Lessons 2021 taught our advertising leaders
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If 2020 was about self-isolation and prioritizing their physical health, 2021 taught me the importance of mental health
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Lessons 2021 taught our advertising leaders

If 2020 was about self-isolation and prioritizing their physical health, 2021 taught me the importance of mental health
  • As the year draws to a close, it is important to pause and reflect.
  • We speak to industry leaders about the year gone by and a few lessons they learnt from 2021.
It was during the peak of the pandemic in 2020 when doctors across the world were still trying to figure out what the novel Coronavirus is, I lost my grandmother. Shortly after, my father tested positive for the virus. His oxygen dropped to 78 mm. We struggled to find a bed for him and found a hospital 50 kms away. He was still mourning the loss of his mother, fighting a deadly virus, struggling to form sentences but he had a huge smile on his face when I taught him how to video call on WhatsApp. He was there for two weeks but those weeks definitely felt like a decade to me. I had the nurse's number on my speed dial, I called her first thing in the morning to ask, "How is my father breathing today? Has his oxygen picked up?" She would respond patiently, "Yes, we are doing our best." To escape from this, I buried myself in work, binge-watched violent movies to numb the pain I was actually feeling. After we heard the news that he is coming back, we decorated the house. I put up some fairy lights, made a rangoli, bought his favourite sweets -- Kaju Katli. After all, we were welcoming Ram back into his home right before Diwali. It took me a while to process the horrendous month that I had spent. Thankfully, I had a very supportive team at work. I remember texting my editor a week later, "I will be submitting my story late today, I am too anxious and panicked." She responded, "Sure, take your time, Karuna."

So, if 2020 was about self-isolation, making sure our older family members stay safe and prioritizing their physical health, 2021 taught me the importance of mental health.

After months of working from home -- away from our loved ones, seeing the country battle a deadly virus and our medical industry getting crippled, 2021 was all about healing from the storm. It was about finding comfort in little wins and reminding ourselves that we are all in this together.

Change can be scary, sure, and not knowing what the future holds is scarier, but resilience is stronger. As we enter a new year with a lot of uncertainty yet again because no one knows what variants COVID-19 will throw at us, it is important to remember that we have survived the worst. By now, we know what works and what doesn’t.

The impact of 2020 and 2021 will be felt next year too but remember to take care of yourself first if you want to be able to show up for other people too. And most importantly, double mask up, people!

Here's what our industry experts learnt from the rollercoaster year that 2021 turned out to be:

Rana Barua, Group CEO, Havas Group India:
Lessons 2021 taught our advertising leaders

The pandemic has completely altered our perspective of what the future should be. CEOs across the world have redefined their leadership skills based on this reality. If the pre-pandemic stage was all about merging the technology trends and diversity with an added edge of GenY disrupting the way of working; the post-pandemic world is now ushering in the dynamic social age. The upcoming era will be a lot about meaningful relationships within the gamut of the collective human experience, and the bedrock of this will be the trust factor.

So, the one leadership lesson that I will cherish from 2021 is the greater meaning of ‘trust’. It has taken a new meaning in my life. And if we were able to sail through the last two years, it is only because I 'trusted' my teams to display unprecedented resilience and commitment. And that trust converged into amazing results. As the leader of this organization, I knew my teams 'trusted' me that I will do everything in my power to navigate them through this storm. And I must say we have a lot to be proud of as it has yielded positive and encouraging results.

Dr. Sandeep Goyal, Managing Director, Rediffusion:
Lessons 2021 taught our advertising leaders
The pandemic has taught me the power of resilience more than anything else. So many of us personally, and so many businesses have suffered such severe setbacks in the past few months - yet we have been patient, we have persevered, we have buffeted challenges, we have overcome.

My belief is that true adversity brings out hidden reservoirs of grit, determination and ability to confront even insurmountable challenges. It is when you discover your real friends. It is when you discover your inner strengths. You also discover the power of love; power of caring; power of sharing; power of prayer.

The pandemic has helped each one of us to emerge stronger. It has helped us to realise how finite life is and how we must value all that we have: our health, our happiness, our family, our friends, our relationships … even our work and livelihoods.

I hope the pandemic goes away soonest. But the learnings it has bestowed stay. Challenges are a part of life and standing up to them is the true test of every human.

Anil Nair- CEO, VMLY&R India:
Lessons 2021 taught our advertising leaders

For most of us, the pandemic was a bolt from the blue. It forced us indoors, changed a lot of our behaviour and also made us introspect about the fragility of our existence. For me, personally, the biggest learnings were about empathy , patience and celebrating small wins. Genuine empathy for the other, be it your spouse, neighbour, co-worker or stranger. The need to put oneself in their shoes and feel for what they might be going through in these trying times. And the patience to be able to slow down and deal with situations calmly rather than the ‘runaway’, ‘winner-takes-all’ attitude and pace that we were used to in pre-pandemic times. Lastly, to be able to celebrate ‘small wins’ and to live in the moment given the overall uncertainty that the pandemic continues to cast over us.

Aditya Kanthy, CEO and MD, DDB Mudra Group:
Lessons 2021 taught our advertising leaders
The one thing I have missed most and will try not to take for granted ever again is the simple pure joy of meeting people. Like really meeting them. Not on a call, not on a computer, not as a block on the calendar. So much of the fun at work came from being together in the same space. The banter. The unplanned conversations. The energy. So much of the learning and inspiration as well. We lost something elemental and beautiful. I want that back. I miss it.

Equally, I learnt how much more we need to do to listen to each other more deeply. The stuff we read off each other, the non-verbal cues. The comfort of a safe environment where one can be heard without judgement. That was gone. There’s also the realization that, perhaps, the old ways were inadequate. When we’re back together, we need to design ways without assuming that everyone is comfortable expressing themselves in the same way. We need to do more to create that space.

This is what I have missed and what I have learnt. My hope is to enjoy coming back together again in 2022 and doing so in a way where each of us can be heard.

Ashish Khazanchi, Managing Partner, Enormous:
Lessons 2021 taught our advertising leaders
The pandemic was a true test of character of people, teams and organisations. While there certainly was a big drop in businesses and toplines, what was at stake was organisations' humanity.

People in organisations everywhere dealt with the kind of uncertainty they never were faced before. Uncertainty of livelihoods, careers and sanity amidst surmounting work pressures.

The better organisations, in my opinion, made sure that their people were taken care of at least as much as their businesses. When the specter of lockdowns was a little bit behind us, we saw a simple trend both in terms of people and companies. The ones with initiative thrived even in the midst of a terrible external situation. Anyone who did not take easy ways out, like the typical bottomline managers do, by cutting costs rather than working on newer avenues of organisational growth, are going to be the true hero companies of tomorrow. They've tasted success and now when the tides are turning, they're going to be unputdownable.

2022 will see business return to near normal, I would predict the number of pitches to go through the roof from about March. The ones with the best people and processes and creative products, will win 2022 by a mile.

Ramanuj Shastry- Director and Co-founder, Infectious Advertising:
Lessons 2021 taught our advertising leaders

1. Compassion is everything- Never forget we are a people’s business. Always remember that everyone today is under a lot of stress. A kind word and a patient ear will take you far.

2. Treat everyone as adults - Remote working is only possible when all team members behave like mature adults - fully aware of their roles and responsibilities. Treat everyone as adults - delegate, do not micro-manage and don’t breathe down their necks. They will surprise you pleasantly.

3. Hire Talent from everywhere - We are no longer slaves to geography. Celebrate this new-found freedom by hiring talent from literally anywhere. It will add new voices and new perspectives to your narrative.

4. Be nimble and effective - Clients value these two qualities in tough times. Don’t waste their time and their money. They will stick by you through thick and thin.

5. Spend most of your energy on culture - The culture is the unquantifiable ‘Everything’ - the life force of an organisation. Culture is the ethos - the unsaid but universally accepted codes of what’s ‘done’ and what’s ‘not done.' The culture of your company should take most of your time. And it’s more than worth it.

5 things I learnt as a person:

1. Reinvest in relationships- It took a pandemic for me to take a long, hard look at my relationship. And I realised that I have taken a lot for granted. Money won’t buy you your loved ones. Spend time with them.

2. Take care of yourself - Eat well, exercise and sleep for eight hours. You will enjoy life a lot more if you are fit.

3. Be kind to yourself- I am less critical of myself today than I was in 2019. I am comfortable in my skin and happy where I am. Could I have done better? I don’t know. And I don’t care.

4. Invest in yourself - Learn a new skill. Learn a new language. Take up new hobbies. Add new facets to your personality. Reinvent yourself. Be interesting.

5. Practice Gratitude - You are on a piece of rock whipping around a burning star at nearly 40 times the speed of a bullet. Appreciate the miracle . Be thankful for just being alive.

Varun Duggirala - Content Creator, Podcaster, an Entrepreneur and the Co-Founder - The Glitch:
Lessons 2021 taught our advertising leaders
If 2020 was about survival, 2021 was about reflection and revival. We've all reflected on the time that has passed and moved towards the time that will come. Because there cannot be a return to business as usual, but rather a move towards understanding how we need to change how we operate as professionals, businesses, leaders and human beings as we work towards a world that understands its new reality. We're all on a path of accelerated change in every aspect of our work and life. This rapid pace requires us all to understand the status quo with total clarity before we take each step (even though each step seems to bring with it a whole new set of changes). 2021 has given us many a moment to take a pause and reflect (something we should all do more often) and drive towards a better future.