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Ad Land’s Young Guns: Siddhant Lahiri, Rediffusion

Having spent almost half a decade in JWT working across their Mumbai and Delhi offices, Siddhant Lahiri, Head - Strategic Planning, Rediffusion, comes with abundant expertise in both major global brands as well as small-and-medium sized entrepreneurs. His experience spreads across categories like FMCG, Food, Beverages, Personal Care, OTC products and Automobiles. 

Lahiri is the man behind the formulation of various communication strategies for a plethora of well-known brands from the houses of Pepsi, Unilever, Godrej, Hershey’s, Roche Diagnostics, Parag Foods, Hero Motocorp, and Paras Pharmaceuticals. He has won several industry awards at the Asian Marketing Effectiveness & Strategy Awards (AMES), Effies, and the WARC Prize for Asian Strategy. 

He loves to write, his essays have been published in Brand Z and WARC and he is also a visiting faculty at MICA, KJ Somaiya Institute of Management Sciences and Research, and Xavier’s Institute of Communication. 

Lahiri is a cinema and theatre enthusiast and loves reading too. 

What does it takes to climb up the ladder in advertising? Here’s Siddhant Lahiri in his own words... 

How did you get into the role you are serving?
As the only son of middle-class Bengali parents, it was always blatantly obvious to me that I had to find a career that was both stable and fruitful. At the same time, however, having a slightly creative and restless temperament, I was very wary of the typical, cookie-cutter brand management roles – I still find them very dry and boring. So, when I was doing my graduation, I was fervently searching for something that would allow me to walk the tightrope between the stability and respect of the corporate world, and the quirky independence and cerebral satisfaction of an artistic field. MICA, and later Advertising, fit into this vortex beautifully. My years at MICA introduced me to the wonders of Account Planning. 

I was always an introspective, yet inquisitive child – I final found an industry that would pay me for that! I started with DDB Mudra, where I worked exclusively with entrepreneurs, and then spent about five years with JWT. I have spent around a year and a half in Rediffusion now as Head – Strategic Planning for the Mumbai office. Every day has been full of challenges and unpredictability and excitement and learning, and I am having one hell of a ride. 

What particular skill sets do you think you bring to the table?
My all-time favourite quote is “I have no special talents – I am only passionately curious”. Albert Einstein said that. I believe that is the answer to this question as well – Curiosity. Planning is a vocation that takes place mostly in the mind, therefore, there is no substitute for curiosity. 

I have a fundamental aversion to planners being considered the numbers people or the logic people… Creativity, as they say, is not a department – and neither is strategy. In today’s world of fast blurring lines, my attempt as a strategist is to always bring a touch of art into the science and a bit of fun into what is often wrongly considered to be the dry side of advertising. Planners are not mere number crunchers, trend listers or PPT factories – and every planner today must do their bit in changing this perception. A planner’s contribution can be far more colourful and exciting than a series of bullet points – and a lot of my time is dedicated to proving that. 

I also believe that I’m one of the most job-satisfied employees in the world – and I have discovered that that kind of passion can be quite infectious. 

One campaign that you have worked on that you are particularly proud of? Please take us through the making of the campaign.
That’s like choosing your favourite child! There are too many – and each campaign has come with its own challenges and joy. 

From making truckers feel like everyday heroes for Tata Motors, to trying to introduce India to a new kind of insect repellent in Good Knight Fast Card, to trying to make a brand synonymous with cow ghee for Gowardhan Ghee, to fighting for renewed relevance with Indian youth for Pepsi, to trying to get more diabetics to check their sugar levels more regularly for Roche Diagnostics – I have been fortunate to have had so many opportunities to influence behaviour. All of these are campaigns very close to my heart. I take a lot of pride in them. 

While working on the creatives how do you prepare yourself? What goes on in your mind?
Like one of my bosses used to say, the attempt is always to minimise the quantity of conversation while maximising the quality. In other (more famous) words, a little less conversation, a little more action. The problems which we try and solve for brands are complex, and often involve multiple elements – but as a planner, it is essential to absorb and digest all of that, but at the same time distil it to its present, simplest form. Break it down to the ‘moti baat’, and how we can solve it. 

Icons in advertising you look up to and how they have influenced you and your work?
It’s a long list. I have had lots of influences – especially from my bosses who have shaped my mind and are almost entirely responsible for the way I think today. From Navonil Chatterjee at Rediffusion, to Pinaki Bhattacharya and Shubhrojyoti Roy at JWT to Krishnaraj Bhat at DDB – almost every thought I ever have can be traced back to something they have taught me. So, I guess some of the blame should go to them too! 

I have also been fortunate enough to have some brilliant servicing colleagues who have taught me that the rare ability to handle people well is one of the most fundamental secrets to growth in this business, and some wonderful creative directors who have shown me simple, but amazing ways of looking at problems which I would never have considered earlier. I believe in being like a sponge – shamelessly and humbly absorb from every influence possible. So, the list is only going to get longer. 

What are the five most productive things that you do in your everyday routine?
This one is tricky. I am not sure if anyone in advertising does five things – forget five productive things – in a day! Personally, I believe waking up, having a bath, getting dressed and reaching office every day have produced good results so far. I intend to keep pursuing that diligently (to all my colleagues’ relief, I am sure). I also try to keep work and work conversations to a minimum in office – always a good idea for long term sanity. It’s essential to ensure that work doesn’t become work. 

Do you think a career in advertising is a viable one in the long term?
Yes. Why else would I still be here?

On a serious note, though, the world of communication is definitely going through an exciting period of change – we have more tools in our arsenal today, we have more ways of reaching the consumer, and everything (including the consumer) seems to be in a flux… But the fundamental need to communicate isn’t going anywhere. 

What does it take to succeed in a career like advertising?
I call them the Ps and the Cs of life… Patience – because nothing comes easily here. There are lots of painful days – and you have to be willing to see them through because there are lot of great days too. Persistence – because no one buys anything easily. Perseverance – because no fresh, great idea will ever appear without tremendous hard work. Conviction – because if you don’t believe in your idea, no one else will. And like I mentioned earlier, Curiosity – why people do what they do, what is going on in the world, both around you and miles away; what are the new, upcoming things that are going to change the world tomorrow. If you find yourself constantly mulling questions like these, and are driven to acquire more insight and understanding (whether it’s through reading, researching or simply conversing with those around you), then planning is the field for you. 

What would be your advice to youngsters planning to enter this industry?
Stay curious. Keep questioning. Use every interaction with people as an opportunity to learn more about the workings of the human mind. Read, read, read. Watch everything – from Polish films to Saas-Bahu shows, with the Avengers and Karan Johar and Roadies thrown in-between. Drown in pop culture. Be open to experiences. And never forget that there is a vast world outside the particular bubble you live in. 

Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
In 2023! 

Is there any agency/ organisation that you would like to work with in the future?
Right now, Rediffusion offers me challenges every single day – and gives me tremendous satisfaction. We are writing a new chapter in the story of this illustrious agency, and I am glad to contribute whatever I can. My work here isn’t done yet. So, I’m not thinking of anything else.

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