You know you are talented when Indian parents ask you to chase your artistic side rather than go after traditional professional choices like being a doctor or an engineer. Prerna Mehra, Head of Design, Cheil Worldwide, India was only in the third standard when her mother discovered her talent for art.
“It was the Diwali holidays and my sister had holiday homework to do. She was supposed to draw something related to Diwali for her art class. Just to engage me, because I was a naughty kid, my mother made me sit down with my sister and she placed an idol of Lord Ganesha and Goddess Laxmi in front of us. She asked us to draw them and my sister came out with a very hideous art work but surprisingly mine was decently good.”
This is when her mother decided that Mehra should pursue arts. So much so that, when Mehra hinted that maybe she should pursue becoming a doctor, like her mother had initially wanted her to, her mother refused.
A Delhi girl, Mehra did her schooling from Delhi Public School and credits her school a lot for the love she developed for arts. Once she was done with her schooling, Mehra took up commerce with fine arts.
“I really had no idea about what to do after school. I considered taking up PCM and doing architecture but my sister helpfully reminded me that I was bad at maths. So, finally I took up commerce with fine arts.”
But Mehra fell in love with fashion designing. She got through NIFT, unfortunately because she did not get a Delhi seat, she didn’t go through with it.
“I then gave my entrance for College of Art, Delhi and got through. I did my graduation in fine arts from there and that is really how I was introduced to the world of advertising.”
Mehra has always been fascinated by advertising and by her own admission, when she watched television, which wasn’t often, she liked to watch the ads more than the shows and movies on TV. She started her journey in the advertising industry with Madison where she worked for about six months.
“After Madison I went to JWT. I was there for about three-and-a-half years. From JWT, I joined Ogilvy, Delhi. I was with Creativeland Asia, Mumbai for a while before coming back to Ogilvy Delhi.”
Mehra has been with Cheil since April this year and admits her experience at Cheil, so far, has been very different and enriching.
“Agencies like JWT and Ogilvy are traditional advertising places. If someone wants to learn the basics of advertising, how it originally functioned, these are the places to be at. Cheil is more focused towards digital and technology and creating new things. Here, we spend most of our time thinking what we can bring to the table that is new and novel and something that people haven’t seen before. Also, the design department here has just been set up and so it is not like you are taking over from somebody, you are actually creating your own space and I really love the fact that Cheil gives me this freedom.”
Speaking about the project she has had the most fun working for, Mehra talks about the time she spent in Mumbai working for Creativeland Asia.
“We had this really kick-ass client, Parle Agro. The brand that we were handling for Parle Agro was Appy Fizz and we had a lot of fun working on the brand. It is a very fun brand, we used to come up with campaigns out of completely random conversations.”
Mehra, who has worked across categories, also remembers working with Eicher where she even got the chance to drive a truck and when she was heading creative for Avon New York.
“Avon New York did not have a product designer. I used to create accessories for them and the fashion designer in me was really happy. It was amazing and interesting.”
Speaking about her greatest achievement Mehra said, “Winning the Cannes Young Lions Design (India) in 2012 is so far my biggest achievement professionally. I remember I was in Mumbai and when I got the call saying I had won, I was going for a movie. I was so excited I don’t even remember which movie it was. It was amazing news and sometimes, these little achievements in life motivate you to do better things. These are the benchmarks that you set for yourself.”
According to Mehra, her curiosity is both her biggest strength and also her biggest weakness.
“I love knowing about new things and that is a great strength but it also becomes a weakness because then it becomes an overdose of information and you don’t know what to do with so much information.”
Mehra is an avid traveller and likes to think that if she wasn’t in advertising, she would have been a farmer somewhere.
But what is it that she likes about advertising?
“When I get up in the morning, I really don’t know how my day is going to go. Having to start from scratch every day and having a blank slate every day is something I absolutely love about my profession.”