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Opinion and Insight

Meet the Women Shaking Up India’s Creative Scene

If the future is female, this bunch are Indian advertising’s creative leaders of tomorrow!

Meet the Women Shaking Up India’s Creative Scene














Sakshi Choudary

Creative Supervisor, OgilvyOne Worldwide



LBB> How and when did you get into advertising?
SC> Having completed my MBA and landing a job as an Innovation Manager at one of the world’s leading IT companies, my career had received the perfect launch pad in 2008. Or so I thought…

An inert itch to write, to tell stories, to make a tangible difference kept nagging at me. So, after two years, I quit my corporate job. And began from scratch and signed up for ad school. And that began my love affair with advertising. 

LBB> What do you do outside of work? 
SC> During the middle of 2016, while studying different aspects of gender bias in a patriarchal country like India, I realized achieving gender equality in India is going to be an uphill task. UNDP ranked India 132 out of 148 countries on the Gender Inequality Index. 

While cities were gradually opening up to feminism, the majority of the country reeled under centuries old, deep-rooted patriarchal beliefs. With a country as diverse as ours, a simpler mode of communication was needed to reach out. And I comprehended it was going to be art.  

I therefore founded The Seesaw Project, with two other members, who, as men, were going to be instrumental in leading this conversation against patriarchy. We’ve released two series till date – one, on how toxic casual sexism is, and the other on how patriarchy is harmful to men as well. Our third series on eliminating gender biased swear words will be out this month, followed by marital rape (not considered criminal in India). We have also collaborated with artists, musicians, filmmakers and photographers to explore spreading the message using different forms of art.  

LBB> How do you fuel your creativity?
SC> Since as far back as I can remember, music has been my biggest escape and inspiration. Also, as a writer, I can’t but help myself from translating my thoughts and feelings into words. I unfill and fill my heart with songs I pen down about everything, from darkness and matchboxes to whiskey and sobriety. 

LBB> Piece of work that you’re proudest of?
SC> 63% of urban Indians listen to Bollywood music online. The impact of which is so strong that people have started imbibing its influence on their consumer habits. Not just that, a large number of these songs has had a direct impact on the behavior of young listeners, and has perpetuated gender inequality and violence against women. 

In March 2017, Love Matters - a global youth platform, presented us with a complex brief – take on Bollywood and the lewd lyrics used in its songs. 

Considering the sensitive nature of the subject and the big names involved, we first earned the trust of our client and more critically, the media partners. Combining sincerity and tact, we convinced India’s No. 1 music streaming app to run a campaign addressing their most popular music genre – Bollywood. 

The campaign - #NotMusicToMyEars led to some of Bollywood’s biggest actors, singers and lyricists to make public commitments against the usage of sexist lyrics. What’s more, the Chairman of India’s Censor Board stated lewd lyrics would no longer be tolerated. The campaign has received multiple awards including a Cannes Lion and a DMA International Echo. 

LBB> What’s your ambition?
SC> Firstly, I want to continue driving change at the grassroot level on gender equality, whether it’s through my work or The Seesaw Project. 

Secondly, it’s my personal agenda to make women around me feel their confident selves, rise to the best of their potential, and further inspire women around them.

LBB> What do you love about the industry – and what needs to improve?
SC> I’m not sure how many people are lucky enough to begin their day with a new canvas. The industry offers me this opportunity. And with it, the chance to make myself heard.  
As for improvements, I don’t think we value ourselves and the difference we’re making, enough. Perhaps this is a larger conversation but if we start acknowledging the impact we make as an industry, the world will see us as harbingers of change. 

Vasudha Misra 

Executive Creative Director, BBH India


LBB> How and when did you get into advertising? 
VM> About 16 years back is when I actually got into it. But, in my head, I have been in advertising since I was a kid. 

LBB> What do you do outside of work? How do you fuel your creativity?
VM> I wish I had a more interesting answer, but all I do is try and be a mother to my 5-year-old boy and watch Netflix.  

LBB> Piece of work that you’re proudest of?
VM> One of the first pieces of work I did for the launch of a telecom brand- TATA DOCOMO. It set up the creative tone and set off a period of work on the brand that was unique and universally lauded. 

LBB> What’s your ambition?
VM> To go from watching shows on Netflix to having a show on Netflix. 

LBB> What do you love about the industry – and what needs to improve?
VM> What I like about the industry is the diversity it brings. Not just in terms of gender and age but also in experiences, background, educational qualifications, professional qualifications, language. It’s not just that we are open for all, we actively seek all. 

What I think needs to improve is the respect with which we hold ourselves. We might be open for all, but all certainly can’t do our job. And that should always be acknowledged and celebrated. 


Meghna Das

Copy Supervisor, Law & Kenneth Saatchi & Saatchi


LBB> How and when did you get into advertising? 
MD> I’ve been a copywriter for eight years now. After being terrible at artist management, I walked into an agency one day where the interview process included being vetted by their CEO – a lab. I started the next day.

LBB> What do you do outside of work? How do you fuel your creativity?
MD> I’m obsessed with aerial silks! I go for class any chance I get. When I’m on the silks everything else becomes easy, it makes me feel strong and confident. I bring that energy with me to work.

LBB> Piece of work that you’re proudest of?
MD> #GiveHer5. Because I got to change lives with my work. 
It also helps that I won my first Gold Lion and D&AD Pencil on the back of it! (Pardon my not-so-humble brag!)


LBB> What’s your ambition?
MD> To be able to write like Neil French someday, and walk into work happy every single day.

LBB> What do you love about the industry – and what needs to improve?
MD> I don’t know about the industry but I love having a boss who gives me plenty opportunity to shine, and gives me credit for it as well.  
Would be nice if more women like her could be in places of power?


Priyanka Prakash

Creative Director, Law & Kenneth Saatchi & Saatchi


LBB> How and when did you get into advertising?
PP> After my undergrad in design and post-grad in advertising, advertising seemed like the obvious choice. But it took me from Delhi to England to Dubai to Mumbai and soon it became the right choice. Now it’s been nine years and I’m enjoying every moment of it.

LBB> What do you do outside of work? How do you fuel your creativity?
PP> Outside of work I’m a regular Jane. A regular Jane with a Bollywood masala life. Sometimes I design houses, sometimes just draw on toilet paper rolls. Sometimes I’m dancing classical Bharatanatyam, sometimes taking a swig out of my rum bottle. And if all runs out, I run to the mountains!

What fuels me is the team that I work in. It’s a team of girls (and one boy), led by a female powerhouse. I love it! It makes me happy, and happy fuels my creativity.
 
LBB> Piece of work that you’re proudest of?
PP> Needless to say, after a Cannes Glass Gold and a D&AD Pencil, #GiveHer5 is my flavour of the year. I loved every bit of the time I spent working on this campaign. Campaign link: www.giveher5.org

LBB> What’s your ambition?
PP> I’m told that “it’s just advertising, not rocket science”. But I’m building my rocket here.
Having said that, ambition means having it all figured out. And I haven’t. So I keep it simple and bring a lot of energy, take on new challenges and let my work speak for itself.

LBB> What do you love about the industry – and what needs to improve?
PP> What I love is the attitude. And the limitless nature of it. It’s made up of people who can’t be put in a single mold. Definitely cannot be defined in one adjective. 
More than what needs to change is what needs to stay - something that we’re losing out on by taking ourselves too seriously. The overused term ‘advertising culture’. Without that culture we are like any other industry… and we are not just any other industry!

 

Prerna Mehra

Head of Design, Cheil India


LBB> How and when did you get into advertising? 
PM> I got into advertising long before I joined advertising. I used to skip shows to watch ads, sing along the jingles and remember the tag lines. It was a long-brewing love story. 

But How I got into it is another story. Much like jingles, I fell in love with fashion and decided to design things. To cut a long story short ended up in advertising thinking this is one place where I could be a superwoman and do everything that I liked. 

I did an internship and fell in love yet again (for the third time) with the chaos, coffee (that’s just to continue with the ‘C’s but its green tea for me) and craziness of this industry. Now my love continues at Cheil. 

LBB> What do you do outside of work? How do you fuel your creativity?
PM> Travel, travel and more travel. That is what fuels my creativity, curiosity and knowledge.

LBB> Piece of work that you’re proudest of?
PM> A logo I designed as an entry for young Lions Design India and won it. It was a logo for a non-profit organisation called Laadli. And I’m proud of it because one it gave me a chance to go to Cannes and also it was very disruptive in nature and I like work that causes disruption.

LBB> What’s your ambition?
PM> To do what Robert Baden-Powell said: “Try and leave this world a little better than you found it, and when your turn comes to die, you can die happy in feeling that at any rate, you have not wasted your time but have done your best.” 

LBB> What do you love about the industry – and what needs to improve?
PM> I love the chaos. I love the energy. I love the people. I love the culture. I love the lack of one culture. I love the dichotomy.
The only thing according to me that this industry can better is giving as much due to the young generation as the legends get. A creative person can even work for free if they are appreciated and motivated.



Shakoon Khosla

Creative Director, Contract India


LBB> How and when did you get into advertising?
SK> I joined advertising in 2006 as a summer intern in Rediffusion DYR, loved their work culture back then and it seemed like my thing instantly.

LBB> What do you do outside of work? How do you fuel your creativity?
SK> Outside of work, I’m mostly found with my daughter or hanging with people who don’t work in advertising.
Talking about fuelling my creativity, eating out and drinking really helps. I also spend a lot of time painting almost anything and illustrating, which gives me immense happiness.

LBB> Piece of work that you’re proudest of?
SK> One of my favourite campaigns is “Splat” done for a brand-Ozorie, in Ogilvy. This was showcased in Luezers Archive and got Published in 200 Best Illustrators Edition in 2011.

These 3 pieces were hand illustrated and digitally coloured later. The entire technique of illustrating ideas and processing them digitally always gets me exhilarated.

Another project that I’m proud of was done for National Geographic Channel for a social cause. It was the first time I got the opportunity to work with an international production house, Hornet from NY to execute the film and poster for the same. The poster took about a month to finish up. The entire process of its transition from static medium to the film was exceptionally intriguing. This project was featured in Shots and various other places.

LBB> What’s your ambition?
SK> Honestly, apart from creating great work and making everything beautiful, I would want to reach at a point in my career where I could be affecting others around me. I have learnt most from my mentors and would strive to become a great mentor to others and hone talent all around.

LBB> What do you love about the industry – and what needs to improve?
SK> I love how short-lived our work is in this industry. We always must keep up with the pace with everything and anything that comes our way. The short shelf life makes it fun and I love the unpredictability of it all; it doesn’t let you get comfortable with your state of being.

Having said that, to improve, advertising needs to go back a bit. To the days when it was more confident about itself, and not so weighed down by the shrinking, self-inflicted revenue structures. Back to work that was done for the brand, not necessarily for the client. The work culture of advertising is what keeps us in this crazy profession, losing that culture bit by bit is like losing the soul of advertising.

Gender balance is another facet we need to work on. We see a huge difference in the number of male and female co-workers and as such leaders. It would be great to see the gap closing and soon.



Sreejita Chakraborty

Creative Group Head- Art, Contract India
 

LBB> How and when did you get into advertising?
SC> It was around eight years back, after finishing my four years of college in Communication design. We had a plethora of courses, from graphic design to animation to typography, film making, sound design and I loved them all. The only place where I thought all these could converge was advertising. 
 
LBB> What do you do outside of work? How do you fuel your creativity?
SC> Plants and pottery - I like keeping things organic. Going for long drives, random doodling - all these help fuel my creativity.
 
LBB> Piece of work that you’re proudest of?
SC> For most of us, foreign languages are puzzling. Using this as an insight, we developed a series of unique typography-led posters that resembled mazes. These posters showcased basic sentences in Tamil, Bengali, Greek and Arabic that are taught at the Ramakrishna Mission School of Languages. 

These three dimensional posters had tangible beginning and ending points, which engaged prospective students and passers-by. It’s a campaign that won me multiple awards and taught me multiple languages.
 
LBB> What’s your ambition?
SC> Using design to break category codes and make boring things better.

LBB> What do you love about the industry – and what needs to improve?
SC> The best thing about our industry is that it's always changing.

There’s something new and challenging every day.

However, work needs to keep pushing the envelope, in keeping with the times. And so do clients.


Shagun Seda

Group Creative Director


LBB> How and when did you get into advertising? 
SS> I wanted to write ads since I was a little girl who sat glued to the TV just for the ad breaks during the good old days of Doordarshan and DD Metro. I know, bizarre.
I started in 2003 with an internship at Lowe. In 2004 I appeared for my first advertising interview. I was asked to describe myself in one word and I said, “I’m a humanist”. With an answer like that, I really don’t know how I got into advertising. The agency was TBWA\ where I grew from resident plankton to Creative Director, and then joined DDB Mudra in 2013.

LBB> What do you do outside of work? How do you fuel your creativity?
SS> I take pictures on my phone. Lots of pictures. Some I post to Instagram. The rest, I hope would one day be discovered in a LaCie 3TB external hard disk and published posthumously. I fuel my creativity by observing people, snooping around on the Internet, binging on children’s books and shuffling through my Spotify playlists.

LBB> Piece of work that you’re proudest of?
SS> A film for the 21st Century Volkswagen Beetle.

Volkswagen Beetle - 'Ode to the Bug' from Shagun Seda on Vimeo.


Because:
a) Who doesn’t want to write for the Beetle?
b) The challenge was delicious - to relaunch the Beetle, a stubby little bug in a world of chiselled metal costing as much as a luxury car with better specs.
c) Our idea was to create a legacy film made of authentic fan footage. A film made for Beetle fans, by Beetle fans.
d) It was a simple idea, without the gloss of production.
e) It was generously awarded.
f) Oh and it sold a hell lot of Beetles.

LBB> What’s your ambition?
SS> Many people think that creative ambition is all about creating memorable work and winning awards. While all of that is important, I’d rather answer a question about ambition in the context of leadership being seen largely as a male domain.
There aren’t many women in senior creative roles nor are many women aspiring for them. Perhaps because leadership is widely characterised by a style that is predominantly masculine. It doesn’t have to be. Great women leaders don’t have to be all the adjectives that great male leaders are. It’s simply exhausting.
My ambition is to lead a group of talented people who are doing the best work consistently and having a lot of fun. To never be too satisfied with ourselves, to respect and value the work and the people we are creating it for, as well as the ones we are creating it with.
I am honoured and proud to be a part of DDB Worldwide’s Phyllis Project. This program aims to ensure DDB’s top creative women around the network are being offered all the opportunities they deserve in order to take on creative leadership roles in the future. Twelve women have been selected from different offices across nine countries to participate in the program’s key initiatives developed with external partners like 3% and SWIM. These include global career planning and mentorship, increased participation in international assignments and industry events, global leadership training programs and customized seminars that allow for the successful transition from great creative to great creative leader. By making gender diversity a network priority, DDB’s aim is to see women make up 35% of its creative leadership on all levels by 2020, from our Global Creative Council to local office leadership and amid our ranks of next-generation talent.
LBB> What do you love about the industry – and what needs to improve?
What I love:
That even though we can’t stop talking about shiny new tech, and all its possibilities, one thing has not changed – the importance of ideas. From the small and simple ones, to the big, brave transformational ones that change the human experience for the better. We are still creating them, clients are still buying them and they’re still winning a Titanium at Cannes.

What needs to improve:
We really need to go easy on the hashtags.