The Workings of a Creative Soul – Laila Gunesekere

An odd creature by her own admission, Laila Martenstyn Gunesekere, the Vice President of the Dentsu Grant Group describes her professional self as a “mish mash of it all”, being creative, service-oriented, research awed, client-focused and an industry addict.

“A veritable rarity in the field of communication by virtue of the fact that I am perhaps the only living being in Sri Lankan Advertising today that has worked in just one group company, albeit wearing many hats, for 31 long and eventful years. A multitude of voices ring in my ears from well-wishers and wishers of the opposite kind, “Didn’t you ever regret taking up other offers?” (sometimes much more lucrative, yes.) “Didn’t you at least want to try another place?” I think not. To me, loyalty is a tremendous trait and highly underrated these days. The jumping frogs of today leave me cold.”

At the age of 17, Laila started work at what was then Grant K & E as an unpaid Junior Writer, which she describes as one of her favourite times. Her upwardly mobile career took no shortcuts; she mastered each step of the proverbial ladder before embarking on the next step. “I went from Junior Writer to Account Executive, back to Senior Writer/Account Manager to Creative Director to Executive Creative Director to Chief Operating Officer to Group Vice President today, while Grants went from strength to strength. I have always been actively involved in the industry, and have twice been the President of the 4 A’s and thrice the President of the IAA.”

With so many Advertising and Media campaigns under her belt, Laila has a hard time picking the most memorable one of the lot –

“To ask me to select a campaign is to ask me to choose a favourite among my children. When you are deeply involved with the creation of something it’s akin to giving birth, painful but rewarding and there are so many campaigns I hold close to my heart. Any campaign that truly resonates with me must be inspirational, inclusive and iconic.”

As to whether or not she thought there was such a thing as too much creativity, Laila expressed – “I think not. Creativity is the soul of Advertising and Branding. It leads the imagination of an audience, often surprising them with the unexpected. No, there is no such thing as too much creativity. But there is such a thing as ineffective creativity, which is the worst kind. Creativity for creativity’s sake, not translating to sales, not resonating with an audience is just a piece of art and has no business in our business.”

“The list is endless, but I have my favourites. Number 1 being to be in tune with your audience. You need to live in their minds to be able to talk to them in a language they relate to. You must also keep up with the times, get with the program. It’s never too late to learn. You should also be able to form genuine connections with your clients, make their business goals yours”, responded the veteran advertiser, when questioned about her opinion on the characteristics that make up a great advertiser.

On the topic of innovation at Dentsu Grants, “Dentsu Grants is in a class of its own. It is a heritage company founded by a legend, and has over and over again, innovated and reinvented itself before anything else. Innovation is our middle name and applied to every area we involve ourselves with”, the Vice President stated.

“When anything new and alien comes into your life you tend to reject and mistrust it. This feeling lasted for an incredibly short time in the industry that saw the opportunity Digital brings.

New communication technology has turned the industry upside down, but in a good way.

On the topic of innovation at Dentsu Grants, “Dentsu Grants is in a class of its own. It is a heritage company founded by a legend, and has over and over again, innovated and reinvented itself before anything else. Innovation is our middle name and applied to every area we involve ourselves with”, the Vice President stated.

“When anything new and alien comes into your life you tend to reject and mistrust it. This feeling lasted for an incredibly short time in the industry that saw the opportunity Digital brings.

New communication technology has turned the industry upside down but in a good way.

Can traditional and digital work together?  Absolutely. You must leverage the right kind of marketing technology to reach your audience and it’s rarely just one”, replied Laila when asked how she would describe the adaptability of the industry with regards to changing trends, especially with regards to Digital.

Laila strongly believes that “Any human being worth their salt should be involved in causes. At the end of one’s life it is what we did for humanity that’s going to matter.”

“I dearly wish I had more time, but I wholeheartedly support the Women In Need, which is a marvellous organisation of caring and humane ladies. I violently oppose domestic abuse or abuse of any kind for that matter. I am as involved as I can be with Animal Welfare Groups and recently helped save a puppy who had been run over, which gave me great joy. I think the way animals are treated is appalling and is an issue that should be given far more attention. In general, I sadly feel people are too self-absorbed and only concentrate on the acceleration of their own families at the neglect of the suffering masses”, she commented.