Posts Tagged ‘new delhi’

New Delhi Notes 2015

I was in New Delhi for just over a week at the beginning of June, visiting after a period of 3 years, and so many things caught my attention that I thought I’d do a round up of my observations, just like I did 10 years ago.

Systems implemented and working. The impact may not be visible to a first time visitor or someone living through it. Immigration at the airport didn’t need me to fill in a disembarkation card anymore. As a citizen with a machine readable passport, I was ‘in the system’ already. The bank was virtually empty. I’d never seen it so desolate until I noticed this e-Lounge next door. My request for a debit card was handled instantly and the card handed over. Yes, I can use it for internet payments too. Ooh, I’m now part of the Great Indian E-commerce boom.

smallbankSo, Sanjay tells me all about ‘those purchases you make and then they send it to your house and you can use Paytm’ – e-commerce, without ever once using the world Internet, e-commerce or speaking in English. His own commitments (the last baby turned out to be twin girls) keep him from splurging on a smartphone but he keeps a SIM with his Whatsapp and Facebook accounts to use on his friend’s phones. Sanjay is my go to “aam aadmi” or representative of the emerging Indian middle class, in the classical sense. He’s a blue collar worker in maintenance, with a motorcycle, consumer electronics and a daughter in private English medium schooling. He only has vocational training and high school equivalency certificates.

IMG_2219This startup received 9 million dollars in funding and splashed out with billboards in key neighbourhoods. Brother in law who’s head of McCann Erickson in India tells me its the classifieds they use. And yes, this ad shows one of the unique issues of going online in India.


Gentrification is everywhere. Even in the jhuggi-jhopdis. People’s clothes are brightly coloured and modern and cheap. I bought two excellent t-shirts for Rs 150 each ~ 2 euros and some odd cents, at least 40% cheaper than similar street vendor prices in ye olde shopping mecca of Singapore. I mean, branded coconut water kiosks, really?

smallmobilityThe Metro is bringing mobility on a scale that’s changing the landscape of the city. Another 3 years and where will we be?  What struck me was even with the worst heat wave in years, the power went off only once, that too for a couple of hours, something that had never happened before. Summer is always the time for load-shedding due to the higher consumption of air conditioning and other electricals.

smtaxiAnd if you have money, its app-driven public transportation for you. Ola is what everyone talks about. Apps are becoming commonplace. 10 years ago, when I was first told to keep an eye on the mobile phone and way it would change things, in everyday life, was this the future we’d envisioned for ourselves?

IMG_2200But for all that technology and infrastructure and systems, cash is still king with many shopkeepers laughing off mention of mobile payments and gizmos to stick to what they know. Paper and coins.


The informal sector is still the provider of income and employment for the majority and the mindset of scarcity means the culture of repair, re-use, re-purpose and resell hasn’t gone anywhere. Even if its been glitzed up with spit and polish.


Its never going to be “normal” or “conventional” but its definitely signs of social and economic development. India has come of age.



Part 3: Three weeks waiting for Result

 This is part three and was first published on December 2nd, 2005 while I was living in San Francisco.

You’d think that the coolest thing that could happen to you in the world would be to come into work whenever in the morning as long you managed to saunter in by 11ish, have lunch that was sent over from the HQ canteen, brought by the lunchboxwalla who would then proceed to serve us on china plates with silverware while tracking our accounts for our monthly bill on payday. Then leave around 3.30pm if you didn’t go drinking to the nearest pub instead or open the bottle that Piush would keep in his bottom drawer. And get paid for it. You’d think it was cool but it wasn’t.

After the events in part one and part two, morale spiked certainly, and the six of us would come into work everyday and play cards and tell tall tales, and one guy, he was an expert at extemporaneous classical urdu shairi (poetry) except his were always vaguely filthy parodies that kept us in tears.

As the first week passed, and both Rajat and Sohrab had made visits to the office to tell us to keep the old upper lip stiff, chin chin and all that rot, men, hold on for just another week while we stratergerize your future, you have no clients, we just took over the agency, um yes well, had a nice lunch?

And by the end of the second week, I’d interviewed at Hope Computers, the India VAR for Autodesk in marketing while the rest of the boys were working frantically on their resumes. I must proudly say that Manoj Sharma’s was my first success in positioning someone else’s skills in the marketplace, within months he was a Marketing Executive at Bharat Shell in Bombay.

Hope made me an offer of a 30% increase in salary and I had just received the formal letter and contract when Rajat Sethi arrived to take over as the Head of Result:McCann, India. He’d never worked in direct marketing before but we knew our jobs and worked with him, what he did know was behemoth style brand building, which was something I hadn’t been exposed to until then. Our first project, which took ALL six of us to execute because nobody wanted to be left out of our first project/work after almost a month of idleness. Besides, it was fun. Levi-Strauss had just entered India and needed launch activities executed in New Delhi. Additionally, now that we were officially employed by McCann Erickson Worldwide our salaries were rationalized, perhaps a teeny bit in dollars, but my pay was increased by 94% and promoted to Sr. Project Manager. And for the most part reporting directly to Rajat, and Sohrab for a particularly unique internal project.

First, the Levi project – terrible, really – we had to work till all hours coordinating 501 sponsored dance competitions in the local clubs. Then there was a concert and fashion show. Vehrnon Ibrahim had been flown in from Bangalore to sing his Rush lyrics and Led Zep song and be the DJ. Dude, wtf are you these days? He was lead singer for the band that opened for Deep Purple in India. I was the first person ever to get his autograph.

When McCann moved us out to a better office (it looked like a brothel to be honest, it had been a leather showroom and we didn’t rip out the mirrored walls and glass details when we remodelled) and provided us with our first multimedia computer (1995) I was immediately entranced with the possibilities.

I managed to convince Sohrab to invest Rs 15,000 on a corporate sponsored project that would allow me demonstrate in an upcoming All India meeting of McCann management how the PC could take over the need for lugging A/V equipment  up the wazoo to pitches. We could turn everything from TV clips to radio commercials to print advertising into  one presentation.

 Sounds very ho hum doesn’t it?

Well we were the first in India to adopt that in the advertising industry to my knowledge, if anyone else has an older story I’d love to hear it as well :)

 My opening screen was Sohrab’s head shot ( he was CEO, McCann Erickson India at that time) with the only .wav file I could find that went smarmily, “Hello, darling”. The audience roared and every client servicing department got their own high tech workstations instead of just the creatives.

Sometimes, when you work against so many resource constraints, that it feels like you’re either re-inventing the wheel each time, or making do with the equipment you’ve got to emulate the cool stuff out there in the developed world.

Could that be the root of my mangled paraphrasing, if necessity is the mother of invention, is prosperity the father of innovation?

Part 2: Result in transition

Hmm, I was overwhelmed there for a minute, for this post is about the events of that one day when the future existence of Result, as an entity, as a company, as the direct marketing arm of McCann Erickson Worldwide would still exist. For there were just six people in the office, not counting the external staff.

Manoj Sharma, luckily, was there. He was the only other AE. The others were Piush Ahluwahlia, Field Project Manager attached to my client team, and two, three. (I’ll put our photographs up later.) But I’ll just say this, for a while there, I felt like I was in the TV show Combat, and that this was my platoon and we were abandoned on the hill surrounded by the enemy, waiting.

Why? Because Manas came over to tell us that the Boss had said that McCann was going to close down their DM arm and there was no future and they’d gone away to start their own firm before they all got axed and if that we hurried we could get our jobs there with double the salary. Ain’t that grand, how they saved us?

Did not. I knew that ME had NOT said anything about whether they intended to close down Result or not, besides, I’d heard that Sorab Mistry, the CEO of ME India was in town from HQ in Bombay to meet with the GM guys. So I said, you know what, if they’d wanted us, they would have told us along with the others that they were going instead of sending you back with the news. I’m going to withhold judgement on what ME is going to do, in fact, I’m going to march downt to McCann’s Delhi office and ask to talk to Sorab Mistry directly. He can jolly well tell me first if I have a job or not before I go wandering off chasing a rumor.

The others looked horrified, afraid that they’d lose this job opportunity too if I pissed the Boss man off by haring off to talk to Sohrab. Whooptydoo, I said, [I remember my attitude so clearly, at this ..this dastardly act seems too melodramatic..but that’s how it felt] I don’t know if I wanna follow this leader.

Nobody was pushing forward, even those who “hear hear” ed me, to offer me a ride over on their motorbikes, until Piush said, “I’ll go with you, Madam, but you do the talking”. Heh. He piped up soon enough once we were shown into Sohrab’s presence in a conference room. Sohrab had rushed out of the GM meeting to see us when he heard that we were outside asking to see him. You rock, dude. (He used to call me “professor” or “engineer” but I wasn’t Parsi :)
I will never forget that day what Sohrab Mistry said to us,

Directors of companies do not leave on 24 hours notice. he said

The tone implied it was “not done”. I agreed.

Piush said, “Ok sir, if you’re saying we’re still your employees then you tell us what we should do next.” Sohrab looked at us and said, “Go, manage, hold things together for the next couple of weeks. It’s going to take me that long to figure something out for Result and you guys.”

And so we did. It took three weeks.

To be continued.

How Result became Result:McCann – A trilogy of tragedy and comedy

This is part one and was first published on December 1st, 2005 while I was living in San Francisco.

Life was a peach for Rajat Sethi while he was at Tara Sinha McCann-Erickson in the mid-nineties. As senior vice-president he was looking after an array of brands and serving their ‘traditional’ communication needs. His world turned upside the day the agency was taken over by McCann-Erickson Worldwide.

“The entire team of Result, the direct marketing company of Tara Sinha McCann-Erickson, walked out, leaving the company high and dry,” he reminisces. 

With blessings from the new management team at the agency, Sethi helped rebuild Result, and in the process, fell in love with direct marketing. Today, as chief executive officer at the India office of Wunderman, one of the largest integrated marketing solutions companies in the world, he is as excited about direct marketing and customer relationship management issues, as he was when he first took to this discipline.

This is the introduction to a 2003 interview of Rajat Sethi, ex Sr Vice President and Head, Result:McCann, India. I found it when googling for links to my previous post, and serendipitously, the very story I was hesitating to write, has been touched upon here. So, come, sit by the fire and listen to what really happened, before Rajat came to Result back in June 1995.

Monday was May 5th 1995, I recall the date, I have never forgotten that Monday in the decade since, I came to work after a long weekend catching up with an old flame in Bangalore and had flown into New Delhi late Sunday night. I was not my best in the mornings, but anyone who’s worked with me, usually figures out I’m better after the second cup of coffee. But that morning when I walked up to the office, I could tell something was wrong before I even reached the front door. Mohar Singh the driver was standing talking to Vijay the peon and you could tell they were verbally wringing their hands in terror. As soon as they saw me they came straight up to me together and started off,

” Madam, help us, save our jobs, what will we do, you are the only here, you are the seniormost, tell us what to do”.

[Now I could insert a long cultural note to clarify all the politically incorrect language I’ve used in this paragraph, but rest assured, that is how things worked. And I was just an AE, under a New Delhi branch manager at that time. Keep in mind that India has no welfare or security net for it’s citizens. At a certain socioeconomic strata being out on the street without a job means starvation for the family until the next paycheck.]

In addition, there were the subtle heirarchies of the AE’s, the field managers and supervisors – field staff as in they managed the hundreds of college students or daily wages workers we used for door to door promotions, product launches and other events in the field, requiring street smarts to outwit thugs at night, cops during the day and night as well as all the logistical and beareaucratic permissions for a parade etc – and the support staff that every third world office has – drivers, cleaners, kitchen staff, peons of different levels, office boys etc. Labor is plentiful.

In this context, what had happened, as I was to discover was that over the weekend, the Managing Director, his other Directors, the Delhi, Bombay, Madras, Bangalore and Calcutta branch managers and other senior staff had, along with all the client files and work in progress, fled. Oh, and they took the boombox and were trying to take the car, but we stopped them. heh. sigh. Imagine walking into your office on Monday morning to find your desk stripped of client files, papers strewn across the floor, everyone’s desk ransacked, computers, equipment, everything, gone. Luckily the desks were oversize workstations and our chairs were still there. So I sat down and had a cup of tea and a cigarette.

to be continued..