Thursday, July 31, 2008

Ads v/s Movies a Cannes Report Card!

4Ps B&M’s Monojit Lahiri investigates the disturbing disparity between these two

First a quick intro for guys who came in late or are supremely innocent about the ‘Cannes’ phenomenon! Founded in 1939, the Cannes Film Festival is generally considered – apart from the Oscars – as the most glamorous, hi-profile and artistically relevant event on earth. Located in the south of France, this hot n’ happening affair combines high art and commerce, magic, mystique and market forces in one seductively tantalising embrace. A spectacular global platform where the film fraternity converge to celebrate cinematic excellence without boundaries, the entire drama is played out amidst a sublime backdrop of sea, sand, sun coloured with an endless carnival of fun and fiesta. India has been enjoying a presence for over 50 years with the late, great Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali making huge waves in 1956, with other eminent directors also coming in for high praise across the decades. However, beyond the Bollywood dazzle it has been 14 years since an Indian film has been green lighted by the jury to enter the competition segment – a matter of both shock and shame from a country, which produces the largest volume of movies on earth!

By contrast, it was only in 1993 when India’s adbiz – represented by Piyush Pandey and Pradip Guha – for the first time touched down on the French Riviera to attend the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival, commonly perceived (in the global adfrat) as the advertising Oscars. With time, India’s adbiz slowly but surely started finding its voice. In the last five years however, the Indian presence – in terms of jury members, awards, nominations, accolade, appreciation and acknowledgement – has indeed taken giant strides with this year’s edition lending it a new dazzle and glow. Scooping up a total of 23 metals – including the coveted Grand Prix & Integrated Lion and wins across all categories – India was indeed the toast of the Fest.

Why this sad and savage disparity? What’s the problem?

Shyam Benegal, the hugely respected film-maker who unleashed the new cinema movement of the early seventies with Ankur, Nishant and Manthan, leads the debate. “Advertising, culturally speaking, has become an integral part of the globalised world, while films are much more culture-specific. The result is that, in both technology and worldview, ad films are more West-friendly and therefore easier to crack than Indian cinema which, loved by our audiences and the diaspora, appears Greek to Cannes!”

He is not surprised at our poor performance. “Ray’s films, which swept every major international award, were original, real and rooted in a cinematic idiom that was universally understood. I think the likes of Vishal Bharadwaj, Anurag Kashyap and gang could do the trick. They have strong, individual voices …”. Like Benegal, Bharat Dabolkar believes that most of the stuff we produce connects well ‘only’ with the Indian community, completely bewildering the phirangs. “Advertising, conversely, powered by todays huge multinational and global presence, enjoys a naturally easier passage to the West. There is a strong compatibility.” The brilliant Prasoon Joshi (who straddles both these worlds with style) believes it’s really a matter of focus. “I can’t speak of earlier times but today, our adfrat has the ability and confidence to go eyeball-to-eyeball with the best and our recent outings at Cannes reflect this, dramatically. No wonder, in keeping with the global flavour of the day, we are targeting awards … and getting them! It may not always be a totally conscious move but somewhere, the desire to raise one’s hand and be counted on a global platform is there. In the movie area, thanks to the Bollywood-isation of the world, we seem less concerned with phirang awards and therefore less focused in that direction. We are happy with the way things are and don’t appear desperate for global recognition. Not a big deal!”

The flamboyant and straight-from-the-hip shootin’ Prahlad Kakkar wraps it up without mincing words, making mince meat of today’s Bollywood! “Look at the bozos who crowd Bollywood (pretentiously referred to as Indian cinema) and look at the guys who fill the adspace – they are continents apart! Most film industry creatures represent the lowest form of humans who walk on earth! They are extortionist, manipulative, have no sense of accountability, pride or responsibility, constantly engage in new and devious ways to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs, drive the producers crazy with their demands and drive the writers nuts with their starry tantrums; an overpaid, under-talented, pampered lot, they are really bad news! So whatddya expect? Masterpieces?!” In contrast, Kakkar is proud of the adguys who are “smart, educated, alive, aware, upper crust, intelligent, dedicated and committed to value excellence. They have both, a pan-India and global perspective. No wonder they rock! One thought that Corporates would crack the whip and discipline the spoilt stars … but guess what? The stars flattened them out by intimidating them with their star-power!” The enfant terrible of the ad film world believes that films that are driven by passion, born out of vision and the creative impulse are those that fall under the Rs.5 crore budget. They are ‘not’ under pressure, have no silly stars and don’t need to compromise. “Its one from the heart. This kind of film could, one day, revive our (lost) glory at Cannes” … touch√©.

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Women on Top... Why not in Ad-Land?!

4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri probes this mysterious imbalance and tries to figure out where the problem lies... and why

Once upon a time, Advertising was considered an arty-farty, boutique biz – a cosmetic adjunct of the FMCG universe mostly illuminated by English-speaking, theatah-loving, culture-vultures… Even back then, it attracted women, some of whom were extremely gifted creatures who distinguished themselves and made a name. Nargis Wadia, Tara Sinha, Nuru Swaminathan and Sayeeda Imaam come to mind. Today, as ‘woman-power’ zooms ahead (with an over-the-top media tracking and celebrating the movers n’ shakers like there’s no tomorrow) it appears strange, odd and inconsistent when one sees hardly a single woman gracing the top slot (CEO, President, Chairperson) of any of the big ad agencies around. Clearly it’s not about talent, drive, creativity, intelligence, focus or dedication. Then what is it? Vertigo (read: fear of heights!) lack of ambition? Reluctance to reach the top at any cost? Gender bias? Or the age old hassle of having to balance a career with home and family, with no prizes for guessing which way the cookie finally crumbles for her …?

The iconic Helayne Spivak (the celebrated worldwide Creative Director & Chief Creative Director, North America, JWT in the early nineties) when asked about the shortage of women in top positions in adbiz had (famously) stated that “no matter what you do, how many clients you impress, accounts you help swing, awards you pick up and respect you garner from peers – there are still those groceries you gotta pick up, remember?!” Ms. Spivak then goes on to add that women don’t really seem to be welcome to the top ranks. “Otherwise there would be more help for us – like childcare, flexible hours, things that help us with our extra responsibilities. Ultimately it’s a juggling act. Its trying to keep everything up in the air and sometimes it falls… and what usually ends up falling is the family.”

Sayeeda Imaam, who brilliantly fronted the creative department of JWT (HTA), Clarion & Contract across the seventies, eighties and nineties (and now operates in Consultant mode) has a different take. She believes that enough women enter the field of advertising, marketing and media. They enjoy their work and even excel in it, with the newness, creativity and absence of monotony providing them a continuing high. “However seniority and hitting the top slot messes it up because it comes in the way of things that excited them – the ferment of cracking a problem and honing an idea. Suddenly delegation comes into play and there are fewer situations to go hands-on. This leads to a boring sameness”. The other reason is that there is nothing to prove in terms of scoring over a man. “Being better in the area of professional excellence is not a big deal any more. It’s happening around us, all the time (Lynne D’Souza of Lintas being the latest example), everywhere. Women basically come into the business for the joy of it. They quit when the joy has lost its edge – or has to be relegated to others as she (yawn) moves up!”
 
Grey Worldwide’s NCD Priti Nair comes next. The tattoo-flashing hottie, without fuss or frippery, comes straight to the point. “It’s a very personal, difficult and complex call that women have to take; men (usually) have no role in it. Whether the total priority is with the job, a balancing act of fifty-fifty or a part-time assignment is completely a woman’s call. Once the children come, it gets even more difficult.” Nair believes that advertising today is a hugely high-pressure profession with travel, late night shoots, deadlines and constantly having to deliver the goods in a frenetically competitive space, coming with the territory. In this kind of an environment, playing a caring wife, devoted mother and sharp ad-woman together can be mission impossible! So, sadly, there are dropouts. What about madam Nair, herself? She has survived seventeen years, even after marriage. “Sure, but I don’t have kids, no? If I did, I am sure I would have pulled out (pauses) and, gawd knows, made life hell for people in the house! C’mon yaar, after almost two decades of working in such a fast-paced, creative and exciting environment, sitting at home and changing nappies or – whatever – would definitely drive me nuts!”

The still-gorgeous Nargis Wadia, (who headed Interpub through the seventies, eighties, even nineties) and who turned a zillion heads during her hey days with her chutzpah, glamour and intelligence – rounds off this debate on a personal note. “Speaking for myself, although we did quite well, I could never step on the gas like, say a Tara Sinha, because I definitely lacked the killer instinct! Also (you’ll laugh) I frequently felt awful for the agency who’s business we took away!” The other reason was that most men who were bright and talented, refused to work in an agency where a woman was the Boss! “There was a definite gender bias with the result that we could only hire fresh talent. Has it changed? I don’t know … maybe a little, but …”

So what’s the score? A recent survey indicated that women make better leaders than men in strategic drive, risk-taking, people skills and innovation; where – alas – they lose out are command and control of management operations and focusing on financial returns. Women are bold, ambitious, mischievous, colourful and imaginative. They can also be competitive, visionary and have a strong presence. Men were seen to be more task-focused and concentrated on getting the job done rather than dealing with relationships. They believe that revenues, budgets and profits are the only game in town. Financial hits is what it’s all about. Hence, they are more comfortable with hierarchies; title silos and processes … touch√©!

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Thursday, July 03, 2008

Jab we met...presentation skills weds theatre techniques!

Padamse, the flamboyant, ever-green exhibitionist theatre person turned ad-guru, switches lanes to peddle a new offering. 4Ps B&M’s Monojit Lahiri takes a ringside seat to grab all the action, up-front and full-on!

If there is one person who has continued to define and re-define the meaning of “double life” every moment over the last five decades it has to be the ever-colourful, ever-vibrant, cool n’ sexy Alyque Padamse! Fittingly, his latest whammo is a ‘dramatic’ one – leveraging the skill-set of theatre to power presentation and communication skills of Gen-next communication practitioners, all set to propel Indian’s adworld higher in the global arena.

“The London Institute of Speech & Personality Development – of which I am the Chairman – is an idea whose time has come,” gushes the aging advertising and theatre guru. He believes that it is designed to be a life-altering module created to empower participants of all age groups (with special focus on the younger lot) with fluency in conversation and 360 degrees communication skills. It is a diploma course created to enable them to actualise their full potential in both the personal and professional space, says Padamse. “Powered by the prime mover, Rhea DeMelo (CEO) who is a proven communication and behavioural training expert, and supported by crack team of specialists, it is the Big Idea of the day!”

How did it all come about? Padamse says the real trigger came from his younger daughter Shazahn who was painfully shy and suffered (like Dad?!) from a learning disability. The parents tried, in vain, to draw her out. At one point Padamse suggested theatre. She almost passed out! The Father however persisted and convinced her that nervousness was only a manifestation of energy and excitement. Eventually, after much pushing, she gave in – hesitant, scared, faltering – but within a few months, she actually rocked! “She had conquered fear, embraced confidence and bloomed in front of people and audiences. Right now, Shazahn is auditioning at Yashraj, imagine!”

Great – but can theatre really help chuhas to become loins?! Padamse certainly believes so. Offering a mock grrrrr before answering, he says that he has always believed that a live presentation is a ‘dud’ show if the presenter lacks the personality (style, panache, communication skills, confidence) to pull it off. “Communication is not merely words… it’s words, embellished on the wings of emotion, passion and personality.” Padamse socks a killer punch when he declares that “every individual today has the chance and potential to be his/her organisation’s most powerful brand ambassador, but the requisite skills need to be honed and nurtured.
 
Enter theatre workshops. This 360 degree technique is unique, exciting and effective because it triggers a dramatic, never-before re-invention of a person’s personality in a dramatic way. How? What’s the procedure? “Step one is inviting the person to read out/speak. This is then video-taped and played back after the completion of the course. The difference – like in Shazahn’s case – can be magical and mind-blowing!” explains Padamse. Then there is the ‘colourisation’ of the voice (which lends it that cutting-edge vibrancy) followed by vocabulary. “This is getting to be a scary area and needs all the help it can get. It’s truly pathetic!” Up next is dressing and the way people wear their clothes. “It’s often so shabby and immediately sends out the wrong signals! It has to be appropriated to the image you need/want to project both at the corporate and personal level! Remember, clothes make the man.” Then comes the attitude – change from lackadaisical and laid-back, nervous or disinterested to positive, assertive, focused, convincing, enthusiastic, confident. Finally, humour. “No one demonstrates this better than Lalu Prasad Yadav. Humour almost always works because it makes people comfortable, helps them loosen up and gets them in a good mood,” he offers.

The Master Presenter then swiftly moves on to explain the ‘theatre’ inputs factored into his programme at the London Institute. Improvisation heads the list. “Life is not tailor-made and there could always be awkward questions from the audience. We teach them the art of how to deal with these blinders effectively.” Then there is the Brain Gym – a very special module that enables people to use their ‘unused’ creative muscle through stimulating exercises, till they rock! Interactivity – a critical component of communication – comes next. “We change the traditional perspective by tutoring candidates on how to ask the questions that will provoke answers from the audience! Then there are separate techniques to be deployed when one is participating in an in-house meeting, showcasing a conference as a principal speaker or appearing in an interview with a blue-chip Corporate. There are also ways on how best to leverage Power-Point, Video-Tape, whatever… to enhance impact in the presentation process,” says Padamse, adding that he believes that one is always presenting (a thought, a message, a plug) to hit target. Whether it’s to extract more pocket money from his/ her kanjoos baap, patao a hot babe, sweet talk a restaurant manager or a college lecturer when in trouble with cash or attendance… coming through persuasively is the key to win and influence, everybody, everywhere!

Okay, fine, good, nice, but has theatre as a confidence builder really taken off with expected target groups? Padamse explains via his experience with the still-nascent (it kicked off in early May) London Institute and is off like a shot. “You bet it has! Corporates like Tata Steel, Infosys and Reliance have already signed on. The general reaction was, why on earth didn’t you kick start this programme earlier?” And how does Alyque intend to peddle his new set of wares from here-on? “Remember today’s HR departments are clued-in and focussed. With our specialised, in-depth range of real-world communication skills on tap, we are going to soar,” says the ad guru turned entrepreneur. Now for the corporates to give their verdict on the ability of theatre techniques to add value to their employees??

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