A career is a journey filled with introspection, self-discovery and pleasant surprises that make you realise what you always wanted to do irrespective of what you studied .

Gayatri Iyer, our next pathbreaker, Branding Head, Yoga & Wellness startup, Sarva, conceptualises meaningful stories to help brands connect with consumers, by managing perceptions through PR, Social and other communication channels.

Gayatri talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about discovering her penchant for writing during college, getting her first break in content writing and subsequently being introduced to the enthralling world of Advertising and Marketing from where there was no turning back !

For students, never give up on thinking about what you ideally want to do, because its up to you to make the turnaround no matter where you are or how far you are from your aspirations !

Gayatri, tell us about Your background?

My background probably looks unconnected to what I do when I look at my life now. I’m from a South Indian family with strong beliefs, and we all know how much South Indians love studying. My father always believed that finance/tech is the way to go; so both myself and my twin sister studied Finance – graduation and post-graduation. 

But somewhere at the back of my head I knew that this is not what I would be good at. So I gave up my first job out of college and took up a position in content writing, because I loved to write. It struck me like lightning when I finally realised that I’m good at something. From then on, there was nothing else I could or wanted to do in my career. 

What did you do for graduation/post graduation?

I studied Finance. BFM (Bachelors in Financial Markets) and MBA Finance. 

What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career?

I’d say, turning points and experiences. I remember loving the Marketing/Branding lectures in college even though Marketing was my second elective. I loved making branding presentations, thinking of ideas and writing. I got my first job in content writing only because I wrote personal finance articles in college and I wrote it in a way that made it simpler and easier to understand. 

Isn’t that what marketing is, anyway?

How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? Tell us about your career path

My career has, at every step been a personal revelation for me. I started off as a content writer for L&T Mutual Funds, a job I never thought I was qualified for. The only thing that got me that job was a couple of articles in college that I wrote for an inter-collegiate fest, on personal finance. 

While at L&T, I was a part of the marketing team and I was enamoured by the way people thought. The ideas, the collaborations, the act of making something boring sound interesting….it felt familiar. 

I knew I had to learn more about it. 

I then moved on to The Glitch, a leading digital ad agency in Mumbai. I got this job ‘only’ because of my writing experience in Finance and the willingness to work for brands no one else wanted to. It’s here where I learnt the ground work of advertising which in my opinion, every marketer must do. I got the opportunity to work on some amazing brands like LinkedIn, Star India, ICICI Bank, Kissan etc. I built teams that are still doing some amazing work, made connections that helped me grow my own network and a lifetime of learnings that shaped my career. 

I always knew that I wanted to learn and move on, and apply my learnings on the brand side. So my next move was to a leading music streaming brand called JioSaavn (previously known as Saavn) Over here I was leading the social media portfolio for the music streaming, podcast and original music verticals. It’s here where I learnt to marry creativity with business, to drive campaigns with actual hard business goals and to think on a global level. 

After working for a global brand, I thought I should challenge myself and move to a brand where I can handle more, do more and learn more. Answer – a startup. And fortunately, I got an opportunity in an industry I personally love and am super passionate about – fitness/wellness. 

I currently work with Sarva Yoga – a homegrown yoga & wellness brand and I lead Brand, Comms & Social. 

There’s something about working in an industry you personally love – you know the brand, you are the audience and thus, you know how to speak to ‘you’. I started off leading Social but moved on to head Brand because of the sheer interest and passion for the industry and the vertical.  

How did you get your first break?

Quite funnily, my first ‘break’ was through campus placement but I never took that job. I got introduced to someone at L&T Finance and sent in some samples of writing and then got hired as a Financial Content Writer there. 

That was the first step of my marketing career.

What were the challenges you faced? How did you address them?

Challenge 1: 

P.E.O.P.L.E – the biggest challenge and the biggest reward. My mentors have always told me that after a point in your career you’re not managing work, you’re managing people. Your skill-set has gotten you this far and now it’s how well you sell it, teach it and grow it. And this is also one thing I’ve enjoyed – building teams that lift you up, are better than you and eventually allow you to do more than you ever thought you could – that’s when you know you have a winning team!

Challenge 2: 

Not getting complacent – I think its a problem marketers face, but getting too comfortable is not comfortable. I make sure I’m always on my toes, if a task is getting too comfortable. I ensure I challenge myself with something new, something interesting and something that will allow me to become a little better than what I was yesterday.

Challenge 3: 

Striking a balance. It’s not a challenge that’s often spoken about but should be. It’s something I’ve learnt from working in multiple companies and with multiple bosses. Your creative, mental, physical health ALWAYS COMES FIRST. No job, no boss and no company is worth ruining yourself for. I’ve personally experienced more productivity when I’m well rested, take enough breaks and most importantly, love doing my job.

I take this simple test with myself. As long as you love Mondays, and are excited to start working after a well-rested weekend, do it. When Monday starts becoming a burden, you know something needs to be fixed.

Where do you work now? Tell us what you do?

I head Brand for a homegrown yoga & wellness startup called Sarva.

I try to solve for one question – What is Sarva and how should our customers/investors/partners perceive it? And I answer this through 3 channels – Brand, Social & PR

What skills are needed for your job? How did you acquire the skills?

Tell genuine, meaningful stories. Domain skills will follow. I learnt to tell meaningful stories in my advertising stint. I learnt to attach business goals to my storytelling while working on the brand side.

But my one advice to budding marketers – get your hands, feet, minds dirty by doing the groundwork. It teaches you more than you can ever learn with a degree. 

What is a typical day like?

I’m a process-person. My day starts with putting together a task-list of everything I need to get done. I’m also an avid day-dreamer and a morning person. I spend the most productive 4-5 hours in the morning finishing all the ‘tasks’ and then get to the creative part of my job – writing, planning campaigns, brainstorming social ideas etc.

What is it you love about this job?

It allows me to tell stories, every single day. And to a marketer, there’s no greater joy than to tell stories and have them translate into business numbers, customer satisfaction, brand visibility etc. 

How does your work benefit the society? 

The world has never needed wellness more than right now. If you’re reading this and you’ve ever experienced the feeling of ‘relaxation’ by doing something you love, you’ll know what I’m talking about. We’re trying to move a small needle with this huge aim of transformation and yoga & yoga-based wellness is one of the strongest tools in bringing about this change. 

Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!

Its from my previous company, JioSaavn. 

The idea was to announce the launch of lyrics on the app that you can sing along with. The idea? Read on…

If you’re from Mumbai and follow pop culture, you’d know of a former VJ/content creator called Jose Covaco aka Hoezaay and his content ‘misheard lyrics’ 

We knew this was it. What better way to launch lyrics than to do a parody of misheard lyrics. And long-story short, it was a hit! 

Your advice to students based on your experience?

Books teach you the basics of marketing, customer, strategy etc. But actual work teaches you how many of those ideas will actually bring you numbers. 

– If you’re starting out, join an advertising agency and get your hands dirty. Work with multiple brands, multiple types of customers, multiple products/services because once you try everything, you finally realise the one thing you’re good at. 

  • Creativity is useless if it doesn’t translate into business numbers. This is a mistake ad agencies often make. 
  • When you eventually go up the ladder, strive to work with people who are better than you, who challenge you, who motivate you because there’ll always be something you’ll learn out of it. 

Future Plans?

As I write this, I’m considering a role in brand consulting. Brand Consulting marries two of my favourite roles – working for multiple brands + creative ideas that bring results. 

I have always loved fitness and food as industries and I’ve also had the opportunity to work with brands in this space because its something I personally love and am super-passionate about.