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Uprising: Tapping into Human Emotion with Alisha Kohli

Uprising 377 Add to collection

Junior writer and strategist at Compadre, Alisha Kohli speaks to LBB’s Ben Conway about the first generation Indian-American experience, checking your ego at the door and the problem with side-hustle culture

Uprising: Tapping into Human Emotion with Alisha Kohli

“My mom always joked that I had no hobbies besides watching TV, so I guess it’s no surprise that I now work at an ad agency specialising in entertainment marketing.”

As a junior writer and strategist at marketing agency Compadre, Alisha Kohli’s expertise now includes strategic ideation, creative development, and copywriting, not to mention her experience as an intern in analytics and artist management. And despite not being aware of a potential career in advertising as a child, she exhibited strengths and character traits from a young age that still serve her well in her current role in advertising. ‘Outgoing, talkative and kind of a smartass’, she was always strong-willed and argumentative, with a particularly deep interest in rock music and the alternative sub-culture surrounding it.  

A first-generation Indian-American, Alisha describes being raised with ‘typical immigrant values’ that held education and hard work in high esteem, although not to the point of causing damage to her and her brother. “My parents were very good about not putting too much pressure on us and emphasised the importance of having a well-rounded life that did not revolve solely around work.” She continues, “Growing up in this environment has helped me to see the value in not only working hard to achieve professional goals but also in taking time to develop my identity and interests outside of my career.” An extrovert at heart, this supportive and balanced environment allowed Alisha to become the sociable, ambitious person she is today - enjoying meeting new people and always working towards her goals.

The young creative double-majored in media studies and economics at the University of Virginia, which she says was a ‘formative experience’ due to the people she met: “Because of their many different backgrounds, I was really able to expand my worldview, which is probably the most valuable thing a person can learn. I also learned so much about the importance of community, and the relationships I formed in college are ones I will always treasure.” After realising that advertising was the perfect industry for the skills and knowledge she gained from her studies, she tried to break in through any means possible, applying to internships and attending boot camps until she landed her 4A’s MAIP fellowship with Merkle in the summer, and eventually her first full-time role (and still her current job) at Compadre in 2021.

Explaining where she honed her creative and copywriting skills, Alisha reveals a rather unexpected source of inspiration, but one that has clearly paid-off: “Honestly, Twitter. For me, Twitter was and is a place of entertainment because of how the most concise and clever tweets are the ones that would go viral.” She found herself studying viral tweets’ sentence structures, word choices and punctuation, identifying how they could be the funniest with the short character limit of every tweet. She says: “It just fascinated me so much, and this attention to detail has really helped me as a copywriter because of how intentional one has to be with how one writes.” These humorous and concise writing skills were transferrable and also developed through her time writing for a student newspaper, although she says that there are still many lessons to learn in her blossoming career.

“Check your ego at the door,” she says, highlighting one of her most valuable lessons so far. “When it comes to collaboration, I’ve found it’s really easy to get attached to your own ideas and to want to try and hold onto them as much as you can throughout the creative process, which can prevent the objectively best idea from shining through. While it’s important to fight for what you believe in, you have to know when it’s time to let go for the sake of the project’s and your team’s success.”

Alisha’s first professional project in writing and strategy at Compadre was scriptwriting for a Disney+ spot, something that initially caused a lot of intimidation for the newbie intern at the time. However, the opportunity to make an immediate and impressive impact on her new team and employers was exciting and helped build confidence in her abilities. Admitting that she is not yet experienced enough to recognise a ‘pivotal’ project in her career, she highlights the creative development and copywriting she worked on for an FXX pitch as a moment that has reaffirmed her career path choices and motivated Alisha for her future work. The creative freedom that this project allowed her is what she enjoys most about her vocation: “I love that I get to play with words and try out new combinations to convey certain tones and messages. I also love that I have the power to surprise people or confuse them or make them laugh. What I do can have an immediate impact on how people think or feel, and I just find that really exciting.”

Just starting out, however, this creative freedom can unfortunately also be met with ‘imposter syndrome’ that is only exacerbated by those endless possibilities and the very unpredictability which provides her occupation’s excitement. Alisha says: “You never know if you’re going to have the most productive, stroke-of-genius day ever or the most frustrating and fruitless one. And when it’s the latter, it’s so easy to start questioning your abilities as a creative and wonder if you’re even good enough to have your current job, let alone advance in the future. But the possibility that any day can be one where I come up with my best idea keeps me motivated and confident.” Hoping to use this motivation and confidence to drive her ambition, Alisha’s career dreams are to spark more public conversations about under-represented people in society and to use advertising’s ‘powerful place in culture’ to bring awareness to different issues, ideas and people’s stories.

“It’s encouraging to see so many leading ad agencies openly discussing their DEI efforts,” says Alisha, speaking on the changes in the industry that is already seeing an increased effort to be representative. “They’re acknowledging the historic and current shortcomings of themselves and the industry as a whole with regards to being inclusive of marginalised groups. Whilst simply talking about it isn’t enough, it’s definitely a positive thing to see that the topic is so top-of-mind, as this provides a baseline level of accountability for agencies to actually make good on their promises of championing DEI.”

Someone in the industry that Alisha looks up to for inspiration - and also takes an interest in DEI implementation - is Karly Brooks, senior copywriter at The Martin Agency, who she feels lucky to have met and received career advice from last summer. “I was unsure if I should pursue copywriting because I wasn’t super confident in my abilities at the time, but she encouraged me to go for it, if it was something I was passionate about.” She also admires Karly for her vocal stance on creating a more inclusive and representative industry for young creatives like Alisha to enter in the future.

Something else in creative writing and strategy that gets Alisha fired up is language that obviously panders to Gen Z - using internet slang and focusing too much on appealing to young consumers, rather than ‘maintaining their unique voice’ as a brand. This balance between being ‘down with the kids’ or trying something different and staying consistent with the brand’s voice is something that can be a challenge for someone new to the industry, as Alisha found out. “It can be difficult to know how to balance developing safer creative ideas that are more in line with what a brand has done in the past and coming up with really out-of-the-box concepts that push the envelope. But I’ve come to learn that exploring both is always an option and that being able to come up with a wide range of work is always key.”

Alisha also takes to task the industry’s ‘obsession with side hustles’ which she says are often ‘just not feasible’ for people like her who put 100% of their time and energy into their full-time job. She says: “Instead of spending extra time developing side projects to appear ‘coo’ and ‘extra-talented’ to potential employers, we should be able to dedicate ourselves professionally to our 9-to-5 and have that be enough.” She believes that the side-hustle obsession is outdated and has perpetuated the issue of overworking, especially for young talent that get burnt out early on through sacrificing their personal time and mental health, rather than achieving a more productive work-life balance. “I hope the rest of the industry joins the new generation of advertising professionals in championing a culture that prioritises a healthy work-life balance for its employees and that we start seeing serious changes soon.”

To maintain this balance between work and leisure, Alisha has recently got into rock climbing and bouldering - something that takes a lot of focus and perseverance, which distracts her from any work-related thoughts. After moving to LA last year, she also has the ability to work from home and enjoys exploring her new environment - something that she has been grateful for during the pandemic. The young creative has also been hooked on stand-up comedy ever since her older brother showed her clips as a child, praising the Indian-American comic Hasan Minhaj for his witty style that doesn’t rely on ‘played-out stereotypes’, as well as the ‘cleverly written’ and ‘flawlessly delivered’ act of Taylor Tomlinson. Noticing a connection between her passion for stand-up and her job, she says: “I found stand-up comedy to be such a perfect balance of art and science. I was amazed how comics managed to give impassioned performances that simultaneously felt as casual as hearing a friend tell a story, all while being so intentional and strategic with the timing and delivery of every witty remark and punchline.” 

Whilst these hobbies help her relax, Alisha admits that her biggest passion is also her vocation: copywriting. “It feels kind of boring to say since it’s my full-time job, but I’ve never been so interested in learning about a certain practice as I have about copywriting. I am constantly trying to expose myself to new techniques and styles because I’m just so committed to honing my craft.” Alisha’s experience seems to prove the old saying ‘choose a job you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life’ and it’s this passion for her writing and the desire to connect with other humans that motivates her to work and get better every day.

“Openness to the full spectrum of human emotion is easier said than done - and I have in no way mastered it - but being able to embrace all your feelings is so powerful and really helps you appreciate the beauty in life and its experiences. It also helps me feel connected to my work because so much of advertising is tapping into human emotion, and I think to be able to do that, you have to really know how each one feels, which you can’t do if you’re constantly trying to block out the not-so-pleasant ones.”

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Compadre, Wed, 02 Mar 2022 17:30:00 GMT