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All the talent in the world means squat…unless you use it.

KA Advertising - Manifesto 11

There’s a common misconception in advertising that good work will automatically happen once you land a good project. That might be half the story, because once you’ve landed a project you’ve to get yourself (or your team) to work on it. And that’s easier said than done.

Everyone who’s worked in advertising long enough will acknowledge this.

The single biggest excuse most people offer in defense of average output is that “we didn’t have enough time.” That’s just what it is: an excuse.

Of course, it’s very easy to get distracted. There’s always that one more cup of coffee to get, emails to check, status updates to be made. We’ve all been there, done that. “We haven’t had enough time to get this done right,” we’ve lamented. And we haven’t. We’ve ensured that.

One way to not get distracted and focus on the task at hand is to make a list. Not a ‘to do’ list; a ‘not to do’ list. Honestly write down every possible thing that can lead you astray from the task at hand. You’ll be surprised at how more time seems to magically materialize once you decide on leaving unimportant things well enough alone.

But it might be tough to focus if the project you’re working on is not particularly juicy. For instance, you might be working on a industrial brochure for an old-world engineering company – on the face of it, not a very ‘cool’ project. Your colleagues find it unimpressive, the client is unexciting and the brief is demoralizing.

The way to approach this is to trick yourself into getting to enjoy it. And the way to do that is to take the project as a personal challenge. “Given these constraints, what’s the best possible solution I can come up with that I will be happy with.” If your solution is relevant and different, there’s every chance the output will be spectacular.

“Where’s the brief in the prescribed format?”And sundry other excuses.

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Make no mistake. Not for once are we advocating that solid creative work doesn’t need a blueprint as a starting point. A brief not only helps guide and inspire the creative team at ad agencies, it’s also a critical yardstick to gauge the creative product. If the work is relevant, different and on brief, you will always have a winner.

But oftentimes, you’ll find agencies and creative teams within agencies trying to take refuge behind process. “Where’s the brief?”, you will encounter, even if it means something as trivial as adding a URL onto a layout.

This is nothing but sheer tardiness. An excuse to delay the creative work. A blatant attempt at hiding behind process, protocol and hierarchy – anything to avoid picking up pen and paper, rolling up the proverbial sleeves and jumping into the project.

Over the years, we’ve known many such people. Colleagues and peers who have routinely and diligently shoved advertising ‘rules’ into our faces. “Is there a written client brief for this?”, they’ve smugly enquired dozens of times, and wasted countless man hours just trying to get through ‘process’. And this, not in giant multi-national agencies where some sort of discipline and order is always desirable, but in smaller, less than ten-people shops. Tch, tch, tch.

We, obviously are not sticklers when it comes to process. We’ve done several big, even complicated projects without a conventional brief. The ForbesLife magazine design project was one such job where we designed every page of a 250-page magazine without the benefit of a written brief.

Given our size and agility, we believe in getting on the phone and seeking clarifications, rather than sending a long email cced and bcced to the entire client and agency ecosystem. We believe in sitting down with our clients and asking them what business problems they have, and how we can solve them.

We try to rally our clients around a shared vision – that of doing outstanding creative work for their brand. We feel there’s a place for politics; it’s in politics, not within the agency or in a client relationship. We feel it’s OK to make mistakes and learn from them. We prefer face-to-face meetings to sort misunderstandings out. Above all, we’re fanatical about one and only one thing – not letting process get in the way of producing good creative work.

It’s worked for us wonderfully over the last two years or so.

Problems are fantastic.
Especially if they happen to our clients.

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We’ve always maintained that we’re in the business of solving our clients’ problems. Nothing excites us more than a phone call or an email from a client that’s asking us to put on our thinking berets and go to work on their problem.

Which is why we revere problems. Every problem represents an opportunity. It’s a challenge to put our know-how and skills to the test. It’s a chance to create some great work. It’s the possibility of having have loads of fun. And lastly, there’s always the prospect of making some money while we’re doing all of the above.

Over the last two years, we’ve had quite a few occasions to roll up our sleeves and go toe to toe with some peculiar problems.

One of our client’s was having problems trying to recruit the right kind of people for their organization. We fixed that – not with a mass media ad campaign but by creating a clever presentation for campus recruitment and a nifty HR kit.

Another client wanted to talk about the CSR measures they’ve undertaken without coming across as show offs. We helped them by producing a series of films that made the point with impact and subtlety.

Yet another client wanted to launch beverage vending machine in North India. We pitched in with an optimized outdoor campaign that ran in tandem with a 3D direct mailer.

Problems are what make us tick, what make us happy. They’re our lifeblood. Without them, we’d be out of business.

On why we’re delighted to ask for help.

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Very few people are experts in all areas. It’s rare to find a copywriter who can code, an art director who can juggle project management skills or a project leader who’s a wiz at account planning.

When we find such people, we unroll the red carpet, put the champers on ice and bring out the fatted calf.

But that doesn’t happen very often. Which is why we’re firm believers in the O word.

For an agency our size outsourcing makes eminent sense. If we had to hire top class specialists (flash guy, actionscript guru, digital maven) as full-time employees, it’d cost us the earth – in terms of payroll, office space and work tools like Macs, phones, Internet access, etc.

Outsourcing allows us to get access to up-to-date expertise, without the costs typically associated with staying ahead of the technology curve.

There’s another very important reason we believe outsourcing makes fantastic sense for us. It benefits our clients no end.

With a big MNC agency, clients only get the benefit of the agency’s in-house talent, which is often restricted to the people who work at that agency. This is very limiting and may not always do justice to their brand.

When they work with us, they can be sure we can leverage best-in-class talent from around the world to go to work on their brand.

(Our past experience working across Europe and the south-east Asian region means we have access to some of the best creative minds in the advertising, graphic design and digital industry from around the world.)

Our Rolodex is groaning at the seams with their business cards and we have them on tap at the click of a ‘send’ button.

And so it ends up being a win-win-win situation. Our clients get the benefit of the best possible talent, they also save a few bucks, and the work ends up being gorgeous.

How to lose a client.
A step-by-step guide.

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Someone’s very cleverly (and no doubt, honestly) said that advertising is the most fun you could have with other people’s money. We don’t subscribe to that school.

We treat a client’s money like it was our own. And we’re not known for our reckless squandering. We always negotiate hard on behalf of our clients – whether it’s with photographers, film-makers, freelance talent or other vendors.

We’re also conscious of the fact that time is money – both for us and for our clients. So if we agree to a deadline, we move heaven and earth to stick to it. It’s only fair.

The notion that advertising people (especially the ones who create the work) are ‘special’ and therefore not to be held accountable when it comes to the basic ethics of doing business, should firmly be put to bed.

Respect for deadlines, a caretaker attitude when it comes to money and common courtesy and decency are basic hygiene factors when it comes to running an agency and keeping a client delighted, quality of creative output notwithstanding. We try to enforce that at the office.

The era of Mad Men is long gone. The stereotype should follow suit. Long live advertising.

Thank God it’s Monday. Or why work is not a four-letter word for us.

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Over the last two years, we have never worked a single day. To us, work implies boredom and monotony. We want to have nothing to do with it. Because if we do boring, monotonous work, we’ll end up being boring and monotonous.

We like to think of the advertising business as a passion. When you’re passionate about something, you do it naturally, effortlessly, and more often than not, to the best of your ability. It comes instinctively; without having to think too much about it. It’s fascinating; you’re pre-occupied with it. You look forward to going to office. Client meetings become exciting; not dreary and dull.

Instead of just going through the motions, we invest our energy into making sure we deliver a better solution. Instead of trying to think of ways of getting out of doing something, the passion helps us find a better, more creative way of solving our clients’ problem. This is something that we really enjoy. And you know, when you enjoy something you’re left with no choice but to do it well.

In fact, sometimes we stop and wonder why our clients pay us to solve problems we’d happy to take on because they intrigue us and challenge our faculties. The paycheck then just ends up being a fringe benefit.

(Note to clients: we have monetary commitments – rent, equipment, overheads, salaries, the neighbourhood bar – so unfortunately, you’ll have to continue to pay us.)

Philosophy? Practical advice?
Perhaps it’s just disguised selfishness.

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You’re born, you die. Get over it. You can’t control either of these two events. What you can influence is the in-between period. You can choose to do interesting things. Or not.

Sure it won’t be easy. School will suck. You will fall in love and get your heart broken. Getting your first job will not be easy. Your boss may be a jerk. If you work in advertising, sooner or later you will come across a client from hell. Your ideas will get rejected. Your ideas will get stolen. Your ideas will get butchered in execution. You will make terrible mistakes. You may get the sack.

But there are times when everything will fall magically in place – a good project, a great client, fantastic colleagues – will all come together and make it all worthwhile.

The trick is to identify these moments, and then try to replicate them, time and again. It will take a bit of practice, and will require loads of determination but it’s not impossible. The results, we promise, will be incredibly satisfying.

But enough of the soppy stuff. It’s a Friday afternoon, and we have an appointment with a lovely Chenin Blanc. Cheers, and have a good weekend.

Quality is never an accident; it’s always the result of a carefully cultivated habit.

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How often have we heard the complaint that the client doesn’t have a budget or that a particular job has a boring brief or that the deadline is too ridiculous? We feel these are just excuses that ultimately get in the way of doing a great job. And it’s not how we tackle projects at work.

When a project rolls in through our doors – irrespective of how big or small it is, we always try to have approach it with honesty, dignity and dedication.

We are aware that a client is entrusting his brand to us and backing it up with his budget. We don’t want to take a client’s money and give back something of lesser value. That would amount to fraud in our book. We want to dig deep down into our talent and skills pool and deliver to the best of our ability.

We’ve learnt that the best way to do that is by paying patient and meticulous attention to detail.

Attention to detail is not just a fancy catchphrase. It’s something that we try to live by, and it pervades every aspect of our professional lives.

Whether it’s spending countless hours (not paid for by the client, at times) trying to get a good brief in place before we even roll up our sleeves and jump into the creative work. Or trying out dozens of creative solutions before identifying one that’s novel enough to deliver on the brief. Or trying to source the best possible talent (photographer, flash programmer, motion graphics producer, etc) that delivers the best possible value for the client’s budget. We leave no stone unturned.

We’ve found that this attention to detail enhances the quality of what we do. And it does this without slowing us down in any way. We’ve seen that compromising on talent or resources actually wastes more time, because you often have to rework things. For a small agency, this can be a death knell. We just can’t afford it. We have to get it right the first time.

And of course, at the end of the day, we want to be proud of everything that goes out our door. It bears our name and we want to be able to own up to it with our heads held high. This would never be possible if we produced work that was sub-standard.

There’s a phrase in French that seems to perfectly sum up our credo “Il n’ya pas de sots métiers. Il n’ya que de sottes gens” which loosely translates into “there are no stupid jobs; only stupid people.”

Our plea to you, gentle reader then is, “Please, please, please don’t be stupid.”

Today is ‘have fun at work’ day
at our office. Just like every other day.

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Even on good days, the business of advertising is a stressful one. Central to this stress is that we all have to ideate and create on demand. Unlike pure creative artistes (poets, painters, authors etc) who can wait indefinitely for inspiration to strike, we have to go out and mercilessly hunt ideas down, develop them, sell them, and execute them. Undoubtedly, it’s fun. But it’s not easy every time.

We would never be able to do this effectively if we caged ourselves in a ‘No Fun’ zone. Which is why we insist on having a fair bit of fun at work. We find that it costs next to nothing and is a fantastic way to build camaraderie. It makes people want to perform and contribute better, it’s infectious (we’ve seen it makes clients want to do more business with us) but most important of all, having fun fosters creativity.

We’re in the business of solving our clients’ business problems – through strategy, advertising and design. Having fun at work opens our minds and helps us become more resourceful when it comes to thinking up solutions.

So in a strangely twisted way, having fun is serious business. But enough said. It’s Friday afternoon, and I see a colleague beckoning with a tall, cold one. Have a great, fun-filled weekend everyone. Cheers.

Why good design
makes good business sense.

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The purpose of advertising is to get people to pick one brand over another. But when there’s no perceptible difference in features or attributes of a particular product, how do you get people to choose one over the other?

You do it by digging up insights and then creating advertising around these insights to position the brand strongly within a prospect’s mind.

But advertising is an expensive business. If you’re launching a new brand and don’t have deep pockets there’s precious little you can do. Unless, of course you take recourse in clever design.

Steve Jobs knew this when he first thought up the iPod. The MP3 players of that time all looked similar – small black rectangle boxes with tiny LCD screens and conspicuous buttons. The iPod broke new ground in design. To begin with, it looked nothing like its peers. It was white, had a bigger screen and was aesthetically very desirable – the white headphones adding to its charm as a fashion accessory.

But it didn’t score points just in the looks department. It was a great example of usability design. The outside case was robust enough to withstand knocks. The single click-wheel control panel could be operated with just a thumb. It came packed with features never before seen in MP3 players.

Within a few months of its introduction, it had fascinated millions of people around the world, who responded with their wallets. This icon of design forever changed the face of portable audio-visual entertainment, paved the way for the iPhone and the iPad, and single-handedly changed the fortunes of Apple.

Innovative design is not restricted to new products. It can just as easily revitalize an existing brand with thoughtful redesign. Consider the new VW Beetle whose new, improved redesign paid homage to its cult predecessor.

Closer to home, Barista, the chain of coffee shops, is a great example of design success. To the best of our knowledge, Barista has never invested in conventional advertising. Their cafes are their best advertisements.

From their iconic guitar-pick logo to the wall graphics that adorn their interiors, from their menus and tablemats to their cups and packaging – great design silently speaks to you and convinces you that this is a truly world-class hangout to enjoy a cup of coffee.

In fact, when Barista first made its debut, scores of people thought it was an imported brand. Little did they know that it was really a home-grown brand that just relied on consistent and great design to make its point.

Last year we worked with Forbes to design a new lifestyle magazine for them – ForbesLife India. Our brief was to design something that looked like a book; a collectible.

The challenge was that the grid, the page layouts, the illustrations – had to work for every story and feature in the magazine – using just one font – because we wanted a ‘book’ feel for the magazine.

We’re also firm believers that good design should never say, “Look at me.” It should always say, “Look at this.” We didn’t want the design itself to distract readers from the content. And we had to make sure that the message did not get lost in the delivery of the design.

But the most important thing we had to keep in mind was that ForbesLife would be a new entrant into a crowded category.

From an advertising point of view we wanted to ensure that the design contributed to a positive ‘customer experience’ and helped differentiate and position magazine appropriately.

The inaugural issue received a lot of positive feedback. From Christopher Forbes, the Vice Chairman of Forbes Publishing, US who mildly chastised us for “putting a picture of a naked girl on a Forbes cover” – a first in the history of Forbes, to loads of people hailing it as a game-changer in the magazine design space in India.

The advertisers were happy as they finally had a suitable vehicle to reach out to their relevant target audience. And last but not the least, the circulation department were kept busy as the subscriptions started to flood in.

It’s evident then. Good design is not just about making your brand identity, your product, your store or your café look good. It’s has an immediate impact on your bottomline and over time helps you build invaluable brand equity.