I’ve never planned my career, but have taken every day as a game: Piyush Pandey

India had the biggest reason to cheer at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity this year with brothers Piyush and Prasoon Pandey being honoured with the Lion of St. Mark award. 

Padma Shri Piyush Pandey, Executive Chairman and Creative Director Ogilvy South Asia, is no stranger to Cannes Lions. Piyush won his first Cannes Lions awards with two Gold Lions for his work on an anti-smoking campaign in 2002, marking the start of a period of global recognition for a man who was already a creative legend in India. Piyush’s work is considered instrumental in the popularity of advertising campaigns produced in Hindi during the 1980s and 90s, heralding a shift to more universally accessible creativity in India. 

Piyush Pandey joined Ogilvy & Mather in 1982, and made his name on work for Fevicol, Luna Moped, Cadbury and Asian Paints. In 1994, he was made National Creative Director for Ogilvy & Mather India. Piyush was the first Jury President from Asia at the 2004 Cannes Lions Festival. The Government of India awarded him the Padma Shri in 2016. Under his leadership, Ogilvy India has been ranked No.1 agency for 12 consecutive years in the Agency Reckoner, an independent Marketing & Advertising Survey conducted by The Economic Times and Brand Equity. 

Born in Jaipur in 1955, Piyush Pandey had played in the Ranji Trophy and also worked as a tea taster, before entering the world of advertising. His famous siblings are filmmaker Prasoon Pandey and singer Ila Arun. 

Co-awardee and Piyush’s younger brother Prasoon Pandey started his career at Lintas Delhi, eventually becoming the Creative Director for Lowe India. He set up his own production company, Corcoise Films, in 2002. Prasoon is a highly respected director whose name has repeatedly featured in global rankings of top film directors. Prasoon is credited for directing the first Indian campaign to win a Lion, for Ericsson’s ‘One Black Coffee’ in 1996 and is one of the most awarded directors in India. 

Just back from his Cannes trip, Adgully caught up with Piyush Pandey to share his joy on being honoured with the Lion of St. Mark award, his experience at Cannes Lions this year, evolution of the Indian advertising industry, the state of Indian creativity today and why he refuses to be bitten by the entrepreneurial bug. Excerpts: 

 Being the first Indians to achieve this honour, how is the feeling?
I feel that it’s a fantastic thing for our country. We may be the first ones, but we represent what India has done in the last 30 years. As a country we were late starters in advertising compared to the West. Everyone in the industry has been doing their job, but we had to be at the forefront and it will inspire a lot of young people to think that if these two guys can do it, we can do it too. 

Lion of St. Mark at the Cannes Lions Festival is the pinnacle of awards, what more are you looking forward to achieve or for the next level of inspiration?
Inspiration comes from everyday life, from the things around you. I have never planned my career, but have taken every day as a game. 

It needs self-belief and confidence in what you do; it always starts with a level of confidence, saying we can do it. 

Being in the industry for such a long time, how do you see its evolution? How do you plan on giving back to this industry?
I haven’t planned to give back to the industry as much as I have planned on giving back to the people. I have written a chapter in a book, titled ‘Payback Time’, which is about giving back to the society what the society gave you. There are so many things that we can do to improve our society, whether it is to do with creating a ‘Swacch Bharat’ or helping the local municipal corporations or helping cancer patients associations and so on. I have been doing it for the last 30 years and I think all of us should always be doing more for the society that we live in. I always say that I am not an industrialist with billions of dollars, but I have a billion dollar pen which may contribute to make the world a better place. 

 Have you seen yourself in a mentor’s role beyond Ogilvy?
I play a mentor to the best of my ability. I like to speak to youngsters, and when the opportunity comes, I like to speak at colleges and also learn from them; so that will always continue. It’s not really mentoring but sharing, because what I share with them is my experience and what they share with me are the new things. It’s a wonderful experience. 

What has been your mantra while ideating on a campaign? What is your thinking process?
I draw a lot of inspiration from life – life that I may have seen as a youngster and the life that I see today with youngsters. I look at the product and the challenge and try and see whether the twain shall meet. I believe that it’s not about information, but about the connect; and whether it’s my brother Prasoon or me or any of my colleagues from the industry, our challenge is to try and make that connect happen. 

As an ad guru, there are so many who look up to you, is there someone specific whom you look up to?
I look up to everyone. There are stalwarts in every country who have made a difference to their country and they are the champions. When you go to a place like Cannes and see the kind of work that they are doing and compare it with the kind of work that India is doing, there is so much that we can learn from each other. When I look back, there is no one particular mentor that I can think of, but I can say that whether you are 20 years old or 80 years old, you are my mentor. 

 This year at Cannes Lions, India’s metals tally has been less compared to last year. What are your thoughts on this?
Cannes itself was a reduced festival this year because times are tough and so the number of categories was reduced and number of days also came down. Thus, the quantity doesn’t matter, but the quality was fantastic from India and I congratulate each and every agency and individual who has made India proud. 

Do you think brand communication today is shifting from outright promotion to weaving in social issues?
There are multiple things that we must keep doing because the brands are a part of the society; if you earn from the society and you learn from the society, then you have to give back to the society. The most magical thing about the Savlon Healthy Hands Chalk Sticks campaign is that they didn’t comment on the society but participated in the society. The product was actually a part of the change that it influenced. While finding that perfect connect is great, it doesn’t mean that brands should not comment on the society. 

Your family has always been a huge support and this year we saw the extended family at Cannes. How was the experience?
It was a mind blowing experience. There was blood family, there was extended family, and there were 24 of them! We felt so wonderful and we spent so much time together, hence it was a great feeling. 

Today, how does Indian creativity compare with the international work?
We are not behind anybody and our youngsters are champions; we are a bit behind when it comes to technology, but I am sure that we will catch up. We will catch up in technology like we caught up in advertising. My hope is that youngsters don’t take technology so seriously that they forget the value of ideas. Technology is a good medium for taking your idea forward, but your ideas have to be related to people. So, use technology to take your ideas to the people, but don’t think that technology has to be a solution for all. Don’t get carried away thinking that you are on digital. Ask yourself, are you the best on digital, is your work going well, is your work going viral? Viral is when people send it, you don’t make it viral. You come up with a good idea and if people think that the idea is worthwhile, they will share it with their family and friends. I hope we don’t forget this. There is huge talent in this country. 

 Talking about talent, is the talent focused on what they are doing, especially in advertising?
It is not that focused, because we are a country that is evolving and there are so many opportunities, so people have a lot of options as to what they want to do. I am sure that focused people will evolve, however I don’t blame those who aren’t focussed, because at that stage in life as a youngster you are confused. But one needs to build up that focus and hone one’s skill set. 

From among these youngsters there will be some who will love advertising enough to focus on it and spend long careers in it because you evolve over a long career. 

In the long time that you have spent at Ogilvy, did you ever think of starting something of your own?
Sometimes these ideas did come to my mind, but then I woke up the next morning and told myself how stupid I was. There is this company that has never stopped you from doing what you want to do, that has never not looked up to you, which has always given you recognition, and so why would  a person want to have his own company? There are just 2-3 reasons to have a company of your own – having your name on the board, but I can say that my name is around my work and not on the board; secondly, if you are short of money, but I was never short of money; and thirdly, if anyone stopped you from doing what you are doing, but I haven’t faced any such issue. 

I have never had a reason to move out. Sure, at time my friends have given me such suggestions, but I have given them my reasons for staying. So, these kinds of things did come up during my career, but like I said, I woke up and said no to myself and not to anybody else.

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