As a raw, completely wet behind the ears 22 year old, I had joined the big bad world of advertising. Man, was it a shock to my system? There was no respect for age, gender, race, creed, religion or whatever. People used four letter words as punctuations. They came in late and worked till early mornings. Men talked about various body parts without any shame or inhibition and women did the same. To top it all, I was the only female in my creative team. And I loved it.
I loved the energy, the fun, the excitement. I loved the challenges and the camaraderie. I loved the whole creative process and most of all, I loved my team and my creative head. It was another story that my copies always ended up in the garbage bin. My boss would often scream at me, "Aparna, don't write a press release, write a copy. Write better, shorter, crisper.Write sexier."
Derik, my boss, was always trying to teach me to write better ads. Write an attention grabbing, riveting headline. Write a mind boggling, jaw dropping body copy. Most important, write a hard hitting punch line. The ad should make the readers salivate. It should make the poor guys or gals want to jump up and buy the product then and there. Unfortunately, my attempts were almost always the non-salivating types and ended up as paper planes flying towards the bin.
The first product I handled was a lingerie brand. Lacy and sinful looking underthings used to be strewn all over the office. The creative and the client servicing team discussed the merits of the straps, the hooks, the designs of the inner wear so clinically that soon my initial embarrassment disappeared. I felt absolutely no hesitation in discussing the product with the boys. The final ad had no eye ball grabbing headline. It had no body copy describing the various merits of the undergarment. There was no tag line urging the reader to buy the brand. It had a visual of a beautiful woman sitting on a beach, looking at the sea. A four line poetry described the inner beauty of the woman. The result was a beautiful, subtle ad that our entire agency fell in love with. The client promptly rejected our effort. He wanted a woman posing half naked looking lasciviously at the camera. All efforts at trying to tell him this kind of ad may appeal to the baser instincts of a man but would put women off completely, went down the drain. He just would not accept the ad. Derik lambasted the client, raged against such sexist behaviour and tried his best to convince him. Nothing worked. He finally accepted his wish and asked us to create a crass and tasteless ad for him. We were heart broken but finally got around to accept that not all clients were as intelligent as us. And the fact that Derik loved our ad meant more than the client's approval.
Our team of four, 3 boys and 1 girl, loved him fiercely. He was our mentor, our support. He was a father figure to all of us and we went to him for advice even when the problems were personal. He shaped our thinking and helped us to hone our raw talent. He was the best boss I've ever worked for.
Our superiors influence us for lives. When you work for a boss you love, the results show.The work becomes more exciting. It is not a chore to go to work every day and slave over tough projects. The men and women who mentor budding talents, I wonder if they realise that how important their roles are. Their mentoring ultimately affects the whole industry.
Even now, when I write a blog post, I keep thinking, would Derik approve? Would he find my head line captivating? Would he like the body? The last line? Or would he say, "What happened to your head woman? And where's your body?"
I would love to know. Unfortunately my all time favourite boss, Derik Fernandes Prabhu, an award winning advertising guru,died suddenly around fifteen years ago. He was in his fifties. And I never got to tell him how much his mentoring meant to me.
But if he is up there somewhere, drinking wine with the angels and looking at my head or body, then "Thank you Derik, you were the best and I loved you. Now, how's that for a punchline?"