From an initial background in commerce to being in the midst of a campaign that changed the way people perceived sanitary napkins, it has been a journey of learning and insightful choices for Ankita Shirsolkar, finalist at the BestMediaInfo Rising Star Awards 2023 from Lodestar UM.
After completing a diploma in mass communications with a focus on advertising and marketing, Shirsolkar found herself drawn to the creative side of advertising.
Talking about her passionate discovery of data in media, she said, “My perspective evolved as I delved into subjects like consumer research and media planning. It was during this academic journey that I discovered the intriguing intersection of creativity and data in the realm of media. Observing how major brands leveraged data to shape their communication strategies, I realised that creativity knows no bounds.”
These early insights played a pivotal role in steering her career towards working in a media agency, spanning diverse categories such as CPG, pharmaceuticals, automobiles, and BFSI.
Regarding the notion of brands establishing their own media verticals, Shirsolkar opines that it shouldn't be perceived as a threat. Instead, it can serve as a learning opportunity for new organisations to grasp the nuances of media. According to her, modern media agencies transcend mere execution.
“We function as strategic partners, leveraging years of experience and robust infrastructure to assist brands in achieving efficiency and effectiveness. Media agencies today boast expertise beyond plan implementation, offering specialised teams that craft tailored solutions, considering brand challenges, category shifts, and evolving consumer behaviours to yield optimal business outcomes,” she said.
If not for advertising, Shirsolkar would have pursued a career in Consumer Research and Insights.
According to her, every brand's success hinges on its understanding of consumers, an aspect that leaves no room for negotiation. Accurate identification of the target consumer, encompassing their needs, aspirations, behaviour, and cultural nuances, allows for the creation of brand and product relevance.
“Consumers, far from being mere statistics, are individuals like us, and in a diverse country like ours, a multitude of distinct archetypes emerges based on factors ranging from socio-economic status to ethnicity,” she added.
Taking us back to 2018, Shirsolkar talks about the Stayfree initiative that holds a special place in her heart, as it highlighted a significant issue – the lack of awareness among young girls regarding menstrual hygiene.
Talking about the initiative, she said, “After analysing media consumption patterns and cultural nuances, we collaborated with the leading radio station in these states to craft an innovative Advertiser Funded Program (AFP) centred around stories exploring menstruation and puberty. These narratives emphasised the importance of fostering transparency and bonding within the mother-daughter relationship, serving as a conduit to educate on the critical aspects of sanitary hygiene and protection for the well-being of young girls.”
“The initiative incorporated an extension of Q&A sessions where listeners could anonymously pose questions about menstruation, helping to break cultural taboos surrounding menstruation, benefiting countless young girls and their families,” she added.
Talking about what propelled her to formulate the campaign, she shares her admiration for brands and media professionals who transcend conventional boundaries, engaging in work beyond mere advertising. She said, “Initiatives that empower consumers to make informed decisions resonate profoundly with me, showcasing the transformative impact of innovative thinking and societal contribution.”
Shedding some light on her journey of navigating the post university chaos, she talks about her curiosity about diverse perspectives and believes that her school and college days have made her the professional she is today.
“The belief that learning is a continuous journey has been my guiding mantra throughout life. In my academic years, I was fortunate to have dedicated teachers who consistently pushed me to strive for excellence,” she added.
In her words, participating in competitions during her school days, despite grappling with stage fright and not always emerging victorious, proved to be transformative. “The experience taught me the invaluable lessons of effort, sincerity, and belief as prerequisites for building confidence. Overcoming the challenges of adolescence, marked by the sting of perceived inadequacy, instilled in me the resilience needed to face new obstacles,” she remarked.
Shirsolkar believes that the bedrock of success rests upon the unwavering pillars of hard work, agility, and humility. These qualities act as a potent force, fortifying the mind against external distractions and channelling focus on the present. According to her, her greatest strength lies in fostering collaborative endeavours with the individuals she works with.
As a strategist, she never works with the constraints that a business team has and she believes that to be her weakness.
Apart from engaging in discussions and crafting media strategies with her team, she enjoys reading philosophical books, watching movies, and listening to podcasts focused on psychology, health, and fitness.
Adopting a resilient mindset during challenging moments, Shirsolkar recognises the tendency of the mind to amplify negative thoughts and believes in prioritising both physical and mental health.
In her professional journey at Lodestar UM, she talks about CEO Aditi Mishra and Senior Vice President Jhumka Saha, as her primary sources of inspiration.
“Their qualities of calmness, practicality, and humility resonate deeply with me. Under their guidance for over six years, I have experienced an enriching and transformative journey,” she added.
Looking ahead, she talks about the advent of AI sparking a creative surge and becoming the norm of the distant future.
“Digital platforms, such as YouTube and Meta, have emerged as pivotal players, offering consumers and media professionals immersive experiences. This shift has redefined the role of traditional media, as these platforms not only provide equivalent reach but also facilitate seamless interactions with brands, enhance targeting precision, and offer convenient purchase options,” she said.
Amidst the ever-changing landscape, this commitment to adaptation to the changing norms remains the only constant in the advertising industry, according to Shirsolkar.
Taking a look back at her younger self, she would advise herself to approach seemingly impossible deadlines with unwavering dedication. “Give it your 100% without compromising on what you believe in. Acknowledge and rectify mistakes, ensuring that they serve as lessons for future endeavours.”
According to her, each day presents an opportunity to learn something new, keeping her enthusiasm alive and thriving.