The Brainstrust For Brands

10 min read
13 May 2016
10 min read
1323 words
VMAG talks to Deependra Tandon and Subu Shrestha, who have become big players in Nepal’s advertising and communication sector because they love what they do

How did the two of you decide to start an advertising company?

Deependra Tandon: During one of our Friday gatherings, we had an epiphany of sorts: why not do something that we love, rather than getting up every morning and dragging ourselves to work? We didn’t exactly plan to get into advertising, but one thing led to another, and we sort of got pulled into this sector. Also, it was something that we had a shared passion for. We always used to analyse advertisements in our college days. We just followed our passion, I guess.

Can you tell us a bit about the struggles you faced when starting out?

Subu Shrestha: For the first year and a half, all we did was make proposals. We didn’t get any work during Business Advantage’s first year (1998). Our breakthrough came when out of the blue we got a call from the Khetan Group, who asked us to make a pitch for Mayos Noodles. We did, and ended up winning that pitch against all the top agencies. We actually launched Mayos, and that put us on the map. Initially, at work, we had only one computer, on which we took turns; while one of us would be hunched over the computer, the other would be taking a breather. The early years were quite a struggle.

How do you design messages that speak to people’s aspirations?

Shrestha: We don’t want to be just another ad agency that churns out nice-loooking advertisement once in a while. We want to explore the process and see if we can make a real difference. We work as the communication partner for our clients, as opposed to being just an ad agency. We always start by analysing what the brand is about; we do that regardless of whether a client asks us to do so or not. Like with Bajaj, for example: we went out and talked to dealers, interacted with customers and talked to people on the street—just to get an understanding of why they bought a certain motorcycle in the first place.

Tandon: Clients often have one notion about their brand, which may not be how the market perceives it. We find out what it is about a brand that the target audience relates to. And it’s that insight that becomes the seed from which we grow the campaign. Then the whole execution part comes in: how do we portray that insight and through what platform? It’s always the idea first, and then the platform.

How do you analyse market trends?

Tandon: We both have an innate hunger for knowledge. We are both voracious readers,  and we tend to do a lot of research when we analyse trends. It helps us keep up with the changes, with how the international and local markets are evolving. You have to be constantly on your toes to remain relevant. Things change so fast these days

What’s your management philosophy when it comes to your company?

Shrestha: If you talk to any of our staff, they’ll tell you that the best thing about our company is the freedom that they have. Our hiring process is very rigorous; if a person is good for a role but doesn’t have the potential to grow, we won’t hire that individual even if he or she is perfect for that position. Once we are convinced that a person is suitable for our company, we don’t keep him or her in one position for too long. We don’t restrict growth; we encourage them to grow within the company. We want our staff to have a career they can be proud of.

What is the glue that holds your partnership together?

Shrestha: In the past 18 years, we had our fair share of fights and shouting matches. It’s been a rollercoaster ride, but at the end of the day, I understand and appreciate Deependra’s contribution. There might be some overlaps in our responsibilities, but we are well aware of our expertise and what makes us unique. He provides a lot of input on how I think and vice versa. It’s almost like we finish each other’s sentences. Our arguments have always been topical: we discuss client and company requirements. We have never argued on personal matters. There’s a mutual respect that has grown over the years.

Tandon: I would say that rather than arguments, we have different viewpoints, but the core of our relationship is trust. It’s not the difference of ideas but distrust that eventually crumbles a partnership. Many a time,  when we are discussing campaigns, we have totally divergent viewpoints, and that leads to arguments—but they are just work-related. We are college friends who go back a long way, but we still work on our relationship. It’s very important to learn how to strike that delicate balance between your professional and personal life.

Can you tell us about your passion for teaching?

Shrestha: For me, teaching is basically giving back to the marketing and communication fraternity. If we cannot create a new generation of students who will move into this field, then our talent pool will diminish; as it is, we are losing many of them to banks and INGOs. That is why we have been working with Ace Institute for the past six years. Also, teaching provides us the opportunity to discover talent, and according to their potential, we either hire them at our company or recommend them to our clients.

Tandon: Learning is also a big incentive. You cannot teach without learning first. Oftentimes, when you’re doing business, you tend to look at things from a certain perspective and miss out on the larger picture. Teaching helps me connect with the theoretical aspects of what we do and helps me understand what I am doing.

What would you say to people who want to get into adverstising and communication?

Shrestha: Get your motives right. If you are just here to make tons of money, then you need to stop right now. But if you have a passion for communication and a love for brands, and if you’re looking for a life that’s not monotonous, that will provide you with contacts across industry, then this should be your area of pursuit.

Tandon: The people who work in advertising get into it for the love of it. I have yet to meet anyone who said they got into the sector because they wanted to make money.