Q&A: Anish Daryani – ‘Indonesians take pride in indigenous brands’

Anish Daryani, Founder and President Director of M&C Saatchi Indonesia

We recently caught up with Anish Daryani, Founder and President of M&C Saatchi Indonesia which just last month celebrated its third anniversary. Daryani has spent more than a dozen years working across 5 nations in the ad industry.

In the office, he’s won numerous awards for the work he’s done. Out of the office (or home office), he spends his time with his family, traveling, writing, and scuba diving.

In our conversation, we discuss the Indonesian market, the effects of the pandemic across the industry and the growth of M&C Saatchi Indonesia throughout it all. Daryani goes in-depth about the creative ways he and his team were able to complete new projects while stringent new guidelines had been enacted.


You’ve worked all over the globe. How does Indonesia stack up to the other nations you’ve worked in?

I had the fortune of working and living in 5 countries over 12 years. I used to call myself a hippie in a suit. And then, Indonesia happened, where I’ve completed almost 5 years. This is the country where I’ve anchored my ship.

When compared to all the countries I’ve lived in, Indonesia has the strongest fundamentals with an economy that’s most resilient to external factors. Come to think of it, the country just saw its first recession in 20 years in 2020 (the Asian Financial Crisis of 1998 being the last one), owing to the pandemic.

Indonesia is among the top three most optimistic countries in the world, a position it has occupied year after year, over the last decade. This speaks a lot about the people, their resilience, and their ability to take control of their lives, even in hard times like the pandemic, which explains why the World Bank forecasts that economic recovery in Indonesia will happen the fastest among its Southeast Asian peers.

Indonesians take pride in indigenous brands, are aspirational and enterprising, which explains why the country has more unicorns and emerging start-ups than its neighbors. All these make doing business in Indonesia a rewarding experience.


“What might stay – Nothing. I personally believe everything will come back to an old normal, and can’t wait for that to happen.”

Besides, the people are great – very welcoming, willing to share trust and mutual respect, appreciative of people who’re here to create opportunities. It is also beautiful, blessed with abundant natural resources. I’ve experienced some of the best beaches, done some very memorable dives, photographed some extraordinary wildlife.

The cultural diversity here is fascinating, and the food is to die for. I feel blessed to be here. It feels like home.

You’ve said before that “I am the most impatient person I know. It is my strongest virtue.” Could you expand on that for us?

Once I set a goal, and if my team and I are not working to chase it the next minute, I feel we’re late already. I’ve defined success not by just reaching my objectives, but how soon I’ve been able to reach them, doing it well being considered hygiene.

For me, making it was never enough, making it sooner was. That gives you time to set new goals and pace towards them. This is what led my career to be a prodigious one – by the time I had received a promotion, I was already working towards the next one. I was prepared to take risks, embracing new challenges even at the peak of my performance, because I feared complacency.

“We’ll learn to be more thankful for smaller pleasures in life, and a simple “how are you” will have a lot more meaning.”

Execution should be at the speed of thought. You can say there are multiple creative sprints running in my mind at any point in time. This makes me restless, and I channelize it to benefit my clients, my teams and my business. I struggled with this for a while, until a mentor taught me to embrace it. That moment onwards, I stopped losing patience with my impatience.

The past year has been incredibly difficult for the industry as a whole. What have you learned and what changes do you think will stick around?

Coping with the pandemic has taught me a lot.

First, nothing is more important than the well-being of your team members and their families, and your own, of course.

Second, face-to-face meetings can never be overrated.

Third, agility is key for business success – in good times, and more in bad times.

Fourth, you can make the most thorough plans, but you can never be prepared for what the world is going to throw at you.

Fifth, change is the only constant and leading it is the only way to thrive.

And lastly, there was always a reason for having separate places of working and living, and we should be more thankful to be able to go back to office someday.

What might stay – Nothing. I personally believe everything will come back to an old normal, and can’t wait for that to happen. It will take anywhere between a few months and a few years, depending on where you are based, but it is only a matter of time when we’ll put this behind us. People move on, like they did after Black Death, Spanish Flu or SARS. COVID-19 will be no different.

What will change – Personal hygiene will finally get as much importance as it deserves. Countries will learn to be better prepared for (God forbid) future health crises.

It will be the end of mid-term business planning; businesses will involve long term planning and many short term goals will work in tandem to achieve them. We’ll learn to be more thankful for smaller pleasures in life, and a simple “how are you” will have a lot more meaning.

M&C Saatchi Indonesia has seen impressive growth while others have declined. Could you discuss why you think that is?

Yes, we grew by seven times over 2019. When you’ve just finished celebrating your second anniversary, and a pandemic shows up uninvited to threaten your business’ existence, you can either see your dreams turning into ash, or you can take the fight to the circumstances.

My partners Dami and Elki stood by me to do the latter. And every one of our team members joined in. This is where the magic started.

We were one of the first companies to send our teams to work from home, on 13th March 2020, over a month before Jakarta went into its first lockdown. Indonesia had crossed a thousand cases that day. We promised ourselves to be safe rather than sorry.

“What defines us best is being entrepreneurial. Each of us in the team is a go-getter.”

With most of our teams using public transport to get in and out of the office, we wanted to minimize the risk of them being exposed to the virus. We’re grateful that even 48 weeks and a million infections later, every one of our team members and their families have been able to avoid being infected.

Business-wise, we attribute our success to being agile, independent and entrepreneurial, which are very characteristic of M&C Saatchi as a group. Being independent, we are directly working for our clients and don’t need some of the corporate approvals which slows down the process. This also makes us agile as we are able to swiftly respond to situations as we did with Covid.

We made Ramadhan successful for our clients by devising new campaigns on short timelines, built on insights from changing consumer behavior as a result of the pandemic. Our white paper, An Unfamiliar Prayer, aimed at helping businesses succeed in a never-before Ramadhan, became a massive client acquisition tool.

“Where pay cuts were announced, we gave out performance bonuses and increments.”

We devised ways of shooting and post-producing films remotely under social distancing guidelines and even shared our techniques with the world. We mastered the art of remote pitching and shared tips in trade media. Every no was turned around to be a yes, without risking the health of our colleagues.

What defines us best is being entrepreneurial. Each of us in the team is a go-getter. We are bold with our ideas, pitches, campaigns, creativity, business goals and execution. In return, Indonesia has rewarded us plentifully.

Our growth shows that clients prefer independent agencies and independent thinking. The winning of Indonesia Tourism account beating 89 other agencies vying for the business is a testament to our beliefs and who we are as an agency.

I will have to credit our success to my team, who are at the core of everything we do. Where teams were being downsized, we hired. Where pay cuts were announced, we gave out performance bonuses and increments.

We covered COVID testing expenses and offered work-from-home benefits to everyone. And we exercised work breaks, compulsory holidays, replacement leaves for overtime and Zoom parties along with counseling our teams to safeguard them against burnouts and mental health issues.

Our team felt protected and cared for, and rose to the occasion. We had built this team, and now this team was building us. We are now attractive as employers and that is a huge endorsement to talent aspiring to work for an agency.

Are there any campaigns that have come out of the pandemic that you’ve enjoyed?

There are a few.

The whole working-from-home-thing – Apple

Thank you for Not Riding – Uber

Let it Out – visiticeland.com

KFC pauses Finger Licking

Happy Teachers Day – Mankind Pharma

The rooftop match with Roger Federer – Barilla

What are your favorite campaigns you’ve been a part of?

#StopChildMarriage – PKBI

Bang Toyib Returns – redBus

The Floating Museum – Hari Bersih Indonesia

#KompakWalauBerjarak (Together is separation)- Axis

Sam Roth

Sam Roth

Sam is a contributing columnist to Branding in Asia.

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