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5 Minutes with… Ajay Thrivikraman



Publicis Groupe Southeast Asia’s CCO wants to create a happy environment for talents to flourish, he tells Esther Faith Lew

5 Minutes with… Ajay Thrivikraman

The people we bond with during times of triumphs and trials. They are the ones who make it memorable. “A highlights reel is less about what’s in your CV and much more about memories and anecdotes of the time spent together in the trenches, of the ideas that thrilled a room and those that didn’t, of the mentors and proteges and peers who you now just call friends…” says Ajay Thrivikraman, CCO of Publicis Groupe Southeast Asia.

Based in Singapore, Ajay champions creative thinking and the power of ideas for over 3,000 staff in Publicis Groupe Southeast Asia across all business lines of the Groupe’s business. He finds inspiration on a daily basis to feed his creative genius. “Humans, in all our glory and complexity with feet of clay, are an unending inspiration,” he says.

Ajay was appointed to the role of CCO for Publicis Groupe, Southeast Asia in March 2022. The ambition behind the appointment was to unleash the creative spirit no matter where it sits in the business to embrace a modern definition of creativity and make a mark in the market, making Publicis Groupe a leader in creativity in Southeast Asia.  He was formerly CCO Global Clients leading the creative work for Publicis Groupe’s dedicated units across P&G and Tiger Beer.

LBB> Going from CCO of Publicis Groupe’s dedicated units across P&G and Tiger Beer to CCO of Southeast Asia, what are your new priorities and goals?

Ajay> Geographic descriptions are such tricky things. They make things sound homogenous when they’re not. Having lived and worked in this region for nearly the whole of my career, I’d say there are only individual and distinct countries and cultures, and no “region”. My hope is that the work we create in every country fully expresses its own identity, and in its own language, idiom, colour and rhythm. Globalisation can be the thread that binds, but the design and the weave must be home-grown.

LBB> Creativity is the common denominator that runs through business success and campaigns with high effectiveness. What’s your take on it?

 Ajay> Honestly, in the context of our industry, I can’t understand the purpose of creativity without effectiveness. It’s in the job description. Certainly, there are times when you have to pilot some innovative or “what if” thinking, but even those must pre-suppose an end of moving people to think or act in a way that’s consistent with your objective. Entertainment or creativity without a specific goal is a different line of work.  

LBB> Much has been said about talent development, but what is lacking in industry practices that you think needs to be addressed? How does Publicis address that internally?

 Ajay> I think every single leader in every single discipline within an agency would say that they wished they could spend more time nurturing talent. Being “thrown off the deep end” has been an all-too-common refrain of agency life, but it’s also time to recognise that what was perhaps acceptable for a generation should not be the legacy we pass on. But with online learning, the tools, processes and sheer breadth of opportunity and access we have today are game-changing. 

Here, I’d give a shoutout to Marcel, the Groupe’s online platform. There simply isn’t enough space here to explain the richness of this platform and the education it offers. Suffice to say, join us and try it for yourself :)

LBB> The ability to impact popular culture across brands is your forte. Could you highlight significant examples of such campaigns with social and community impact?

 Ajay> We are very fortunate to work across multiple brands for a client like P&G, where brands are seen as, and I’m borrowing our client’s words here, “a force for growth and a force for good”. Much had been said about purpose-driven brands, but fundamentally if a brand has the scale and significance and most importantly, the customer’s permission, why must it not do the good it can, while striving to improve its own impact on the world around it?

Vicks’ Touch of Care platform across continents, the women in STEM platform for Olay, the efforts made by Safeguard on the importance of handwashing, the recent Ramadan initiatives by our Leo Burnett teams in Singapore and the Philippines for McDonald’s to help make life a little better in trying times, the development of inclusive technology with Maxis in Malaysia…there are so many examples of our teams leaning in to make an impact the way we best can.

LBB> What are your thoughts on new opportunities involving data, technology and possibilities with machine learning? 

 Ajay> As an industry, we have always deployed every tool and resource we have at our disposal to make advertising as interesting, compelling, engaging and relevant as we possibly can. Especially given that very often we are an interruption in people’s lives and not the main event. 

So it makes sense to experiment with, learn and utilise every one of the increasingly sharper tools each one of these disciplines offer, so that we can improve the value we bring to consumers. This is an amazing time for learning how we can do better and be better.


LBB> What is the best advice you have been given personally and professionally?

 Ajay> Experience is the best advisor. It doesn’t matter what someone tells you or what inspirational quote you read, the distance between being aware of something and actually experiencing it, is a vast one.


LBB> What does creativity mean to you? And what defines a “successful campaign”?

 Ajay> Creativity must evoke emotions. Disgust or irritation are not good ones obviously, so you want to strive for the other end of the spectrum. Being wallpaper is the real crime here. Campaigns become successful when they evoke strong emotions that then persuade, educate, inform, entertain (I’m sure I’m missing a few adjectives here), but if it moves people in the direction you want them to, that’s success.


LBB> What is on your dream list of achievements – personally and professionally?

 Ajay> To be able to create a happy environment where talent can flourish and people can do their very best work consistently. Easy to dream, hard to do.


LBB> As a regular juror, what’s your take on the works you have been seeing? What do you want to see more of?

 Ajay> Being a juror anywhere, at any show, at any time, is a privilege and an education in humility. The work and those behind it have nothing but my deepest respect as we all know the pressure cooker conditions they were created in. 

If anything, I would love to see work that is less standardised or pays homage to only one kind of sensibility or one cultural template, so to speak, and to be more reflective of the incredible diversity there is in the world. It makes judging harder when there isn’t one standard to go by; but every jury room would be so much the richer and wiser for that discussion.


LBB> Looking forward, what’s your snapshot outlook for Southeast Asia and the challenges/opportunities of the industries relevant to your client portfolio?

Ajay> It’s always tempting to be carried away by the stories of growth in this region, especially from a global perspective. But we all know what happens while we’re busy making other plans…I hope I’m not overreaching when I say that in ways both big and small, brands can help shape and influence the world around us, and the challenge/opportunity as ever is to be of real value, to be of interest, to be useful, and to earn our right to be a part of people’s lives.


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Publicis Singapore, Mon, 28 Nov 2022 09:28:57 GMT