It’s getting like a Saatchi’s reunion around these parts. Here’s Poroma Pant, former copywriter at Saatchi and Saatchi Dubai and now turning the wordy Allen key in Sweden as IKEA’s brilliant new copywriter. But does she get free meatballs?
This question always leaves me stumped but, if I’m being super honest (which I am), I don’t think so.
At five, I wanted to be a painter, at 12 I wanted to be a vet, at 15 I wanted to be banker, at 18 I wanted to be an environmentalist, and at 21 I wanted to be an editor of a fashion magazine.
I’ve wanted to be a lot of things and have so many different interests from researching serial killers to copping killer kicks.
I think writing as a medium has enabled me to explore all of these interests.
You seem to have lots of stuff on the go all at once. Can you tell me about Women Who Create?
Ever since I quit my agency gig, I’ve had a lot of free time to actually get involved in initiatives that drive positive change in the industry. One of these is Women Who Create and I get to mentor a newbie WOC for three months, from helping her navigate politics at work to mapping out strategies to achieve her goals.
It’s not as formal as I’ve made it sound, honestly. It’s really a space for women of colour who are kicking down doors, shattering glass ceilings, and raising each other up. It’s a resource I wish I had six years ago.
And what’s c0ffe3 all about? Sounds intriguing.
During peak of BLM, when every industry was under scrutiny for not having enough diverse voices, often citing the “but we don’t know where to look for diverse talent” excuse, DE&I strategist Chelsea Curry came up with an innovative way to bridge that so-called gap!
She created C0ffe3, a fake company to help People of Colour land real jobs. So, it basically acts as a directory of diversity for recruiters and hiring managers looking to hire.
Ingenious. Then there’s Camp ADventure. What’s involved and where do you find the time?
VCU’s brand centre is a renowned school for advertising, and ADventure was their summer-long internship programme open to students and graduates from all over the world. They were given the very real task of creating 360 campaigns for a real NGO.
I heard about it on LinkedIn and decided to participate as a mentor. I had previously signed on as a mentor for Coffee At A Distance and had enjoyed my time speaking with students and young graduates about the industry.
With ADventure, I thought it would be great to not just share my experiences with them but also use my experiences to help them solve a real campaign brief. Honestly, with a full-time ad gig (I was at Saatchi & Saatchi then) it wasn’t as easy to manage these ‘extra-curriculars’, but I really wanted to be a part of the industry in a bigger way and was determined to make the time.
So let’s focus on the writing now. It all began in an editorial role at ELLE magazine, right? How do you move from that to being a social-media strategist?
Yes, my first job was quite glamorous, I suppose. I worked with high-end fashion brands, and met a whole bunch of glamorous influencers and taste-makers of the region.
But I also wanted to showcase the ever-changing society of the modern Arab world through my ELLE pioneer features where I wrote about some very cool and empowering Arab women changing the notion about what a modern-day Arab woman looks like.
I wanted to become an editor of the magazine in the future, which is why I decided to pursue a master’s in journalism at Northwestern University. However, halfway into my masters I realised becoming an editor, a reporter, a journalist was no longer something I was truly passionate about.
In addition to my j-school classes I took on more innovative courses from data analytics, user research, and a bunch of digital-marketing lessons to broaden my horizons and figure out what I truly wanted to pursue.
One of my courses was an integration of journalism and technology where we combined efforts with the computer-science majors to come up with technological solutions to problems journalists face in the 21st century.
My team and I came up with a language algorithm that would pick up the most important quotes from an article and tweet them out in picture form. It was called PicQuote.
I think that project really solidified the idea of working in social media for me and finding innovate ways to use different social platforms to help solve the needs of a client. This led to a residency at Wieden & Kennedy New York and, well, the rest is history!
And then copywriter at Saatchi and Saatchi Dubai, no less. How did that opportunity come about?
I had taken an eight-month sabbatical following a burnout at 24 and left the US to recuperate at my grandparents’ place in India, away from everyone and everything. After working on my mental and physical health, I moved back to Dubai to live with my parents.
I found that the agencies in the region were not as socially adept as they were in the States. Social strategy was limited to community management back then and I didn’t want to do that.
I heard Saatchi was hiring for a new social team and decided to give it a go. Turns out they were looking for a copywriter with a social background. The CCO of the agency basically took a chance with me (which I am eternally grateful for) and that’s how my career as a copywriter began!
What were your high notes at Saatchi’s?
I got to work with some very cool brands, from Dubai Tourism to Cadillac. My art partner and I also took bronze at Young Lions in 2019, which was very encouraging and validating, especially in my first year as a copywriter.
We were also the youngest team to pitch and win a pharma client and have them do a humorous pharma ad that ultimately resulted in them taking over the market share. Apart from work accomplishments, I also got to meet folks from all over the world. We were truly a global agency!
You feel at home in Dubai?
Dubai’s home to me, I’ve grown up there, so honestly, I wasn’t in awe of the city. But working in Dubai has given me a truly international work experience, even more than the US.
And now you’re copywriter at IKEA! How’s it going?
Yes! I’m loving client-side so far. As a firm believer in work-life balance, especially following all my health issues and breakdown, I wanted a more holistic work environment and honestly most agencies don’t quite provide that kind of work culture.
But IKEA is definitely a place where they truly care about your wellbeing and I am very happy to be working somewhere that actually practises what they preach.
I don’t have a primary art director. With every project, I work with someone new, which is different from what I’m used to, but I have no qualms with it. It actually helps me meet with my other colleagues (virtually) especially during COVID as we’re all WFH until the end of the year.
It’s different from an agency setup. Being a creative for the global communications means we set the communications strategy and tone of voice for the brand.
I also get to work on a lot of cool product launches, which involves thinking about comms strategy and coming up with innovative ways to communicate our products in a way that also works seamlessly across all markets.
What are you working on?
Ahh, I can’t disclose my projects at the moment as they involve next year’s new product range. Lots of cool new products on the way!
Any perks? Free Kallaz or Ektorps? Meatballs?
Too many to share ^ ^
What’s IKEA like as a place to work?
Very international, yet very Swedish, which is very cool! It’s a great place to learn about Swedish culture and also bring in your international perspective. Folks here are very diligent, and things are less chaotic in comparison to how a lot of agencies function.
You enjoying Swedish life?
Indeed! I’m enjoying the fresh air, beautiful nature, the fika breaks, the Swedish pastries. The more relaxed approach to life is a nice change from the grinding culture I had become accustomed to. Everything is ‘lagom’ here (just the right amount).
You’ve lived all over the world – the UK, the US, Dubai, Sweden. Which have you enjoyed most and why?
I think at this point in my life, it would have to be Sweden. I cannot emphasise this enough, but getting a taste of real work-life balance is so refreshing. I don’t know if I’d ever be able to enjoy work and have time for my other interests in other parts of the world. It was quite a struggle managing my powerlifting passions and a fulltime ad career in Dubai.
Ah, yes. The powerlifting thing…
I began powerlifting and weightlifting three years ago as a way to get my health back in order (I was morbidly obese with a lot of health issues). I started in a dingy little gym in this tiny little town (in India). It was a men’s-only gym, but I requested the trainer to take me on and he did.
I ended up losing over 60kgs, got my health on track but, more than the weight loss, it really helped me find my balance. Even while working in advertising, I actively pursued my passion for lifting, waking up at four in the morning to train before work.
I also have a PR of 475 kgs on the leg press! My friends and coworkers often joke about me being the tiniest and strongest person they know (I’m five foot 2)!
That’s pretty strong. How about your strengths as a writer?
I’m a versatile writer, thanks to all of my different writing experiences, which has helped me adapt very quickly into any role – be it ad copy or editorial lifestyle features.
My strategic background has also influenced my writing. I write with purpose. I’m six years into my career and definitely don’t feel like I know it all: I’m always learning and evolving my skills as a writer and am always open to feedback and constructive criticism.
Any thoughts about freelancing in the future?
Maybe! I’m still trying to figure out the logistics!
Any tips for budding writers?
Sometimes the hardest thing in writing – be it editorial, a manifesto, a simple banner even – is where to start. From my experience, I’ve learnt that you don’t really have to have a Cannes-worthy idea, you just need to word-vomit – word-vomit all your crappy ideas and eventually you’ll find some gems to work with.
Write as if you were writing for a 12 year old, keep things simple and clear and your idea will shine through!