He has obtained his bachelor’s degree in Marketing from the University of Sri Jayewardenepura and holds a Master of Business Administration degree from the Postgraduate Institute of Management at the same university.He started his career in 2004, by joining a Colombo-based online travel agency (Roomsnet.com) as an e-Commerce executive and held the position of e-Commerce manager when he finished his six-year tenure. In 2010, Amitha joined the global advertising giant Ogilvy & Mather as the head of Neo@Ogilvy, a new business unit specializing in digital advertising.
In addition, Amitha plays an active role in disseminating digital marketing knowledge among young students of marketing in Sri Lanka. He has played a pioneering role in introducing Digital Marketing as a subject stream to the curricula of University of Sri Jayewardenepura, University of Kelaniya and Sri Lanka Institute of Marketing.
Following is the exclusive interview of Amitha Amarasinghe with Nerdynaut for Nerd Talks.
I like to introduce myself as a professional marketer and a passionate learner. I am a passionate learner of anything which interests me. As a school kid, I had the habit of reading and studying everything other than what was there in the school text books. Even today, I keep that habit of learning something new every day. Some people introduce me as a Social Media expert or a Digital Marketing expert. I am neither of these two. I am still a learner, trying to keep up with the ever changing world of marketing.
Well, I never had an ambition while I was at school. I was just the average kid who was never noticed by the teacher. Kids around me talked about becoming doctors, engineers and all sorts of things. I remember I had a passion for gadgets and electronics when I was about 12 years old. I did all those DIY electronic circuits, which were a common passion for most teenagers in early 90’s. But lately, when I was studying for my O/Ls, Social Studies became one of my favorite subjects. I became passionate about world history and simple economics lessons which were parts of that subject. It changed my direction of being an ‘electronic geek’ into being more of a ‘social explorer’. Eventually, I ended up doing my A/Ls in commerce stream, purely because of my passion to learn Economics in more detail.
Answer is “No” to both questions ☻. I didn’t have much of a vision for my future as a school kid. So without a vision or an ambition, how can one have barriers to achieve them? All I wanted to do was play cricket, watch Bollywood movies and study something whenever I get a free time. You can assume that, my parents were not particularly happy about this behavior. But looking back, I can say I did one thing really right. I managed to grasp the concepts of the subjects I learned for my A/Ls as a personal passion, rather than cramming the notes forcefully. I didn’t realize it then, but now when I look back I realize I did it very differently compared to those other kids who thought that studying is all about reading the class notes over and over again. When I got my A/L results, I was ranked 17th in my district and 485th in the entire Island. That was a surprise for my parents to see their child who never made it to the top 10 of the class, becoming 17th in the whole district. To date, I take that as the biggest defining moment in my life. That achievement was enough for me to enter the most prestigious national university for Management Studies and follow a B.Sc. course in Marketing Management.
Currently I work as the head of Neo@Ogilvy in Sri Lanka. It’s the digital media arm of Ogilvy & Mather in Sri Lanka. We provide digital advertising, social media and performance marketing solutions for more than 15 local and multinational clients. We have most probably the biggest and most experienced digital agency team in Sri Lanka with 23 digital specialists with over 70 years of collective experience in digital marketing.
I was with the right skills at the right time and I networked with the right people. After my graduation, I joined a Colombo based e-Commerce company named Roomsnet.com. Even to date, I consider Roomsnet as my second university. There I learned a number of modern marketing skills such as Search Engine Marketing, Analytics, Social Media Marketing and Online Community Management. There were very few marketers in Sri Lanka who had the opportunity to have hands on experience in those areas at the early years of 2006, 2007. One thing I did was, I not only learned these skills myself but I helped spreading the knowledge around. I started my blog amisampath.com in 2007 to share my knowledge. In 2009, I was invited by one of my university lecturers Mr. Maxwell Ranasinghe, to deliver a small lecture about ‘Social Media Marketing’ at one of the meet-up events for past graduates of Department of Marketing Management at University of Sri Jayawardenepura. Mr. Lalith Sumanasiri, the Managing Director of Ogilvy Media was one of the participants of that meet-up. He listened to my presentation about how Social Media can change the marketing landscape in Sri Lanka in years to come. Exactly one year later, I got a call from Lalith and offered me to join Ogilvy to head a newly formed department for Digital Media. I have read couple of books written by David Ogilvy, while I was at the university and somewhere deep inside me there was this thought; “if I work for an ad agency one day, that would be for Ogilvy & Mather”. And it was my moment, to fulfill that dream. I accepted the job and today that department is known as Neo@Ogilvy Sri Lanka.
Do you think you are successful in your career life? So what are the reasons for your answer?
I have lot more to achieve ☻. I don’t think, apart from taking a ‘different path’ in the marketing field, I have achieved much great success compared to some of the veteran marketers in Sri Lanka. I’m still a learner and I have a long way to go before I can talk about career achievements.
How do you view failures in your life? So what are the lessons did you learn from those failures? Were they advantageous to your life?
I am not boasting, but the truth is I have never experienced ‘failures’ in my life. Well, maybe I may not see certain situations as failures which other people may easily interpret as failures. Every time when someone asks me this question, I go blank. Maybe I haven’t taken enough risks in my life ☻.
I like to know about your family background in brief. How are they influencing you?
I have a very supportive life partner as my wife. She’s the best! And my two lovely kids are my inspiration for life and the source of my happiness. From childhood, I had two very supportive parents and two loving elder sisters. Most of the time, my family members don’t understand what I do as a profession. Most of my relatives, cousins, in-laws etc are doctors, bankers, lawyers or government servants. So how can I expect them to understand the role of a Digital Marketer? ☻
What do you think about the new generation as a lecturer or professional personality? Do they have right qualifications for right job that they expect? Are there any advices for them to develop their career life in the future?
My first advice to all my students of all the classes I teach is “Don’t follow the crowd”. I see lots of young people make their career choices and studies choices based on social norm and social pressure. The moment they pass O/L, all of them want to become doctors and engineers. For god’s sake, there are other professions in the world. Then when they somehow get into the path of becoming a marketer, everybody wants to become a marketing manager in a handful of selected multinational companies. There are other career paths within the field of marketing and there are so many start-up companies and challenger brands at which you can prove your skills. So, essentially my advice is; always try to develop a unique skill and be different.
Digital marketing is a very important platform for any organization. What do you think about current Sri Lankan usage of these digital media?
We are very laid-back when it comes to experimenting with digital. People are very comfortable with what they have known for decades. Nobody really wants to challenge this status quo and do things differently. For example, every time a group of marketers plan a new campaign in Sri Lanka, a TVC script and a TV media plan is included by default in the master plan. Of course TV still is the biggest reached media in Sri Lanka, but there are some occasions where you can be more efficient and effective if you select some of the new mediums as the lead channel for your communications plan. We need more marketers with guts who can challenge the status-quo and try out new formulas.
What do you think about balancing the career life & personal life?
When you don’t mix these two things, you don’t have to balance it. You live your life as usual, while attending to your expected professional role. Honestly, I have never felt any issues in this area. There are sometimes I felt that I am not spending enough time with my kids at home. The moment I get that feeling, I block all my work schedules and go for a weekend break with the family. That helps me to come refreshed for work again.
What are the unique methods do you possess to achieve career goals?
Again, I don’t have career goals. I have life goals. Those are not SMART objectives as we learn in management schools. Those are some distantly vague desires. Those goals keep me awake and motivated to do best in my career.
Please tell me a person you respect in your life? Are there any special reasons for that? Or do you follow his/her in your career life ?
I respect every person who helped me even in a little way, to get me where I am now. I can point it out to a single person, but it’s a long list. Apart from my parents who spent their entire wealth on educating us to do better in life, I have few special people who helped me at different milestones in my life. One person is Mr. Nanda Kandambi, who used to be our section head and the teacher of Economics at Rahula College, Matara. He is a special teacher I admire a lot. Then, I always respect the guidance given to me by Mr. Maxwell Ranasinghe as a university lecturer. I can’t forget Suranga Priyashantha, my university batch mate who got me into this Digital Marketing field. He was the one who recommended me to Roomsnet.com. Finally, it is my immediate boss at Ogilvy, Lalith Sumanasiri. He helped me a lot to develop myself as a team leader and thanks to him I got the opportunity to join Ogilvy.
Finally, do you have anything to say? This is the time for you.
I think I’ve said it all ☻.