Creative Leaders Corner: Keshav Bhat – Creative Group Head at BLKJ Havas

“Thinking small, being hands-on, leading, and executing at the same time is what I enjoy and that’s the requirement of today’s leaders.”

Time for another visit to Creative Leaders Corner. Pull up a seat for some unique insights from creative world leaders talking about their own creative journeys, and how they lead others on theirs.

This time, we talk with Keshav Bhat, Creative Group Head at BLKJ Havas in Singapore.

Over the course of our conversation, Keshav discusses what he misses most about being simply a “creative,” the rewards of leading a creative team, working with clients, the changing landscape of the creative industry, and more.


 

What do you miss about being a creative without the leadership role, and what do you enjoy most about creative leadership?

Being a creative with and without a leadership role happens in very different stages of our lives.

Not having a leadership role made me a true student, where I could have a clear focus (since the responsibilities were less). I was able to watch closely how great minds tackled briefs and brought them to life. Though I was just a helping hand through those years, I could walk in with a “sponge” attitude as my point of view on creativity and decision-making was still being shaped.

Leadership today is very different from before. All agencies on this island aren’t large, and the ones that are, have a few different agencies under a roof. The successful ones manage to retain their small agency culture.

Thinking small, being hands-on, leading, and executing at the same time is what I enjoy and that’s the requirement of today’s leaders. It’s easy to get detached from realities on the ground and there’s always a higher chance for good decision making when your hands are on the ground.


 

Was there a particular ad or ads that inspired you to focus your creative talents on the ad industry? (share any links or assets, please)

Two ads at two different times in my life made me pay attention to the ad industry.

The first one was as a kid in 2002 or 2001, back home in India, the teaser launch campaign for Hutch Telco caught my eye. A bright white ad, making me wonder why 1 pod had more peas than it could hold, until a school teacher of mine explained it. “Advantage you!” And it just clicked! I was 14 (I think).

The second was by BBH Singapore for Levi’s. It made me smile. I loved the thinking behind it & I used to see it on my way to college, every morning. This ad had me take the plunge!

Levi’s Ad by BBH Singapore

How do you persuade clients to take creative risks?

The million $$$ question I wish I had a “100% guaranteed” answer to. But I don’t. I’ll talk about perhaps the 1 or 2 things I attempt to do.

I’ve always started by understanding where in the creative journey my clients (and their brand) are, as that dictates how we go about guiding them to new territories.

Clients who are further down the creative journey and clients who are at the early stages of it have very different appetites, different business problems, and different views on creativity.

However, learning about where they are can help gauge the level of risk we suggest they take and when to take them.

“Clients who are further down the creative journey and clients who are at the early stages of it have very different appetites, different business problems, and different views on creativity.”

Secondly, I’ve never been able to walk in and convince a client at the very first brief to be bold.

My story has always been about investing time to gain the trust of our clients. Each project is a chance to expose them to a certain amount of creative thinking, and over time (it doesn’t need to be years, it could be 8 months even) we can prime our clients for conversations about big bold ideas.

What are your strategies for inspiring and motivating your creative team to push boundaries and challenge the status quo?

There are many aspects to this, but I’ll speak to one. And that’s helping creatives develop a brave mindset and an instinct to sell and defend brave ideas. Executing the brave ideas, that’s a conversation for another time.

When you finally have in front of you, a beautifully pieced together creative deck with a lovely idea that’s worth putting in front of your client, there’s this feeling of joy and excitement that comes! This feeling is what I’d want my creative teams to chase on a weekly basis.

First, teams need to land on a brave idea. And my role is to help (if they need it that is) pave the way for it. Helping take dual minded & complicated briefs and rewrite them to a simple task.

“There are many aspects to this, but I’ll speak to one. And that’s helping creatives develop a brave mindset and an instinct to sell and defend brave ideas. Executing the brave ideas, that’s a conversation for another time.”

Once a sandbox has been clearly determined, most creative teams jump in automatically, hunt down problems, land on a single-minded message, and start going at it with ideas. Helping craft that simple brief with a clear objective, helps creatives naturally get brave with their solutions.

Next, help them develop a compelling narrative to sell/defend that brave idea. This is a balancing act between making an idea look sexy for the sake of the campaign and making it work for the client’s agenda. Keeping an eye on making sure the idea can work for them is key.

This isn’t something that comes naturally. With a fair number of attempts, and watching closely over good senior creatives, over time one can develop an instinct for storytelling. It’s a word overused, but a crucial one for the sell.

Once you have a brave idea, it’s also going to need a sound production process. Things usually can go wrong at this stage, acting, music, casting etc. So make sure great ideas have a good production journey.

What is your take on Generative AI and its impact on the creative industry? How is your team using it?

Creatives are always in favour of tools that help paint a picture for our clients and AI’s found a real place in that part of the creative journey – the sell.

When you think of Gen AI, all the independent platforms like Midjourney, ChatGPT, Soundraw (music), Narakeet (voiceover) come to mind. But we’re also exposed to it through Adobe tools we’re already using, and that’s helped us a tonne in creating a good-looking and convincing creative deck. And I’m a sucker for a good-looking deck (with good ideas of course)!

But the final output of creative campaigns can’t all be generated with AI images and footage.

“Creatives are always in favour of tools that help paint a picture for our clients and AI’s found a real place in that part of the creative journey – the sell.”

The Ad industry as a whole wants to stay connected with our audience and find a meaningful place within their lives. Be it helpful, or to entertain, we wouldn’t want our content to alienate them from reality. There’s always a place and time to use it as people live in the real world and that human connection is always powerful.

There is an interesting intersection we’ve come to now, where I see our industry showing the value of human creative thinking, while Elon’s book talks about the concept of “Universal Income” with machines and AI taking our jobs. I can see things like the backend of programmatic banners and efficient displays of ads and so on something that could be automated. But creative thinking is something that needs the human touch, and I’ll be here contributing to that story.

GhatGPT has its point of view too:

Source: Screenshot Chat GPT

What advice do you have for people navigating their way into the creative industry for the first time?

Don’t come into the field to be an Art or Copy creative. Have the mindset to learn both crafts. Art creatives, go for VO recordings, Copy creative, go for offline and colour grading sessions, you’ll grow to be creatives with a holistic view of creating, selling, and executing creative campaigns.

Learn the art of storytelling, learn to funnel your thinking, to narrow down a thought to a simple message, learn to think in words and not just visuals, and learn to sell & defend ideas, it’s part of growth. And please, don’t run to style first when a brief is given to you. It’s the problem first, always.

Learn to look outside the island for inspiration. Aim for global standards & values. It’s easy to get stuck in the wrong teams, on tough accounts, the wrong partner, and so on, but everything comes in phases. It will pass, you keep your eye on growing your mind.

What is some campaign work you’ve done during your career that you are most proud of?

Netflix – The Crown

Magners – Tinster


Quick Hits:

Book everyone in the industry should read:

I don’t read books on advertising sadly. But books in general, give A Million years in a day, Salt & The Psychology of Money a go.

Favorite show you’ve been watching lately:

The Bear, Castlevania, and Daisy Jones & The Six

Something you want to learn or wish you were better at:

I want to learn about Entrepreneurship & wish I was better at investing.


Read more:

– Creative Leaders Corner: Ng Tian It – ‘Human Care and Soul are Still Imperative’

– Creative Leaders Corner: Arnab Ray – Landor & Fitch India

 

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