Untitled Rant. Work.

First things first. Aka Context.
  • Apart from C4E, I run a marketing communications and digital marketing business as well (So, what if...). 
  • Since I dont have any marquee names on the team (talent), I dont have a great portfolio. And since I dont have a great portfolio, I dont get to work on big brands. And since I dont get to work on big brands, I cant get a marquee name to take a risk and work with me. It's a vicious circle. But then I cant cry about it. So, I've found a sweet spot - companies that dont need fancy people or creds. They just want need great work done. In reasonable amount of time and budgets. Thats something I can deliver. For sure. And with such companies, I wish to establish my reputation as someone who gets things done
  • In my previous avatars, I have been a brand planner (at CLA and now at SWI), an event manager (at Gravity and now at C4E) and a social media strategist (at Mirum India and now at SWI). So my understanding and experience is limited to these things. This means that when I get a project that requires experience of a full-blown creative agency, I am often left scampering to seek favours from friends and contacts. To be able to deliver. 
  • And I aspire to use the aforementioned delivery to entice bigger brands to look at me as an alternative to their fancy people. That means that I need to do exceptional work with whatever clients I get - even if its super hard and super hustle.
  • Finally, unrelated, I refuse to train myself as a master of one. See this TED talk. She speaks of EXACTLY my emotions where she says that once you "get it", the challenge ceases to exist. Plus I love being at the intersection of things. I may or may not be great but thats who I am and where I would be. Look at Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos! 
Now that you know what I do and how I do, here is the [long] rant. I had to get this out of my system.

So I have this friend. Lets call him F. When I quit Mirum and got a friend to trust me with work, I approached EVERY one I know to help me deliver the project (with contacts, working capital etc.) And no one but F trusted me and supported me. Even though he and I weren't friends exactly, he helped me. Backed me up. Gave me his name and his people and his money. To allow me to deliver and stand on my two feet. And then from that one project, we got more work and eventually, that one client started giving me enough to start dreaming of doing that elusive first million! Plus, F helped me make my first 10 lakhs. So, in my head, I am sort of indebted to him.

One fine day F called me and told me that he had this project from someone he knew and it fits into my scheme of things - a company that is not stuck up on marquee names or portfolios, wants to get work done in reasonable time; and apparently great people to work with. Plus I dont say no to whatever F asks me for. Plus, I never say no to work. Beggars cant be choosers. No?

Now this company, lets call them C. They operate in a category that is growing by 25% a year and they have been going DOWN by as much each year. I visited the factory for a few days, met with the owners, the team and I realised that they are a classic case of an owner-manager trying to do a lot of things at the same time, once one business (typically cash cow) starts to do well. And the MBA in me tells me that these issues are not too tough to solve. Any management consultant would've loved to work on this company and could easily turn it around in one season!

So I took up a design project, hoping that it would give me a foot in door. Despite their size (~500 crores), they don't understand the importance of branding (actually, almost NO ONE understands the power of marketing / design in India. Repeat. No one. True, there are exceptions but people do NOT understand the discipline. Rant for a different day). So, at most companies, especially at family-owned businesses, all marketing projects and initiatives are treated like cost centres. And thus they pay ridiculous money (too small if you are wondering what the definition of ridiculous is).

I knew I couldn't demand a lot of money. Thus I quoted a fee that would mean just enough profit for me to invest into paying a website guy to put their logo on my clients page! But they wanted me to work for half of it. And I said no. After exchanging a million emails and negotiation tactics by F, who's always on my side, they agreed to my terms.

We started the work and all went well. I told myself, my team and F that we were worried for no reason; they are a big company and they are unlike others that we word for. Lets deliver great work and even if we don't make money, we would make them respect us and slowly we'd teach them the importance of marketing and brand and take it from there.

But (there's always a but around the corner) when we delivered what we thought was a good output, we were in for a surprise. We were told that this is not what they expected. The list of deliverables was made a mile long (5x than what we had agreed, while the cost was kept the same), the contracts of the models (there was some sort of photo shoot) was extended (without paying them extra). And worse of them all, the conversations became condescending and on each call we were reminded that the project is a favour and how we are not capable of handling it and how the team is worthless. Well, you call me names, I am fine. But do not abuse my people!

And then they started to reject things that have been previously "approved." We kept calm and continued to change. At a point when the team could no longer give new options, I got an external team to work on this. Let me remind you, I was making nothing on the project and by getting this extra team, I was now actually gonna lose money on the project. But because I could see a bright future, I decided to "invest."

Even though it looked like a good great decision at the time (and I stand by it and I will do this again to make a client happy), I now know I shouldnt have. Not because I did not want to lose more money or time. But because the way I and my team were spoken to should've told me of their intentions and approach toward work. Agreed that we did not do path-breaking work but thats what they had signed up for. They knew what we were gonna get to the table.

So, we fired the client. Lol. Did not fire per se. We just refused to do any further work for them. And no, I did not leave the brand hanging in the middle. I delivered what I was expected to (even though it was not part of scope originally agreed upon). I gave open files. I paid my models and vendors and external consults. I took the financial hit and then I sent a polite email thanking the client for opportunity to work and then asserting that I wont work with them anymore. And I told them if they could pay me for the time and effort and investment and all that, great. If they could not, I would consider it as charity. Thing is, I cant get into arguments. I am an Indian. I let go of things. Chalta hai. There are, after all, bigger battles to fight. 

Also, in case you are interested in the other side of the story, well, I dont have it. I've been trying really hard to get them to tell me what flipped the switch but answers are yet to come. I know we are not the best team but we try the hardest. I know we are not super fast. But we are faster than most I know of. Anyhow, hope they have good reasons. For me, there are lessons and takeaways.

Here's a list.

How do I work? How do I want to work?
  • Customer, client is the king. I want to pamper them like Amazon does. Probably more than what Amazon does. After all, in a services industry, most often it's the buyers market. And since you feed me, I am willing to go the extra mile for you. And more. 
  • Respect. Above all. To people who work. I dont want people to out of their way but I expect them to have professional courtesy. If you are polite to me, I will bend over backwards for you and open my pants, if you will. But if you are not, I may be small but I am independent. I answer to no one and thus, I can tell you to take a hike! 
  • Win-win trumps all. Agreed that its business and everyone wants to make money. But then you are paying me for my time and I am delivering a certain thing. Its a transaction and like most transactions, it has to be fair. You come into it with an ulterior motive and hide things and expect to squeeze me, push my back to wall, trust me things wont go well between us. Rather, be open and honest. Allow yourself to trust me. I will trust you. Lets aim for a win-win. You give me enough money to be able to push my team to deliver great work. I will give you enough value that you'd want to compensate me more. Dare you not get into that cat and mouse game where it's a zero sum game and you think you will only win if I lose. 
  • Loyalty to work and nothing else. I am not here to massage egos or make friends. I am here to do great work. And if theres something that I cant deliver, I will say so in as many words. And help you find the right person. The idea is bigger than you or me. Look at the sky on a clear night, preferably from a hill station. You will know what I mean. 
Thats about it for the time being. I am sure there are more lessons but lets park it here for the time being. 

Phew! Finally this is out of the system and I feel great! Thank you for the patient hearing. 

Wait. Dont go. Are you looking for an events / digital / marketing agency that would put in as much skin in the game as much as you do? Are you looking for marquee names or you want someone who's as passionate about your brand as you are? Do you want long term partners that believe in win-win? May be speak to me and see how we could work together? 

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The Nidhi Kapoor Story

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