Sanjeev Kotnala: INMA South Asia Conference: The House of Inertia

19 Nov,2014

By Sanjeev Kotnala


The INMA South Asia Conference went through the rituals on November 12 and 13 with total dedication. It was a somewhat smaller gathering from the earlier editions. The networking break was redefining with 50 percent delegates either representing sponsors or The Times of India group. The opening address, macro-data session and panel discussions were monotonous set pieces with little variation. The expected hedging of opinions and futuristic statements were ruthlessly displayed. The lack of transparent nakedness and trust amongst industry stalwarts was as loud as a Salman Khan movie.


The lack of second level of leadership was apparent. The same set of faces stared at you from the dais, making statements that have refused to move forward in time. This is not the way to address or seek new ideas.


“Next year, we will celebrate the silver jubilee of the cover price discussion” was a relevant comment from a senior industryperson. This was immediately after CEO panel with the theme ‘Options to Grow Newspaper Revenues Beyond Advertising’ moderated by DD Purkayastha with Sanjay Gupta, Rajiv Verma, Pawan Agarwal and Rajiv C Lochan as speakers. With due respect, other than Lochan (possibly, because he is new in the game), all were diplomatic in their speaking if not thinking. Cover price, content justification, advertorial, news plants and events were briefly celebrated in discussions. Unfortunately, no one referred to low cover price as the strategic entry barrier, which it is. The internal mistrust among titles remained unaddressed.


Rewind to 2011 or 2012, I may have got the year wrong but the panel was same with few changes. The cover price issue was raised then and Sanjay Gupta said: “If 7 people on this dias decide to change the cover price, it can happen tomoorow – but we will always be with a  shadow of doubt – debating who will be the first to blink.” And that is the ugly truth we don’t want to accept.


For the umpteenth time, INMA CEO Earl Wilkinson tried to showcase an urgent need to evolve to Print+Digital, the new way of approaching content and the business. His presentation with a powerfully passionate delivery ‘A Window to the World: Media Worldwide And Its Relevance to South Asia’ seeemed a rehash of the same idea with newer support examples. He presented  relevant examples demonstrating the media companies adaptation/ exploitation/ defending/ amplifying the use of new realities of a multi-platform brand.


However, if you looked at this year’s INMA South Asia Conference with an open mind strongly searching for positives, the picture could be different.


One of the highlights was Santosh Desai’s presentation titled ‘Changing Consumer Behaviour: An Expert’s Opinion’. It brought alive the unspoken imperatives for the newspaper business, leaving the audience to complete the imperatives-cause-result loop in their mind. A nice move.


The panel discussion ‘Search engine/aggregator: Friend or foe?’ led by a well-prepared Paritosh Joshi with strong speakers Ashwani Kumar, Punitha Arumguam and Anant Rangaswami was interesting. They spurred with thoughts with brutal honesty. Though it remained inconclusive, the content and digitisation aggregator roles were dissected for their impact across the business. Though one missed participation from a content businessperson from the Search Engine in the discussion.


It pained to see a totally relevant subject ‘UnMetro your mind- Emerging India Opportunities in Markets Beyond the Metros’ plugged by Dainik Bhaskar with smart AV fizzling out in discussions. The context was aptly created by Kaacon Sethi in her inimitable style but could not sustain it in discussions with Lloyd Mathias and Sanjay Tripathy.  The whole spectrum of possibility remained in sepia tones.


The editorial session ‘How is Newsmedia Driving Change?’ boomed with sharp observations and comments by Harivansh in the panel moderated by Nicholas Dawes. He did plug Prabhat Khabar but he was one of the best. The so-called Integrated Newsroom, a buzz of 2011, is yet to become a reality in this zone as we continue to grapple with changing realities. There was unanamity in the panel on need for social-level enagement with readers and the newspapers do need to involve themselves in ground-changing programmes.


It was interesting to watch Dawes correctly deciphering comments by Harivansh (in Hindi) without much knowledge of the language. INMA could have got an immediate translation of done of his comments and projected on screen to help not only the moderator but also the delegates not conversant with Hindi.


The HR session ‘Media Companies Need To Attract Robust Talent from Different Industries’ moderated by  Arunabh Das Sharma with Rekha Jacob Koshy, Vibha Paul Rishi and  Nina Chatrath had some good news: the employability for media employees with other industries exist. It however skirted the issue of internal training versus bringing in people from other industries in various and mostly senior positions. Trust me, this issue of enhancing the internal team potential is something the industry needs to address fast.


As an afterthought, I wish INMA team could have whetted the presentations. Hate to see presenters skipping slides saying ‘As we do not have time I will skip’.  With due respect, I suspect they were ill-prepared. Either they were unaware of the time allotted or were serving a canned presentation.  A 60-minute slot extending to 90 minutes is as bsad as a panel opening for discussion with 15 minutes remaining!. Both happened at INMA. The radio Session on Day 2 would really be the top contendor for waste of time with ample pitching and plugging.


One question that remains unanswered and is equally relevant to INMA and the delegates: If one had attended the 2011, 2012 or 2013 conference and missed the 2014 edition, would he or she miss out on anything substantially important? I don’t really have an answer.



Observations include sessions till Lunch on day II.


Sanjeev Kotnala is Head Catalyst at INTRADIA and believes that the best way forward for an Organization is to enhance the potential of  internal teams instead of depending on external resources. He is a management consultant and  conducts specialised workshops in the area of  Liberating Ideas and Innovation.  To contact email or tweet at s_kotnala visit




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