Suraja believes empathy and emotional data is the new way of building brand and scaling the business. He loves to work with like-hearted people who value doing good for people and the planet as good business..
He has over 21 years of experience developing strategies, building partnerships, and establishing exciting approaches to creating effective campaigns. A maverick at heart he has undertaken various roles – that of being a Corporate communicator, Copywriter, Marketer, Academician, Strategic Brand planner, and Business head.
Discovering growth vectors, Nurturing cross-functional teams, creating an inclusive workplace, and inspiring an entire community to enhance the overall value of what advertising can deliver, are professionally and personally very motivating to him.
A long-distance runner Suraja finds running meditational and calming for the soul. And his love for life, music, movies, and food helps him remain spirited along the way.
In today’s Leaderspeak, Suraja Kishore, Chief Executive Officer – BBDO Indiaspeaks about his professional journey, his role in BBDO, what keeps him motivated, and much more…
With 21 years’ experience in the advertising world, who is Suraja Kishore?
Curious and fearless fresher!
Your role in BBDO?
My role is to inspire and enable the evolution of our people, partners, and brands at BBDO. Haruki Murakami says it best “Evolution is always hard, there is nothing called happy evolution.” For me a CEO’s role is – that of a Chief Evolution Officer, we must do whatever it takes to feed the hunger to grow and transform.
You have been associated with many iconic campaigns; can you take us through the most memorable ones?
I think behind iconic campaigns there are stories of emotional labor, great bonding, and times that saw us grow as a person and a professional.
There are quite a few campaigns that made me experience such highs. A few of these campaigns end up part of being our emotional consciousness.
Tata Tea Jaago Re that broke new grounds is one of such campaigns. A simple idea that while every tea wakes you up, Tata Tea awakens you; this campaign put brand purpose into action. It defied all logic, in fact, the first campaign didn’t show a woman making tea or people sniffing the aroma pretentiously nor did it have the customary wahchai moments. It had a sharp strategy combined with culture-shaping creativity that has withstood the test of time and has built a huge brand preference besides getting accolades and awards, Jaago Re is a case study for one of the best purpose-led campaigns that created equity and growth for the brand.
Another campaign that I feel was a great ride is- the ‘What an Idea, Sirji’ for Idea Cellular. This campaign was born out of the relentless search for brilliance. I remember a few of us meeting in a room for almost 3 days consecutively, we took breaks to go home only for a short sleep and shower and be back at it till we arrived at this. This campaign was a case for establishing the importance of the tone of a brand. ‘What an idea’ unlocked brand’s DNA and amplified the power of advertising in creating brand value despite all odds.
And of late at BBDO I am excited to be part of #ShareTheLoad for P&G Ariel detergent. The issue of gender equality is very close to my heart. In fact, the lockdown has disproportionately increased women’s burdens of unpaid work at home. It is not surprising therefore that in a survey more than men; it is women who are keen to get back to work. And don’t forget that this force of patriarchy keeps a large majority out of the job market. Therefore for all of us at BBDO & the Ariel team at P&G consider this is more than a campaign, it is a provocative social movement challenging patriarchy, now in its 5th year and running strong. Every year we are trying to move the needle on bringing men into sharing the household chores. Last year we discovered the insight that unequal burden of household work leads to unequal sleep for women. And we championed the idea of #ShareTheLoad for Equal Sleep. As I write this, we are close to creating the next push against patriarchy and we will give it all the force that it needs to make the necessary impact. #ShareTheLoad has been delivering impact on both brand equity and business and that reinforces our motto at BBDO of ‘act not ads for a better world’!
Mentor you want to mention and what is that one thing you learned that has led you in good stead?
I am who I am today because of extremely talented colleagues and clients with who I had the opportunity to work. But no one comes close to my mother.
My mother has been my mentor. Here is her story in short- I was born when she had just passed her high school exam. After 7 years of marriage, she chose to go back to college and completed her MA in Economics. I have seen my mother go to college; I have made tea for her as a kid when she used to wake up early to prepare for her college exams. She taught me by example – that ‘nothing worth having comes easily and that your circumstances don’t define you.
I believe that most mothers are default mentors whether they see themselves that way or not, they are always mentoring. I don’t think my mother fully understands what I do, and I don’t talk shop with her but whenever I have to take a decision in a tough situation, I always think of how my mother would approach this, and I take that on.
What would be your advice to the young millennials joining the media on how to tackle this new normal?
I don’t have advice but certainly, have the experience to share with young folks. Two things from my experience can be considered-
- Treat your job as your personal growth lab. We spend most of our waking hours at work so don’t sleep-walk through your job.
- Choose people you want to work with over company. People are culture, there is nothing called company culture. By choosing people you want to work with you will grow as a person and succeed as a professional, plus you will have the lifetime bonus of having a mentor and a friend for life.
In this new normal, what is your strategy to stay ahead of the curve?
For us at BBDO it is not about staying ahead, rather it is about staying above by being true to who we are and by doing the kind of work we believe in.
At BBDO we are committed to doing more ‘acts not ads’ that make this world a better place. Empathy, Experiment, and Effectiveness are embedded in our roots and we will deepen this further.
2020 was a real setback for the industry, how are you envisaging India’s AdEx growth post-COVID-19?
There have already been signs of recovery that we have witnessed in the last few months. Yes lockdown 2.0 has been bit of a dampener in certain parts of the country but the good news is that we are not freshmen to the lockdown anymore, we are experienced, we have better systems at both ends, be it marketing or advertising. People are realizing that life can’t come to a halt; rather we need to take necessary precautions and keep going on. So, I am radically optimistic that we will see AdEx growth moving north in the coming months.
We are seeing a huge spike in Digital how are brands looking at their advertising strategies? Do you see more and more brands will increase ad spends on digital?
This is not a question anymore; there is enough evidence of virtual being real. And now digital is increasingly part of the most mainstream campaign planning. Be it customer journey or customer experience, digital is an advantage for us to fulfill the needs of people in a more efficient, effective, and entertaining manner. I think the evolution of digital from being cost-effective to digital being critical to brand building, shifting from just some quick sales or temporary salience on topical issues to long-term equity building measures is the trajectory that many brands will and should take.
Will Print and OOH make a comeback into the media planners a list of where the brand would put its money?
Much like categories are made interesting by creative it is true for media too, be it print or OOH. In fact, in a trust deficit world print plays a critical role in building brands. As a culture, we have been an oral culture so when it comes to definitive trust, we look for written proof, and there comes to print.
OOH might see a bit of slowdown during lockdown 2.0 but will transform into interactive mediums and will make a terrific comeback in a well-world post lockdown.
New normal is seeing new buying habits, as brand custodians your strategies?
What’s unique about this new normal is that it is a global narrative. We have ‘BBDO KNOWS’ that works across markets to map data on behavior change, our ability to dip into findings and implications across similar markets allows us to mount solutions for our clients that are optimized and effective. And as a strategy, we believe in deep listening over just social listening to map the customer journey.
There were many popular brands that fell off the ladder during the lockdown, how do you plan to rebuild brand loyalty?
What’s essential or non-essential has been reordered post-pandemic. The way to rebuild brands is to make it relevant to the rearranged needs of the people they serve. The pandemic has reordered the relationships we have with various categories. The high or low engagement has been rearranged. And most importantly, the way to build forward is to ensure whatever we build is good for the people and the planet, else don’t build it.
What are your go-to activities on the weekend?
As a long-distance runner, I find running meditational and calming for the soul. I run a series on insta @skrunningthroughts – thoughts that I get when I am running. Plus food for me is edible philosophy – so bonding with my daughter and family over food is something I look forward to. And my love for life, music, movies, and food helps me remain spirited along the way.