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If you can create conversations about a brand, it’s advertising: Nisha Singhania, Infectious

A lot is happening at Infectious. It recently launched Infectious Design Studio and before that it formed an association to set up Firki. BestMediaInfo caught up with Singhania to know what’s up with the three-year-old independent formed by her and Ramanuj Shastry

Akansha Mihir Mota | Mumbai | October 31, 2016

Nisha-Singhania Nisha Singhania

“Life is an experience and you should live to the fullest. Go ahead, take your chances. Life is too short to not to take chances,” says Nisha Singhania, Co-Founder, Infectious.

Business Head, strategic planner and researcher, Singhania has worn several hats successfully in her stint with top agencies such as Grey, Ambience, Rediffusion Y&R and Saatchi & Saatchi. Subsequently, she headed the Mumbai office of Rediffusion Y&R and in the next three years turned it around to achieve significant growth and a healthy profit margin.

It has been three years since former Saatchi & Saatchi hands Ramanuj Shastry and Nisha Singhania launched their independent advertising agency Infectious in April 2013. The agency has grown at a rapid pace. It serves BBC World News, Big Bazaar, &TV and a few more brands as its clients.

Singhania never loses her cool, and loves to play with her son in the evening. She lives in the moment and tries to make the most out of life. Singhania also enjoys cooking and doing up the house. Excerpts from the interaction:

What is up with Infectious? Two launches in such a short span of time? What can be gauged from the launch of Firki and Infectious Design? Where is Infectious headed?

Infectious was launched three and a half years back. I think for every start-up it takes time to settle down. I think today we are at a stage where we are firmly placed on the ground. There are some very obvious extensions that could happen. We identified two very exciting spaces. Design was a very natural extension to get in. Secondly, we also had someone who joined us as a stellar with design. It was obvious for us to capitalise on his strengths. Before we actually announced it, we had a few projects. Those projects gave us the confidence that we can go ahead. We got a few identity projects. That really gave us the confidence that we can launch our design cell. We got a fantastic platform to do that with the DNA masthead and logo design.

In August, Firki Production was launched. What was the strategy behind it? How does Firki add to the brand value of Infectious?

Firki is not exclusively Ramanuj’s and mine. There are five partners in it: Sujay Shetty, Tanya Pathak and Yateesh Srivastava, Ramanuj and I. Content is something in which we have been interested. One of the largest clients of Infectious has been &TV, which is largely in the business of content creation. We have been on the sidelines of watching content and how it has progressed. In the digital age, consumers are becoming extremely critical. You can’t spoon feed content anymore. They have a choice to pick and choose, which is where content is taking a higher order. Entertainment verses pure brand messages is where the fight is. That is why I feel content is a very exciting thing to get into.

We luckily found partners who felt similarly and also had strengths that we could bring together, which is where Firki came from. Firki and Infectious are completely two different identities. The only common factor is that Ramanuj and I are common partners in both of them. In a way I think we will feed off each other. There will be clients of Infectious who will require content. We can bring Firki as an asset to us. There will be clients of Firki who need any communication, we will be there. Otherwise, they are two separate identities.

Team Firki Productions Team Firki Productions

It has been three years now, what are the plans for Infectious going forward?

It is not that since the beginning we have decided that we would be launching branded content or a design studio. It really stemmed from the need and our capabilities. As of now there is nothing on the anvil we think we need to launch. We are a work in progress company. But if we think that we need to launch something, we will. If a need arises and we have capabilities, we’ll do it.

How has the agency grown over time in respect to size, business and ideology?

We started off on our own and are not bound by turnover, revenue and targets. Ramanuj and I were very clear that we will chase two things when we started Infectious. One is fame and fame is good work. Second is obviously money. So, for us any client that we took on had to have a promise of giving us both, ideally. Otherwise, one of the two. Honestly, the first year was a major struggle because we were just finding our feet and trying to figure out how to be a start-up from having worked in companies with 200 people. Being a start-up is not an easy task. Also, from the client's perspective, a lot of them wanted to wait and watch and see if we would really last. Many clients did not come to us simply because they wanted to be sure that we are for the long term. The second year was good. We signed two of our major businesses. I think we somewhat started taking off in the second year. From there I think we have done pretty reasonably well. Regarding the size of the business, we have grown to 25 people. We don’t keep many people as the small size keeps us on our feet.

Do you intend starting Infectious in any other city?

As of now, no. In our previous organisations we realised that when you are working with very large organisations and you are at the top, we rarely do advertising. We used to do everything else apart from advertising. As branch head, I was more responsible for who will sit in which cabin, what laptop should be given to them. That was really my job! Ramanuj was also fire-fighting at that time. The reason we started on our own was because we wanted to be hands on in the thick and thin and start working on brands, starting from scratch again. The problem in starting in another city is that we would not be hands on. Honestly saying, with technology coming in, we have clients in Delhi and Bangalore too.

Would you still call yourself as just an advertising agency after launching a production house and a design studio?

I think we are in the business of ideas and storytelling across all our verticals. Infectious is in the business of storytelling where the medium and platforms get designed. Design is also storytelling because when you are creating an idea or packaging, you are telling a story and content is again storytelling. We are in the business of making the brand interesting by telling interesting stories.

What makes Infectious stand out among the ocean of creative agencies?

I think there are a lot of creative agencies. One of the key factors is the personalised key attention that we bring to the table. Typically what happens in large agencies is that in a pitch you get to see all the top faces. The minute the pitch is over, they disappear. Then there is a junior person who is given the responsibility of managing the business. There are two or three people who are made in charge of the business. I am not doubting the capabilities of those people. But many a time you need more minds to crack a problem and in large agencies there are large egos and large teams. Very rarely you get to work together. Also, our culture is very different. There are 25 people in the office. Every brief is opened up. We do a brainstorm on every creative problem. Many a time, the creative idea could come from a servicing person. Of course, for the final crafting, there are some skill sets that are required, which the art director or the writer would have.

Nisha Singhania with Co-founder Ramanuj Shastry Nisha Singhania with Co-founder Ramanuj Shastry

What is more stressful, working as an employee at an agency or working for something of your own?

There are different kinds of stresses that both the jobs have. When you are working in a large organisation, you are driven by the goals that have already been set for the company and the stress is to meet the goals. When you are founder of your own company, you set your goals. You are the one-man army and you do everything yourself. From HR to registering the company, you learn so much. The stress would be about being able to pay salaries by the end of the month.

Do you think that account planning and management team has an upper hand over the creative team as they also get to participate in the creative part of the campaign, whereas the creative team doesn’t get to participate in planning?

I disagree with that. Most of the good creative people are fantastic planners. I don’t think anyone has an upper hand in this business. The minute you start seeing it as an upper hand or my job is important than yours, that’s where divisions start happening.

Where do you see advertising heading towards in future? What according to you is the next big thing?

Advertising has always been and will always continue to be about ideas. I think the scope of advertising is becoming broader. Earlier, it was defined by a print or a television ad, today I think anything can be an ad. A bunch of people doing something on a street could be an ad for a brand. Advertising is becoming broader and broader. I don’t think there can be a strict definition of what an ad is. If you can create conversations about the brand, then it is advertising. The world is changing too rapidly for us to predict what the next big thing is. But what we definitely find exciting is content. Branded content is now what we are trying to get into.

Which according to you is the one ad you wish to be a part of?

I found Airtel’s ‘Har friend zaruri hota hai’ campaign wonderful. In recent times, I would have loved to be the part of ‘The great Khali and Ambuja cement’ ad.

How did you decide to start something of your own? Was Infectious always in your mind or was it a leap of faith?

I am a Marwari, so the business gene is there in me. When I became a strategic planner, the business part of the work always attracted me. I didn’t get to implement my business skills in Saatchi & Saatchi and Rediffusion. But yes, I always wanted to do this. I needed the right time for it to happen and the right certificate to make it happen. I always wanted to do something of my own. Ramanuj and I worked together at Saatchi & Saatchi and Rediffusion. We started talking about that we should start something of our own. We thought we would probably make a good team. He was willing to take a leap of faith and I was willing to give it a shot. We decided to launch the agency in January 2013 and April 1, 2013 we launched.

Did you have any client who was willing to work with you before the launch of the agency?

This is a great learning. When you are starting, a lot of clients tell you that go for it and we shall be there. The minute you start off, the same clients turn around and say ‘Aabhi kuch kar ke dikhaao’.

What are the challenges faced by advertising in today’s day and age?

I think one big problem is pricing yourself right and not selling yourself cheap. The clients have become very smart and they have realised that they can play games one against the other. With the amount of competition that is there, they do that really smartly. I think the agencies tend to give away their ideas very fast and way too cheap. So, I think that is one big challenge. The second challenge is talent. Being able to find good talent is extremely challenging. People have a lot more avenues in which they can get in that earlier.

What is the most difficult part of creating a campaign? Selling the idea to the client or getting to the insight?

I think it is selling the idea; if you are convinced that the idea is good, it will actually solve the business problem. Coming with an idea that actually solves client’s problem takes time.

So if you were giving advice to a 22-year-old who wants to be in the advertising, media, and marketing business, what would it be?

The most important thing is your attitude. Where you have an attitude where you want to make it happen, you are positive, excited, then just go for it. Be inquisitive and curious.

How did you enter advertising?

I was always fascinated with advertising. During my college days, ads like ‘Kuch khaas hai hum sabhi mein’ were there. Then there was ‘Dudh Dudh Dudh’ campaign that was going on. The Amul hoardings just fascinated me. I had just finished my graduation. Then I did a management course in advertising. I didn’t want to do regular management. I thought of doing advertising as this is something I am interested in.

What do you do in your free time?

I have a 12-year-old boy. So, I spend a lot of time with him. I love doing up my house. Design is something I am very interested in. I love cooking.

How is it like balancing work and personal life? I am asking you this question because it is slightly tougher for women to balance things than men.

I have a great support system. I live very close to my parents and that’s deliberate. We might have a long run at office on Diwali. The balance comes in place when you don’t have a child. Because once you have children, managing time becomes tough. My mum does everything for me.

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