a grilling experience of handling Tata Photon or a designing assignment for Sahara which gave me first-hand experience of handling a demanding client on my own. The power and freedom to run a business in your own way and on your own terms was a great learning experience for me.
What was your biggest break?
But I believe that the biggest break for me came when I got an opportunity to handle Cadbury. It made me learn business in a completely new fashion and also made me understand the power of advertising. Working on Cadbury Halls and Cadbury Eclairs actually got me back in touch with my childhood and the memories associated with it.
I joined BBH in January 2014 and it has been one hell of a ride since then. I have been fortunate to closely work with some of the sharpest and most experienced minds in the industry. I have been working on Marico for more than 2.5 years and because of that, once again I have started to understand India outside its towns and metros. And on a lighter note it has made me talk in proper Hindi after a long time! One of the biggest things I have learned while working on Marico is what an ex-colleague told me: “The best consumer insights don’t come from consumer groups, they come from this unorganized research called life”.
What did you learn from your experiences?
I am a firm believer in the fact that great strategies or ideas don’t come from boardroom meetings. They come from travelling and meeting people. Some of the best insights that I have got in my life have come when I was backpacking across central and north India. A month of randomly roaming around across smallest of villages in India taught me more than quite a few advertising books, sessions and boardroom meetings. I think we all should travel a lot, meet a lot of people and meet them like people and not consumers. I have travelled across the length and breadth of India and have realized that it’s a fascinating country and we are a fascinating race of people and once you start traveling to the interiors of India you can’t stop yourself. It’s an addiction and I am really happy that I got addicted. It has helped me become a better professional but more than that, a far better human being.
The opportunity to work on some of the fastest growing brands of Marico like Nihar Shanti Amla, Parachute Ayurvedic and Nihar Naturals has come with its own set of challenges. The opportunity and challenge to understand consumers from different parts of the country and to also recognize and decode their needs and ambitions has been amazing. We have not just sold hair oil we have actually made people talk about us and that’s what is the power of great communication. I am immensely proud of the brands I have worked on because all of them really want to make a difference and that’s what motivates me to do some great work for them day in and day out.
What do you like about working at BBH?
Working with BBH has been fascinating. It is not just the work but also the culture of BBH which impresses me. A place where you can speak your mind freely and not worry about your seniority in the room is an ideal place to generate great ideas and that freedom and sense of security is what BBH gives each and every employee. The transparency and the ethics with which BBH treats its employees and clients are commendable. One has to actually work here to understand this openness and this culture.
A lot of people ask me if I want to stick around in advertising and I have always said I don’t know. I have never planned my life and I don’t intend to do so in future. I like a sense of suspense in it. Twenty years down the line I might still be in advertising or may be I would be doing farming in Rajasthan or teaching kids in villages across India or cooking in my own roadside dhabha or maybe writing travel pieces.
But whatever I do in life I would love to keep telling stories.