Remembering my friend, Pradeep Guha

06 Jun,2022

 

 

By Indrani Sen

 

Indrani SenPradeep Guha would have been 70 today, had he not passed away last year on August 21 after a short battle with cancer which unfortunately was detected at the last stage. As I was not aware about his disease, the news of his death was a big shocker for me. The MxMIndia editor asked me then if I would like to do a piece on Pradeep and I declined.

 

I met Pradeep Guha in Mumbai in 1976, when I was a rookie media planner in Ulka Advertising and he, a fresh graduate from St Xavier’s College, Mumbai, was a trainee in media sales with TOI. Pradeep was a few years younger than me, but we hit it off very well from our first meeting. He had been a left-leaning student leader in his college days and I had been actively involved with leftist student politics during my college and university days in Kolkata, yet both of us were disillusioned with the state of left politics in India. In our own ways both of us we were eager to explore the roles media can play in advertising and marketing industry. We had a lot to share and much to discuss. Gradually we became sounding boards for reviewing each other’s ideas.

 

We discussed about how to use readership research more effectively for media planning and selling; we debated the scope of value additions and innovations in newspapers and speculated about the possibility of rate negotiations when the word was a taboo in the industry. Pradeep had an ability to think laterally ahead of his time and never failed to amaze me with his zest for new and innovative ideas and his energy for planning and executing their implementations. These inborn traits, which I found in him in his mid-twenties, later helped him to excel in his career and become a larger-than-life personality.

 

I still recall visiting the Colaba office of ‘Centre of Education & Documentation’, Pradeep’s dream project where he had started to build a library, a resource and research centre based on clippings from published news and articles. He firmly believed that reports in print media had the latest information which published books did not have. Before the internet age, Pradeep was able to think out of the box and visualize the importance of having latest information at the fingertips. After Larry Page and Sergey Brin conceived Google in a dorm of the Stanford University and subsequently marketed Google Search in 1998, I recalled about Pradeep’s CED which had the same seed of idea minus the new media technology.

 

In 1982, Sameer Jain took charge of BCCL and Pradeep Guha became one of his trusted lieutenants. During the eighties and nineties, Pradeep continued with BCCL was responsible for executing the vision of Sameer Jain and transformed the Times media sales department to Times Response, he mentored a formidable salesforce well trained in concepts of media planning, advertising and marketing. Under his guidance the rate cards for BCCL publications morphed to “Mastermind” encouraging advertisers and agencies to buy space in various newer/ smaller editions along with the main editions at reasonable prices ensuring no loss to the marginal editions. The concept of “Invitation Pricing” was also Pradeep’s brain child. He literally gave a new lease of life to the print media industry of India. He was the real architect behind the “Samir Jain Years” (ref Indian Media Business by Vanita Kohli Khanderkar) in print media.

 

It is difficult to decide if Pradeep’s contribution was greater in space marketing or in brand building. He changed TOI and other BCCL publications to well defined brands supported by multiple branded properties. The Bombay Times Annual Party, Filmfare Awards, Femina Miss India, Femina Look of the Year, the Economic Times Entrepreneurship Awards all were turned from mere events into branding properties by Pradeep which built the brands individually and collectively built the group. He was also credited with conceptualizing the Page 3 Culture through TOI’s metro editions.

 

Pradeep’s efforts behind lifting up the standard of the Femina Miss India show led to India’s successes at Miss World and Miss Universe. These branding properties built by him in turn accelerated the growth of other industries like beauty, modelling and Bollywood. Driven by his passion for advertising, he was responsible for associating BCCL with Cannes Lions and creating India’s visibility at Cannes Lions Festival. He was its first Country Representative from India and held that position for 10 consecutive years at Cannes. I became an ardent admirer of Pradeep as I watched his exponential growth over three decades in BCCL. I salute his other friends and admirers who took the initiative to name the lane before the Times of India building in Mumbai as “Pradeep Guha Chowk” earlier this year. A fleeting tribute to his monumental leadership.

 

Meanwhile, I had come back to Kolkata for family reasons in mid-eighties. Pradeep was heading the Kolkata office of BCCL at that time, but he returned to Mumbai shortly to take charge of Times Response. Till mid-nineties I had opportunities to meet and catch up with Pradeep during either his visits to Times Kolkata office or my official trips to Mumbai. In 1996, Pradeep helped me to pull off a media coup when he agreed to publish and distribute the Official Handbook of Wills World Cup with TOI’s Mumbai and Delhi editions free of cost against the right of selling ad space in the handbooks. It was a copy book case of a win-win negotiation.

 

After nearly 30 years, Pradeep left BCCL when he was President of the Times of India Group and a member of the Board of Directors to join as CEO of Zee Entertainment and launched the English daily DNA in 2005.  However, he left Zee after a short stint of 3 years and became an entrepreneur by purchasing 10% stake in 9X Media (where he remained as the MD till his last days) and launching his own consultancy firm. Pradeep had produced two films earlier, Fiza in 2000 and Tehzeeb in 2002; his third production Phir Kabhi was released in 2009 after his exit from the Zee Group.

 

There were lot of speculation in the industry about his exit from BCCL and many predicted that Pradeep Guha’s best years were over. His critics were blissfully unaware that he continued to support our Ad Industry at large by dawning various hats during his tenure with BCCL as well as after his exit from BCCL. He was the President of the Advertising Club Bombay, President of the Indian Newspaper Society, Chairman of the National Readership Studies Council, Chairman of Ad Asia (Jaipur), Chairman of the Asian Federation of Advertising Associations (AFAA), the Vice President and Area Director of the International Advertising Association (IAA), Asia Pacific region and the first Chairman of the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) which was launched in 2014 and started reporting TV ratings from 2015. Pradeep Guha was the Chairman of the Steering Committee of the successful World Congress of the International Advertising Association held in India for the first time in February 2019 at Kochi. At the time of his death in 2021, he was affiliated to the Board of Directors of Raymond Ltd, Pritish Nandy Communications Ltd and Whistling Woods International.  The Ad Industry had never before seen such a versatile leader who always delivered the desired result and many times exceeded the expectations!

 

After the nineties, Pradeep and I had gradually drifted apart, meeting only in certain big industry dos where Pradeep used to be super busy with organising the shows. Whenever I could manage to snatch a few minutes with him for a chat, he was always the same old Pradeep with the same twinkle in his eyes and the same warmth in his smile. His wife Papia Guha recently requested me to write a few lines on him for inclusion in the coffee table book on him. However, in the small write up, I could not express all my thoughts, so here is my tribute to my old friend Pradeep Guha, an extraordinary man who walked tall during his life time and left a long tail of unforgettable impressions on many other men and women who were fortunate enough to come in contact with him.

 

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