Advertising is known for its crazy pace of innovation and punishing deadlines. Churning out new ideas without a break is leading to a sense of fatigue and deja vu among ad professionals. No wonder many are choosing to opt out in the quest to re-discover themselves.
WHAT makes people at the pinnacle of their careers throw away all they have achieved and do something completely different? To go down a path they haven’t walked on before? To test themselves and their skill-sets all over once again?
The reasons could be many— from boredom to burnout, from the realisation that they are on the wrong ladder to a long-felt desire to be one’s own boss. While it’s quite normal for people in their 20s and even early 30s to change their professions, increasingly people in their 40s are going for a career shift. And they are taking the plunge with complete conviction. KS Chakravarthy, for instance, believes if youngsters in their 30s can quit their jobs to pursue their passions, someone with years of experience can take the same step, too. “I have been wanting to take a break for a while now as I want to start something ‘new’,” says Chax who quit as FCB Ulka’s national creative director (NCD) in 2014 after six years. Blame it on the start-up craze that’s taken over young and not-so-young India.
The advertising industry seems to have quite a few of such bravehearts. Creative professionals, particularly, with their many talents and passions, seem to have the penchant to take the road less travelled. The biggest example of this is perhaps Abhijit Avasthi, aka Kinu, Ogilvy & Mather’s former NCD and also the nephew of industry veteran and agency chairman Piyush Pandey, who put in his papers last November. Just 42, his decision to bid goodbye to a long and promising career at India’s foremost agency where he had spent around 15 years had shaken up the advertising industry. Avasthi has been a force to reckon with in the advertising industry churning out award winning campaigns such as Cadbury’s Shubh Aarambh, Cadbury 5 Star’s Ramesh and Suresh, Asian Paints’ Suresh Babu and Google’s Reunion. Yet he called it a day with no clear plans in mind. “I think that hugely talented people whether they are creative guys, planners, or sociologists can come together and do some amazing things. I am going out to do something different, but I can’t articulate it right now. I am excited by the possibility of the unknown. I would look at partners in my venture at some point in time,” Avasthi had told Brandwagon at that time.
Like Avasthi, Grey’s former national creative director Malvika Mehra, hung her boots last month after working for 21 years, purportedly to spend some time rejuvenating herself. “We are creative people and after a while we need to refill our creative juices to continue doing great work,” says Mehra.
It is said that it is normal for advertising folks to have these sudden urges. They are inherently restless people with multiple interests and a desire to explore new horizons. They want to push their boundaries, and find out what else they can do. Advertising itself is experimentation with new ideas on a daily basis. It exposes one to new things every day and offers an opportunity to learn and unlearn every day. Acting on one’s passions is almost a given.
Take the example of Mahendra Bhagat, former vice president and creative director at JWT. Happy, winning awards from Cannes Lions to Abbys, he thought he had the best job ever. Until, one day he realised that deep down he felt empty. “I had spent 19-odd years in advertising and I loved every bit of it, but over the years I stopped getting that kick,” says Bhagat, who held the helms of JWT (now known as J Walter Thompson). A student of JJ School of Arts, Bhagat enjoyed paintings alongside his work and his weekends were spent at various art galleries in Colaba (South Mumbai). “This insured my thought of taking up painting, full time, even though I was at my peak.” Today, he paints and experiments with newer forms of art like art installations across premium art galleries in India and internationally, as well.
Hema Ravichandar, a strategic human resources advisor, there is a trend across industries of employees quitting or taking extended leave to pursue their passion and not necessarily to seek work-life balance only. “Corporate world can be demanding and it expects the employees to have the stamina and endurance. After the initial years of climbing the learning curve, then building a financial nest, employees look for emotional engagement, intellectual stimuli and flexibility. Not all industries/ organisations are able to provide that which leads to employees taking a break,” she says.
Quite a few advertising professionals are tasting success in their new chosen field. Arvind Sharma, former chairman and CEO for Indian subcontinent at Leo Burnett, recently started an e-commerce portal titled Indiasarihouse.com selling saris. Sharma says the start-up has notched up around 5000 registered customers in three months. “Our short term goal is to get to a customer base of 300,000 women around the world who love their saris. That will get us to a business of several hundred million dollars in revenue per year.”
Again, former senior vice-president and managing partner of JWT South (Chennai and Hyderabad), Anita Gupta, left advertising a few years back to set up her high-end adventure travel business. Then there’s Shiven Surendranath, former senior vice-president, creative, Leo Burnett Mumbai, who has own stud farm today. He also has his production house called Old School Films. Anuja Chauhan who left JWT in 2010, saw her third novel Those Pricey Thakur Girls recently converted into a serial called Dilliwali Thakur Girl. The show is currently aired on ZEEL’s second Hindi GEC &TV at 9 pm. Thakur returned to JWT last year as creative consultant to work on beverage brand Pepsi.
The thrill of starting something of your own does have its pros and cons, but is an exciting phase for many. Sudha Natrajan, who along with Raghav Subramanian runs TMC Corporation, believes that starting a venture when you are young is quite different from starting when you have spent a number of years working with a big agency. But if one wants to reinvent and feels contented, then moving on is better than staying.
“When you choose what you want to do and love doing it, then you are motivated to work better. Nonetheless, starting your own company has challenges too which one takes for granted for while working for an agency. But one learns and grows,” she says. “I spend as much time working now as I did earlier, but I can say that now I get to spend a little more time with my son which earlier I wouldn’t as my work involved travelling.”
Rambha Mankame didn’t hesitate to grab the opportunity when it came by. As an executive creative director at JWT, Mankame had worked with big brands, created some award-winning work, but unable to spend enough time with her family, she quit advertising in 1999 to join an IT firm. “All they wanted me to do was write, which I did in advertising as well. And there were no erratic working hours. I could see my husband and daughter more often. So I didn’t mind the shift at all,” says Mankame. She is now on a second career break. “I call it a break because I freelance for a company that helps others find inner peace, which I completely enjoy doing now,” she points out.
Mehra and Avasthi believe that once a person reaches the NCD level, his or her duties are not limited to just creative, but involve a lot of administrative work as well, which for some is a trigger to quit. “Many join advertising for the love of writing, but once at a senior level, 80% of the time is taken up by managerial work. This is a turn-off for many,” says Avasthi.
Juhi Chaturvedi, did fall prey too this. “Advertising did give a high, but it came with other baggage as well. I
didn’t join it to manage people but to do what I loved doing,” says Chaturvedi on why she finally chose to end her
association with the ad world when she quit as executive creative director, Leo Burnett.
In 2007, only after seven years in the field of advertising, Janhavi Acharekar knew there was something amiss. She wrote her first novel Window Seat during her train commute to work and weekends. An author now, Acharekar hoped to work and write simultaneously, but soon realised it was impractical. “Advertising industry is very vibrant and I do miss that, but it demands a little too much from a person,” she says while adding that she now prefers the slow-paced life which gives her the time to write and reflect on life. “When you are young, advertising is the best industry to work in, but after a while, it does drain out one. Taking a step back was the most natural move for me,” says Acharekar.
On a sabbatical affecting one’s career prospects, Ravichandar believes that it depends on the reason for taking a break. If it’s to pursue higher education/certification, then it will help propel the career forward. If not, then there might be a feeling of a temporary setback but over the long term, given that one has come back as a more enriched person, one can bridge the gap and more. Ravichandar also highlights that when it comes to work-life balance, very few organisations provide the flexibility and programmes to support telecommuting, etc. And even in companies which have these facilities it is not considered the right thing to do if you are serious about going up the corporate ladder.
Nonetheless, the exodus to greener and more fulfilling pastures continues. “I think we would be typecasting what’s happening today if we say senior people are moving out because they are burnt out, or find the business too demanding. We are in advertising because we love the business and people who love the business thrive under the pressure. I, for one, can say that I will always love the business, because it will always stay maddening and never grow old. What excites me about advertising is the crazy pace of innovation that we see in this field,” says Chraneeta Mann who recently quit as NCD (regional) at Rediffusion Y&R.