Book Challenge Series: Ambi Parameswaran

Interview with Ambi Parameswaran, on his journey as an author.

Ambi M G Parameswaran is a Brand Coach, Brand Strategist and Founder a Brand Advisory. In a career spanning 40 years Ambi has handled assignments in marketing, sales and advertising with leading brands, and served as VP, then as ED & CEO of FCB Ulka from 2003 to 2013. He received the Distinguished Alumnus Award from IITM in April 2009 and from IIMC in November 2018. He has a PhD from Mumbai University, an AMP from Harvard Business School  and CEO Coaching Certification from CFI. Apart from writing for business publications, Ambi offers branding workshops and is an Adjunct Professor of Marketing at SPJIMR and a guest faculty at IIMC, IIMA, MICA and ISB.

Ambi has ten books to his credit, and wrote his first book in his early forties while he was in the thick of his professional career. He was also one of the earliest to recognize the importance of the silver generation, in this 2016 article in HT Mint.

In this short interview, Ambi provides his view as a published author, and the journey so far.

Ambi, you have published ten books. Do you have a favourite when you look back at your authorship?

All my books are precious for me and that is what any author would say. Having said that, I think Nawabs Nudes Noodles – India Through 50 Years of Advertising has had the maximum impact and I have heard people describe it as a ‘must read’.

You have always been a writer as I understand but what made you write your first book?

I stumbled into writing in 1998 when I was teaching Advertising and Brand Management at NMIMS. I needed case studies and found that the long form Harvard cases were not easily accessible and hence I started writing short cases on brands from FCB Ulka’s portfolio. That became my first book ‘FCB Ulka Brand Building Advertising – Concepts & Cases’. It came out in 2000 and was reprinted several times.

Your writing career seems as intense as your full-time professional career. What was different in these journeys? How did you balance it?

My first book did well and that led to my second and third books. I had a full time job but I was also a guest faculty at B Schools. I had a discipline of spending at least a few hours each weekend writing. Each book takes one year of research and one year of writing.

You probably get a lot of people reaching out to you about writing a book. What are your top three suggestions to them?

I think everyone has at least one book inside him or her.

My first suggestion is to anyone wanting to write a book is to start writing. Write essays. Write articles. As you get to write you will realise what works for you. It is foolhardy to say I will write a book if you have not done the job of writing articles or essays [in the case of fiction may be short stories]. Once you have an idea for a book then you need to put a structure to it and then write. Get into a rhythm. Write every day. Or write every weekend.”

You said, “to write, you need to read a lot”, during our brief telephone chat. Is there more that one has to invest in becoming a good writer?

I think to become a good writer you need to know what is out there. So you need to read a lot. For example every book I write is inspired by the books I have read on the subject. I also read a lot of articles as a stepping stone to my writing journey. If you don’t read then don’t try to write.

Ambi, you are on Twitter, and engage with brands and individuals quite actively. I find some of those discussions very fascinating. Does it shape your thinking when you write a book now?

Twitter, used well, can be a great way to learn new things. So when I read something interesting I try and share it on Twitter asking people to comment. And sometimes that leads to an interesting discussion among informed people. When I spot something interesting I try to retweet with my own two bits. I have noticed that when I criticize a brand or an ad that gets higher traction due to the nature of the beast. But try to steer clear of toxic subjects.

All your books are non-fiction. Would you ever write fiction?

My next book is also non-fiction but I am trying a different approach. Let us see how that performs. Writing pure fiction is beyond me.

You can check out Ambi’s books on Amazon and Flipkart, and catch him on Twitter.

Ambi has opened a window into Indian advertising with his epic book – Nawabs Nudes Noodles. He’s on his way to making leadership lessons accessible to the general reader with a series of anecdote rich, shorter books on management.

Anish Chandy, Founder, Labyrinth Literary Agency

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