Mumbai: The banquet hall at Mumbai’s Westin hotel was filled with what looked like miniature sets of the television quiz show Kaun Banega Crorepati. Each station had two seats and a computer screen. On the table lay not a cheque, but giant bars of chocolate.
The venue was prepped to host India’s first “portfolio night” on 20 May—an opportunity for junior advertising professionals and students to meet the top minds of the industry and have their work reviewed.
Hosted by the India arm of global advertising firm Ogilvy and Mather Pvt. Ltd (O&M), the session offered 69 youngsters a chance to showcase their creativity to 23 of the country’s senior-most creative directors, including stalwarts such as Piyush Pandey, chairman of O&M; Prasoon Joshi, executive chairman of McCann Erickson (India) Pvt. Ltd;and R. Balakrishnan, chairman and chief creative officer of Lowe India.
Each participant had to pay Rs1,500 for 15-minute sessions with three of the creative heads.
Receiving such feedback is difficult, not just in India but globally. That is what prompted Canada’s Ignacio Oreamuno to found “I have an idea”,a community of advertising professionals worldwide.
One of the “ideas” of the community was “portfolio night”, launched in 2003 as a social event to unite the global industry and help build a generation of bright new talents.
Opportunity knocks: Stalwarts such as Piyush Pandey, Prasoon Joshi and R. Balakrishnan were at the event. Ashesh Shah/Mint
On 20 May, the eighth edition of the “portfolio night” was simultaneously staged for three hours in nearly 40 cities worldwide, including New York, London and Tokyo.
I1n Mumbai, it kicked off at 6.30pm. The atmosphere was casual. Drinks flowed freely, platters piled with chicken kebab and paneer tikka made the rounds and music played on outside as participants exchanged notes with each other. Most seemed too nervous to eat.
Some sat gingerly on the edge of their chairs as they tipped each page of their carefully assembled portfolios. Others flayed their arms animatedly to describe the scope of their ideas. The creative directors listened patiently before telling their candidates exactly what they thought.
For some, such as Varun Dubey, a 29-year-old copywriter from New Delhi, the feedback was agonizingly “brutal”.
“They ripped it to shreds,” he said, nursing a beer as he mulled over his review in the waiting area. “It was pretty brutal, but I think I needed to hear that.”
Dubey added he was happy to have received honest feedback from his peers as well. “They say I’m going to have to work very hard if I want to be here.”
But he isn’t going to let one director’s comment, “I think you wasted your money,” pull him down. “I will be back next year,” he said.
Good work, on the other hand, was encouraged with a big bar of chocolate and the honk of a blow horn.
Reviewers such as K.V. Sridhar, national creative director, Leo Burnett India Pvt. Ltd, were on the lookout for candidates with enthusiasm. “You want to see how passionate they are about the craft, do they have that creative abilities… do they have the skill set that is required?” Some candidates definitely did.
Nikunj Bhaiya, a former chemical engineer, entreprneur and aspiring advertising professional from Chennai, was relived that his work had been appreciated.
Abhishek Sawant, a 24-year-old art director with Taproot India, managed to extract three bars of chocolate, along with much appreciation for his art work and illustration.
Josy Paul, national creative director, BBDO India, said, “Of the nine people I saw, there were at least three people I would have liked to hire. And there was one guy that I gave my chair to.”
Paul was referring to Sawant, who had turned up in a cheeky black T-shirt that said, “I work for Abhishek Sawant.”
Across the banquet hall, 23-year-old Sofia Ashraf from Mumbai was trying to wow Abhijit Avasthi, national creative director, O&M, with a resume designed as a pack of cards and a portfolio that had everything from direct mailers and ads to T-shirt designs.
“Design is in everything I do, it’s the way I live my life, it’s on my car, even on my T-shirt,” she had said, before entering her session. An hour later, she emerged from the room, flashing a wide smile, three bars of chocolate and “a snicker” from a creative director who seemed to have liked the T-shirt. It had the image of a tea glass and said “Tea-totaler.”
“They liked my copy, and the fact that I was doing different things,” she said, now convinced that copywriting, and not design, was the stronger calling in her life.
Eugene Rebello, 25, an O&M trainee who had volunteered to help organize the event, spent the evening taking notes for future reference. He said he was not ready with a portfolio as yet.
“Maybe in a year or two, this would be an awesome opportunity (for me) to meet senior creative directors and network,” he said.
The more successful participants walked around the venue, holding their chocolate bars as they might hold a trophy, and occasionally flashing them to their new-found friends.
Between the sessions, some creative directors exchanged opinions about the work they had seen. Others stepped out for a drink or a quick smoke, leaving in their wake a roomful of twitchy youngsters and portfolio-bearing freshers who scurried out of the way to let them pass.
But some judges, such as Malvika Mehra, senior vice-president and national creative director, Grey India, spent even their break time looking at portfolios.
Mehra was disappointed with the lack of experienced candidates at the event. “The good thing about raw work is that you get to see some fresh ideas, but the flip side is also a lot of honestly bad work,” she said.
“I wish there was some way to also get the young kids with three to four years experience to come in and get a revaluation of their work,” she added.
But Paul of BBDO India said he was thrilled by the “collective energy and intensity of so many people who want to make a change in their lives” through advertising.
Balakrishnan of Lowe India was also heartened by the industry’s response. “People complain about companies that don’t participate in awards, but when it is about the future of the industry and youngsters, people get together.”
For some youngsters, such as Samiksha Kanodia, just walking away with more clarity about their portfolio and three email ids was a lot.
“The first two (reviewers) offered me their contact details, which was awesome. The third didn’t, but I asked for it anyway,” she said.