Up Close & Candid with Devika Seth Bulchandani

As I catch up with Ogilvy’s Global CEO, Devika Seth Bulchandani, she talks about her progression in the role, her thoughts on Ogilvy India, and shares a message for women in advertising.

Devika Seth Bulchandani has been the talk of the advertising world, ever since she took over the role of Ogilvy’s Global CEO, almost a month ago. Not only has this been a feat for the gender, but she is also one of the first CEO of colour in the global advertising spectrum. The fact that she can do bhangra as well as she does, only adds further icing on the cake. 

As team Social Samosa bumps into her in the elevator, Bulchandani’s affable personality and approachable demeanor are the first things we all notice, and our observations are confirmed when she promises us to teach bhangra someday. 

Seth Bulchandani’s India visit (more of a homecoming) has been all about her family – her work family and her family family. The Amritsar-born CEO, jokes about how now that she is in Mumbai, her mother calls her every night, asking when she is slated to come home from work. “I am 53 years old,” she says smiling, but certain things never change.  

Little over a month into her new role, Seth Bulchandani shares how natural it felt to her, stepping into the new profile. 

“In some ways when you grow up in this industry, it feels really organic to step into the role. But I think it’s also a massive testament to all the 15,000 people that have supported me and made it so seamless,” she quips. “Leaders only succeed when they have the support of the people who actually do all the work on the ground level and I feel incredibly supported.”

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The Great Transformation 

The last few months have been tumultuous across the globe, the A&M industry being no different. But as long as agencies are true to their core during this transformation, there is little to worry about, she tells us. 

“It doesn’t matter what the industry is, everybody’s going through a transformation. It is how we continue to transform ourselves as an industry and as an agency, but never forget the core of what we do, which is connecting brands to consumers. We connect human beings to the power of creativity and storytelling. Ogilvy India does it so well because they are brilliant at the basics, but at the same time, they continue continually evolving using all the modern technology,” she shares, beaming with pride. 

The conversation then shifts to Ogilvy India – “the crown jewel” of the network as she calls them. During the press conference, Seth Bulchandani also refers to Piyush Pandey as the Godfather of the agency. 

“I knew that Ogilvy India has been doing well because of the results – in terms of creativity and numbers they’re doing an incredible job. But I always say you have to feel it and The feeling at Ogilvy India is going to make them unstoppable,” she chimes. 

According to Seth Bulchandani, Ogilvy India is a team “a rock-solid team that finishes each other sentences. It’s been incredible to see that even from a cultural perspective.”

Clients are looking to connect with consumers in different ways and content is obviously such an important part of that connection ecosystem. We needed new kinds of thinkers because when you have to think for the world of TikTok or social media, you just have to think differently. That’s why we got a different group of people who were native to that world. 

The Evolving Advertising Spectrum  

The advertising & marketing industry has been rife with consolidation and the addition of new services in the last couple of years. Ogilvy’s content force has been one such addition and influencer outreach as a focus can be expected from the agency in 2023, Seth Bulchandani tells Social Samosa. “Influencer outreach could be a big focus for 2023 for India and for the rest of the world.”

She further explains that agencies should not think just in the world of TV or any particular medium “We should just think about how to connect brands to consumers in more meaningful ways. Whatever channels, and tools we need, we need to do it. All agencies need to be well-versed in that.”

Moving forward we speak about the challenges that are exclusive to this day and age, for the industry. Here she explains that this era is about bringing creativity in a “hyper-commoditized world”. 

“All our clients are under such intense competitive pressure because it’s not like you have a unique selling proposition that no one else has. There’s no fundamental differentiation. So, creativity becomes the force multiplier, the differentiator,” Seth Bulchandani explains. 

She further shares that the pandemic-induced digital acceleration and transformation forced us to think in new ways where we can take the awareness we created for purchase and turn it into commerce. “The Shahrukh Khan Mondelez ad was a really brilliant way where just in one story, you go all the way from awareness to a conversation. That condensation is a big part of how we need to evolve.”

We also get an opportunity to discuss the forever green debate of the A&M world – who owns the idea? Seth Bulchandani being of creative background herself and having worked on campaigns such as The Fearless Girl, strongly feels that while the clients can own the idea, agencies deserve the credit.  

“Clients own the idea, I get that, but I think agencies need to be given a lot of credit. What bothers me is when agencies are not given credit because we do come up with ideas and make them happen. Ownership and credit are two different things. To take the agency out of the equation just makes me sad,” she adds. 

The Gender Conversation 

Being fearless is not only her advice to women out there but also something that has enabled her to get where she is today. She shares that growing up in a conservative environment shaped her as a person and how she tackled many challenges in her life. 

While Seth Bulchandani holds a crucial position in the advertising industry and it marks a huge achievement for women across, the gender parity challenge is far from solved. In her conversation with the media, Devika highlights how we need to keep having the conversation, acknowledging that there is still work to be done. 

The WPP Group and Ogilvy in particular, have designed quite a few initiatives to solve these challenges. The organization has a program called Juno that is based on 5S  – safety, support, system, soft skills, and sensitization. The idea is to arm women with skills and disarm the world of gender differentiation and stereotypes. The program is spearheaded by Hephzibah Pathak, Vice Chairperson & Chief Client Officer, Ogilvy India 

Her one piece of advice to the women of the advertising world, we ask, and here’s what Devika Seth Bulchandani has to say: 

“Don’t ever stop. Don’t ever let anybody tell you that you don’t deserve a seat at the table; go out there and be fearless.”