Best Buddies 2017

Manish Bhatt and Raghu Bhat

The advertising mavericks' 20-year-old friendship perfectly balances quirk and business

Manish Bhatt and Raghu Bhat have much more in common apart from their surname. Right from 1995, the duo switched jobs together in Contract Advertising, Ogilvy and Mather (O&M), Ambience Publicis, McCann, and eventually decided to get into their debut entrepreneurial stint by starting Scarecrow Communications in 2010. They have led such similar lives that the duo also got detected with high blood pressure at the same time! Their creative journey, which has been marked with ups and downs, hasn’t marred their personal equation, and that is clearly evident from the number of  historical anecdote-filled trips that they have taken together. While Raghu is a man of few words and prefers to be left alone with his books, Manish is a flamboyant and outspoken Gujarati, who prefers to speak up his mind. Raghu is also an internationally acclaimed short film-maker, known for his films Waif and Apollo Bunder. The football lover is also responsible for managing accounts at Scarecrow. Manish, on the other hand, does not shy away from exploring his creative instincts when it comes to implementing ideas. In a world that equates relationships with social media statuses and instant texts, both Manish and Raghu’s long-standing friendship thrives on one underlying factor — trust.

 Where did you first meet each other?

Raghu: I’m from Mumbai, but I got a job at Contract Advertising in Delhi. The job was related to direct marketing. I wasn’t comfortable with my boss and within two months into the job, I wanted to quit it. But I needed a portfolio, without which I could not apply anywhere. Since I am a copywriter, I wanted an art-director to do my layouts. That’s where Manish came into the picture. As an art director, Manish was someone who could execute my ideas. I remember sharing my ideas with him in the basement of our Janakpuri office and asking him to art-direct some of those.

Manish: I was introduced to Raghu through a mutual friend. I was told that Raghu needed help with executing his ideas. I told him that we could work in a partnership, wherein we would only work on ideas that we both loved.Eventually, we started enjoying the time we spent with each other.

What was your first impression about each other?

Manish: Since I was from a vernacular medium, I needed someone who would express my thoughts articulately, and Raghu managed to do that because of his hold over English. When I met him, he came across as studious and was always found reading some book or the other. He came across as a serious and committed person. 

Raghu: Manish believed that both of us should have an equal participation when it comes to execution of an idea; he was a rebel. 

What are some of the projects that you worked on?

Manish: Eventually, I got frustrated working with Contract Advertising. When I started out, the launch of a pager brand got unforeseen visibility. Post that, none of my work was published and my portfolio remained piled up for a long time. I moved to Mumbai and that was the time when I needed Raghu the most. Since he was from Mumbai, I asked him if he could help me with a few industry connects. He readily agreed to do so and I stayed in his house for a few days. His friends helped me connect with some stalwarts in advertising. But I ended up getting a job as a creative head at O&M in Delhi again in 1998. They offered me the choice of bringing my own writer and I tagged Raghu along. So, this was our first move together as a copy-art team and we headed a team of 15 people together. This is how we first started working together officially. Eventually, we started travelling together and got to know each other better. 

Raghu: We did have some interesting experiences. When we went to London in 2006 for a Magnum pitch, we visited the War Room museum and literally felt (Winston) Churchill’s presence there. On the professional side, we have worked on many brands, such as Cadbury, Emami, and Lotus. Our first client at Scarecrow was Religare Macquarie. 

Did you have any interesting experiences while working on those projects?

Raghu: We were working on the film for Cadbury Celebrations. For Cadbury, Celebrations is a seasonal product and, hence, the client is mindful of the budget. I try to earmark the project within the budget constraints of the client. Sometimes Manish will try his best to execute the project in its most original form, without thinking of the budget. In the same ad, after I completed the script, the client asked if we could make it more memorable. Out of the blue, Manish suggested that we should cast Zohra Sehgal for the same. I thought that the client would surely shoot it down. But the client was impressed and decided to go with the idea. The ad still has a better recall than Amitabh Bachchan’s endorsement for Cadbury. 

How would you describe each other?

Raghu: Manish is very emotional. If he likes something, he will put 150% of his passion into it. When we were at Contract Advertising in Delhi, we had this Goa Fest campaign. I remember Manish spending around four months personally supervising every unit that was a part of the festival. He takes a lot of painstaking efforts in what he does. He gives me the bandwidth to express myself as creatively as possible, and that has been contributing to my personal growth. 

Manish: Raghu is very studious. He is the most subtle, straight-faced person I have ever met. He chooses to be subtle on all occasions — be it in his writing, his expressions or his demeanour in general. He is humble and grounded and in today’s world, those are unique traits that I haven’t seen in a lot of people. I can bank on him for everything — from pursuing clients to balancing my quirkiness. 

How is he to work as a business partner?

Manish: We complement each other while working as creative partners because of our like-mindedness, but our approach towards business is very different. Raghu handles the business side at Scarecrow. He meticulously does the data crunching. He is good at accounting and mathematics, probably because of his engineering background. As an art-director, I only deal with fonts, shapes and styles. Raghu looks at things more acutely in terms of returns and rationality when we take a business decision. 

Raghu: Everyone cannot do the same job. Whenever Manish has an idea to implement, he will ask me about the budget and the financial approach of going about with it. We try to give each other freedom and make sure nothing hinders it. We try to keep the balance between the creative and business side of Scarecrow — between fiscal discipline and doing something illogical.

What are your favourite hangout places? 

Raghu: We were workaholics and we hardly left our office desk in our early days. But couple of times, we visited the Delhi haat just to get that momentary break from work. There was a restaurant named Sagar Ratna near my house at Vikaspuri in New Delhi. We used to go there often. 

Manish: The beauty of our partnership is that we have been friends at work and outside of work. But, we have spent so much time at the workplace that we never got a chance to bond over music or books or sports. But we have travelled a lot together. I clearly remember when we went on Aristotle Onassis’ yacht, we were thinking about Jackie (Kennedy). 

How good are the two of you at keeping secrets?

Manish: I am not good at keeping secrets. (laughs) In that sense, Raghu and I are complete opposites. I am a typical outspoken Gujarati. I’m very instinctive and impulsive that way. I prefer to keep everything as an open book and that is my cultural ethos. Raghu is very reserved, he knows what should stay and what should go out in the open.  If both of us were given a secret, probably I will be the one who would reveal it. (laughs)

What is one thing that you keep pulling each other’s leg about?

Raghu: I think I prefer to reveal that myself. After my son was born, I made it a point to separate my personal and professional life. I have started asking for 25-minute meetings, where I calculate every second of the time that is being allotted. So, if I have called a client at 9.45 am and if he comes at 9.53 am, I tend to tell him, “You have already wasted 20% of your time.” (laughs) This is something that not just Manish, but the whole office pulls my leg about. 

With Manish it is the fact that he is open and active on social media. (laughs) Once, even his wife got miffed with him for being so active on social media.

How have you influenced each other?

Raghu: I am a natural introvert. It was after I met Manish that I have realised that there are a lot of people who want to just know and learn from you and your experiences. I began to understand that talking about your experiences does not mean that you are boasting. Earlier, I felt that unless someone asks you a question, you should not speak up, and even after they do, you should not spend more than two to three minutes on it. This was a belief that I grew up with. Manish taught me that if I express my point of view in front of people, there would be professional and personal benefits for me as well. Being more social has helped me  bring on different clients on board at Scarecrow. 

Manish: I have grown as a person because of Raghu. I was an absolute villager when I started out. In such circumstances, when you step out into a quirky industry like advertising, the desire to express is high, but somewhere, because of the your cultural background, that desire is crushed because of your inability to express. Raghu has taught me to express skillfully, as well as subtly, through his writing. 

How do you deal with disagreements with each other? How do you resolve them?

Raghu: There have been many disagreements. One of the principal things I believe when you are working with another person is that, if he doesn’t respond to your idea, it means that it is not acceptable to him. I am willing to walk away from it, if it is unacceptable for Manish. We do not have any conflict because of this ideology. 

Have there been instances when he has been angry or upset? How did you gauge that? 

Manish: Raghu is very tolerant and I haven’t seen him expressing his anger, at least with me. When he has anger outbursts, he will just keep quiet. He expresses more with words and he doesn’t like confrontation. 

Raghu: Manish is an open book. If he gets agitated, he cannot hide it. This is one thing that goes against him, because people gauge his mood and manipulate him easily. If he is negotiating fees with a client and he is planning to charge them a maximum fee of say Rs.6 lakh, he will show apparent signs that #6 lakh is the maximum he would go to, which makes it blatantly easy for the client to negotiate and bring it down to say, #5 lakh.

Is there something you want to change about each other?

Manish: I would like him to trust his instincts rather than his rationality sometimes. He needs to be more impulsive and less calculative at times. After any event, incident or a situation, Raghu will be flooded with after-thoughts that are self-destructive. He needs to cultivate a nature of letting things go.

Raghu: I don’t think anyone can change him… (laughs) There has been no change in Manish from the time he was working at Contract, till today when he is heading a company. I feel he should take care of himself and not let people exploit his passion for work. 

Is there any important milestone that you have achieved together?

Raghu: I think Scarecrow is single-mindedly the most important milestone.

Manish: It is important because we have nurtured it together with time.

Do you have any nicknames that you address each other with?

Raghu: We don’t have any terms of endearment… (laughs). On the face of it, you may think of it as a relationship that is bound only by work, but deep within we know that there is a real, tangible relationship with no commitments attached, and that’s what matters.

Manish: If you are aiming for a long-term relationship, you need not overdo it. This deliberately demarcated distance between us has brought us this far. We have built a perception of togetherness all these years and we hope to take that forward in the years to come.