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Creative Catch-Up: Saatchi & Saatchi’s Sathi Anand

In June this year, Sathi Anand was named executive creative director at Saatchi & Saatchi Malaysia. He has overseen the agency’s creative direction over the past four years, developing innovative campaigns in the Malaysian market for brands like Bank Simpanan Nasional (BSN), Emirates, Kraft and Cadbury.

With an advertising career spanning 15 years at agencies such as Young & Rubicam, TBWA and Ogilvy & Mather, Anand has worked with brands such as Adidas, Citibank, CIMB Bank, Heineken, OCBC Bank, Proton, TM and Tourism Malaysia.

Here are some of his works:

How’d you stumble into this industry?

By chance, really. I was in university doing something I wasn’t really excited about when a good friend of mine said I had a (peculiar) way with words, so I dropped out of university and pitched my services to local agencies. After many attempts, one agency took me in, but the first six months was merely proof reading every ad that was being made by others in the agency. I got really tired of doing that, so I nicked a brief from traffic while everyone was out partying one evening, wrote the ad and left it on the MD’s table. The rest, as they say, is history.

How do you get inspired when you aren’t?

At the risk of sounding overly dramatic, I truly am in awe of the world. I love to watch people and how they engage and interact with the world and life around them. Children are another great source of inspiration. I also draw a lot from people who are close to me. My dad, my mom, my wife, my kids, my siblings, my friends, my peers and of course, God. I really am blessed to be surrounded by beautiful people in my life.

What’s the most frustrating thing about being a creative?

When I was a much younger creative, I found getting my creative director and clients to buy into my ideas or even just headlines instantly, was quite a task. I remember having to write over 50 headlines before my creative director actually went back to the very first one I wrote and selected it. Over the years, I have come to realise it isn’t enough to merely conceptualise, write, art direct and create an awesome ad. To be a successful creative, above all, you must be able to sell the stories you want to tell. And that requires a lot of passion, preparation and the right amount of enthusiasm.

Proudest moment in your career? 

There have been a few. Rejuvenating a dying beer brand in Malaysia and earning bonuses for the agency year after year as a result of the effective work. Seeing the strap line I wrote for that same beer brand almost 10 years ago, used till this day. Reading the ex-Prime Minister of Malaysia’s speech in the newspaper a couple years ago which had excerpts taken from an article I had written. A client refusing to accept my resignation from the agency that was servicing them. Getting more than 500,000 Malaysians to pledge against a life of debt. Honestly, nothing satisfies the soul of a creative person quite like being of value to others.

A mistake in your career you won’t forget?

I have made a couple, the one that affected me most was the ad that I took too long to make. A similar idea and execution (done by someone else, of course) couple of months later picked up a gold in Cannes, while I was still contemplating the strength of the execution.

Mentor you look up to most?

There have been many. The ones that I had worked with who truly inspired me was Austen Zecha from TBWA, Andy Greenaway and Bruce Matchett from Saatchi & Saatchi. I also often look back at the great work by David Droga, Neil French, the late David Abbot, the late Yasmin Ahmad, Hwa & Szu. To me, their work is timeless and never fails to give me a lift when I need a kick in the butt.

Currently, I am also really drawn to the work that is being done by the Glue Society.

Advertising’s not an easy business. What’s the meanest thing you’ve heard someone say to anyone in the industry?

Pack your things and get out of here right now!

What about the harshest thing anyone has said to you in your career?

There’s probably two really harsh things that I had the good fortune of being told when I wanted to get into advertising. The first was when I had to show my writing to this recruiter who was placing young talents in agencies.

He looked at my work and went  “Blahblahblahblahblah”, to which I went “I beg your pardon?” and he replied, “Oh, you didn’t understand me, that’s exactly how your writing sounds”.

The second was the very same person, after completely crushing my spirit, going on to say, “Actually, you are not bad looking, and you speak well. I believe you will make a good suit, would you be interested in account management?”.

The harshest thing you yourself have said to anyone at work? And do you regret it?

“If I am doing what you are paid to do, tell me, why do I need you? I find you to be irrelevant to the task, the agency and our purpose, at the moment.”

I once said that to someone out of sheer frustration. Of course I regret it, no one should be talked to that way, even if the intention was to get the best out of them. I believe the best leaders must be able to get the most uninitiated member of a team to be part of a cause through inspired motivation and not humiliation.

What’s the dream brand you’d like to work on and why?

I believe all brands have the ability to be a Lovemark. Brands are like human beings, the more relevant you are to the people you are engaging, the greater your potential to be a friend and evoke a sense of loyalty beyond reason. And having people love you with all their heart is simply awesome. But on a more selfish level I would love to write ads for Manchester United, since I would never be able to play for them in this lifetime.

Weirdest thing you’ve ever done in your career?

It’s between talking to housewives in Vietnam about their love for clean clothes and singing to a client in a presentation.

What makes the difference between an average creative and a mind-blowing one?

An average creative is always thinking of ideas that will help make him or her famous, a mind-blowing creative is always thinking of ideas that will make the brand famous.

If you weren’t a creative what would you be?

Broke.

How you wind down on the weekends?

With my kids, nephews and nieces, watching them play and being silly. With my wife, watching her manage the chaos and still stay calm and collected. It’s both inspiring and humbling at the same time.

What’s one piece of advice you’d give to a young creative looking to make it to the top?

There’s so much to learn from the world and people around you. For me, when I started paying less attention to myself, and invested more in appreciating the world around me and the solutions I was creating for others, I started losing myself in the  awesomeness of work and became more fulfilled as a creative. And I would have to reiterate, there’s no greater feeling than being of value to others, to those who really count on you. The recognition that comes with it feeds the soul and can never be replaced.

Read also:
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