The highly accomplished Pandey brothers who have several national and international awards in their kitty are now going to join the hall of fame at Cannes. Piyush Pandey, Executive Chairman and Creative Director at Ogilvy South Asia, and Prasoon Pandey, Director, Corcoise Films, will be in the company of other eminent recipients of Lion of St. Mark, including the likes of BBH’s John Hegarty, Droga5’s David Droga, Wieden+Kennedy’s Dan Wieden, legendary filmmaker Joe Pytka, TBWA’s Lee Clow and RGA’s Bob Greenberg.
In a freewheeling interview with BestMediaInfo, Piyush and Prasoon spoke about their journey, inspiration, the challenges and the changing world of advertising.
The Pandey brothers said their passion and dedication brought them here. What’s the secret to their success? Prasoon said, "I was happy just doing my job. I never thought beyond it, or whether we will ever be honoured like this."
Piyush said that no matter how many awards and recognitions he gets, "Piyush Pandey can never be bigger than Ogilvy," he said while adding, "The team is bigger and more important than you and everyone emerges. I am sure that when I was a young man, everyone was worried about what will happen when Roda Mehta goes or when the Late Ranjan Kapoor leaves. Things happen and life goes on."
He had an advice for youngsters who wanted to grow in the profession. "Don’t worry where you have to reach. Don’t make too many plans. Do the job at hand and do it in the best possible way," Piyush said.
The brothers said that the only reason India hasn't been able to produce the kind of work some of the other countries were doing was because the clients weren't giving the creative people enough time. "People are not planning in advance. By the time the script comes to me, we just have 20-25 days left to finish," Prasoon said.
"You look at the West. People plan their campaigns six or eight months in advance. Somehow, our people think that running it on air is important, but what you run on air is more important. You cannot put a shoddy product up there and run it repeatedly. It will irritate a lot of people," Piyush said. The duo said that they did discuss a lot of things related to work with each other and shared inputs.
What was the reaction when you first heard that you both are the winners of the Cannes Lion of St. Mark and who was the first person to see that reaction?
Piyush: I was the one who got the message from Philip Thomas (Chairman of Cannes Lions) first. The first person to see it was my secretary, on the email. She called me up and said, “There is news.” It was overwhelming and surprising. I told my secretary to make sure that the message was indeed from Thomas and that no one was playing a prank on me. Then I called up Prasoon and informed him.
Prasoon: I hadn’t checked my email. He called me up and asked me, “Have you read your email?” I said I have not and so he told me to check the email and call back. I shared the news first with my wife. For me, it always takes time for news like this to sink in.
Even when we had won our first Lion at Cannes, which was India’s first Lion ever in Film, Piyush was here and he had called me up. It was around 2 am in India and he told me that we had won the first ever Film Lion for India. I said okay and went back to sleep. In the morning, I completely forgot about it. It was only in the afternoon, when my wife asked me who had called up in the night, that I remembered we had won a Cannes.
How did advertising happen to you and did it bore you at any time?
Piyush: It has never bored me. It happened to me a little late in life. I was first a tea-taster for three years and then I met some friends who were in advertising and I thought it was an interesting thing to do. So, I gave up my job in Kolkata (then Calcutta) and came looking for a job in Mumbai. I got a job that was paying me a third of the money that I was earning before. So, it couldn’t have been boring. It had to be interesting for me to have hung on to it for so long.
Prasoon: I was already exposed to advertising because of Piyush. I already knew how it worked, thanks to him. I find it really thrilling because you are really working on short stories and every month you are living in a completely different world. So, it is very exciting. You don’t get bored at all because one month you are doing something based in a village somewhere and the next month, you are doing something in a Jazz bar in Chicago.
Piyush: In advertising, whatever you do reaches people in a very short span of time. Unlike a movie that takes a lot of time to be made and released.
What is that one thing that has led you to where you are? It could be an attitude, life philosophy or discipline.
Piyush: I think it is passion. I love this job. I love solving problems and I love telling stories. I think it is a combination of passion and dedication. So, the hard work is the dedication and the reason for the hard work is passion. I take life as it comes.
Prasoon: I don’t think it is an attitude but I live in momentary bravados. I believe I think like a kid. If a kid is digging a hole then he/she will be focused on digging that hole. This works for me because then I am not too worried about repercussions.
We know how good a team player you are. The impeccable loyalty your people have is a testament to that. So, has Piyush Pandey ever upset any of his colleagues?
Piyush: I am sure that if they were to be brutally honest with you, I must have upset them at some time. But by and large, I believe in teams and whatever I am today and wherever I have reached, it is because of the team. You can never forget the team’s contribution. Nobody can win a match alone. I need a team who can help me succeed and I am very grateful to them, I have always been and will always be.
Even though you have placed people in the management, there are those who feel that Ogilvy will not be the same without you. How do you react to this?
Piyush: Piyush Pandey can never be bigger than Ogilvy. Never take yourself too seriously to say that you are larger than life. The team is bigger and more important than you and everyone emerges. I am sure that when I was a young man, everyone was worried about what will happen when Roda Mehta goes or when Late Ranjan Kapoor goes. Things happen and life goes on. I don’t believe in taking myself seriously at all. You are somebody at a given point in time and you try and build a team which is capable of doing better than you.
I have heard a lot of people say that they are with Ogilvy because of Piyush Pandey and that they are not sure of staying back once you are gone. What do you have to say to this?
Piyush: I have been with Ogilvy for 36 years and 10 years back, I would have told you that I am in Ogilvy because of David Ogilvy. When people love you, they say these kinds of things. Tomorrow, when somebody gets my job, I think they will aim to do it better than me and the others will be following that person. Lot of people say such things out of emotion but I doubt they really mean it.
But you have created those emotions.
Piyush: No, I think those emotions were created by David Ogilvy. I am a beneficiary who has passed on the same benefits I go to others.
Last when we spoke, you had mentioned how closely you look after your people, your employees.
Piyush: Because they care for me. It is always a reciprocal thing, it is never only about you.
Is it the same with you and your team, Prasoon?
Prasoon: I have a very small team, unlike his. But yes, this is something I have always admired about him and hence, I have also followed it in my work. I think unless I create an environment where people enjoy and want to excel, they will not be able to give their best to me.
Piyush: The principle is the same. When I joined Ogilvy in 1982, we were 192 people around the country. Today we are 1,400 people, but the basics don’t change. You care about the people, people care about you and together you care about the work, which then looks better.
So, now you must be ready with your speech. Would it be more about your journey? How much focus would it have on the future of Indian advertising?
Piyush: We get two-and-a-half minutes each to speak. So, it’s not going to be about the journey or about anything else. It is just going to be a small gratitude to people that I have learnt from.
Who are these people?
Piyush: 1.3 billion people. (duo laughs)
It’s not a time for us to deliver speeches. It is an acceptance word. There are awards being given before and after. You cannot bore people.
How about your speech, Prasoon?
Prasoon: Like he said, you can’t say too much. People are impatiently waiting for their awards. We can’t be taking a lot of time.
You have always been generous to say that there is better talent than you. But who would be able to match your heights and when?
Piyush: I don’t want to name anybody. There are lots of people in India, some of them are working with me, some may be working as competitors. You never know who will evolve when. When Virat Kohli was playing the under-19, did anyone think that this man is going to take the world by storm? So, believe in people. There is a lot of talent.
Prasoon, how difficult it is for a craft person to reach this level, as they mostly remain behind the cameras?
Prasoon: I won’t really know. Like I said, I was just happy doing my job. I never thought beyond it, or whether we will ever be honoured like this. Each time there was a problem or a film, I only thought about how best I can do it. I have been very microscopic in my approach and I don’t have a clue how all of this came about. It just happened. (Piyush laughs).
Piyush: I anticipate one of your questions and I want to answer that question before you ask ‘what is my message for youngsters?’ That (what Prasoon just said) was the message for the youngsters. Don’t worry where you have to reach. Don’t make too many plans. Do the job at hand and do it in the best possible way.
How has Indian film making transformed over the years?
Prasoon: I think Indian film making is fabulous. I always feel that the average advertising in India is very interesting. It’s better than most of the world averages. By average I mean, when you watch a show on TV, you will get at least one or two very interesting commercials that will tickle your imagination. It’s not the same in the rest of the world. Their best is far superior than our best. The difference is largely the time and money, but I don’t crib about money because the economies are different. However, the time spent on each project is phenomenal there. We are just not giving ourselves enough time to do a great job. That’s my concern. By the time somebody comes to me with a script, they already mention a deadline of 20-25 days. There is hardly any time to think through and set it up. As soon as you agree to do it, you have to set it up. Ideally, you should first think enough about what you want to set up and then do it. That is where we are lacking, not in talent at all.
Piyush: You look at the West. People plan their campaigns six or eight months in advance. Somehow, our people think that running it on air is important, but what you run on air is more important. You cannot put a shoddy product up there and run it repeatedly. It will irritate a lot of people. You may as well make a good thing. I don’t mind saying that we have done some of our best work for Pidilite’s Fevicol and Fevikwik, because they don’t hold a gun to our heads. They agree that we might sometimes take longer to write and they ask Prasoon about the relaxed time frame needed to make the film. It doesn’t mean that we have a licence to delay, but faith gives you confidence that ‘I have to do the best’.
We have also heard that, let alone the client, but the planning department of the agency also hands over the brief or the draft at the last moment. How true is that?
Piyush: No. Planning guys do a very good job.
Prasoon: The biggest lacuna is that people are not planning in advance. Everybody knows the IPL dates at least one year in advance. Then, why is it that every time just before IPL, clients flock their ad agencies?
Piyush: Similarly, ‘I want a Diwali ad in 20 days.’ You knew Diwali dates well in advance, you could have told me in April.
Prasoon: Diwali is not surprising. You don’t say, “Oh. This year, we have a Diwali.” Dates for Diwali are known for the next 100 years. Why can’t you plan in advance and come to me and give me (or any director) more time.
Piyush: Rather, client should give himself/ herself more time. You want the best out of me. Let’s plan. I am not saying that we are terrible, but this is one area that we can do better at.
When people say it may take a longer time for Indian production capacity to match the global levels of technology and post production, how do you react to that?
Prasoon: I think we are not far behind in technology and post-production. The biggest proof of that is that 20 years back, for any good film, the post production was done abroad; today, we are doing everything in India. A lot of foreign films are getting their post-production done in India. That doesn’t mean that the top-end work is getting done here. There is still some difference. But we have taken a huge leap in the bulk of it and we are not doing badly at all. Technology is only a brush in your hand. Are you giving yourself enough time to paint the painting that you want to paint. When I talk to my other director friends from abroad and they show me a piece of work saying, ‘I had six months to work on it.’ I am like ‘I would be lucky if I get six weeks.’ Six months will give you enough time to knock on new frontiers. You are able to test and see whether it works. Else, you will always go with the tried and tested one. A lot of people come to me saying, we want a film like Fevicol, because they haven’t given themselves time to think beyond. Why would it interest me to do another Fevicol! I have already done that. Let’s do something new.
Piyush: When I go for my worldwide meetings, so many people tell each other that ‘why don’t we do our music in India? They do such fantastic music and it is not as expensive as ours.’ I completely agree with Prasoon that we shouldn’t blame technology. Don’t tell yourself that you cannot do it. Wherever you feel something is not available, you go and get it. The world is outsourcing their needs to India, so India can outsource some of the things to them.
You both have grown up together and achieved success simultaneously. How much credit of this success would you give each other?
Piyush: I think my ideas would not have come alive without his inputs. His inputs not just on the filmmaking aspect but ideation too. We even discuss things which we are not working on together. We do films that the other is not a part of, but as creative people who respect each other, we bounce things off each other that are not in conflict. If I was doing Coke and he was doing Pepsi, that idea we will not discuss.
Prasoon: There is an unsaid understanding. There is no pact about ‘what to discuss and what not!’ It just doesn’t come up in the discussion. It happens naturally.
I give him credit for everything. We even discuss things that we can’t say on camera. (They mischievously laugh).
You have nurtured a lot of talent. Do you see younger talent having better knack than the older generation? Or do they lack passion?
Piyush: I don’t think they lack passion. There’s always a balance. You have to look for newer things. You have to respect the younger people and the younger people have to look at why do they respect you, what is it in you that can be a learning for them. Like do I respect my nephew, Prasoon’s son, who is into VR. Of course I do. Do I respect my father for the values that he taught me? Of course I do. Never look down on a youngster and never think that the past is fuddy-duddy, it has a lot of values. You have to balance.
Prasoon: This is just a trap that we all fall into. No matter which college they went to, they will always say ‘in our times, the college was fantastic. Now it has gone down the drain.’ But if it was true then over generations, all colleges would have reached the other side of the planet by now. It’s not true. It’s just that you are affected by a certain set of values and the next generation is affected by another set of values.
You have received a Padmashree and now a Lion of the St. Mark. Has there been a fear of going wrong with your decisions, now that you feel responsible?
Piyush: Responsibility is something that was always with me, even as a youngster when I was working for a client. If I am working with people, I am responsible for them as much as I am for the client. I think you should never have the fear of going wrong. You will fear if you have to reach some imaginary destination. I am loving the journey. There is no fear of failure, but a caution about not disappointing those who believe in you.