Prashant Kohli, the accidental advertiser

Prashant Kohli, Senior Director - Planning and Creative at The Glitch, Delhi on his accidental career choice and his journey so far

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WHAT WOULD YOU DO when at the last minute your meeting gets cancelled in a new city? You would either take the rest of the day off or figure out who is in the vicinity and can meet.

The name that popped in my mind was Prashant Kohli – Senior Director – Planning and Creative at The Glitch, Delhi.

I wasn’t a stranger to him. We had exchanged a few conversations and emails but nothing beyond that. I was in two minds, it looked more of a desperate attempt to save the evening. So, I was pleasantly surprised when he said come over to the Glitch, Delhi (Gurgaon) office.

It was a Friday, the agency still had time to open the beer bottles and play some funky music. As I walked past the main door, the Delhi agency had shades of the Mumbai office. At least the age group was the same, millennials ruling and driving the agency. Prashant was in a meeting room, so I waited for a while in his small cabin built with see through glass walls. Other than few books and a Mac, miniature super heroes guarded the cabin.

Right in front of the cabin was an open floor discussion room with a white board on the wall and green grass flooring. While you are a part of the discussions, you have the choice to sit or lie down and be at your comfort.

Dressed in black t-shirt and jeans, with big black spectacles and spiked hair, a lean built Prashant walked in to greet me. It took not more than 10 minutes to break the ice over some lip smacking Tandoori Mommos, apparently quite famous in Gurgaon. The conversation that revolved around work, digital industry, interacting with his team and a desperate attempt to look good before the camera all lasted for more than 3 hours. On my way back I couldn’t thank Prashant for the wonderful evening.

The next thing in my mind was – is there a story here that needed to be told? When I met him, I went with a clear mind but on my return, the urge to know more beyond work and tell his story kept on growing. The story of a young engineering mind who wanted to be an economist but accidentally drifted into advertising. Today he is the planning and creative head at one of the renowned digital agencies in the country.

I messaged him in the night and we met again for round two of our discussions that apparently took most of our Saturday afternoon. We decided to start our discussions over a plate of mixed pakoras and tea at Chaayos, Hauz Khas Village. After a while as the place started getting crowded we moved to the next-door coffee shop.

Putting my phone on charge and sipping my small cup of cappuccino, I started with a simple question – what’s keeping you busy these days? “Few things have kept me busy. I joined as a creative director now I am leading both the creative and planning teams. The learning path has kept growing.” He further adds, “The reason I say Glitch is my favorite agency is because it is a playground for me. I have always been thrown into a lot of new things which has been a blessing in disguise.”

Apart from work, he informs that he is re-reading stories he used to like when he was growing up. “I am re-reading the Ruskin Bond series. I love the writer and his simplistic form of story telling.” He is also following a strict fitness regime that takes 2 hours daily. “I also had the plan to go to Canada but it got cancelled because of visa issues. So that’s pretty much – work, reading and fitness occupies my day.”

There is one more love in his life – love for cats. His love for cats goes back to his Mumbai days. When he relocated to Delhi he flew his two cats with him. His Instagram page shows his love for cats, unsurprisingly his id is ‘catinasoup’!

So white I use a high contrast filter :/

A photo posted by Prashant (@catinasoup) on

SIPPING BLACK COFFEE, I ask Prashant to take me through the role and responsibilities of a brand strategy team. “This team is responsible in converting brief into campaigns with the support of the client. Technically in an agency the client relationship is not with the strategy team. I don’t believe in it so I am also trying to inculcate the job role of client relationship with this team. ”

“There is no better person to sell an idea than who owns the idea.”

He further adds: “I want my team to take a little bit more of ownership in meeting clients than just sitting in the office. Educating clients is very much required on what we are pitching and then explaining how it is doing justice to the business problem we are solving.”

Interestingly, when it comes to Prashant’s job role, it is nowhere close to what he wants from his team. With a hint of a laugh, he says that he spends a lot of time in human resource. “I am literally the agony aunt in the team. Out of the 10 hours that I spend time in the office, 2-3 hours goes in just listening and talking to people. Apart from leading the 2-3 projects that I am working on, one of the core jobs is just listening to the problems of my team members and helping them. And it doesn’t need to be just work. It could be some personal crisis that is affecting work.”

Fortunately, he thinks that the senior guys in his team have made his life smooth and easy going. They do come to take a point from him but beyond that they are on their own with their respective work and clients.

The Glitch has been known for the creative thought process that it brings to solve a business problem. Women’s Horlicks “Strong to the bones” executed last year is a brilliant example, it also happens to be Prashant’s favourite work in the recent times.

The reason the campaign stays very close to him is due to the grassroots level lessons he has had. “I always had the marketing experience for impulse brand but it all went haywire when a serious brand like GSK approached us for their women’s day campaign. It taught me to be very sensitive towards a consumer more to its mental state. The biggest learning I got here is that you don’t need to talk much about your product but the focus should be on the consumers need.”

“In advertising today it is much easier to put somebody off than to grab her attention.”

For days Prashant spent time speaking to his sister on why does she eat and drink what she eats and drinks. The campaign focused on women above thirty so that their bone mineral density remains constant. Strong to the bones was the campaign launched with the idea that women will take a small pledge in order to take care of their bone health. “First it was about finding the bone mineral density status by a test. Women who were susceptible to low bone mineral density were provided free medical checkup at 1000 plus centers. Our main objective was to drive women to take care of their bones rather than pitching our product.”

The campaign was powered by a film and tied up with Bollywood actress Gul Panag who was one of the key opinion leaders in the campaign. There was also a decent brand lift post the campaign and the numbers were satisfactory. “I wouldn’t say that it was a ground campaign that would change the world but it did the job that it had to.”

“We as marketers relate to facts and figures. People react to statements which they can relate to.”

ADVERTISING HAPPENED ACCIDENTALLY FOR PRASHANT. Growing up in Delhi was fun; his dad had a transferable job, which meant every summer vacation was about exciting travel. Later studying in the Army Public School majorly influenced him to join the armed forces. He applied and got through but his dad wasn’t interested in him joining the army. “Typical Punjabi family, how can the only son of the family join the army?”

Armed forces didn’t happen and the next love for him was Economics. The only problem here was that he was quite high and mighty about the subject. “I wanted to study Economics only from Stephens or Lady Shri Ram College, any other college won’t do.” And as it was written, he didn’t get a seat in both the colleges for low score in English. “On hindsight I think how stupid I was that I could have done economics from any other college, as I was really fascinated by the subject. But then I was only a 17 year old.”

The only option remaining now was engineering as suggested by his father. In another week’s time, he wrote more tests and joined a college, which had just started up and was in a shoddy state. Within one week he quit the college and finally decided to take a year’s break. “My dad was really against the year break but I was tired of applying to colleges all over India. I took a break, travelled a bit and the next year I got through Delhi College of engineering.”

With engineering getting over in 2006, Prashant was desperate to leave Delhi as he had spent most of the time in the city. “My first agenda was to move out of Delhi and then find a job. Thereafter TCS happened, he moved to Pune, and later to Mumbai.”

Moving out of Delhi was achieved but working at TCS was not meant for him. He wasn’t the right fit for the IT Company and his heart was somewhere else. His boss under whom he worked for 18 months noticed this. “I was doing all the wrong things at TCS and my boss kept on telling me that I am not meant for this place. I was really lucky to have a boss like him at a very early stage of my career.”

It was this boss who first introduced him to the field of advertising. “You could be the next Prasoon Joshi, told my boss. I had no clue who he was so I searched him online and that’s how I got introduced to the creative field. Being a music buff from my very young age, I loved the fact that Prasoon was a writer, copywriter and ad guy too. ”

Post that he did an internship in a Radio channel and by then the creative industry beckoned him. “I went to Symbiosis and did my masters in Media which was a course that gave exposure to audio, film among other forms. After completing it, I met Rohit and Varun from where my career started in media.”

“My love for Economics will never die but as a profession it died long back.”

MEETING ROHIT AND VARUN, COFOUNDERS AT THE GLITCH. Both Varun and Rohit were seniors to Prashant and he had come in contact with them through one of the placement coordinators. Both of them were looking for a person with knowledge on motion graphics and Prashant was the guy. “It was late 2009 when I spoke to them over a call. They had just started their agency and I was still finishing my course. I did my project as a student with them and in 2010 when I finished my course I got a full time opportunity to join them.”

He joined the agency as one of the first employee. This was a time when Glitch was more of a creative shop working on video content. “Initially we were creating a lot of video content for the TV channels. We then realized that whatever we were doing had a brand connect and that’s when we shifted to branded content.”

After working for little less than two years at Glitch, it was time for him to move on. “This was a brand new industry for me and I wanted to explore. I wanted to see what other things were happening in the market. This was the only reason why I wanted to move out of Glitch.”

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Post Glitch he turned into a freelance creative guy. “I was making good money by my freelance work and I saw no reason why I should join any other company or creative shop.” During this phase Prashant met Soumadip (a Symbiosis college mate) and together they started working and serving clients on freelance projects. “We worked on end to end content production for 2 years. While we were two freelancers, we named our association under a company name called Blink. However, we never wanted to start a company.”

“The day you start getting afraid of your career, that day you will become horse with blinkers.”

In Prashant’s words these two years were really exciting but then the big questions started appearing – Is this our career? Should we take this company forward and is this what we want to do? This led to the beginning of thinking mode and after three months, both of them realized that they had different ambitions in life. “I was always very interested in digital and my partner was interested in television. We didn’t had a common goal and I never had the vision to be an entrepreneur.”

“I am a very startup guy but I don’t think I can build a hundred million dollar company.”

Meanwhile after Blink dissolved, Prashant joined Eccentric Engine – a Mumbai based digital agency that recently pivoted to a tech shop. “I like Varun, Grover and Ankit a lot. These three guys made me join the agency. I had met them and I really liked the thought process and attitude towards work.”

He joined as a social media manager and worked with interesting clients. After 7-8 months, Eccentric Engine was looking to expand in Delhi but the founders were not sure if they wanted to carry forward the agency business. “By now I had invested a lot in the agency life after working in different mediums. I had made up my mind that the agency is where I fit in best.”

With Eccentric Engine not happening any further, Prashant was about to join a new agency but Glitch came back into his life again. “Just before three days of joining the new agency, Rohit called me for a beer meet. There he shared that Glitch was looking to open a Delhi office and they were looking for someone to take care of the new office.”

Opportunity knocked at the right time, since by then Prashant was a bit tired of Mumbai and was keen to head back to Delhi. “Mumbai is a great place when life is going good. So I wanted to go back to a place where I have some comfort and cushion. Delhi is that place, no matter how much I crib about the capital. It is where my parents live and it is a place where I get a hot meal whenever I visit my parents.”

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THE COME BACK KID. “I had been thinking of going back to Delhi for a while and this opportunity came knocking. If any other company had given me the offer, I would have thought twice but it was Glitch. This is the thing that Rohit knows and he exploits. I can’t say no to him,” Prashant reveals about Rohit to whom he owes a lot of his professional growth.

“For me Glitch is like home and I am very happy. It’s more than comfortable here.”

But does it create a problem to come back to a company that you had left earlier? “Not for me,” he added while stressing the fact that coming back to Glitch has been a good thing for his career. “I have now spent six years in media and out of these the time spent with Glitch has been the most professionally satisfying years.”

In these six years, content – a space that Prashant has worked very closely has also evolved. “My first exposure to content was not popular content but content enabled with technology. But then over a period of time I got acquainted with all forms of content.

“Content has evolved with the content consumption patterns due to our lifestyle change.”

The debate now is not whether to go to TV or YouTube but whether to purchase Netflix or Amazon Prime.

The other massive development that content is witnessing is the age group that is creating content today. For instance the median age of Glitch, Delhi is 25-26 and they are the ones who are brainstorming and producing content today for majority of audience. How do you see that, interesting or challenging?

“I see it as interesting. I am 33 now and I don’t consider that I can create content for today’s generation. Which is why I have moved my job role to slightly more functional and need oriented. I like to focus on planning having projects and when it comes to creating content for the Lays and Mountain Dews of the world I leave it to the young kids.”

The challenge comes into picture when he has to take a call whether it is a good idea and can be implemented for the brand. “I don’t get insecure when the 25-26 year olds come with crazy ideas. My only job is to put my strategic thinking on the idea and try to see how it can do justice to the brand.”

6 YEARS IN THE DIGITAL SPACE, not a big period but Prashant who is a hopelessly optimistic guy remains excited every single day about digital. “The fact that no one has cracked the code for the market excites me every single day. The market is so dynamic I really doubt if any day someone would come up with a rule book.”

At the same time he thinks that people should come in to this industry, only and only if they know how they can be empathetic to other people. “ As a communication professional I believe that there is a certain responsibility to not misinform and to say things in a way which are not hurtful to others. A lot of times we as advertisers miss that.”

“My job as an advertiser is to get you excited about a product and not to misinform. It’s not correct.”

SO WHAT NEXT FROM HERE? Planning to start up? No, came the firm reply and more than fear it is the lethargy. “I am satisfied with what I am doing, I really want to better at it. But I really don’t see my self changing the world.”

He further adds, “These days the average person’s active life is 50 years. I have another 17 years and I don’t want to spend those with the stress of growing a company of which I don’t have a vision. I want to spend the next 17 years at a place that helps me grow and keeps me happy.”

Unless there is something drastic happening in his life, we might see Prashant opening up a cat café. “It is not a dream but a whim.”