With animals, what you see is what you get. With human beings, it’s more complicated

24 Oct,2011


Make no mistake about this: Lynn de Souza has a soft, warm, chilled out, happy exterior. But inside that resides a steely, tough, hard-edged professional. And she needed all that internal strength to survive and thrive in an industry notoriously dominated by what she calls the ‘Old Boys Club’. Lynn and I go a long way back, and this made our conversation frank, fun and, yes, highly argumentative. And we discussed many issues ranging from the dubious media research, the future of various media, her role in promoting gender equality, her formula for cleaning up the otherwise scandalous Goafest. And why she, er, chooses dogs over men.  


By Anil Thakraney


What’s your exact job portfolio at Lintas?


I look after Lintas Media Group, and our subsidiaries Karishma Initiative, Aaren Initiative and Lin TV. LMG and Karishma are media agencies, Aaren Initiative is the largest OOH agency and Lin TV produces and distributes branded content. I am responsible for their overall financial and reputation, health, corporate governance, etc.


Who do you report into?


Michael Wall, the global CEO of Lowe Worldwide.


Would you not like a global role now, having been there and done that in India?


Have I been there and done that in India? I don’t think so. India’s potential story is not even the tip of the iceberg, and I haven’t even travelled the whole tip yet! I would love to have a global role that is based out of India, because this is where it’s all happening. I am fiercely proud of India and all things Indian and it’s our time to show the globe a thing or two. We don’t need to be sitting in Manhattan or London to do that, in fact, that could be counterproductive.


Would it be correct to say you’ve reached the top of the Indian media peak?


More like the bottom of the ocean, which has the most beautiful creatures and colours in the world. There are so many challenges ahead, so much to learn and so much to do. Our lives as consumers of media are being transformed so rapidly it’s really hard to keep pace, and this rate of change is even faster in an emerging market like ours. What we thought we knew yesterday is no longer relevant today, and what we think we know today will not be relevant tomorrow. The only people who can be on top of all of this are those who want to keep learning and keep evolving and keep travelling. There is no place for those who think they have arrived.


What’s your goal for the next 10 years? What else would you like to achieve?


Goals are for footballers and 20-year-olds. I don’t have any. I am just happy to be alive, to have a wonderful family, to work with some awesome people, to have a few good friends, and to do my little bit for my four legged friends. I take each day at a time, that’s all, and just try to do the best I can for that day, honestly. When I was young, I did have plans and was ambitious, too ambitious. My values have changed. It’s important to be good at what you do, but it’s also important not to be so good that you become bad for everything else around you.


Key challenges ahead for the media buyers.


Look beyond the colour of money to the colour of advertising and media content, and the kaleidoscope of consumer insights. Get away from the keyboard and play some real piano now and then. Visit places they have never been to, in reality, and not only on 3G. Meet and talk to people from all cultures including, especially including, our villages in the length and breadth of our country. Data will never be a substitute for reality and as long as we hold on to it for dear life, we will continue to reduce the value of the media, and the consumers they deliver, to the lowest common denominator – a CPRP.


Are our creative people ready for the new media? And the clients?


I think the younger ones are. I have been meeting a lot of independent digital agencies recently, and it’s always great fun to meet their founders – usually young creatives and techies who have left traditional agencies and employers to write their own dreams and ‘apps’! You would also be surprised how many clients are now taking to what you call ‘new’ media like fish to water. There are lot of questions and uncertainties and domain knowledge issues of course, but there is no dearth of desire to learn, because user technology has become so easy and enjoyable that once they use the digital spaces for themselves, they want to start using them for their brands.


Was media unbundling a good thing? You pioneered it.


It was the best thing to happen to the media function. Till then, media planners were languishing in the backrooms with their big red NRSs and estimates, always at the tail end of a presentation and often sent home without even presenting. Making the function profit seeking in its own right attracted the right kind of front-room talent, investment in tools and databases and the ability to then cope with a magnifying media world. Which industry has seen such an explosion of new offerings in such a short time – 600 TV channels, 70,000 print titles, 350 radio stations, and countless websites, all in 15 years or less? Unbundling has allowed us to specialize enough to cope with this growth, possibly even enable this growth.


Predict the future of the print media in India. Newspapers are shutting down all over the world.


You need to separate form from content. Newspapers abroad have digital versions that have a much larger following than the newsprint version. I read the NY Times every day because the reading experience is so enriching, it doesn’t matter that I don’t live in that city. As long as people have eyes, they will read, and as long as they read, there will be something delivering the news to them in a written form… in newsprint or cyberspace, or Kindles, how does it matter? About India, do you know that the highest read newspaper in the world is a Hindi daily? Regional language papers have trebled in readership in the last ten years. Tier two and three cities, where literacy is still not even 70% and growing, register the highest growth.


And what about television?


TV will be fully digitized very shortly and this means that the convergence of content across digital broadcast, web and telephony platforms is almost here. My agency is already producing content for television, re-purposed for mobile, and developing web apps to go along. As are many others. Consumers follow and lead content, so to track them and predict their behavior will be very important, our measurement systems will need to keep pace and adopt new technologies to capture, retrieve and analyze data.


There are too many complaints about media research in India. What can be done to change things?


There’s an overload of data in some aspects. We have different data sources for different media. And there’s no one single source available. That’s why many of the media agencies invest in their own studies. We have our own, for example. What worries me is that nobody’s looking at the future. So that we have future-ready research which is truly centered around the consumer. I told the IRS people that they need to think ahead. They have a 10-year-old way of collecting data and that has to change.


Also TV viewership measurement.


That’s why you can’t recommend media only on that basis. Which is why a lot of us have our own proprietary research which picks up a whole lot of other aspects. You cannot rely only on these data sources.


That’s no solution. We need few but reliable research studies which the whole industry can follow.


It’s not necessary for everything to be done at the industry level. You do things at an industry level when you want a currency. When you want a common parked research where both the buyer and the seller access it, so it becomes a currency. But if you want to do things that are genuinely good for the brand, you develop a whole lot of other proprietary studies, which many of us do.


Lynn, frankly I am disappointed with you. You’ve spent a lifetime in the media industry, you’ve done it all, you’ve made your money. Isn’t it time for you to think of the industry and take on the challenge of reforming media research so that everyone benefits?


If I did that, I wouldn’t say it to you. If I had any ambitions that I want to change something, I would quietly go about doing it my way. Three years ago, I didn’t want that there should be two research agencies, the IRS and the NRS. I was sitting on both the committees and I found both doing the same things, both saying the same things, so I said why can’t they be together. So quietly, at both meetings, I would suggest let’s have only one study. It took three years of doing this before the RSCI got formed. They’ve elected me as the first Chairman and we had our first meeting only last week. I am hoping we will change the readership agenda of this nation. Print is still the largest medium in India, and if the RSCI works out, we will make a big change. But I won’t thump my chest and say ‘Hum yeh kar rahe hain, hum woh kar rahe hain!’ (Laughs.)


Not enough. You should take on media research full-time, and become the Queen B who made a huge difference.


(Long pause.) I promise to give it a serious thought just to please you. (Laughs loudly.) But I will not commit to anything you wish me to commit to!


You’ve cleaned up Goafest. There were no scandals this year. How did you do it?


I am a great delegator. And I give a lot of respect to people I delegate to. So we had Shashi (Sinha) completely given the role of running the awards. I gave Sundar the role of running the conclave. I looked after the organizing and the venue. The most important thing I did for Goafest was to create an impression of being clean. I looked for a very clean looking place, I changed the venue itself. So it looked fresher, cleaner, greener. That had a very subtle effect. Then, I roped in the ASCI and the IAA with the responsibility agenda on the first one and the sustainability agenda on the second one. That gave the impression we are doing something good for the industry, and not just pampering creative egos.


How did you handle the problem of self-voting?


Shashi led that and he did a fantastic job. People were not allowed to self-vote. One or two individuals who were supposedly high on self-voting in the past were not included as judges this time.

But Lintas still won’t take part in the awards…


We do not have any confidence in the awards given by our peers. I was given a job to do, to chair Goafest. I was forced to do it, and I did it to the best of my ability. But that’s different. You know, I served at the Cannes media jury in 2009 and it was a fantastic experience. It was professionally run, it was technically advanced. I have served on the Indian juries as well, and it was nonsense, though am sure this time around they did a better job. I have seen the behaviour of our peers, the kind of lobbying and planning that goes on. As an agency we are not into chest-thumping. But when our agency wins awards because our clients have won, I value those because the consumers voted us.


But now that you’ve cleaned up the place, will Balki take part next year?


That you have to ask him. But it has to do with the value you place behind awards. Not everyone thinks awards are the best thing in life.


Looks like you’ve fallen in line with Balki’s ideology.


(Laughs.) On the contrary he may be falling in my line! We have our own independent reasons.


What’s this about women’s rights you’ve been promoting?


Internationally, diversity and inclusion is a big agenda. As a part of that agenda, two years back, IPG asked me to set up and lead the women’s leadership network. Initially I refused. I didn’t think there should be segregation of any kind. Later I studied the subject in detail, and I realized there’s a very powerful economic reason why you have to support women. There are three ‘Ws’ that will transform this century: Web, Weather and Women. And the power that women are exerting on this century is enormous. It’s said if women were empowered at Wall Street in 2009. things wouldn’t have been the way they were. In India we have 29 women heading banks and financial institutions. So there is an approach that women bring to the table that improves the productivity of a team. So it’s important to keep and retain women. At IPG, 30% of our staff are women, and when you come to the top, it’s just 11%.


How do we change this inequality?


We need hardcore practices in place. We can have a hiring quota set aside for women. I believe last month Hindustan Lever hired only women. We need to make everybody conscious we are not doing anything special for women. We have to make men and women understand that when you work together, you do well. For example, Coca Cola has something called the ‘Power of 3’. They believe that in any big team, the minute you have three women in the team, the group becomes far more productive. And if you have just one woman in the team, she gets eaten up.


But Lynn, women falling out along the way is a social problem. Babies have to be looked after. How will you change that?


You try and keep them engaged in the work orce. Some of the things we’ve done include giving them the option to work from home when they are pregnant. By giving them a desktop mirroring system at home. That’s literally like working in the office. There are lots of such ways in which you can keep women productive even if they have babies.


Personally, I am quite cynical about this whole thing. You can’t change deeprooted beliefs and attitudes so simplistically.


Anil, you are basically cynical about everything! Anil ‘bloody cynical’ Thakraney! (Laughs.)


Why are all ad agencies headed by men?


In the creative agencies there is a very strong old boy’s club. It’s very difficult for women to break through into that club. And if they don’t play by those rules, they will not break into it. Read my blog on this (link).

Exactly why were the 3As of I guys giving you stress? Why didn’t they want you in?


(Long pause.) Because I am clean.



You found corrupt activities going on?


(A longer pause this time.) No comment.



One rival media chief you admire.


Sam Balsara. He’s awesome. A hardcore desi boy with so much energy, he does so much.



The best boss you’ve had.


Ravi Gupta. And Steve Gatfield.



One thing you learnt to do from Roda Mehta?


Two things. Precision and integrity.



One thing you learnt NOT to do from Roda.


(Thinks.) Over-precision. Beyond a point you have to just let it go, you don’t need perfection.



Roda didn’t just do the media job, she built the media planning and buying industry in India. None of you guys have been able to do that. She was a game changer.


It’s not needed. You don’t need a crusader in today’s world. You need inventors and innovators. In today’s world we need enablers. Twenty years ago it was different, it was the licence era, there were strictures and rules. Today there’s far more freedom. No one wants a crusader. Everyone wants an enabler.



Would it be correct to say you love dogs more than men?


(Laughs.) Why only dogs, any animal. With animals, what you see is what you get. With human beings it’s more complicated.



Is that the reason you are still single?


No, it has nothing to do with that. I didn’t find anyone as intellectually stimulating as… my dog! (Laughs.) Are you happy to hear that?



Have you watched Balki’s two films?


I haven’t watched ‘Cheeni Kum’ yet. And Balki hasn’t forgiven me for that. But he sent me the ‘Paa’ DVD, and I really liked it. I didn’t watch the last five minutes of the film though. Because I wanted to make my own ending. I wanted the character to live. So I made him into a dog. (Laughs.)

Post a Comment 

3 responses to “With animals, what you see is what you get. With human beings, it’s more complicated”

  1. Dara says:

    The link ought to have been


  2. Pratap Bose says:

    Lot of factual errors Anil …. call me and I will tell you about it -:)) Pratap Bose

  3. Shilpa Raheja says:

    I totally enjoyed reading it …..though i do not know much about the industry , it was very engrossing and insightful 🙂

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