The Journey from Passion to Profession- Drowned in Creative NASHA

Heena Sharma is the founder and Chief Creative Connoisseur of NASHA- A boutique Creative Agency in New Delhi. It is an independent full-service Creative Agency, providing services including Innovative Brand Strategy, Creative Media Management, PR, Digital communication strategies, Marketing, Art Direction among others. It is holistic ‘Glocal’ growth-oriented agency aimed at “creating compelling projects with storytelling, the trajectory of which continues for their clients beyond the initial project scope.”

Tell us about your journey and how did you find yourself starting down this creative path?

What happens when you have been a topper throughout, get good grades, opt for science, aspire to be an engineer an answer to your physics teacher when she asks you “What after engineering?” -“ I want to work in an advertising agency like my dad” and she is left amused and bemused at the same time!! Yes, you become a Creative Director eventually!

If any of you have never come across the book “How to Become a Creative Director,” trust me you’re not alone. That’s because it just doesn’t exist. In spite of strenuously trying as you might, you will never be able to map out the path to one of the most coveted creative positions, because here the paths are infinite and intriguing!

Advertising is in my blood and I was destined to be in an advertising/communication agency. My Dad has been a veteran and has been associated with Ogilvy, Group M, Dentsu, etc. and I would often get rosy-eyed seeing his work and profile (and fun-filled parties, not to be missed). I still remember the day when he took me to Ogilvy office in Delhi, I knew that was the place to be!

After completing my B.com(H)  from the prestigious Shri Ram College of Commerce, Delhi University in 2008, I went on to study Media marketing and Mass Communication from Times School of Marketing( Bennett Coleman and Co.) which surprised everybody.

I have been a topper throughout my school and college and thought of becoming an investment banker after getting selected into top-notch Investment banks like Merrill Lynch and Lehman Brothers. I have been a writer, an active debater, and an engaging conversationalist and was addressed as ‘NDTV’ by fellow SRCC batchmates (laughs hysterically)as they believed that I was cut out for Media Industry.

The creative career path awaited me and hence I was, the only girl with a B.Com(H) background from a reputed college to join TSM. My commerce background taught me how to be an astute businesswoman though!!

After completing my post graduation from TSM, I was offered a job at Times of India and India today.- it was choosing between your alma mater and the rival group!! However, I decided to join India Today in a mixed profile of being a journalist and strategic marketing contributor and as they say, the rest is history!

For me, it was a dream start into one of India’s largest media conglomerates. I had Prabhu Chawla and MJ Akbar as my bosses and worked for cult magazines like India Today, Business Today, Reader’s Digest, Robb Report! I was part of the famous India Today Conclave team and interviewed Javed Akhtar, Shweta Bachchan, Santosh Desai, Kiran Rao among many others. For a beginner, it was already the apex of an aspiration come true!

I went onto work with the ABP group and eventually returning to my alma mater Times Internet(a digital division of Times of India) where I was spearheading digital marketing, PR and corporate communications for various brands like Times of India.com, Economic times.com, Gaana.com, Speaking tree, Huffington post among 37 other brand properties. It was a roller coaster ride with upwards and onwards, experiences and exhilaration with top organizations like DHFL, Renew Power, British Telecom, Microfocus ( A division of Hewett Packard), SAP, Phonepay, Shristi/SREI group, Flipkart, Tata Teleservices, ESRI, Dassault Systems, Ayaya, Greenply, BJP govt and a lot many.

It’s been a steep learning curve by working with an array of startups and helping them incubate and communicate like In short,(news based app) ,SMB Connect(India’s largest integrated solution platform which links small and medium-sized enterprises and entrepreneurs), Tatha (aromatherapy based beauty and wellness e-commerce portal), Soul Speak( A spiritual portal connecting masters and seekers),Smart Energy Water( SaaS-based service platforms for North American , Australian and other overseas utilities), The V(luxury real estate mixed-used development project in Kolkata), Book my Wheel(last mile logistics delivery startup), Happay( Mobile Wallet), Langhar ( web and mobile app that enables users to discover home-cooked food experiences),Unniyarcha( a Jewelry portal),Caring Millions(startup that helps consumers locate doctors and healthcare information), Educonnect and Healthcare connects (ecosystems for education and healthcare), Jokers( an upscale retro pub in Noida), an emoticon messenger app and the list continues. It has been an immersive and divergent experience across categories and mediums in ATL, BTL, and TTL.

How do you view your career graph?

I had never looked at my career in terms of designations. Not for a damn second. It has always been about the brands I have worked on which is reflected in my work. Like a lot of the best things in life, I just happened to be a journalist and a creative director because I wanted it. People perceive this role as a mythical figurehead rather than the leader of an incredible team — which is grossly misunderstood. At its core, it’s about communication and storytelling – it’s a different high to create brand stories, assemble an

incredible team to tackle a challenge, and ensure they build top of the top ideas. If you can do those three things you can do great work. Creative people are selfless, genuine and service-oriented than being crazy masterminds. And once I got that, I was hooked forever.

What were the learnings of the jobs/positions you held along the way?

There is up and down the totem pole about every job. I’ve initiated my own projects, sliced my own assets, briefed and brainstormed, hired and fired, negotiated contracts, pursued the best talent until they said yes, slaved away on my piece over long nights and weekends, and have always been ever-ready to drop everything to CREATE. The longer you spend working alongside product and brand managers, market leads, client heads, great designers and art directors, the better off you’ll be in the long run.

What are a few main experiences or skills you would say helped you get to where you are today?

Ummmm…(thinks)There’s no great analogy or secret here. I always work in the spirit of something large, magnificent – for me, every project is a magnum opus. It has a spirit and purpose of its own. The main areas I focus on are: finding great talent and pushing everyone to do their best work as a team.

I think soft skills form the backbone of creative communication space and should never be underrated. I’ve worked with so many talented people that have tons of hard skills and zilch soft skills, and because of that, they suck at their jobs. These are things like:

Curiosity. Reading, watching, listening, and learning voraciously- bettering yourself every moment. Getting inspired by others and keeping yourself abreast of the happenings.

Bringing out the best in people. This is a complicated mix of empathy, understanding, and creating an environment where people can do their best work.

How did you think of starting something of your own?

I have always been under servitude and loved every bit of it- helping build something for others with my own hands. That’s still my favorite part of every single project. For a long time, I have been passive-aggressively pursuing the goal through my team, superiors, and subordinates. I wanted a role that allowed me to be a central part of the process and lead the work at the highest level. Nasha benefits from the resource and expertise of my well-established media, agency and client experience and its now all about putting into practice the advice I have provided to my clients. For lots of reasons I have been reluctant to change conventions, but with my own brand, I have been able to drive total strategic and creative freedom. This allows for a free flow of fearless ideas and a different level of creative collaboration. For the client, this translates into greater transparency, unique ideas, confidence, and results.

Tell us about NASHA and its inception. What differentiates it from other agencies?

The name NASHA is a function of I, Me, Myself! In fact, it is said that your brand name is your story distilled to its shortest form.

I didn’t want to be a different entity from my agency- in fact, it’s an amalgamation of my objectives and the entity’s vision. I wanted it to be a shortcut for people to make decisions, to use it, and recommend it.

NASHA is an amalgamation of the last two alphabets of my first name(HEENA) and the first three alphabets of my surname(SHARMA). So, its NASHA {(Hee(na) + (Sha)rma}  A name is just a word until you put meaning behind it- Nasha shows my individuality and personality through. Hence the name of our agency. It thrives on creativity which is a passion like an intoxicating drug.

You see, the creative process is very much like a relationship. And like most relationships, it often begins on a high note- with fascination and fizz that keeps us spellbound, charmed and aroused.

Similarly, whenever a person gets a new idea, a kind of romance begins. We become intoxicated. Completely smitten. Indeed, for many people, getting a new idea is an aphrodisiac. It turns us on, psyches us up, and makes it very hard to eat, sleep-it’s like a burglar coming in through a window at any point of time forcefully!

Very few people in the world are able to sustain the accompanying excitement for long and savor the romance. Ditto with the creative process. You have to be serious about a hot idea which requires nurturing beyond the initial execution- the romance stage to an intimate relationship bearing all the falling out periods and disagreements. At Nasha, we know that the fuel for many creative breakthroughs has not only been the purpose, passion, and power, but also conflict, confusion, and collapse – which is ingrained, human and part of the process.

NASHA  is both left and right- a combination of strong strategic thinking and compelling creative. Few agencies are able to effectively deliver on both. On the one hand, strategically driven shops lack the vision to push the creative envelope and then find it difficult to stay ahead of the curve. On the Contrary, creative-led agencies are often distracted by fancy things and miss the opportunity to really understand insights, where the brand is coming from and what motivates the target consumer. At NASHA, we feel we’ve struck the right balance.

What does it mean to you to be the sailor of your own boat, the founder of your own firm? An entrepreneur?

It feels incredible! A lot of it has to do with the bar you set and expectations you have for yourself. First, entrepreneurship means that you are in charge, you’re accountable, both for the good and the bad.  For the good, it’s about keeping the focus on the team. All great work requires a great team. For the bad, it’s about taking responsibility. Having accountability and not pointing fingers or fretting over who did what, when, and where. As a leader, you have to move forward, course correct, and find a solution. When you have the ownership- You’ll always learn more and grow more!

Are there any people/books/films/etc that have particularly influenced you?

If I start compiling the list of people, companies, and ideas that inspire me, it will be endless. I think everybody and everything is an influence and the most important part of influences is that they are far outside of our bubble; their approach, ideas, aspects, and even the context is different from your own. Great ideas are cross-pollinated, inspired, innovative, unique, pervasive and permeable.

Any advice to aspiring creative directors?

Be proactive. Breathe in the bliss. Inspire and Perspire. Do everything which interests you. Take your time. Focus on the team. Be accommodative. Provide solutions.  And above all Be Happy!

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