Interview with Ambience Publicis national creative director Pushpinder Singh

Triton Communications, Grey Worldwide, Leo Burnett, Ogilvy & Mather and now Ambience Publicis... man on the move this. Ambience Publicis' new national creative director Pushpinder Singh has some big plans chalked out for the agency he is now spearheading.

In a t?te-?-t?te with's Hetal Adesara, Singh spoke about his mandate at Ambience, his plan of action and his vision for the agency.




You have left a top notch agency (O&M) and joined a relatively small agency. What kind of professional growth have you achieved in the last six months?

First things first… relative to O&M probably this place is not big, yet at the same time it is not as small as popular perception amkes it out. In fact if you put the entire Publicis Group in India, it is bigger than Leo Burnett. So while it is not as big as O&M, it is fairly substantial in size.

One interesting thing, which will keep coming as we talk, is that at O&M, I was in charge of eight or nine brands, which used to give us an 'x' amount of billing. But here to bill that 'x' amount we would probably have to work on 20-25 brands because the brands are smaller. The amount of work required on a big brand is the same as that required on a small brand - one needs television, print, outdoor.

Now to really answer your question, while at Ogilvy I won a lot of awards - at last count it was 22 in three years - and I was responsible for my set of brands. I also had complete freedom in creative authority on my businesses. I don't think I was steering the creative fortunes of the entire agency. So here it's not just 'my group' or 'my set of brands', what one is attempting is to lift the standards of the entire agency.

There is a big difference between leading just a group within a huge agency and then leading the whole agency creatively. So nuts and bolts like the morale of the people, the sensitivity of the people who have already been working here for a long time. One has to take care of that and make sure that it is conducive to the new people you are hiring. We've hired about 10 new people and are on the look out for more.

And like I mentioned earlier, we have brands which are smaller in size but the width of the brand is huge. So that means a very intensive effort. And to top that, we have been pitching very aggressively. So these have been hectic but heady times for us at Ambience.



What have been the high points so far at the agency?

I think what is very satisfying to see is that very quickly we have significantly raised the standard of our films. I would like to believe that the show reel of our ads in the five-six months is the number two show reel in the country.

The other high point is that when I left Ogilvy, quite a few of my colleagues followed me here and that was one of the most emotional moments of my career to see that people trust you and that they are willing to work for you.

Beyond that there have been a few occasions here and there… At the recently held Young Guns International advertising awards in Australia, Ambience Publicis bagged the Bronze, which was the best performance by any Indian agency.

Beyond that, we have been winning our businesses. We bagged one assignment from Reliance.



Can you give me the organisational structure at Ambience?

Ashok Kurien is the chairman and managing director. Nakul Chopra is the president, Elsie Nanji - chief creative officer, who is responsible for both the agencies, that is, Publicis India and Ambience Publicis. I creatively head Ambience Publicis and report to Elsie. Sanjay Sipahi Malhani creatively heads Publicis India and is based in Delhi. Subhash Kamat is the COO of Ambience Publicis.

Under me I have five groups, some of which are headed by creative directors and the others by associate creative directors.



What was the mandate given to you by the agency?

In fact one of the reasons I joined here was because the mandate given to me was so simple and clear cut. It was to lift the creative standards of the agency. Ambience has always produced high quality work as far as fashion or lifestyle products go.

What I think this place really needed, and I think that's where I fitted the bill, was to create meaningful work on the mass brands like Parachute, Elf etc.

On a more personal level, I'll say it very bluntly - The ambition is to be the number one creative agency in India.



You had mentioned the same in an earlier interview also. Wouldn't you rather let your work speak for itself rather than make such tall claims?

When you talk about it clearly stating your ambitions, you put additional pressure on yourself to meet what you've said. (Laughs)

On a more serious note, the reason why I am talking about it is because in my mind I see it as eminently possible. It doesn't look very distant to me. What we need is to up our standards on our most visible brands as they are most representative of an agency's outputs and I think that it will take a while. Winning awards is not difficult and we'll win our share of awards. I'm sure; if not this year, then in the years to come.



How much time are you giving yourself?

If all goes well, I think we should definitely be in the reckoning in two years.



At this point where do you think the agency stands in terms of creativity?

I like to believe there is O&M, who has been the most creative agency by far for well over a decade now. And if you ask anyone which is the number two agency in India, you probably won't get a clear cut answer. There are a clutch of agencies, which people say have a decent standard of work. I think right now we are somewhere there…



In the last interview with our website you had mentioned that the many creative styles at O&M were there because Piyush Pandey used to leave all of you alone. Now in the capacity of national creative director, do you leave your creative team alone?

Absolutely. We are in the business where no one person can ever have all the right answers. There's this old saying - 'You should know better than to know best.' So I think the only way to do this is to hire people who are better than you and then just leave them alone. If they need help in selling, showcasing or executing their work then we're always there to guide them. And I don't think creativity is something that you can teach anyone.

The converse is also true. If someone is not really performing, then you you're your sleeves up and do the work yourself.



We're almost nearing the year end. How would you say 2004 has been for the advertising industry? And what according to you have been the landmarks in Indian advertising this year?

I don't have any numbers at my disposal but I would like to believe that the growth in the industry has been healthy.

Every year you have one or two big visible campaigns, which also have very high creative standards, but that hasn't happened this year from any agency.



What do you think was different in your pitch that made you bag the Reliance India Mobile pre-paid services?

I like to think that we were high on enthusiasm. That somewhere showed in our interaction with them. There is a lot of work that went into that, not only creatively but a lot of planning work.



After you joined, what are the new campaigns that you have personally worked on? And which one is your favourite?

The ads that I have worked on after I joined Ambience are Elf, Vicks cough syrup, Playwin, Snehi, Parachute Sampoorna, Silk N Shine, Lakme Peach Milk, Himani Fast Relief to name a few.

I think out of these there have been three very good campaigns from our end this year. First is that of Marico Silk N Shine, then is the Parachute Sampoorna and the third one is Elf. I think these three are our better film campaigns this year.



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