Monday, June 16, 2014

Living with Words and Images

US Kutty, director of Sobhagya Advertising, looks back on 25 years in the industry

Photo by K. Rajesh Kumar 

By Shevlin Sebastian

In 1980, when US Kutty had completed his Class 10 examinations at Chittur, Palakkad, his uncle, KV Menon, took him to Mumbai, to improve his prospects. Kutty went for early morning college, but was free during the day. Menon's neighbour, Shyamala Pillai, noticed this. She was working at Sobhagya Advertising Service. “Why don't you do some work during the day?” she told Kutty.

And that was how Kutty went for an interview with NL Saboo , the finance director of Sobhagya. But there was no interview. Saboo just looked at Kutty and said, “You are appointed.”

Kutty said, “Sir, you have not given me a test?”

Saboo said, “After seeing you, I know that you will do well.”

Thereafter, Kutty was assigned to work with Anand Nakrekar, who handled media planning at the Dalal Street office. Kutty started learning the ropes. Sometime later, there was a call. 

It was from the Chairman SM Singhvi who said, “Is anybody there?”

The youngster said, “I am Kutty, the new person.”

Singhvi said, “Come to the head office.”

When Kutty presented himself, 20 minutes later, the chairman said, “I am going to Ahmedabad. You have to make an estimate for newspaper advertisements worth Rs 1 crore. You ask Jayan. He will help you. Please show it to me by 6.30 p.m., because I have a flight to catch.”

The time was 4.30 p.m. However, within an hour, Kutty showed the media estimate to Singhvi. The chairman was impressed. He looked at what Kutty had written, and said, “When did you join?”

One month, Sir,” said Kutty.

Okay, tomorrow onwards, you will be in this office,” he said.

This was Kutty's turning point. He was put in charge of all media for all the offices in Mumbai, and continued to do well.

A few years later, Kutty's second turning point occurred when he was asked to go to Kayamkulam by the chairman.

Kutty said, “Sir, where is Kayamkulam?”

Singhvi started laughing and said, “Arre yaar, it is your native place.”

Kutty said that he had not travelled beyond Thrissur, because his father was strict and never allowed his children to move around. Anyway, Kutty went to Kayamkulam and met the officials of the National Thermal Power Corporation Limited. They told him that if Sobhagya wanted to handle their advertising account, they would need to open an office in Kochi. Kutty did so, on July 1, 1991.

Ever since, Kutty and Sobhagya Advertising have been going strong. Today, he is the director of the company and has just celebrated his 25th year in the advertising industry. In Kerala, Sobhagya has clients like Eastern Foods, Geojit, State Bank of Travancore, Kerala Industrial and Infrastructure Development Corporation and the IT Mission.

And, of course, the big change in the past two decades is the advances in technology. “In earlier times, to make an advertisement, we had to do type setting and block making,” says Kutty. “A colour advertisement took more than a week to make. Now, we can make ten advertisements on the computer in an hour. An ad film can be made within a day. That is how fast it has become.”

But despite the earlier slowness, Kutty made good advertisements. His award-winning one, a short film, was for Prima Cattlefeed. The scene is set in heaven. The gods are asking for milk and one cow produces more than 15 litres. They are amazed. The gods ask how this is possible. And the answer is simple: 'Prima Cattlefeed.'

Asked about the qualities needed to make a good advertisement, Kutty says, “Good copy comes from the heart. A copywriter must keep his eyes open all the time. A small event can lead to a good advertisement.”

He remembers how advertising legend Alyque Padamsee coined the 'Hamara Bajaj' slogan. Padamsee was walking around in a village. There was a boy whose father had bought a new Bajaj. And that interaction inspired Padamsee to come up with the 'Hamara Bajaj' slogan.

The communication should be simple and easy,” says Kutty. “People do not spend more than 10 minutes with the newspaper. You have to convey the message quickly.”

Meanwhile, Sobhagya's boom occurred when it began handling public issues of shares. Today, Kutty has conducted more than a thousand press conferences for various companies. 

And he follows a set pattern. “I ensure that it is held in a good hotel,” he says. “Then there should be an interesting story about the company which I can convey to the journalists.  If we do not have anything catchy to say, there will be minimal coverage in the newspapers and TV channels the next day.”

Kutty has also been instrumental in setting up The Advertising Club, Kochi in 1994. A year or two after he settled down, he noticed that people in the industry treated each other like rivals. “So I thought of setting up a club where we can talk with each other and discuss issues, pertaining to advertising,” says Kutty. “I sent a letter to all the agencies telling them of my plan.”

The response was enthusiastic. Today, there are 500 members and 80 agencies. Last month, Kutty started the Kerala chapter of the Public Relations Council of India.

Just as these institutions are thriving, Kutty remains strong and alert. “I love my job and learn new things every day,” he says. “This enables me to remain fresh.” 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)

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