By Masoom Gupte
2012 was an eventful year for ad man Nitesh Tiwari. His debut directorial venture in films, Chillar Party, won the National Award in the children’s film category, and then, came his elevation to a pan-Indian role as the chief creative officer (CCO) at Leo Burnett.
The promotion followed the national creative director of the agency, K V Sridhar (also known as “Pops”), taking over an additional mandate of managing the agency’s work in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, besides India.
According to Pops, it is Tiwari’s humanity, his not-so-easily-satisfied nature and ability to connect with people that sets him apart. “Many people can write. But they write what they want to hear or see. He (Tiwari) understands people and writes for them, about them. Good advertising is all about that, providing the correct stimulus to get the desired response,” says Pops. This, coupled with an understanding of the clients’ businesses and problems and the subsequent designing of creative solutions for them, is what has propelled Tiwari to the CCO position at the agency.
Tiwari has a rather unconventional background. He is an IITian, a metallurgical engineer, who like most of his brood, started out with a software firm. However, in just three months, he decided that wasn’t for him. He was enamoured by the creative world of advertising and began his career as a copywriter at Draftfcb Ulka, then just Ulka, in 1996.
In retrospect, it seems as if he was to the manner born.
But the creative land has its own rules and fancy degrees aren’t a definite way in. In Tiwari’s words, he wasn’t taken seriously, with most people dismissing his desire for an advertising career as just a “keeda”. So, where all else failed, the fraternal nature of the alma mater came handy and former IITians themselves, M G Parameswaran (Ambi) and Shashi Sinha (at Draftfcb Ulka) found their interest piqued enough to meet him. “I sent them some poems I had written during my IIT days and they were interested to meet me. Ambi and his creative director sat with me for 45 minutes and demystified advertising for me. They told me how advertising is perceived by outsiders and what it really is and asked me if I still wanted to shift,” says Tiwari. And as history bears witness, he said “yes”.
He started with Draftfcb Ulka and being the only “Hindi specialist” in the agency at a time when a lot of advertising was conceived by the English-thinking South Bombay types, he got an opportunity to work across the board with four creative directors. Even at his next workplace, he was lucky to work with “great advertising brains” like of Priti Nair, K V Sridhar and R Balki.
What endears Tiwari to his colleagues even after all the ups his career has gone through, is the IIT-Bombay hostel boy still alive in him, the one who moves around with his gang of boys, likes his cutting chai and playing cricket with young children. His earthiness mixed with his mischievous nature provides the professional world of Leo Burnett with more than a whiff of the unabashed hostel-like energy. Shouldn’t be surprising then to hear his phrase for anything outside his purview as “out of syllabus”.