Das loves taking challenges and is one of the few women who have made it to the top in advertising. After 17 years in Ogilvy, she joined Mudra, and since then the agency has seen a major turnaround. Das shares her journey with BestMediaInfo
Akansha Mihir Mota | Mumbai | September 26, 2016
A postgraduate in Psychology and Business Administration, Vandana Das, President of DDB Mudra, is responsible for building both the DDB Mudra and Mudra brands in Delhi. She always wanted to become a counsellor or a clinical psychologist, but eventually came into advertising.
She has more than two decades of experience in the industry, of which 17 years were with Ogilvy & Mather. She was responsible for setting up David, the sister concern agency of Ogilvy. Das is known for her pepped-up attitude. She is the one behind the turnaround image of brand Limca, which she is very proud of. Since the time she has joined the agency and has been handling the Delhi team, the agency has got a makeover with new people and account wins.
BestMediaInfo.com met the ever-enthusiastic Das to find out her views about the industry, her agency’s performance and a bit about her life. Excerpts:
How has been your time in DDB Mudra and how different is it from Ogilvy?
My stint in DDB Mudra has now been about four and a half years. It has been a challenging yet exciting journey. It has literally been like a roller-coaster ride. I would like to believe that there have been more ups than downs. Yes, I spent 17 years at Ogilvy before moving to DDB Mudra Group. I played more of a farmer’s role and learnt a lot in terms of managing businesses and growing them. The reason that I stepped out of Ogilvy was because of an offer of a different role and responsibility. At Ogilvy, I set up a sister agency called Brand David and I managed it for about two years. But that was just a small setup. My role here is like jumping on to a bigger ship in terms of managing a much larger office.
Here I had to literally play a hunter’s role and along with that also do farming because there were some existing businesses that obviously had to be kept alive and grown alongside. I had the opportunity to turn things around and push my own limits. There have been ups and downs, but it has been a very satisfying journey. Unless you don’t have challenges, you won’t be a go-getter. If you have to bring the agency on a fast-track mode, you have to have all of that to make it happen. I had to revamp the team. At the end of the day, you are in a people’s industry. The first thing is that you have to get the right people together. If you have the right mind-set with the right people with the right attitude, then you can work together as a team and achieve whatever you have set out to achieve.
Is Ogilvy still in your soul?
Yes, it is. I learnt a lot from Ogilvy. The values I imbibed in my entire stint, to be honest, are not very different in DDB Mudra. That was also one of the reasons I took up this job.
Moving from Ogilvy was an important career decision. Were you afraid to do that?
This was a great challenge and I moved only because of it. If you don’t have big challenges hurled at you, you will never come out of your comfort zone. In my 4.5 years at DDB Mudra, the face of the agency has changed. It has actually come a long way. I won’t take the full credit of it because I am just the driver of the bus. It also had the support of my key team members and all our associates who had a role to play.
How has been the performance of DDB Mudra Delhi until now?
We have been on a growth path since the time I joined. We have roped in clients such as Aircel, Adidas, McVities, SAP, Marico, Midea, Cisco and some brands of Patanjali, Pan Bahar, PayBack, to name a few. All these businesses have come while I was here. And of course, we continue to handle Wrigley, Dabur and Mother Dairy. We have entered the radar of winning awards, which is a big feather in our cap.
What is the core nature of the agency and what is the philosophy on which it functions?
Basically, Mudra is an entrepreneurial agency. It began in Ahmedabad and we have not lost out on our core. There is a ‘can do’ spirit and creativity is at the heart of everything that we do. We all understand collaboration and the fact that we shall succeed when our clients succeed. We have an honest and transparent culture wherein respect for each other is a must. We are an agency which is about celebrating freedom; whether it is freedom to learn or to fail, freedom to be. One should understand that you could also fail. If you do not understand and do not accept it, then you will never take any risk.
How is DDB Mudra Delhi doing compared to other offices?
I think it’s unfair to compare with our other offices. We were like a start-up agency and that was the mind-set that I approached it with when I joined. The agency we had four and a half years back and what we have today is totally different. We have gained recognition due to winning some great brands, doing good work. This has moved the needle on the business and helped us get awards. All this is important to create a buzz in the marketplace. This helps in attracting the right talent and being called for pitches on big businesses.
How important are awards for DDB Mudra. Do you think they are a judgement of an agency’s performance?
Awards are important but they are not the ends for everything. At the end of the day, you are managing brands and clients’ businesses and create ideas that will have to make a difference in their businesses. There are no two ways to do it. The only way is to produce work that works for the business, which may win awards too. The core has to be growing the business of the clients. If awards happen on the way, it is good. I would say that awards definitely add to the agency’s performance from the point of view that the clients notice you. It will also help you attract prospective clients; it can help you in retaining talent. It also helps in attracting talent. Awards are important but one should focus on creating work that makes an impact on the business.
How do you maintain your enthusiasm even after so many years in the industry? Are you that cool in your personal life too?
I have done my Masters in Psychology. It is a debate that whether it is in you or you can actually acquire it. It is called something like the innate behaviour versus acquired behaviour. To be honest, I’ll be finishing 30 years in advertising next year; there is no such thing as burnout because advertising is all about passion and if it is your passion, why will you be tired of it? You have to be driven from within rather than by external factors. I am quite driven from inside and the enthusiasm and energy just comes naturally. My personality is that I am constantly with people and am connected with them all the way. People call me a bundle of energy.
How did you land in advertising?
I was a psychology student and did my Psychology Honours from Kamala Nehru College (DU). Then I did my Masters. I actually wanted to be a counsellor or a clinical psychologist, but I was also in a hurry to start working. My dad was in the Air Force. I am the eldest of three sisters. So I wanted to start working early and start contributing to the house. I joined a school for the handicapped and I was teaching there right after college. My mother met with an accident and was in hospital for more than four months. At that time my dad was posted in Rajasthan. Then I had to quit everything and for four months take care of her and the house. After that I happened to get a job offer as a trainee in a small agency and that is how I began my career in advertising. But I have since never looked back as I have enjoyed every moment in this profession.
What could be the possible reason that not many women are at the top levels of an organisation?
It’s a question of finding the right support system, your own drive, getting recognised for your work, it’s a question of being at the right place at the right time. Somewhere along the way, women have dual roles to play. They lose out in the run for various reasons. I think the advertising industry is very open and there is no such thing as men versus women.
How does a day in your life look like?
I start my day at 5:30 AM, I go for a walk and do a bit of yoga. I chat with my son for 10 minutes before he leaves for college. I read the newspaper and that’s the time I sit and chat with my husband. I am fond of cooking, so I get into the kitchen and do a little bit of that. After that, I am ready. At work, there are internal meetings, spending time with people and responding to mails or attending client meetings. In the evening, to ignore traffic, I try to leave a little early because you can get home and do the mails and things like that.
So many smaller and boutique agencies are popping up in recent times. Do you think that they throw a competition to the bigger ones and also steal talent from them?
That is happening and we can’t ignore it. I won’t say they are competition, but at the same time you have to recognise that they are mushrooming and some of them are doing a good job of picking up clients. The business reality in the market is that there are clients for whom the larger agencies as well as smaller boutique agencies also go for pitching. They are not competition to us, but definitely they are now getting into a competitive set for some of the clients to be able to call. A lot of these smaller agencies have been set up by people who have worked in bigger agencies. There have been people who would like to work with them. With that logic, they take those people away and by that logic they have taken the talent from those agencies.
How do you deal with the remuneration and talent retention problem?
The clients are becoming more demanding. Over the years, the remuneration problem has increased. Unfortunately, at this point of time, there is also lack of good talent in this industry. In an agency, not only remuneration, it is also the culture of the place and different ways that the organisation is working towards retaining talent. There are various incentives and recognition programmes to retain talent. To be honest, for millennials today, money matters. When they come out of institutes, there are several start-ups and e-commerce portals that can pay them well. We cannot pay that well. People should enter advertising for their passion and not just for picking up a job.
The flip side is that if somebody really wants to go, we should let him or her go because you cannot force people to stay anywhere. Everybody needs to realise that you have to change with changing times. You have to look at different approaches and models of working. You have to be a great listener and know what people need and you have to act on the same. Earlier changes used to happen every month, now it happens every day with social media and digital space coming into picture. The trick is to listen to the heartbeat of change and tune oneself accordingly.
What according to you are the biggest challenges that the industry is facing?
The challenges that the industry is facing are talent acquisition and retention as well as digitisation. It’s a challenge in the sense that everyone needs to rewire him or her. Now there is no such thing as mainline advertising anymore and we need to recognise it. Digitisation is actually an enabler into doing things faster in different ways and of course, we need to recognise speed in it. Everyone needs to imbibe digitisation and that’s the way to be going forward. All the traditional models of working have to now break down and new models have to be quickly adopted. So, that is a challenge. The third challenge is the entire monetisation bit where the clients are becoming more and more demanding and paying less.
Who is your inspiration in life?
My inspiration is my mother. Not only did she begin a new career at the age of 52, she fought with cancer and defied it while living life to the fullest. Despite continuing health issues, she is always positive, enthusiastic, full of energy and a moral support to many, including family and friends.
Professionally, my inspiration is Piyush Pandey as I worked very closely with him in my formative years and I have learnt a lot from him.
What do you do in free time?
I watch a lot of movies. I love cooking and love travelling to newer destinations.
Where do you see yourself 10 years down the line?
I think I should be running a large empire.
What is your favourite piece of work?
I would say my favourite piece of work is Limca. The entire transition of being a fuddy-duddy brand to the entire thing of Limca stands for freshness was done by me and my team. I am really proud of that.
Any campaign you wish you were a part of it?
Cadbury’s Dairy Milk cricket campaign where a girl comes jumping into the field. I was in Ogilvy at that time but not part of the campaign.
Where is advertising heading and how does the future looks like?
Advertising is here to stay and it will keep booming. The mediums of engagement will continue to change but at the core will still be an idea. Storytelling formats may change. Content will be king and continue to be in power for long.