Bulchandani’s success mantra at Ogilvy: Better, faster, laughter

  • In her new role as the leader of one of the most celebrated ad agencies, Bulchandani has her work cut out, with issues of diversity in the workplace and client and talent retention to sort

Shephali Bhatt
Updated20 Oct 2022, 06:19 AM IST
Devika Seth Bulchandani, global chief executive at Ogilvy
Devika Seth Bulchandani, global chief executive at Ogilvy

Ogilvy India is the crown jewel of our network,” said Devika Seth Bulchandani, global chief executive of the parent, a WPP network company, during her recent visit to the advertising network’s Mumbai office.

In her new role as the leader of one of the most celebrated ad agencies, Bulchandani has her work cut out, with issues of diversity in the workplace and client and talent retention to sort. During the pandemic, Ogilvy also lost some of its long-standing clients in global markets, like Chanel, Philips and American Express, according to international media reports. The India office, however, has recently brought many laurels, including a Titanium win at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity 2022, for its Cadbury Celebrations campaign featuring Shah Rukh Khan.

The India office is growing faster than most and is reckoned among the top performers within the network, said the Amritsar-born and New York-based ad executive. “I tell them I don’t want ‘better, faster, cheaper’. I want ‘better, faster, laughter,” she added.

For both Ogilvy and the industry at large, she wishes nothing more than a sense of pride and confidence for their contribution to the creative communications landscape. “Everybody is saying consultants will kill us, the platforms will kill us, and the advertising industry is dead. I’m sorry, but I think we’re alive and kicking,” she says.

Bulchandani emphasizes that advertising agencies are a vital part of the business that helps brands connect to consumers. “We need to be confident in what we provide to clients as long as we deliver value. Because we are not machines, we don’t ‘make’ things. We are in the professional services business.”

Sure, influencers and content creators have become really important in this marketing process “because it is the way people connect with brands and have conversations today,” she admits. “But at Ogilvy, we have built our influencer capabilities globally, so we continue to play a massive role here for advertisers,” she said.

In an interview, Bulchandani noted that ads are getting increasingly politicized around the globe. “Brands have started taking stands, and we amplify their message using the power of creativity. When you put a stimulus to the cultural conversation, it is natural to have backlash because we’re all so polarized now.” How does she plan to tackle this, we ask? “I tell clients they should find a credible way to ‘do’ things and not just ‘say’ things. But we should also be prepared for backlash because it’s social media. You’re not going to get it right every time.”

Bulchandani knows how to enthral the room with anecdotes from her childhood that have been instrumental in her getting to this position in her career. Growing up, she questioned why girls weren’t allowed to do many things that boys could. “One day, I ran out telling everyone, ‘I can do it. I can pee standing up’.” She thought if she could do that, she could stand as an equal to men in a world that is quick to point out the differences between the two and make women feel like they’re the weaker sex.

This isn’t the first instance where a woman is helming one of the most popular ad agencies. Ogilvy is known to have peaked under the leadership of Shelly Lazarus in the ’90s and the aughts. This is also not the first for an Indian taking charge of a global network agency under Ogilvy’s holding group, WPP. Vikram Sakhuja, currently group CEO of Madison Media & OOH, was given the global CEO mandate for GroupM’s media agency Maxus in 2012 (the agency later merged with MEC to form Wavemaker). This is, however, the first time a woman of colour and Indian roots has reached the top seat at a global network agency.

Bulchandani is remembered for her close association with the iconic ‘Fearless Girl’ campaign that was conceptualized and developed by McCann New York in 2017 and showcased a bronze sculpture of a little girl standing defiantly in front of the “Charging Bull” statue across the street from the New York Stock Exchange.

In line with the campaign’s ethos, she advocates that women fearlessly talk about and ask for equitable pay at work. “It’s not easy,” she confesses, “but I remember making a conscious decision to talk about this 10-12 years ago because I figured if I don’t advocate for myself, who will?”

Employers often tend to say they’re paying women what’s right for their ‘level’, she recalled. “I remember saying to one of them, ‘I don’t care about my level. You have to pay me for my value’. I tell them I will make the company grow financially, and at the same time, I want to grow financially, too.”

You can’t be delusional and ask to be paid more than what others get, she is quick to add. “It’s about getting paid fairly. I feel like I’ve been doing this all my life, right from negotiating with the neighbourhood baniya for a paan candy when I was a child. It’s kept me in good stead.”

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First Published:20 Oct 2022, 06:19 AM IST
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