| Interview with Chlorophyll
co-founder and author Kiran Khalap
have learnt to stay away from relationships where we are a
substitute for ad agencies"
on 9 February 2004
co-founder of chlorophyll, India's first brand consultancy, Kiran
Khalap has ventured into writing in a major way. Not only did his
first book Halfway
Up the Mountain launch in December last year, his second book
too is well on its way. This
'non-menopausal Indian male', as he describes himself, is an ex-teacher
in an experimental primary school inspired by J Krishnamurti (one
the greatest spiritual leaders of the 20th century) and by his own
testimony, 'has been there, done that'.
being an advertising copywriter to ex-CEO of an advertising agency,
brand consultant and co-founder of chlorophyll, Khalap is also the
winner of an Indo-UK Short Story Competition.Halfway Up The Mountain,
published by Jacaranda, tells the story of Maya's journey through
life, from a childhood in Konkan to married life in Mumbai and then
stablility in the cool climes of Mahabaleshwar.(Click
here to read a review of Halfway Up The Mountain)
an email interview with indiantelevision.com,
expressed his thoughts on creativity, chlorophyll and more.
How difficult was it to write a book like Halfway Up The Mountain
from a woman's perspective? What was the inspiration?
I'll answer your second question first. My mother used to be chronically
ill, so we had a steady stream of her nieces from the Konkan who
stayed with us. They helped her, and in turn, our family helped
them finish their education in Mumbai. As a kid I always wondered
what happened to their hearts and minds when some of them returned
to their village life. That fascination was the starting point of
Maya, the protagonist in Halfway Up the Mountain.
question now: If women can write from a man's perspective, why not
the other way round? Anyway, it's a greater challenge to feel differently,
think differently. There was one area where my understanding of
how women think and feel did not work: Motherhood. I had to talk
to friends who were mothers in order to understand the deep physical
and psychological changes that they undergo. I also did a lot of
desk research about motherhood.
How far are you with your second book? What does it deal with?
I have laid out the plot, worked on the three characters, worked
out their stories and destinies, outlined the locales. Most important,
I have an intriguing title (that it is intriguing has been proven
by simple research!): Two Pronouns and a Verb.
can interpret it as "I love you" or "I hate you"
or one hundred variations of that construct, but the one I am going
to focus on is "Who am I?"
guess is all fiction that I will write will deal with one fundamental
issue: How do we, as imperfect, complex human beings, approach the
meaning of life? My dream is to write about the same subject through
different perspectives, but always keep the language rich, poetic,
is the feedback from readers that you have got now that Halfway
Up The Mountain has been on bookstore shelves for more than a month?
To me the book had to start a dialogue, so we provided a web site
(www.hutm.com) to facilitate feedback. Most have written in with
their immediate emotional reactions, but some have then gone on
to analyse the characters. The latter are mostly people who read
a lot of literature.
common thing both have said is, "The book is unputdownable,
parts of it move you to tears". To
me that is very satisfying. I think my first job as a writer is
to connect. My second job is to use the constructive criticism to
improve myself as a craftsman.
the advertising fraternity is full of creative brains, why don't
we see more of them venturing into literature and allied fields
like you have?
I don't agree that 'more haven't ventured'. My colleague Nalesh
Patil is regarded as one of the best poets in Marathi, Gopi Kukde
ventured into pottery, Alyque Padamsee and Rahul Dcunha are accomplished
theatre professionals, Priya Pereira, who designed the book cover
is the only one in India who does "artist books"
is even got her stuff in the Guggenheim Museum!
I am not very sure the creative urge has to find expression only
in a creative 'product'. To me, at the highest level of creativity,
you are able to experience the end of all divisions, you can feel
in your bones how all consciousness is one. At that level, you don't
need to create any 'thing'!
is a culture specific skill: you don't need a foreigner to
teach you how to speak your mother tongue"
do you balance your professional responsibilities with your creative
pursuits? How do you divide your time?
At chlorophyll, we believe the division between personal and professional
life is arbitrary and unnatural. You can't be a shark at work and
a dolphin at home. So I don't have a watertight division. But we
do follow simple rules: Group meetings where we collectively work
on branding problems are held at a fixed time every day. I won't
compromise with those.
chlorophyll started as a nascent experiment four years ago, where
does it stand today?
Yes, it was an experiment. Most people, even friends, predicted
failure. Today, most are saying that chlorophyll is the model of
the future. Large agencies are attempting to replicate it within
their large structures.
we are happy that we did not make expensive mistakes, and that we
continue to learn from the inexpensive ones. (I think it was an
expensive experiment for Madan Bahal and Rajesh Chaturvedi, who
backed their instincts and trusted the 'bizarre' and 'unique' model
of chlorophyll. Thank god for their instinct.)
we have learnt to stay away from relationships where we are a substitute
for advertising agencies. We
are getting more and more of the right kinds of assignments: Creating
brands from scratch or creating brand identities from scratch.
had decided we would not scale up, and we have stuck to that decision
(we are still six people working on everything). Very
soon, we are planning to launch something that can be scalable without
changing the business model.
has chlorophyll grown, and how has it stood upto the pressure from
mid and big sized agencies? Has it evolved from being a 'hybrid'
between an advertising agency and a marketing consultancy? Any additions
to the team?
chlorophyll has grown in its chosen area of operations: Branding,
and especially corporate branding. We have invested in research
on our own to test our models, we now have processes that are unique
in the industry, some of which were used successfully even for mature
marketers like HLL..
we started corporate branding was 20% of our revenue, today it's
We have no pressure from agencies, because our clients now see clearly
how different we are
we supplement or complement agencies.
only additions to the team are Rajeev Badve, (who actually is a
substitute for Gangadharan Menon who left chlorophyll in October
2002) and Parvati Mahadevan, who works on fixed assignments on research
are the important clients chlorophyll has had in the last one year?
Can you elaborate on any one brand that Chlorophyll has helped turn
around in the last one year?
In the last one year, we have been working with the Taj Group of
Hotels to build a new brand from scratch. We worked with Unilever
Amsterdam on a HR brand, 'cascading' it worldwide. We worked with
Polaris Software lab for their international 'product' brand as
well as their corporate brand. We are working with Nihilent Technologies
to launch their software product brand, and with Essar to rationalise
their brand-product matrix.
been a year of remarkable learnings!
What exactly is it that chlorophyll does and ad agencies do not?
I guess two things; both are attitudinal and not skill related:
We are worried about every aspect of brand communication, rather
than just mass media. The creative person or account management
person in most agencies is a victim of an industry culture where
not having a TVC or a press ad to your name is very insulting, degrading,
the other hand, we have managed brand HLL at the management institutes
since 1999. Just having freaked out fun with emails, DMs, posters,
events, flash movies. So long we earn what we call 'self-respect'
money and we are working on the total brand, we are happy.
because we have no layers and hierarchies we get to work with the
key decision-makers rather than middle management. It allows us
entry into the brand at the highest level.
has remained resolutely low profile despite having some high profile
clients like Levers? Is this deliberate?
Simple: We don't need to advertise ourselves because we can't handle
more than a fixed number of assignments!
What were the learnings you carried into the conception of chlorophyll
from Lintas and Clarion?
First: If you have talent, don't let it be controlled by an Excel-Sheet-wielding
finance guy in New York or Singapore. Advertising is a culture specific
skill: you don't need a foreigner to teach you how to speak your
Second, keep fixed costs low. That way you are not a victim of unwanted
Third, don't focus on competition or consumer. Focus on your discriminator,
your integrity of business and process, your happiness.
your interviews, you sound like you are against the mercenary attitude
in growing an agency. But isn't that what is required in this age?
Doesn't packaging and presentation and self promotion count to get
Yes, almost all of us at chlorophyll are aware of the havoc that
the world's most insidious four-letter word ("more") can
cause. So we openly discuss among ourselves how much we feel we
need to make to be happy.
we are clear we do not want to be businessmen, we want to continue
to be self-employed professionals. Does a cardiac surgeon need to
advertise? If you are a hospital, yes you do. We are not a hospital.
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