Q&A: Holmes, Pollard & Stott’s Manik Amirthanayagam Looks to Grow Agency’s Global Reputation

Over the past three decades, the Holmes, Pollard & Stott agency (HP&S) has been an integral part of the Sri Lankan creative industry. This at a time when the island nation, which is home to 21.4 million people, has itself seen an increasing presence in the ad world with creative work being recognized by some of the world’s top awards shows.

Founded by ad industry veteran, Pradeep Amirthanayagam, HP&S earlier this year announced the appointment of his eldest son, Manik, to GM as part of what was described as a grooming process for management of the agency.

Branding in Asia recently spoke with Manik Amirthanayagam about his vision for HP&S moving forward, his experience growing up in the ad world, current trends in Sri Lanka, and more.

 
 

What’s been keeping you busy lately?

We have a great team here and I’ve been focusing on inspiring us all to reach new heights. I love the challenge and it brings me an enormous amount of satisfaction to watch us work together to create new channels and opportunities for our clients. 

With that in mind, I am constantly trying to up our game and create a passionate work culture here. This includes moving away from a traditional outlook to seize the opportunities offered by the latest advances in our industry. 

Holmes, Pollard & Stott has been around nearly three decades. What differentiates it from other agencies in the Sri Lankan market?

Over the years HP&S has played the role of being a springboard for creative talent. We have discovered and nurtured a number of individuals by identifying their innate abilities. While it’s bittersweet when talent moves on, it’s the nature of the industry and I’m proud to see them go on to excel in the creative field and make it big at multinational agencies.

 
 

We’re an ad agency that has tried to create an environment that encourages our people to approach us at any given moment with any new idea or a problem they think we can improve on. We also believe in the “never say no to anything” approach, so it’s always a “yes”, even during the most challenging times, whether it is with our team or clients.

Your father Pradeep Amirthanayagam has been the face of Holmes, Pollard & Stott since its inception, so you’ve been exposed to the industry all your life. How do you think that affected your approach to working there?

I am fortunate to have been exposed to the advertising industry from a very young age. It was almost instinctive since the subject was often discussed at home. I also drew from the experiences including the fundamentals and processes involved very early on as the face of start-up brands in Sri Lanka. Hence, I find my role at Holmes Pollard & Stott a perfect fit; it certainly helps when you know how an agency operates and I consider my work here as not just a challenge, but a continuity of my passion.

   My exposure to advertising from the time I was a kid has helped me visualize things in a different perspective, which I believe has inspired me to think more creatively today.

As a person, I have never backed down from a challenge and advertising is full of them. In fact, more challenging than what others outside the industry give us credit for, which I think is a shame given the skill set required to grow brands. So, my exposure to advertising from the time I was a kid has helped me visualize things in a different perspective, which I believe has inspired me to think more creatively today.   

The announcement of your appointment as GM said that you’ve been given a vital role in the next growth phase. What changes do you see in the future and how do you envision putting your own personal stamp on it? 

Well, for starters, I want to change the way we do things at Holmes Pollard. I believe I have always been a disruptor in life and it is this disruptive nature that I intend to use to shift things to a new dimension.

At the end of the day, you’ve got to love your job and I believe that to love your job you need to enjoy walking in to work every morning, and that is something that I wanted to create from the day I took over as General Manager.

 I am constantly trying to up our game and create a passionate work culture here. This includes moving away from a traditional outlook to seize the opportunities offered by the latest advances in our industry. 

Basically, I believe in three things; Fun, Passion and Boldness. This is my philosophy in life and this is something I will use reshape the way we do things as an agency. My main focus, however, is to kindle an award-winning creative culture that will enhance our global reputation. With the creative power of our team, this is well within our reach. 

What are some current marketing trends you see in Sri Lanka that you like?

We see some exciting marketing trends rapidly gaining traction in Sri Lanka. Among these are precision-based marketing, the brand over product concept, cult branding and 720-degree marketing, which integrates the psychological, social, emotional and cultural aspects into the total communications experience. Analytics has enabled us to conduct purpose-driven marketing based on hard data. The emergence of entertainment platforms such as Tik Tok and IG TV has also played a big role in enabling brands to reach new audiences, including millennials and Gen Z. 

How about some trends you don’t like?

It is an unfortunate fact that in Sri Lanka, the negative aspects of marketing are becoming more and more evident. Brands compromise on their core values in order to gain a wider audience on new media, thereby exploiting their image for short-term gains.

  My main focus, however, is to kindle an award-winning creative culture that will enhance our global reputation. With the creative power of our team, this is well within our reach. 

This essentially means that brands cannot effectively differentiate themselves to stand out from the rest. This myopic focus on cheap mass appeal can have the effect of stifling what the brand should really stand for.

What is some recent work from the agency that you’re most proud of?

We have done several campaigns that succeeded in being both creative and effective. An example is our concept for developing the ‘Lagana Wasana’ lottery, conducted by the state-owned Development Lotteries Board.

We transformed it from a brand that was previously the 6th highest-selling lottery to the 3rd highest in the country. Despite earlier fears about a loss of market share, we made a strategic move to conduct the draw from three days a week to all seven days, which proved to be a resounding success. We used the zodiac concept and linked it to local culture based on consumer insights to create a winning formula with the slogan “Your zodiac sign is your lucky symbol”.  

The campaign’s success was further affirmed when our agency bagged a coveted bronze award for TV commercial of the year 2018 at the Sumathi Awards held in Colombo.   

Bobby McGill

Bobby McGill

Bobby is the founder and publisher of Branding in Asia.

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