The Marco Polo of Advertising

Sanjay Chaudhari – Chief Executive Officer of the Publicis Groupe

Well-travelled, experienced and ingenious, the Publicis Groupe’s Singaporean CEO, Sanjay Chaudhari describes himself as having been fortunate to have worked with some amazingly talented people, on some of the largest brands in the world, in multiple markets like Japan, China, Singapore, Hong Kong among others, during his eventful and interesting career journey. 

“It may sound like a cliché, but I’ve always been interested in advertising, specifically in communicating with multiple markets and cultures. That’s why I did my MBA in the U.S in the field of International Marketing. I started out in India’s leading agency (Lintas, as it was known then), working on Unilever. My first overseas assignment began with me driving communication for Unilever’s portfolio in North Africa. I was based in Beirut first and then Casablanca, looking after Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco. 

Dentsu Y&R approached me while I was in Casablanca and asked me to join them in Singapore to manage the Colgate Palmolive business across all their brands for the Asia Pacific region. It was a great time to get back to Asia. The Asian Financial Crisis had just ended and the new millennium had brought about a wave of change in Asia. While still in Singapore, DDB recruited me to set up the Asia Pacific hub to service the newly-won Philips business. It was during this period that I discovered that my strength and passion was in the area of high stakes turnarounds or set-ups.

I was then approached by Ogilvy in Taiwan to reboot the Unilever team and turn around the client relationship. This was the start of a wonderful journey with Ogilvy. I was then asked to lead part of the newly-set up first regional team in Japan and then later in Hong Kong. My most satisfying assignments were developing and launching Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty in Asia while in Japan as well as leading part of the Global Pond’s team for Ogilvy out of Thailand and then from back home in Singapore. I was then tasked by Ogilvy to return to Japan and manage the entire international brands portfolio locally. 

I then returned to Singapore as part of a WPP transfer to set up the Asia Pacific team for the newly-won Gillette account at the Grey Group. Given China’s rapid evolution in data and technology and its market size, I relocated to Shanghai and set up a team to manage the Asia Pacific account out of Shanghai and Singapore. This gave me a hands-on opportunity to immerse myself in China’s dynamic ecosystem of e-commerce, data and technology.

Now, I am fortunate to be based in this lovely country. I lead the Publicis Groupe in Sri Lanka with the mandate to bring the Power of One to develop and leverage our skills in data, technology and communications to bring integrated solutions to our clients here.”

Speaking from his vast array of experience, Sanjay addressed the issue of naysayers in one’s professional life. “Not all ‘nays’ or criticism or opposition is bad. The starting point is to identify the reason behind the ‘nay’. There is a very good likelihood that the reason is extremely valid and hasn’t been considered. In that case, it is important to be open and not resist or take it personally or worse, treat the ‘naysayer’ as a disruptor. It is then crucial to take appropriate/corrective action. This not only helps one learn but also sets an open and trusting tone in the team dynamics. It is also unfortunately possible that the ‘naysayer’ is indeed a habitual contrarian with no real value to add other than to disrupt. Once this is identified, immediate action must be taken to move the individual out before it impacts the motivation of the team and derails the organization’s progress.  This also sets the tone for the team that constructive input is always welcome, but as we say at Publicis, there is no place for bozos.”

When asked which among the many countries he has worked in was his favorite, Sanjay readily replied, “That’s easy. It would be a tie between Japan and China. Japan, for its creativity, attention to detail and pride in the work ethic. China, for its intense speed of change, and for being on the cutting edge in the use of data and technology in communications.”

Listing the major goals he hopes to achieve during his tenure as CEO of the Publicis Groupe, Sanjay explained, “The first task is to identify and develop our core competence in the areas of Data and Technology. We’ve always been known for our creative excellence in Sri Lanka through one of our agencies, Leo Burnett and it is now time to boost this further. The second area is to set our ambition along with a clear plan and a road map for our teams. The third and the most important area is to develop our talent. The industry has some great talent that is actively looking to learn and grow beyond the traditional mediums. We aim to ensure that our colleagues transform their skills and grow professionally.”

“We’ve adopted our ‘Power of One’ model across all our markets and have seen really strong traction. Anecdotally, before I joined the Publicis Groupe, I had my clients in China asking me why we couldn’t provide the same model. That is possibly one of the surest signs that a model is working when clients start demanding it from other groups. In Sri Lanka as well, we will continue to drive greater integration across the Groupe’s operations in Media, Content Production, Social Influence, Data & Technology, and our creative stablemates such as Leo Burnett, Publicis and Saatchi & Saatchi. I can confidently say that this level of integration is unmatched by any other communication group in Sri Lanka. It is no surprise that no sooner did they hear the depth of our ‘Power of One’ model, both, existing and potential clients, were keen on exploring a deeper engagement”, responded the CEO, when questioned about the Publicis Groupe’s adoption of the ‘Power of One’ model and its outcome. 

On the topic of the primary ingredients of any successful integrated communication development plan, the veteran advertiser stated, “To start with, you must know and set your goal. While this sounds very simple, it is extremely difficult and critical. Your goal needs to be grounded in reality without sacrificing ambition. It is too often that in the name of ambition, the goal becomes just plain ludicrous. Secondly, use data to inform and guide. We live in a world where there is an immense amount of data available to us. We must turn it into actionable insights without getting lost, sidetracked or paralyzed by the data.

Third, there needs to be a single-minded message that is consistently communicated. This does not mean that the same words are used. The output must be tailored to the touch point, but must lead back to the same core message. Fourth, have absolutely identified clarity in decision making. The person in charge of taking the final call must be consistent, clear and stay true to the goal. Fifth, be prepared to use data to evaluate and course correct if necessary. No one has all the answers and we must be flexible to pivot when needed. Sixth, leave it to the experts in their field and trust them. Finally, have the strength to stay the course. Unforeseen situations, obstacles, objections may come up. Resist the urge to fold.”

 Having built and led high performing multicultural teams for almost 30 years across 10 countries, Sanjay describes the process as “frighteningly simple.”

“Find the best talent, set goals, empower them, let them know you have their back always and then get out of the way.”