"We know how to make global trends locally relevant" : O&M creative director V Sunil

For one who hadn't any plans of getting into advertising, V Sunil's career seems to have shaped up in an intriguing manner. The O&M Delhi creative director started working as an artist in a studio in Bangalore by chance rather than choice in the late 80s. Soon he joined Contract Advertising in Bangalore. "Those days, art directors' average age used to be 40, but I came across an art director who was only 23. So I made it a point to be an art director by that age," remembers Sunil.

The chirpy creative professional joined McCann Erickson as an art director before he turned 23. Within a year, he was promoted as a senior art director. Thereafter, he continued to make rapid progress as he went on to work with Contract Delhi, Lintas (only for six months) before he joined O&M Delhi. Under his leadership, O&M Delhi's creative team has performed fairly well this season. Besides managing seven nominations in the One Show, and awards at Cannes including Gold for Business World direct marketing, the campaign for Human Organ Procurement and Education Trust (HOPE) has been chosen for Communications Arts design annual, scheduled for November this year.'s Ritesh Gupta got in touch with Sunil for an interview on his career, O&M's Delhi operations and more. Excerpts:



How has O&M Delhi office performed in terms of creative work in the recent past?

In this year's One Show, Ogilvy Delhi office had seven nominations out of 10. Even in Cannes this year, we had six nominations and we won Gold for the Business World direct marketing campaign. So work wise I would say, creative people who are here, know the game now. How to work on good ideas, push them or make them click -- everyone has understood that game now.

If you compare O&M with any other agency, the difference is that even the young boys are on the same wavelength. Our team here is aware of global trends but more importantly, it knows how to make it locally relevant.



How was the experience at Cannes this year?

It was fantastic. I, along with Piyush (Pandey) and Ranjan (Kapur), received the award for Business World direct marketing (DM) campaign. After the 'print and poster' category, there was a buzz that O&M will collect some award in DM. Then next morning, I got a call from the award committee and they asked me whether we would be there in the evening. Normally, if it's not gold, you don't go up. Otherwise, your name is announced (for other than gold). So when I asked (the caller), I was told it was gold. It was an unexpected call but I was really happy. I was expecting something but not gold...



Your work has been selected in the CA annual as well…

It feels really great to be selected in the CA (Communication Arts) Annual for HOPE. This is tougher than the One Show and there are very few in the book. You are really among the top few in the world.



  "In Delhi to hire someone from outside is tough. There are not many good guys but somehow we manage to get them. The fact is, when an agency does good work, it attracts the best"



What do you think has been the key in differentiating O&M as an agency?

O&M somehow manages to get the best of the creative lot from all over the country. If you look at agencies around, apart from Contract, Ambience and Enterprise Nexus and a few other guys, all the good creative people are in O&M.

Especially in Delhi if you want to hire someone from outside, it's very tough. First of all, there are not many good guys but somehow we manage to get good ones. That has to do with the fact that when an agency does good work, it attracts the best of the lot. It ends up hiring them (creative professionals). And it, sort of, sustains quality work or culture as there is competition and pressure to sustain that level.

The creative head also has great pressure to manage the fantastic work taking place. In that sense, we have a standard to maintain, created by us only. Now that we created a gap between us and other agencies, we have to keep it going.



What kind of structure is being followed here?

In Delhi, basically, we have four creative groups. Each group has a copy head and an art head, and they are senior guys (associate creative directors). They are the ones who run the daily business, handling a large number of clients. Under them (four groups) there are two teams each. This is the structure we follow. And there is room for flexibility and motivation. If somebody is doing well, the person is pushed up or given more responsibility. And I am also directly involved in some of the brands, besides interacting with groups on the accounts they are handling.



O&M has hardly conceded any account in the recent years. Why?

It's very true. There is great relationship with clients. The joint aim is to try and produce great work. So, many clients also respect that and vice versa. In most of the cases, I have one-to-one equation rather than typical ad agency-client relationship. And that helps us a lot.

Couple of months back we had a party, involving our clients, and it was so pleasing to see so many happy people. In fact, it was tough to believe that the client's team was taking the initiative on its own, rather than the normal practice where the agency waits for the client to leave and then enjoys the party. The new guys in our agency were shocked to see that the client was treating it as if it was their own party. So it kind of shows the relationship we share with clients.



"Awards bring recognition but that's true only to some extent. We only think about awards when the entry deadline approaches. Otherwise our goal is to deliver"



How much do good work and awards contribute to this?

The clients also feel the impact of the work. Another factor is that creative guys here understand the business. Yes, awards bring recognition but that's true only to some extent. We only think about awards when the entry deadline approaches. Otherwise, our goal is to deliver. If you deliver, obviously clients appreciate it.



Do you think overall, work done in Delhi is neglected?

Yes, it is neglected but I don't know why. Probably, the media is Mumbai-centric or based out there.



What about guys getting undue credit? Do you get peeved at times?

True, it happens. Some of the guys here are more talented (in the overall agency standards) as compared to Mumbai. Even in terms of clients based here such as Pepsi, Gillette, Whirlpool, Nestle, and Electrolux and others, Delhi is important. That's why I said everything seems to be Mumbai-centric. If the same client moves to Mumbai, we get to read about them more often. So overall, from the marketing perspective as well, there seems to be a lack of importance given to Delhi.



"All production work has to be done in Mumbai. There is no infrastructure in Delhi for that. This is one real big weakness"



What about production qualities in Delhi market, which hardly has any infrastructure for that?

All production work has to be done in Mumbai. Over here, the scenario is really bad. I have to shuttle between Delhi and Mumbai very often. It is the same thing in Bangalore as they are only a couple of companies but otherwise everyone has to go to Mumbai. There is no infrastructure out here to do production work. This is one real big weakness. We have tried to work it out here by getting cameraman and other members but it doesn't works this way.

But in terms of photography, Delhi is very good. There is much action in Mumbai because of the film industry. I don't see this changing in Delhi for a long time to come..



Coming back to work, do you think your job as a creative professional has become more complex with media fragmentation?

If you are into it and you want to be different every time you work, it will be tough all the time. Also, I don't see it in that sense. I treat it like fun more than anything else. But the moment you take it in that sense, it really becomes tough for you.


"Today, we have to realise that consumer doesn't have that much time to wait and watch or enough time to read. They want to see something new all the time"



What about the strategy of keeping campaigns on air only for a while?

In some cases, clients get on with a campaign, do a solid burst or exposure for three-four months and then get out. For instance, in case of a product category like mobile phones, this is typical as it is time for a new model after three months or so. Even in case of other consumer durables like television, the same is the case. We also get associated with a particular cricket series and then out.


What is your view from a creative professional's perspective on this? Must be disappointing to see work getting such treatment.

That's reality. Today, the way things are happening, you have to take it in the right spirit. We have to realise the fact that the consumer doesn't have that much time to wait and watch or enough time to read. Consumers want to see something new all the time.

Earlier, it used to be just one campaign on air. Then gradually the next campaign and so on. But now, if there are three advertisements in one campaign, they are released in quick succession. We are also working on the same lines. As soon as a new campaign gets on air, we are already thinking about a sequel or another new campaign. It's very rare to see a campaign lasting for six-seven months now. Apart from Indian tourism and American Express, in most of the other accounts, I follow the same trend. 'Came-in and went-out' way.




What is your source of inspiration?

I think it's the guys out here (in office). There is no typical source of inspiration. More than inspiration, it's the pressure from these guys and my wife to produce great work.



Do you live your work in and out?

Of course not. It's anyway a hectic schedule. All the time you are thinking about marketing and campaigns. When I am out, I like to be with my friends, both in business and outside of it. I don't like to be in work all the time. And the moment I am outside, I switch off from it or stop thinking.

Basically I like movies. I try to watch at least a movie a day, if I am in town. I also like to study design art form.



How did you get into creative work?

I used to take part in sketching and painting competitions in my school days. I wanted to be a mechanic but it didn't materialise. I met a senior artist and started working in a studio in Bangalore. Then I got into Contract and joined as an artist. I got an opportunity to work on a campaign and it became very popular. Those days, it was rare to see an art director who was only 23. When I joined McCann, I was an art director before that age (23). I even became senior art director before turning 24. I have been fortunate to work with Ravi Desphande and Tara Sinha.

Thereafter, I joined Contract in Delhi and became creative director before I met Piyush (Pandey), who persuaded me to join O&M. I have been in this agency for four years now.


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