Sponge: Leadership Lessons I Learnt from Clients by Ambi Parameswaran- Review

Title: Sponge: Leadership Lessons I Learnt from Clients

Author: Ambi Parameswaran

Publisher: Westland

Pages: 180

Price: Rs 350

My primary school mathematics teacher would try to motivate us in his own inverse (or is it perverse?) manner by instructing that we ‘eat crow first thing in the morning’, what he meant was tackle the toughest job at the very onset. But maverick master of many traders — advertising, marketing and brand strategy, public speaking, writing, etc. — turns that very sage advice on its head when he proposes what if there is no crow…what if the ‘dreaded’ client is not to be treated with fear, instead it is best that you hug them tight and hold them close to your heart?

…and manages to convince you of that impossibility over an action-packed, amazing anecdote-filled 180 pages? Well, that is when you hold a most probable bestseller called Sponge: Leadership Lessons I learnt from My Clients in your hands and ask Parameshwaran to take a bow.

It takes a certain humility, rare in today’s time, to acknowledge the fact that client interactions, most conversations, and especially the challenging ones, are secret potions that are meant to light up your path to success if you treat them reverentially. When a veteran with over 40 years of varied experience narrates firsthand accounts of 25 insider stories (or case studies, if you will) to illustrate how client interactions (starting with the brief moving on to the resulting brand strategy, the hits, the missteps and the redressals) are the best learning pad of all, need we argue? I guess we would not when we see that the stories involve legends the magnitude of Ratan Tata, Dr V. Kurien, R.D. Aga, Vinita Bali and Azim Premji. The former’s strong passion for and strict attention to detail is perfectly exemplified at every onset in the way he personally showcases his ‘shiny new car’ when he has an entire company to do so. My absolute favourites are the chapters involving the then MD Anand Kripalu who was responsible for setting brand Cadbury on a fresh trajectory and that of then Zee CEO Pradip Guha, who did not flinch from seeking the opinion of a gentleman not quite high up there in our social pecking order.

Good sense would dictate that not only advertising and marketing aficionados and interns should read this, but actually, anyone with a client could use its help. The tone adopted by the author is extremely positive and shines light strongly on the wisdom culled. You are amazed by his excellent memory, but that is only natural when your encounters are as enriching as these.

Parameshwaran’s chatty manner of tackling a classic cat and mouse situation between the client and agency to be seen in a different light is fortified in the way he introduces his SPONGE process to help others become better at observing a client’s needs. He relentlessly underscores how constant learning, mutual respect and, at times, even dissent is key to victory.

After strong net practice with his previous and eighth book, Nawabs, Nudes and Noodles that surveyed the evolution of advertising along with India’s socio-politico-economic progress over a span of half a century, Sponge: Leadership Lessons I learnt From My Clients is a more inward focused micro-book that looks at one major lesson—the key to success lying via your ears.

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