Ad Land's Young Guns: Neil D'Souza, Essence
Neil D’Souza is Associate Business Director, India at Essence, a global data and measurement-driven media agency which is part of GroupM. Since joining Essence in 2016, he has been instrumental in managing the agency’s Flipkart business and strengthening its growth.
An alumnus of the Indian Institute of Mass Communication in Delhi, D’Souza has worked with diverse brands such as Hyundai, Panasonic, Delhivery, MTS, Policybazaar, General Insurance Council and JK Tyre.
Outside of work, D’Souza is an extensive world backpacker and can often be found travelling solo. Within India itself, he has visited 30 out of 37 states and Union Territories. His love and passion for football has also taken him to the last couple of FIFA World Cups, and he hopes to contribute in some way to get India to the finals in his lifetime. When not travelling or working, he can be found on the football field or on the badminton court.
How did you get into the role you are serving?
Advertising and marketing have always fascinated me. Viewing and engaging with ads as a viewer on an everyday basis made me curious about the science behind them.
I find working at Essence on technology-driven clients such as Flipkart, Vedantu and Livspace both challenging and exhilarating. It enables me to enhance my knowledge and skills. Not to mention, in the case of Flipkart, it also helps build my shopping cart!
What particular skill sets do you think you bring to the table?
Passion and practicality. Passion, for what we do and the power it has. Practicality, because it’s essential to know what is required for the brand in terms of both brand fit and efficiency.
Also, a sense of humour always helps.
How did Essence come about?
Having previously worked with other agencies in Delhi, I understood the challenges and opportunities that came with an agency role. When I had the opportunity to join Essence, I was more than happy to do so. With Essence, there is a massive difference in the way we work, that is, client trust by putting the client first, always. It is a fantastic agency worldwide - things like celebrating our diversity and the bias to changing by challenging the norms and growing together makes me really proud to be associated with this company. The focus on brand building, rather than only building efficiencies, helps build relationships beyond just a client-agency one.
Icons in advertising you look up to and how they have influenced you and your work?
A person I really look up to is PV Narayanamoorthy, my brilliant professor at IIMC. I think the passion and clarity he has for advertising is second to none. Amongst all the knowledge he imparted, I learnt the importance of striving for quality and discipline in work and life. He’s the reason why I continue to have the ‘fire in my belly’ attitude.
What are the five most productive things that you do in your everyday routine?
- Wake up early. I try and wake up 10 minutes before my planned alarm time to give my mind and body a headstart. Those extra 10 minutes are like the best ‘me time’ I get for the day.
- Reading The Economic Times sets up my day and provides me with my daily dose of knowledge. It also helps that a lot of the news consumed tends to be great conversation starters and is relevant to the category that I handle.
- Plan out my day with a to-do checklist based on an importance/ urgency filter.
- Banter with friends, in office, outside work or even on Whatsapp. A super important stress buster.
- Play a sport or game, or even just climb the stairs a couple of times if possible. Sports really energises me and keeps my competitive juices flowing.
All of the above are essential for me in building a positive state of mind. If the mind is in a happy place, everything else comes easy.
Do you think a career in advertising is a viable one in the long term?
Yes, it can be a long-term option. There are many things that we can learn to ensure longevity. For example, in advertising, I think we have a habit of saying ‘yes’ to a lot of things, some of which we could easily say ‘no’ to. Saying ‘no’ at times can help us deliver better results on the things that matter, and also trust and respect.
Another reality/ myth (depends on which side of the boat you are on!) that tends to be propagated is of work-life balance missing in advertising. We need to consciously work harder to decide time boundaries on both sides of the table, that is, agency and client. Productivity does not increase by more hours at work, but quality within those hours is the need of the hour. The onus is on us to change. Hopefully, someday this question will become a redundant one for advertising.
What does it take to succeed in a career like advertising?
An incessant desire to be the best one can be, and a lot of humility. Clichéd as it may sound, but always trying to improve on what we knew to be the best yesterday. It is important to not only be humble, but also patient.
Advertising has always adapted to what’s happening around us, so it’s vital to listen and learn from your environment.
What would be your advice to youngsters planning to enter this industry?
Stay hungry, stay foolish. Try to learn everything and anything. From your chaiwala, office help, daily travel acquaintances, friends, family, etc. – every single person can teach you something. Learn.
Scratch the surface. Question the status quo at times, and try to understand what works best. Experience matters, so it is definitely important to learn and imbibe as much as possible from seniors, but don’t forget to understand the ‘why’!
But most importantly, do not forget to enjoy the little victories and learn from the losses that our work gives us.
Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
Happy, wherever I am. While I have a set of checkpoints for myself in life, I also understand that it is important to stay flexible with these things. I would definitely want to be in a position where I can influence change in my organisation and practices at an industry level.
On a personal front, I’d have liked to have contributed in growing football in our country and have spent some travel time in all the 7 continents.
Is there any agency/ organisation that you would like to work with in the future?
I enjoy solving problems and I think there are some organisations out there which have pieces of the jigsaw unsolved. I’d like to help complete this picture someday. I can also see myself creating my own puzzle someday.
I also feel strongly about giving back and I’d like to help shape young minds through my learning on advertising in my alma mater.
At the moment, though, I feel Essence is a great place to work and I am grateful for the many opportunities that I’ve received here.