The Advertising Association ‘Mafia’

13 Jun,2018


By Sanjeev Kotnala


“There is a mafia out there, and the dons play musical chair with understated self-appreciation and mutual admiration”. This was in the loud booming voice of one of the soon-to-retire industry senior.  It was not the first time I am listening to such a comment.

It is late in the evening, and we are a few drinks down. The naturally self-evolving crib session is on. His point is simple to understand; all the positions in the advertising industry associations seem to rotate between a handful of people. It appears that no new blood is joining the system.

Typically, I discard such comments. They reek of unfulfilled dreams and ambitions. They echo deep sentiments of a champion breed that has failed to enter the ring.

Few youngsters on the table with free beer wetting their parched throat in Goa concur with the statement.

“Yes, there are no young faces.” A few ayes happened all around.

“Yes, it is the same bunch everywhere,” another added

“One year they are on this panel, and the next year in the other association.” The PYT on the table sums it up.

I believe I have a fair understanding of the situation. I appreciate the work the officebearers in the associations put in. It is a tough act to find the time when they have their other jobs and responsibilities.

So, what do you want, I poke the youngster. “I think you see a problem there. Don’t the associations have elections.” I am unable to find the real trigger for the outburst.

“Na, Na, Kotnala don’t take me wron”… this is from one with the fresh blood. “Elections happen, but you would know, they are a sham. Every year the team gets elected unopposed.”  He makes a gesture with his finger that says a lot. “I am serious there is a musical chair going on. You can get in, only if you have the organisational and financial backing and… there should be some decency in the whole process… people should find something more productive to do… and some should retire.”

“Unopposed mean there are no other candidates in the field, it is not the fault of  the elected representatives.”

“I knew, you are naive, but what you refuse to see is plain stupid. Understand, the mafia won’t allow you to stand for the post. And you dare not be on the wrong side of the mafia. It can be a CLM (Career limiting move).”

“You are creating a picture as if there is a D-company. As if musclemen stop you from standing in the election.”

“No, you will not understand what I am saying. You write your column and are politically right. I expected you to know better. But then why would you get into this dirty politics,” the young blood insisted.

The eyes of the senior who initiated the conversation are rolled up without the customary drag. He interrupts: “I remember, once there was a young agency head. He had dreams. He wanted to make industry associations more productive, accountable, transparent, efficient and effective.” The senior allows the pregnant pause to settle down and continues: “And he tried everything. He did not withdraw from elections. He collected proxy votes. He challenged, and he fought like no one ever has, but he lost.’

“He lost by one vote if we are talking about the same guy”… I know who he is talking about.

‘Yes, just by one vote.  That was the last real elections in the association.” The beer was working overtime with the senior. “You know, we must have something like that committee in cricket for the industry bodies too. Suddenly everything will change. We will see new blood crowned. Retire at 60. Can’t hold more than one position. Can’t hold the position in an association for more than two terms. It will be fun.” He adds: “And I am not going to bell the cat’.

“No, I think the reason is different.” I am not in agreement with the argument and the direction the conservation was moving.

“No one wants to do this thankless job. No one takes these events and awards head on. You guys crib like everyone else. I bet you are not even members of the associations where you want to change. I bet you have never been a volunteer or managed something of this nature.” I am warming up to debate and have the attention of everyone on the table.

“Everyone is an expert. There is never any appreciation… people only crib. The youth like you have a problem with current industry leaders, but tell me, where are the new leaders and visionaries? Name me one young blood capable and willing to do two jobs at the same time? The new generation wants instant glory and gratification. It is easy to sit on the fence and criticise. Have anyone of you ever shown interest and inclination to be part of the association, learn and be part of initiatives. I am sure the seniors will be happy to take any interested youth with potential under their wings and groom as future association leaders. They are more than a willing mentor to ensure the continuum of good leadership.”

My outburst faces silence from the table. There is no echo of the sentiments. I know, I am in a minority.  No one wants to get in. No candidate is willing to invest time and energies and seek a position of responsibility. Everyone wants to be a SK Swamy, Pradeep Guha, Nakul Chopra, Sam Balsara, Ramesh Narayan from the day they join the industry.

People come to these association events and crib. They fail to appreciate the hard work that goes into the whole project. They don’t take the membership of associations, and they want leaders of their choice, they want representation. The Ad Club, IAA, ASCI, ISA, AAAI members count is not reflective of the size of the industry.

In the absence of anyone who is willing, wanting, waiting to take on this thankless job and be a future leader at these industry associations, I wholeheartily subscribe to the ‘Mafia’. Long live the Dons.


Sanjeev Kotnala is a senior industryperson, business strategy consultant and educator. The views here are personal



Post a Comment 

Comments are closed.