The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, January 23, 2000

The adman par excellence
By Ervell E. Menezes

"THE advertising scene has changed phenomenally in the last decade, it is unprecedented, what has been achieved in the last 10 years has not been (achieved) in the last 50 years," says Frank Simoes the doyen of the advertising who virtually took the ad world by storm in the 1960s, set up his own agency in the 1970s and then shut it down in the mid-1990s to pursue his first love, writing.

Frank Simoes: "We will just amble along from one mistake to anotherSitting in his study in his Altamount Road flat in Bombay, the 60-year-old silver-haired, self-made man then backs his statement with relevant data. "After Manmohan Singh began to open the economy, globalisation in advertising also occurred, there was sharing of knowledge, professionalism. The direct advantage was the employment of 10,000 to 15,000 were employed. The indirect advantage reached over a lakh people. Four years ago Rs 1 crore business was considered big, today Rs 10 to 15 crore is considered commonplace," says the ad man par excellence with a glint in his eye as he pulls at his cigarette and gets over a bout of coughing.

  Speak to him about his pet subject and its growth and the ad guru can go on and on till the cows come home. Of how "there are few professions as demanding as advertising and fewer still where such a diversity of disciplines are orchestrated to achieve such bewilderingly different goals: the branding of a shampoo one week to the promotion of a political candidate for public office the next week; educating the population wholly unaware of the threat of AIDS while promoting, in the very next breath so to say, a Government of India bond issue to the small investor, a task informed with equal, if different, measure of challenge and uncertainty."

Simoes pause for a while, overcomes a bout of coughing, discards his cigarette and goes on "And while the disciplines multiply with each passing year — from such basics as media, market research and merchandising when I began my career to the millennium’s sunrise frontiers, futuristic think-tanks, tele-marketing and barely tapped potential of the Internet the demands on the advertising professional have intensified exponentially.

At the very heart of this activity sits the creative person’ deploying carefully honed skills towards tightly focused ends, yet called upon to display an enlightened dualism, first generalist then specialist, both (fingers crossed) greater than the sum of its parts."

What did he consider his most satisfying account professionally, not in terms of the money he made over it, you ask him and unhesitatingly he mentions the Taj group of hotels. "When I took on the Taj account there was only one hotel (the original Taj in Bombay). When I closed down my company, Taj had 40 properties in India and abroad and I was doing the advertising for all the companies, not just the five-star hotels but hospitality and tours etc. Raymonds and Glaxo were my other good accounts," goes on Simoes nostalgically. Though he often wrote the copy himself he prides himself at building an excellent team, seven or eight copy-writers, six or seven art directors and it was fun he thought.

Yet with all his accolades in advertising (youngest member of the board at Bensons, in the Hall of Fame of the Creative Arts Guilds and the Advertising Club and many others), Simoes has always put writing first. It is a rags-to-riches story ("I came from a good family but we had no money for me to go to college") which he narrates with a Somerset Maugham-like lucidity, his attempt at middles for the "Times of India" and the rejection slips, the friendly advice (by letter) from Frank Moraes on how to do it, and his first published middle on the rejection of the middles, how it thrilled him no end. Then he worked as a typist in a poky firm in Kalbadevi Road area, later joined a shipping firm as a stenographer which job led to taking a six-month voyage to Genoa on a Japanese cargo ship. In all this it is his strong spirit of adventure and will to work hard that stands out, and of course the talent without which no one can make it to the top.

Always shifting gears, never allowing himself to get in a grove, Simoes has no regrets in life. "Many people asked me why I shut my advertising unit, but I thought I must make a change, and writing has always been my first love," he explains. He knows too well the conflict between advertising and journalism and agrees that journalism is being drowned by marketing and advertising. "Certain newspaper groups consider their newspaper a product and the editorial matter seems to be there only to fill the space, but there are others which are strong on editorial stuff," he says candidly. For them visibility is important, he says, and he speaks of the gala annual parties they have to which everyone who is anyone is invited and how they clamour to get an invitation.

Since shutting advertising shop, Simoes has written a book on Goa called "Glad Seasons in Goa," but what is his equation with Goa and how did it change over the years? "I’ve been born in Bombay but feel much closer to Goa than Bombay. Like most Goan families who leave Goa for Bombay or Africa or Canada, wherever they go they take Goa with them, the festivals, the faith, language (we spoke Portuguese in Goa, English in Bombay), culture and all," said Simoes with warmth and candour. He then pauses before delivering the punchline. "For me Goa was a place of residence in my heart and mind. Bombay was only my physical residence," he said with feeling. How sweetly put.

He then goes on to describe his romance with Goa and how with Rahul Singh he went there in 1966 where Singh was covering the Opinion Poll. "I spent three weeks there visiting friends and relatives. It was then that I realised I was not a Goan living in Bombay, I was a Goan, period."

Now, he visits Goa three or four times a year. He’s built his home in Candolim (my ancestral village is Colvale) near the beach. Then he tells how he associated with the Goans, helping the fishermen and put up a Home for the Aged where 60 destitute women are housed. But like so many other Goans he isn’t happy with the floor-crossing and pulling down of so many governments. He managed to get a close view of things when he was on the panel of eminent Goans set up to go into the UNDP report regarding green spaces. "While intentions were good, very little was done with proper funding and real integrity...whetever good accrues is an act of God or providence, not by proper planning," he says succinctly.

But he thinks this happens all over India, in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Tamil Nadu, even in West Bengal, the bastion of Communism. May be not in Hyderabad because of the computer-savvy Chief Minister. "This is endemic to the body politic. It will change, except for a stage of anarchy."

Simoes lights another cigarette, coughs spasmodically and the angst is palpable. Yes, he is sad about the Goan-crab attitude (not helping each other) and asks "why is this," unable to put his finger on the malady. It is in this mood he throws his hands up, figuratively, when asked what to expect of Goa in the millennium. Any change? "I don’t think so, we’ll just pilorry around, just amble around from one mistake to another," he concludes sadly.