MxM Mondays: Is India ready for cross-pollination between varying media functions?

26 Nov,2012


By Ananya Saha


Harris Diamond, a true-blue PR professional, has taken charge of McCann Erickson – a creative advertising network. We spoke to a cross-section of professionals who have been through this transition and have helped facilitate it, to ask: “Is India ready for cross-pollination between various media functions?”


Ajay Kakar, Chief Marketing Officer, Aditya Birla Group – Financial Services

Let me just pull back in history, and say that cross-pollination has been a way of life for many years. I say so as a person who has been through this journey himself. In 1991, I joined O&M. I had first started in Direct Marketing and was then into advertising. When I left in 2003, I was an Executive Director of financial advertising corporate relations at O&M. In 1991, there was a shift from direct marketing to advertising and in 2003, a shift again from advertising plus public relations and I was a Country Head for that. If you look back in time, there have been opportunities for people to cross-pollinate at middle-and-senior-levels.


What you are today seeing is happening at the senior-most level, which is a great endorsement of a need for a brand perspective rather than a mere advertising or public relations or digital or direct marketing perspective. In normal talking, we equate brand to advertising and advertising to brand. If you ask a marketer, advertising is one cog in the wheel. In the communication mix, you have to take a holistic perspective. And to take a holistic perspective, it is ideal if you have a holistic experience. Otherwise, typically, if you have an advertising mindset, it will never be able to think out of the ’30-sec’ mould. I think it is very important to have and support cross-pollination and I think this is a great move.


Secondly, advertising has always been the sexier, the more glamorous, and more attractive profession to be in. As I said, very often advertising is synonymous to its brands. But having been there, public relations is far higher in the strategic evolution order. If you are an advertising person, you get to engage with the brand manager or on a good day, with the marketing head who only talk to you about the brand. But if you are in PR, you have the power to partner CEOs and boardroom. And therefore, get a perspective on not only the brand but also on the business. And therefore, I feel that that recognition of strategic contribution that an agency can play a role in the brand or company.


It has happened for decades, but rarely and not regularly. If you ask me top-of-mind, I cannot think of a second name. Anyone else who might have cross-pollinated like I did, I cannot think of a name instantly.


As far as challenge is concerned, there is a perception barrier at both ends. An employee thinks that advertising is front-end, advertising is sexy, advertising is glamorous, and as perception other functions are not considered sexy or appealing – it is seen as not a move forward in one’s professional career. On the other hand, from the company’s perspective, you need a manager for business but you also need a leader. There is two-way of thinking. One perception is if I have managed one function with people, I can manage advertising, I can manage PR, I can manage direct marketing. The people have to know the discipline, and I do not necessarily have to know the discipline.


People who have shifted from advertising in O&M to direct marketing included Prita Singh and Harish Vasudevan. They did not know direct marketing but their perception was “we do not need to know and we have to manage people, clients, business, and we have to manage people who know direct marketing”. On the other hand, there is a perception by the company that you have to be a leader and not only a manager. As a leader you have to talk to the client in the language he has come to me. If he comes to me to talk about PR and I talk to him about commercials, he is not going to be very excited with me. And therefore, why cross-pollinate.


From an employee’s perspective, most people think it is not a move up in life and is not glamorous and for a company, moving people is seen as leader or not a leader. There is perceptional barrier to such moves.


A person who actually cross-pollinates, benefits as they take the holistic picture of a brand and business. And therefore, agencies should encourage it at mid-levels so that by the time a person becomes senior, he has already had a 360-degree perspective.


O&M used to have a mantra called 360-degree brand perception. Now that normally happens with an agency that has disciplines beyond advertising. O&M has many disciplines. They used to think that instead of going to clients as an individual discipline, why don’t they combine and approach a brand rather than just advertising or PR or direct marketing. They wanted to create a cadre of Brand Team Leaders (BTL concept). The leader was supposed to be discipline-neutral and he would lead a team of people who were specialists. That did not too well because of this hierarchical brahminical order, they filled up the roles with advertising people. They could not thus get out the best benefits out of other disciplines.


A true brand leader is a member who has actually experienced, learnt and benefited from all disciplines. And therefore, if it happens at middle level, by the time he reaches senior level he can command leadership and lead the thinking. According to me, BTL concept could have worked very well and much better if it was a person who had experience of two-three disciplines and was then made a BTL.


Cross-pollination is very good for businesses and brands if initiated at a relatively middle level so that real benefit comes at the senior level.


Abha Kapoor, Executive Director, K&J Search Consultants

K&J is known to place seniormost professionals from outside the media industry in a media company. Forget the cross-pollination among media affiliates, we have placed FMCG and Telecom person in to media: from heading radio stations, broadcast channels and entire media conglomerate. A recent example being Amit Jain from Coke who went on to head MTV, Sudhanshu Vats from Unilever who went on to become Group CEO of ss-Viacom 18. We believe in and encourage cross-pollination because talent gets jaded and you need fresh thought, fresh blood. Anybody who has that experience at scale and understanding of business as a whole and has maturity and leadership skills, can transition into a new industry.


Forget the cross-pollination within media or media vertical, we believe that someone who ideally has the intelligence and education can easily transition into a senior management role from an unrelated industry. We are very happy when we see this cross-pollination because a completely different perspective comes into play. People who have come into media have handled people at much larger scale.


The intrinsic challenge is to understand the business and the sector for a person who comes into media from having good experience in handling another industry or some other media vertical. This is an obvious challenge given that they have not been exposed to a different industry earlier. Somebody from FMCG would have come from a structured set-up, and would have worked with certain processes and systems while some of our media verticals might be chaotic. Someone who is structured in their thinking might not be able to transition so easily, whereas someone more dynamic can learn and run with the ball in a couple of months. They need to understand the dynamics of media. Creative people are obviously a bit different to handle, which is not so difficult when one has the capability and track record of running a successful business and has the capability to learn and bring a new perspective to a new challenge.


Anita Nayyar, CEO, Havas Media India & South Asia

Typically at the CXO level, roles are industry agnostic. There are the challenges of industry norms, processes, core domain knowledge, nuances and network but a whole supporting team exists and CXO’s are trained to manage and navigate these.


On the positive side, cross-pollination can bring innovative business ideas. This is also not the first instance in Indian industry which does see its benefits but it is far from becoming a policy anytime soon, a trend yes. A lot here will depend on the mind-set, culture, objective and present need of a company. Also an existing group with multi-dimensional media arms will be more ready to work the shift as in this case as the candidate is experienced in the group’s culture and business ecosystem.


Here Harris Diamond is not from the industry yet he is of it; understands business needs across industry, knows how to bring in the revenue and handle a group of agencies. He will bring in alternate views, positively contribute and revel in the creativity. Clearly McCann believed he would provide the edge.


Vikram Chhachhi, Executive Vice President at DHR International

Yes, it has been happening in India. I do not know of the names offhand. The cross-pollination is actually health for not only media, but for any kind of industry. It brings in new ideas, thoughts and concepts. It brings in fresh insights or styles with how people see, do or approach things. The entire media and consumer space is seeing a lot of conversion that is happening. And it will continue to happen for a long time to come.


The challenges are based on how people accept or reject change and how people re-align themselves. The challenges are all around the acceptance of people to the changes happening around the marketplace: are they active, reactive, and responsive to these.


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