The advertising agency was going broke. It was a legendary place, an institute of great learning, but now people referred it as a sinking ship. The place was in bad shape. The walls were frail; you could even see the cracks under the paint.
When a young copywriter joined the place, Bridget, the secretary, took him to his desk. As he looked around, she said, "Don't mind the wooden chips peeling off the chair. Furniture might be weak, but people are strong here!"
She was right. Though the wood and the walls were giving up, people were laughing and dancing. Oblivious to their surroundings, they were cracking exciting ideas, pushing against all limits, winning over all constraints. AV was the Mumbai branch head, a real leader. Even in those tough times he often told his team, "Never compromise with your self-respect. We are professionals. We add value. Keep your chin up, guys!"
Those were exciting times. The team was working with a purpose, to turn things around, to make the world know they still mattered. What could be a better opportunity than to win a business pitch against top agencies? And one such high-profile pitch was coming up.
Client servicing executives and the creative people were working day and night, digging consumer insights, churning out new concepts. But the Creative Directors were ruthless. They killed all ideas presented to them. The deadline was looming large, and nothing was on paper. A sense of urgency was kicking in.
A day before the presentation, the team went into a huddle. Seniors had rejected almost all the possible ideas; even the booze was not helping. And then, a junior copywriter babbled something. A veteran art guy caught the gist of it and sketched it out on a sheet of paper. People looked at the doodle, in awe! It was the elusive idea.
An excited copywriter ran through the corridor to the Creative Directors' cabin. More people followed her, messing up many already messed-up things on their way. Who cared?
When the Creative Directors saw the thing, they jumped up too. "Bloody! This is the idea!" one of them shouted. After a few changes, they presented the idea to AV, the office-head. He smiled, "Finally, we killed it! Boys, go for it".
Everyone contributed. Creative Directors, sketch artists, even dispatch boys. Time was short and so much more was to be done. Print campaigns. Billboards. Scripts for ad commercials. Someone broke the news that other agencies were creating scratch films for presentations. But here, there was no budget for film productions. So, a team started enacting the commercials, "We will present our scripts live!". They rehearsed it. Again and again. And again.
The presentation went well. Client servicing team's groundwork was well appreciated. Enactment of the ad commercials by the creative team earned an applause from the people in the presentation room.
The waiting period was tiresome; as many agencies were in the fray.
Finally, the phone rang. "AV! Come over; we want to talk to you about this business!"
AV was excited. He reached the client's place, waited at the reception. This account could turn things around for him and the team. After about 17 long minutes the marketing manager informed, "Boss wants you in!"
The boss was the Marketing Director, the man who controlled a substantial advertising budget. The cutlery on his table was snazzy. As he sipped the coffee, he informed AV, "We are happy with your work, we liked the way your team researched our business. We are impressed with the campaigns. We will tweak here and there for the legal requirements, but in totality, it is spot-on!"
AV thanked the gentleman for his compliments. Then again, the boss went on and on, talking about the opportunity that he was offering the fragile agency. After about ten more minutes of the monologue, he asked, "Buddy! You have won one of the biggest business accounts, and you don't look excited!"
AV announced, "Because we are not accepting your business, sir!" There was a pin drop silence in the room. The boss was flabbergasted, "What? You are not taking the business! You came here with a full team, did so much work, and now you say you don't want it? I hope you are in your right mind."
AV replied, "Yes, sir. My apologies. But we can't take this business".
They were all baffled. Why? What happened? Was he joking?
AV explained, "You called me in. You all are having your evening cup of coffee. But you didn't have the courtesy to offer me one. I am Mumbai-head of the agency. If you treat me like this, I can imagine, how you will deal with my boys!"
He stood up and went out. If it were theatre, the hall would echo with applause for a long time.
But it was real life. There were no claps. Only sighs. And a sense of deep respect. The team back at the agency knew they lost a big account, but they were proud of AV. They were working with an extraordinary leader, one who practised what he preached!
They kept on working tirelessly. They won accounts. They won hearts. And got the walls painted too!
Today I came across an interesting fact.The first ever TV commercial aired on 1st July 1941.During the interval between a baseball match between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Philadelphia Phillies.A 10 second commercial. Simple. Just the Bulova watch on the screen. And an announcement--America runs on Bulova watches!A reminder to all of us that historic moments need not be dramatic. Big ideas start small.