We have grown up witnessing the magical influence of brands through powerful storytelling and creative communication. Brands leave a strong and lasting impact on us long after the product has ceased to exist !
Arushi Awasthi, our next pathbreaker, leads all branding and communication efforts for Hero Vired (a learning company by Hero Group), right from how the brand is presented to an audience to being its advocate and ensuring the vision and mission are communicated well.
Arushi talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about taking her love for branding across verticals, from fashion, real estate to education, with a focus on the core product offering and doing justice to it .
For students, when you help build a company and its brand from the ground up, you become a part of it, a part of it’s story and a part of what it stands for ! There is no better way to leave your mark on the industry !
Arushi, tell us a bit about Yourself?
Well, unlike many from stable backgrounds, I had a nomadic life. With my father serving for the Indian Armed Forces, I not only changed schools every 2-3 years, but also friends. My father’s story might be a more interesting one than mine. His grooming and growth in a village to how he chose medicine over engineering (as those were the only two options); to him moving to the city to one of the best medical institutes, leading his class and joining the Army (and again, getting that gold medal in his MD) might be a great story for another time.
My mom did her education in Lucknow, & used to teach in CMS, Lucknow. Post marriage, she was the leader of the nomads (us!). She was the chief packing officer of our home and moved towns without any hesitation and oh, also cook us and everyone the best meals! I still remember, everyone in school used to wait for my lunch box to open. These were instances when I opened an empty box, because it was already opened and consumed.
Coming back to my schooling, I studied across the country in Army Public Schools (mostly!). I was always ambitious, I wanted to do things differently. I took PCMB in my high school, knowing very well I didn’t really want to do medicine or engineering. I just liked the subjects. I was always the creative one, and the inquisitive one.
What did you do for graduation/post graduation?
After taking PCMB, I did give the general examination of PMT and EEE, as one would expect, again knowing I did not wish to pursue any of them. I did eye BArch though, since it did fit all the buckets of creativity, especially my love for design and interiors. I also did get a decent ranking there. At the same time, I explored Journalism and Design. All 3 seemed to be calling me. If I let you in on a secret, I chose design, simply because I cleared an AIR 5. With this, I went ahead with B.Sc. Leather Goods and Accessory Design, FDDI (Footwear Design and Development Institute) , Ministry of Commerce and Industry.
What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and unique career?
I have always been a people person. I have a keen eye for detail and design. I love ads and brand stories, and my brain doesn’t stop thinking of new ideas (I am really not kidding!).
I think my first turning point of moving to brand & marketing was at FDDI. I do recall my HOD, who would always pick on me for ideas for events, activations, etc, asking, ‘What are you doing here, you should be doing branding & PR’. When I started internships and picking up on CAD/CAM and MARCOM, I realized this is what I am meant to do, and there was no looking back.
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
This is a very interesting one. Infact, just a couple of days ago, a really dear friend of mine mentioned that I should write a book about my journey, ‘From Designing Shoes to Reimagining Education’. I jokingly agreed, and asked him if he knew someone who’d be interested.
As I had mentioned earlier, I have had a nomadic life, and in one way or the other it reflects on my professional career too. What I have learnt while growing up is where I stand, what I want to achieve and that there should be nothing coming in the way of it, professionally, more than personally. I have always been an ambitious person and if a great opportunity knocks at my door, I take it.
When everyone in the 1st year of college was planning their vacations, I was sending out letters to HRs of companies I loved, to spend the month learning something. Though I do not remember the number of emails I must have sent, I do recall a subject line, “Hidesign Interview ” popping on my screen. Since it was my 1st year, they asked me if I would be interested in interning in merchandising and retail. Since I was the only one interning in year 1 and with a brand such as “Hidesign”, I agreed. And needless to say, I learnt so much. From P&L, Retail Planning, to Visual Merchandising and, ofcourse, Sales. It was a game changer.
I took my experience back to college, outperformed and already started writing letters to designers in my 2nd year. Now that I had seen the brand side of things, I wanted to experience the designer side. I received an email from Malini Agarwalla (Malaga Bags) in Mumbai, for a well paid internship. Excitedly, I packed my bags for 2 months in Mumbai. It was absolutely worth it, from understanding people skills, to the karigari (workmanship) and taking my learnings from Hidesign to Malaga, and understanding the nitty-gritties of luxury brand management. College was a great experience.
I started working in college. I was at a comic event where I spotted this little exhibit called Buzzaria. Interestingly, the owner of this brand was doubling up as the salesperson. She had an energy about her that drove me to picking up my laptop and dropping an email about working with her. Within 3 hours of sending the email, she responded with, if I recall it correctly, “In what capacity do you want to work with us” and I told her I would love to take care of her brand, and by midnight she mailed, ‘Let’s meet tomorrow at Buzzaria’ and that’s how it all began.
Imagine start-ups in 2011. It was not even a known term in the market, and it was very new for me as well. Of course, fast forward to a few years, and everyone knows what startups are and wants to be a part of them. It wasn’t easy back then, I mean there were less or no teams. I entered a space where one had to do everything; and it not only gave me confidence, but also built my portfolio and made me realise my true potential, based on how I think and want to do things differently.
I had learnt so much working across internships and with Buzzaria. I used to upload my design portfolios, I knew the importance of social presence, brand ownership, business contacts and projecting myself professionally. And then, one fine day, I received a call from a consultant asking me if I was looking for a job change and willing to move to Thailand for Oriflame. I heard two things, ‘move to Thailand’ and “Work with Oriflame”, and didn’t hesitate to say, “Would love to hear more!”. A couple of interviews later, I was getting my visa stamped in Thailand. Life changed at Oriflame. I learnt how MNCs function, how processes are set and how globally collaborative teams work. I was a catalogue specialist for the South Asia Market.
For a direct to sales company like Oriflame, your catalogue is your shop, your only marketing tool. My education in CAD/CAM assisted in the catalogue specialist role. Though the role wasn’t just limited to computer aided design, it required high coordination and brainstorming with planners and forecasters in respective markets (and hence, a lot of calls to India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka). Right from identifying what works in the market, to what’s the future of the product, to what needs to be pushed is a major contributor to catalogue planning. Along with this, I was to also identify what celebrities/models resonated with the product and would be the ambassador or help accelerate sales. I had the pleasure of working in not one but two celebrities campaigns with Huma Qureshi and Sonali Bendre and Art Directing quite a few model shoots.
Approximately after a year and half with Oriflame, and coming back to India, Fabindia called. I doubt anyone in India or globally hasn’t heard of Fabindia. They set up meetings with Head- Advertising and Communications as well as the CEO and I was in! What gave me a lot of exposure and growth at Fabindia was that the Head of Advertising Communication was on maternity leave and I took over and helped run the department with the CEO. From the launch of the 1st TVC (TV Commercial) to the launch of the 1st Men’s wedding collection, it was an amazing ride. Managing budgets became a huge part of my job, and it helped me sharpen my negotiation skills.
Bidding goodbye to Fabindia, I landed at Genesis Colors as Marketing Manager. The Business Head of the men’s division of Fabindia and my (and a lot of people’s!) favorite boss woman, Renu Prasad, had moved to genesis; and it was the easiest choice and move. I think what you learn from Renu is humanity, leadership, amazing entrepreneurial skills, and a no bull-s*** attitude. She’s taught me to be a fearless leader and a protective manager; and that respect truly is earned and not demanded. That said, with genesis, there was a lot of celebrity/influencer management, social media marketing, photoshoots, events and PR management. Fashion as an industry is very demanding, not as simple as it looks.
After over a year in Genesis, I got the strangest inMail on LinkedIn, and very interestingly crafted, from WeWork; how that they are the most valued startup with the link to their website. They also mentioned how they stumbled on my profile regarding an exciting role in Branding and Marketing. I checked the website out. The workspace looked “super cool”, very different from any industry I had worked in the past. I ended up with 5 odd rounds of interviews and an offer (and esops!!!). ‘Make a life and not just a living’ was not only their mission but something that WeWork followed in their work culture and lifestyle too. It was one of the most unique experiences. I never thought I’d learn so much on real estate. Marketing was multi-fold as the TG level (Target Group) was extensive, and all categories were different from each other. From being one of the first few employees of WeWork to having over 40 people in the B&M team, jumping around cities, and travelling to two countries, it was quite a journey.
WeWork is an American commercial real estate unicorn providing collaborative workspace to Entrepreneurs, Startups and MNCs. WeWork changed the dynamics of Indian commercial real estate after they entered the market. Following the brand buzz we created, not only entrepreneurs, but most major MNCs also moved to WeWork taking large spaces. A lot of people do ask me, you weren’t from a real estate background, how did this move work? To which I always address, I believe I am a passionate marketer and it doesn’t matter what the product is, marketing as a subject doesn’t change; the basics of marketing remain the same. As long as you believe in your brand, and your know the goal, you just have to mould your plan according to the product, and you’ll be doing justice to it.
My journey with WeWork ended with a break that was meant to be for a month or two, but thanks to the pandemic, extended longer than anticipated, and resulted in me venturing out. I used to take freelance or consultancy projects. I used to put in a lot more effort to seek them than wait for them to come to me. I took on 3 big projects and a few small ones, set up a small business of my own, found my niche, consulted with brands on Branding & Marketing, until a call from Hero came in, regarding a hush-hush project they were going to start with. After 3 super quick meetings across new year’s eve and after the new year, I was all set to make “big things” happen. A couple of exhaustive months and sleepless nights later, we launched Hero Vired, a learning company by the Hero Group. From here, it’s only upwards and onwards!
If you ask me, I believe LinkedIn played a very important role in providing me access to the right jobs, the right profile and the right people. People do judge a book by it’s cover. So, package yourself well, put out your credentials, tell them what you have achieved and what you are capable of, and never lose hope; trust me, there is no stopping you!
How did you get your first break?
When the placements were coming close, our HOD walked into the class, called me out and asked me not to sit for them and let someone else grab the seat (not kidding!), as I could grab a job myself through my network easily, and did not really need placement support. I don’t recall if I was shocked, grinning, or happy about it.
It isn’t the easiest thing to do though. If you check my gmail, I’ve written about hundreds of emails to people who inspire me, brands I connect with and brands I see I could make a difference in, over the years. You need to have a lot of patience and something good will come out of it.
What were some of the challenges you faced? How did you address them?
I think a lot of the challenges I faced, as mentioned in my career path above, were the result of my desire to be different, stand out of the crowd, and be ambitious.
Where do you work now? Tell us about your role at Hero Vired
I currently work with a new learning company called Hero Vired. Hero Vired is the future of education. It will change the way we learn. The major problem that the company is looking at reducing is the employability paradox. There is a large population going through higher education, but is still unemployable. The industry is in dire need of fresh talent. Hero Vired aims to break this cycle by training people for industry relevant programs that are mapped to the current industry skill gaps.
At the same time, the pandemic has accelerated the need for digital learning and has adapted people to this platform. Hero Vired offers it’s programs in collaboration with reputed global universities like MIT, Singularity University and Codecademy, digitally. This is to ensure that every child who deserves quality education has access to the same, however remote he /she may be.
What skills are needed for your role? How did you acquire the skills?
I lead all branding and communication efforts for Hero Vired. Right from how our brand is presented to an audience to being its advocate and ensuring the vision and mission are communicated well, are my key objectives. The skills needed for the same are Brand Strategy, Marketing, PR, Brand Building, Campaign Planning Leadership, Ownership, Media Planning and Buying, Strategic Partnerships, to name a few. I think my past experiences helped me learn and brush up on the skills I need for my current role. Although, I truly believe that you learn something new with every job, that you didn’t know of before.
What is a typical day like?
It’s been work from home…so, wake up, check emails, check WhatsApp messages, look for any press updates on the industry, competition, us, while having morning tea; a lot of meetings; lots of collaborative discussions across industries and branding; PR strategies, content strategies, brand strategies. Wrap up, check emails as a last thing before I sleep again.
What is it you love about this job?
What’s not to love? When you help build a company from the ground up, you become a part of it, a part of it’s story and that’s what I love. Every plan or strategy that I put on paper comes from a place where I know I have to do something different. I am a custodian of a piece of this business and I take it with me wherever I go. Being a part of the core team has its perks, you are the decision maker of what you want to do with the brand; the excitement and the adrenaline rush that comes with it, is what I love.
That said, it’s a company where employees aren’t called family on orientation day or on a cultural ppt, it’s where you are treated as one in good days and bad, and I believe, that’s another thing I love about this job.
How does your work benefit society?
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and so won’t any brand be. Brand Communications is a very interesting career choice if you want to leave your mark on the industry. It is the brand communications team that defines a brand, takes them out to the public and makes them believe in the product. Right from what a brand should be called, to who the TG would be, to how you would communicate with them and what you want them to believe in, is your strategy. Without brand communications, there wouldn’t be a brand. You would be the owner of the brand, if not the owner of the company. It is a very atypical, exciting career choice.
Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!
Ah, this is a toughie, there are a few, in no specific order of preference:
- Launching Fabindia’s Mens Wedding Collection
- Managing the A&C department at Fabindia
- Changing the WeWork signage not on a FB page, but the signage on the largest building in Asia, to pride colors on 31st Midnight for the Pride Month
- Launching Hero Vired
Your advice to students based on your experience?
1. You won’t know what you are best at, until you try.
2. Be patient and never lose hope.
3. Good things take time.
4. You create your own future.
5. Don’t shy away from taking risks.
6. You know your value, never forget it.
7. Passion is infectious. If you are passionate about something, show it.
8. If the right opportunity comes your way, grab it.
9. Be a leader, not a manager.
My life has been full of surprises, so I’ll let the future surprise me. But yes, I believe, I am here to make your brand the next big thing, and I will continue doing that.
On a personal front, maybe, a house with a front yard and 4-6 dogs, multiple cups of tea and a lot of laughs.