Creating a niche in the complex world of multicultural marketing: an exclusive interview with Manish Tiwari
Manish Tiwari, managing director of Here and Now 365
By Swarupa Tripathy
Coming to the UK was a breath of fresh air for Manish Tiwari, the founder and managing director of multicultural marketing agency Here and Now 365, as he became aware of a new world of possibilities when it came to making a career.
Having completed his master’s at the Sheffield Hallam University in creative writing, Tiwari, who has a bachelor’s degree in engineering, found that he had escaped a “pressured system” back in India. A system where many were limited to certain professions that promised to offer financial security and stability to the person.
In the present day, he agrees, that even though some change has come about, this mentality of sticking to safer career options still persists among many middle class Indians. Only with time, it has translated to success at a global level as we are seeing many Indians leading top companies across the world. He says, “In the Indian society, I think they need to kind of put the pressure off, and then see what is good.” He feels that the country still has a long way to go, as more emphasis is still being put on scientific research and less in promoting arts.
Tiwari began his career in the UK as a writer and eventually went into advertising, an area he had gained experience in during his time in India. He mentions, “I moved to London. I got lucky, I got a break, and then I moved to publishing. So, all these were sequence of events, but I also realised that eventually I have to create my own niche.”
After coming to London, his perception of the city was transformed as he realised that the city was a “potpourri” of different cultures, which led to him embarking on a new journey in the field of advertising. He admits that was fortunate to have worked with a client who was targeting different communities, which is exactly what he was looking for.
This client was a telecom company and was “actively engaging” with over 30 different diasporas. It was the perfect opportunity for Tiwari to get the needed exposure to build up on his idea and do something bigger.
He also worked for Central Office of Information (COI), that gave him an opportunity to pitch to different public service campaigns. It was then that the concept of setting up a full service multicultural advertising agency came into fruition.
“That gave us a lot of exposure because when you try to work in the public sector or for the government, you kind of understand the nuances of what you’re dealing with in a textbook style. It gives you a lot of room to explore. You understand what different communities mean and what the recent history of migration is,” he reveals.
In a “hyper commercial world”, Tiwari believes that we are slowly seeing a certain level of homogenisation in the country, especially in big cities and towns which has resulted in a “loss of cultural diversity”. He adds, “And I’m talking about cultural diversity, which is in a sense very English. I’m not talking about cultural diversity in the sense of what we call in the modern world – multicultural.”
Image by LinkedIn @Manish Tiwari
He attests to the fact that when people come to know about his business, Here and Now 365, as being a “multicultural specialist”, they tend to believe that it is “purely a function of immigrants and diaspora”.
However, Tiwari looks at his business in a different way. His mission is to reverse the effects of an increasingly homogenised British culture that is the direct consequence of “extreme commercialisation”. He then explains, “What we do as a business ends up more geared towards deciphering what the brands want to do to reach out to more and more people.”
His work is reminiscent to his upbringing in India where the society was very diverse and consisted of people from various religious backgrounds interacting with each other. Tiwari finds that today, the Indian society has changed to an extent as the differences among people based on their religious beliefs is much more openly talked about. However, in the UK, he says, “There was never a second thought that someone is from a different religion or different background. It came very easily, you kind of have that expansion in your consciousness that you have people from different faiths, understanding, beliefs and you want to work together.”
Speaking of his firm, which was established in 2006, Tiwari enlightens us that the name was the result of several self-help and self-awareness books he was reading at the time, which suggested that to live a good life, one must live in the moment – ‘here and now’. Surprisingly, this also sat perfectly with him wanting to build “a business about today” and he decided to go forward with it.
When asked about the British Asian market, he highlighted that it has evolved over the years, with three prominent waves of Asian immigrants – the first wave consisting mostly of uneducated and mostly isolated people who were brought to the UK to make up for the shortage of labour. The second wave included immigrants from Kenya and Uganda, who went on to become very successful financially and professionally. The third wave, he says, saw then prime minister Gordon Brown who was in office from 2007 to 2010, encourage highly qualified urban Indians to come to the UK and be a part of the Silicon Roundabout, at the Old Street in London after the government noticed that it was falling behind the US in developing the sector.
He says that the second and third wave of Asians integrated themselves very well with the British culture, especially in a cosmopolitan city like London. However, there are still some parts of the UK with a significant Asian population where one can see that “they came a long back and things have not changed so much”.
Tiwari’s concept of multicultural marketing caters to this aspect. “You kind of pick up the common threads, create those inroads into communities and find those common grounds,” he says.
He speaks about the importance of a multicultural society with the UK being the best example, shedding light on the concept of ‘global citizenship’ which has materialised as people get exposed to different cultures and traditions observed by others. With this level of globalisation, what happens to one community in a country affects several others. As a result, Tiwari adds, “We are not completely restricted by a narrow sense or narrow definition of identity.” He notes that in India and the US, people are encouraged to have a strong sense of identity with their nationality and a lot of emphasis is put on showcasing how ‘Indian’ or ‘American’ one is. This is not the case with the UK, he says, “The multicultural discourse is important and how we kind of treat the society as a tool to educate ourselves, to learn to live with each other and to appreciate the way we culturally live.”
Manish Tiwari was conferred The Freedom of the City title on 6 January 2023 (Image by Here and Now 365)
He is particularly proud of the “shift” in how people view certain cultures and traditions in modern day Britain. In an interview, prominent British Asian film director Gurinder Chadha mentioned how her children were proud to celebrate the Hindu festival of lights – Diwali. This was not the case when Chadha was a young girl herself, as she and many other Indian kids residing in predominantly white areas felt ashamed to be celebrating it with their families. He says that beyond its “commercial nature”, this is the very objective of what he does, adding, “We tell people to take pride in who they are in terms of culture, and in terms of what their roots are. The society as a whole has to own that piece of who they are and what it means. Otherwise it’s just a whitewashed society which would not have any depth of understanding and connecting, but will just be used as commercial tools.”
He continues that the UK today is “a different country”. “Unless you start living here and experience day to day, you see the very fabric of this country and how the DNA has changed.” He continues, “We’ve imbibed something from each other and that’s where you have this need for agencies like us for the products which they (brands) produce.”
After building a successful marketing company, Tiwari admits that he still faces many challenges, especially when walking into the “citadels of commercial enterprise”. The major obstacle comes from “global multinationals” who take a very “different approach to things”. He says, “I’ve been working with many national brands, and I’ve hardly found any of the national agencies actually willing to cooperate because they always see you as a threat, even if you are doing something completely different”. He adds that there are not any institutions that “support small to medium enterprises, or which actually do anything meaningful in that area”.
While he is not against big corporations, he says that some of them “put their own metrics, their own interpretations” and “they would rather put an English ad done in a very different way on multicultural media than create content which is relevant for it” as they are mostly looking for “group, money, power”.
However, despite this, he says that there are people who have championed him and his efforts to build a successful business. With big clients like Asda and TRS, he says that there are people out there who will believe in you and “you’ll find those champions in unlikely places and they take it forward”.
Here and Now 365 is now expanding its operations globally with offices in the US and South Africa. Tiwari expresses his excitement to see what lies ahead. He reveals that it has given him a level of confidence about the need of multicultural marketing in the world, where campaigns are conceptualised in an open form of interpretation and is not driven by “hard American consumerism”. He also says that he wants to put “more emotion” into his work and breakaway from the stereotypes and adds, “We need to have society on an equal footing where people feel confident from different communities and cultures to stand up for themselves.” In an increasingly digital world, he also believes that the traditional forms of marketing still hold relevance and some level of balance needs to be maintained between the two.
Through his experience and inspiring journey, Tiwari is a beacon of knowledge when it comes to starting one’s own business. He recalls that he did not even think that he was an entrepreneur until people started putting that label on him. He advises against jumping into being an entrepreneur just because others seem to be doing “cool things” as “running a business means you have constant pressure on your time, you are doing things which you are not necessarily suitable to do… which can mean work with finance, with all kinds of little pieces, which you may not be ready for”.
He adds that it is imperative to have motivation, tenacity and “the right people in your orbit” whether it be friends, advisors or those working with you. “On your own you are nobody, you can do limited number of things,” he asserts.
Tiwari signs off by saying that in a business, sometimes, there will be betrayals from trusted people. The entrepreneur needs to have a strong personality to be able to handle such unfortunate situations as “that takes more energy than anything”. He tells all the aspiring entrepreneurs to consciously build a business that has the “ability to be able to stand on its own in the market” knowing exactly what the goal is.