Sam Balsara Curated

Founder, Chairman and MD at Madison World


  • You have achieved almost everything. What is left for you to scale?

    What makes you think I have achieved everything! I have a whole life ahead in front of me. I am now looking forward to be a grandfather very soon! (A big grin)

  • What would be the one piece of advice for Lara (Balsara) and other young professionals in your team?

    My advice would be a little old fashioned but I would say when you are young think more about the company or the agency or the brand that you are working in/on and not about your own growth. And for god's sake, do not switch jobs so often! If you look at the successful people who have done something in life, one thing that is common among all of them is that they have spent a good amount of time in one company and doing one thing. Changing jobs too frequently would be satisfying in the short run, but if you look back after ten or fifteen years, you will not have anything to show. So, please be cautious and think carefully about your moves.

  • Looking at the way the industry is growing and shaping up, do you think conventional media will sustain because we see a lot of new marketers are increasingly tilting towards digital?

    There lies no doubt about the fact that digital will grow phenomenally in the country. It has been there since long but now is the time that we have reached an inflection point. According to our Pitch Madison Study, for the five years, digital has been growing 35-50 percent every year and has now become a Rs 4,000-crore market which is quite sizeable. From here on it will keep on growing rapidly till it reaches about 20 percent of the media market. In my opinion, while digital will grow, I think all other media in India will also keep on growing because India is an under-advertised market as we do not have enough brands. The competition is high among the available brands. For example, Print Media is seeing a downfall everywhere but is still growing in India. I feel no other medium is going to get threatened by digital; we just have to adopt the medium and technology.

  • We see a lot of young ad guys quitting big agencies and starting their agencies. Do you consider this as a healthy trend or is it a case of ambition substituting experience?

    It is good! But the word of caution is that they should make sure they have adequate intellectual capital in terms of experience and expertise. It is always better to start a year later than a year earlier.

  • You are a veteran of the ad world, you have seen it all. How do you define the evolution of the ad world?

    The Indian ad world is the most diverse and among the fastest-growing markets in the world today. It has grown right under my nose from just a Rs 2,000-crore market to a Rs 40,000-50,000 crore market today. Growth with itself brings its own complexities and challenges and I think we live through these times.

  • What do you have to say about the current scenario of media buying and selling?

    Clients today are making a mistake by focussing on efficiency and not keeping a strong eye on effectiveness. I think as the markets grow more and more competitive and as advertising noise levels increase in the marketplace, advertisers should be focusing on effectiveness rather than efficiency. Advertisers who are focussing on media efficiency are not doing the correct thing. Rather, they should spend more money on creating an effective impact.

  • How would you like to define Madison then and now?

    Madison when started was a single unit and I was the jack of all, but now we have separate companies running different verticals. We now have more than 300 clients across Madison World. It is been a great journey to let Madison reach this position.

  • Every now and then, the market is abuzz with talk of Madison World selling its stake, especially in Madison Media and Outdoor. Where exactly do you stand on this? There cannot be smoke without a fire!

    We are of some interest to the multinational agencies who want to acquire a stake in Madison. We are not averse to selling our stake but only when we are fully convinced. The primary concern is to make sure that Madison keeps growing and improving our quality of products and services to our clients. If we feel that any of the moves can help us achieve our objectives, then we will possibly entertain that.

  • Madison welcomed a few veterans like Vikram Sakhuja and Anita Bose. How do you think their expertise will help the agency grow?

    It was a pride and high point for Madison, and me personally, when Vikram Sakhuja joined us on October 19, 2015. I have no doubt in my mind that Vikram will help Madison change and take it to the next league. He will surely bring fresh new energy, thinking, a greater focus on digital, and also focus on tools, research, and data.

  • You said sometime back that you have understood the awards code. What exactly did you mean?

    It is important to understand how to conceptualize not only the work but the award entry, how to present it, how to suppress not so important points and how to highlight the important points and how to make an impact on the jury in the first 30 seconds. This is what I call an award code and we are impressing on our people to give some time to this and I guess it is seeping in.

  • Madison has won a large number of awards. Which one was the most unexpected and which one do you really rate as a big achievement?

    Yes, we did win a lot of awards! I do not think any of the awards that we won were unexpected. Some years we were told that Madison was very good but it did not perform well at awards; hence we did a lot of introspection and we found that people who are very busy working on our clients are not able to spend adequate time and give attention to the creation of entries. We learned the hard way that it is just not enough to have good work but it is also important to work on packaging an entry for an award which is an art and task by itself. I guess, over the years we have impressed on our people on the importance of good packaging, the importance of creating a good video, spending some time on conceptualizing a video is for entry, and this has helped us.

  • What is your target for the coming years?

    Well, at Madison we do not work with targets. Yes, we work with something called the budget. I think our targets are qualitative in order to improve our quality of services, products, and thinking. I think in an agency a target, to my mind, is a little unfair responsibility on the part of management to put on an employee. Hence, as far as possible we do not work with targets. It is important to have budgets in order to plan expenditure. Etc., and this is what differentiates us from other agencies.

  • What was the strategy that got Madison this string of 21 new businesses?

    On the people front, I am personally delighted that we convinced Vikram Sakhuja to return to India and take the reins of both Madison Media and our OOH companies, whilst we were sorry to see Gautam Kiyawat return to his base in Singapore. Not only were there new people on board but we also announced two richly deserved promotions – Vanita Keswani and Shekhar Banerjee. The agency has won as many as 21 new accounts across its offices in the year gone by. These accounts are Snapdeal, Freecharge, PepperTap,, Viber, Metro Cash & Carry India, Amul Hosiery, Milton, Bandhan Bank, Oyo Rooms, Piramal Realty, Policy Boss, DHFL, I Love Diamonds, Zigy,,,, NACO (National Aids Control Organization), USPL and Aerobok Shoes. The estimated size of these accounts put together is above Rs 1,000 crore. On the awards front, we achieved a hat-trick by winning Media Agency of the Year, Print Media Agency of the Year and Radio Media Agency of the Year. Our performance at Emvies also dramatically improved with us finishing second.

  • If you had to look back and give yourself a self-score on a scale of 1 to 10, what would it be?

    I would say 5.5. Contrary to what a lot of people think, I am not as focused on growth and business and profits as many people give me credit for. I am a little more focused on doing a job well, getting a job done and making our brands succeed in the marketplace. I dare say there is a compromise in there, and I would rather compromise on this side than that. Almost for the first five years of Madison’s life, not only did we not pitch for a new client, if somebody called me and said we want to talk to you – I would tell them that we were pretty tied up and could not come. It is actually reflected in the fact that for the first four-five years, we only had our two founding clients – Godrej and Nelco. This, however, does not mean that we did not really grow – we got substantial additional business from Godrej, which kept us growing. Though management pundits today call it stupidity to put all your eggs in one basket, to my mind I did not want to spread myself too thin as I felt that it was a bigger risk than actually putting all my eggs in one or two baskets.

  • What is your biggest learning as the head of Madison?

    I would say you need to decide on what should be the objectives of your organisation, and where you want to lead it, and remain focused on that. These objectives cannot be stated only in terms of market share and profits.

  • You work with a number of global networks – is there anyone you would want to emulate in terms of their practices and processes?

    Their challenges are a little different, and cannot be compared to ours. Theirs are organisations of 100,000 or 150,000 people with billions of dollars of income. Many of them are publicly listed – the challenge for them is managing their stock price and profitability etc. Fortunately our concerns are none of all these. Our key challenges are: Is the client happy with our services? Are we helping our brands score in the market place, are we building our brands?

  • Who would be the key people without whom Madison would not be where it is today?

    I think they are predictable – first there was D Sriram, then Srini, Veena Gidwani, then Punitha more recently, Prabha is still there. Now Lara, Gautam… having said that, they are not the only ones. We have many young people burning midnight oil, and making a difference.

  • In terms of your agency, is there anything that you think you could have done differently?

    Yes, in our early years we should have focused on resourcing our creative department much better and stronger and deeper than we actually did.

  • Are there areas in the last 25 years where you think that, given a chance, you would have done things differently?

    Of course there are. In hindsight, I think it was stupid of me to decry creative awards in the early years – when Madison was strong in that area. I always thought that awards came in the marketplace, and not from some forum or stage, though I myself presided over so many award juries. It was clearly a mistake. In the absence of anything else, clients look at the award telly to check the creativity quotient of an agency, and my overall approach and thinking in the ’90s that awards were not important was clearly a mistake.

  • In terms of future, where do you see Madison grow in the next 5 years?

    Let me try to sidestep your question a little by saying I am less of a visionary and more of an action man. I do strongly believe that if my today is safe, sound and successful, I will be alright tomorrow. Given that, we are doing reasonably well. Though it is difficult for me to say something specific, I would like Madison to be bigger, better and stronger than it is today.

  • As the big strive to get bigger in the media space through mergers and acquisitons, do you see the scene getting more complex for Madison?

    The situation for Madison has never been easy. Neither was it in the ’80s and ’90s, nor is it now. As long as you operate independently, and as long as you operate in the business environment whether it is in India or America, there will always be severe competition in our kind of businesses. We will have to learn to cope with it.

  • Have you made any structural changes in the organisation as the digital is growing?

    We want each of our planners to be digital-savvy. However, considering that digital is a new area of functional expertise, we have islands of digital excellence and some people who evangelise digital among our large army of media planners.

  • The media space is now changing at a fast pace – digital is growing. What is your strategy to adapt and cope with the changing media space?

    Since the last two years, we have been spending considerable time, money and resources on digital. The reason is that our clients have also begun to like the interactive and engaging power of digital. We believe that for an organisation our size, it is important to use our resources at the right time – it does not pay to invest in something 10 years ahead of its time. Investing ahead of time is a good idea if you invest six months to a year ahead, not 10 years ahead. The digital age is showing signs of an explosion in India, and that is the reason for the increased focus on digital in the last two years.

  • What is the key differentiator that distinguishes Madison from the rest of the pack? Has it changed across the years?

    Differentiators obviously have been different. Today we are a little better structured, we have a better infrastructure, better resources, better ability to have a better well-oiled machinery that can service our clients’ needs and brands much better. We are getting increasingly focused now on not delivering the result anyhow or somehow, but delivering it through process and structure. We are able to deliver result by design – rather than by accident. Since last two to three years, we have been spending considerable time and energy on that.

  • One of the advantages or disadvantages of Madison is Sam Balsara. How have you managed to ensure that even as the organisation does not get too impacted by your persona, it reaps the benefits of it at the same time?

    Yes, you are right – it is both an advantage and a disadvantage. Disadvantage because I cannot be here, there and everywhere – many times I attend meetings which I easily need not have attended. It does put some extra pressure on our time. Probably one of the reasons some of my colleagues pull my leg for emailing them at 2am is because they don’t know that I suffer from insomnia. I do not really know if it is hard work that led to insomnia, or is it insomnia that makes me work at 2 in the morning (laughs).

  • One of the advantages or disadvantages of Madison is Sam Balsara. How have you managed to ensure that even as the organisation does not get too impacted by your persona, it reaps the benefits of it at the same time?

    Yes, you are right – it is both an advantage and a disadvantage. Disadvantage because I cannot be here, there and everywhere – many times I attend meetings which I easily need not have attended. It does put some extra pressure on our time. Probably one of the reasons some of my colleagues pull my leg for emailing them at 2am is because they don’t know that I suffer from insomnia. I do not really know if it is hard work that led to insomnia, or is it insomnia that makes me work at 2 in the morning (laughs).

  • How do you make sure that all 22 units of Madison work towards the same goal, and that there is the same spirit of excellence?

    It is definitely not easy. Now I am being helped by Lara at the managerial level, so it helps us keep better tabs and controls. Our value system, according to me, also happens to be a sound business practice. The fact that you are transparent, simple and honest might be an old-fashioned way, but it makes good business sense. I presume that clients like to deal with transparent and honest agencies. Having said that, a principle is not a principle unless it hurts, and some of our principles have hurt us in a business or profit sense. Though, in the long term, these are also principles that help in retaining and growing business.

  • On one level you are competing with WPP, and on another you are partnering them – how does this work for you?

    I think one of the things I have learnt the hard way in life is that in the world of business there are no permanent enemies and friends. In today’s complex world, you have to be willing to work under various kinds of situations – you cooperate with some, you collaborate with others. While I would say that at one level it was a bit scary to collaborate with a competitor, it is a good, relevant experience and successful too – as we have demonstrated, Mediacom is a good successful agency.

  • In these 25 years, what in your view, are a couple of high points that changed the course of your agency?

    The launch of Cinthol Lime and the controversy that erupted was clearly a high point. The second was when Godrej tied up with P&G – both of them encouraged me to tie up with DMB&B. It enabled us to continue working on Cinthol, and in addition work on P&G brands like Whisper and Vicks. I think breaking of the relationship with DMB&B also, in hindsight, was a high point. At that time, though, it appeared to be a big blow as I lost 70% of my business – we first lost the Cinthol account, and then because of break in relationship, we also los t the Vicks, Whisper and Philips accounts. In keeping with my principle that it is an advantage to know that you are at a disadvantage, we worked harder, we fought harder, we kind of developed this specialisation approach. In all this, of course, our creative did suffer.

  • Do you still believe that thinking small, as you say, is the recipe of Madison’s success?

    Yes, it is. I have also always believed that it is an advantage to know and recognise that you are at a disadvantage – because then you fight harder, think harder. And it is a disadvantage to know that you are at an advantage because then you become complacent.

  • Madison has grown considerably and now it is a multi-brand agency. You started off as a full-service agency – and though you still have components of a full-service agency. Why?

    Soon after we got the P&G media account, I got sold on the virtues of specialisation, both from the agency as well as client perspective. To my mind, specialisation is great because it builds a body of knowledge, creates a cadre of people, and brings in efficiency and expertise, so you are able to offer service at a lower cost. The client not only gets the benefit of service at a lower cost, but also specialist expert advice. And so, as they say, if it ain’t broke, why fix it?! I then tried to replicate the specialist approach in other disciplines of marketing and advertising – for instance we spun off a PR agency with its own independent head, a few years later we did the same thing with outdoor – though it is a part of the media function, we have a separate outdoors agency called MOMS that runs completely independent of Madison Media. Madison World has grown a little larger than what my original vision was, we have tried to stick to my original principle that a good agency is a small agency with a few large clients. Madison World is today an amalgam of 22 units each headed by a unit head – who is designated CEO, GM or COO – who runs his/her agency, and has an independent set of clients almost like an independent agency. None of these units handles more than eight or ten clients. With all these units put together we do not have more than 220 clients. In Madison Media with all its units we handle about 45 clients

  • Can it be said that during your Mudra years, Cinthol was really flying high with its flamboyant advertising which got you into the limelight pretty fast?

    Yes, correct. I would say I got into the bigger limelight, thanks to Cinthol’s largest competitor, Lever. I don’t know whether I should get into it or not …. Lever played the oldest trick in the world – in order to stymie Cinthol Lime, they copied our commercial and inserted some shots from it into their commercial. They then went ahead and put their Liril commercial on air a few days before our Cinthol Lime was scheduled to go on air – obviously to prevent us from going on air. The incident created a lot of controversy at that point because we refused to be cowed down; we went to the press and made big noise about it. Levers and Lintas had sort of connived to spring this upon us. On a lighter note, over the next two to three years post this event, many clients were keen that I should create a similar controversy for them. It was because some marketing pundits thought that Cinthol Lime had gained a lot because of this controversy.

  • Did you speak with some of your clients before you really set up Madison?

    Yes, of course. After I had made up my mind, one fine day I asked Mr Godrej for an appointment. I went and met both Mr and Mrs Godrej one evening in their Juhu beach house. I told them about my plans, and asked them if they could give me one of their accounts to handle. They were very kind, and gracious and gave me the Cinthol account.

  • One still remembers the time you announced the setting up of Madison in 1988. What really got you to take the plunge at that time?

    Well, I had already spent four years at Mudra and was kind of No 2 there. Mr A G Krishnamurthy was the CEO based out of Ahmedabad. While I was working there, the sense I got was that Mudra wanted to be – a la Reliance style – India’s largest advertising agency. I, however, felt that I was probably not the man – either capable or desirous – of the intense growth required to make Mudra the largest agency in the country. My heart and mind told me that a good agency is a small agency with a few large clients. That was my interpretation of an ideal agency – both from the clients’ as well as my perspective. I distinctly remember – it was Tanya and Lara’s Navjote, and I had taken a few days off. Being away from work gave me time to introspect and think. Those seven days in me triggered the thought that I should start something on my own.

  • Over the years, Madison has taken on a lot of blue-chip clients and built up a very select portfolio of clients. How has Madison’s business strategy evolved over the years? Do you see Madison relying on less organic growth now?

    Yes, I think that was my philosophy. When I look back, maybe I was a little vain in deciding on that and it didn’t just stop there. But over the years, I have realised that it was not a sensible and sustainable policy because the bigger the brand, the more demanding they are and the more they squeeze you in terms of demanding more and more services at a lower fee. Thus, we realised that we need to have a combination of small, medium and large clients and today, we have a rather good mix of clients. We have different systems in place to cater to each type or rather each size of client; obviously, the way we handle a very large client is different from the way we handle a small client.

  • How are you making your team at Madison programmatic-ready?

    We have been ysing a large amount of programmatic in these last four years for many of our clients. Over the last two years, what has characterised Madison’s growth is actually our digital growth. Digital grew for us by some 165 per cent last year and we now have over 200 people between Madison Digital and Madison Media. A new office has been built especially for Digital.

  • Do you think programmatic is taking over? What will the media function of the future look like?

    I think programmatic is growing very well now and more and more clients are accepting programmatic as it helps bring down the cost. Anything that is done by a machine, it stands to reason that it can be done more efficiently, faster and cheaper, compared to when a human being does it. So, programmatic is nothing but machine buying. Obviously a machine, when it does a task, learns from the past and works far more efficiently.

  • We have recently seen a spate of agency restructures and the rise of network agencies again. You were one of the first agencies decades ago to split media and creative services. Where do you think the agency structure is headed today?

    From experience I have seen the success of specialisation, so I am a deep believer of specialisation. What specialisation does is that it helps create a cadre of people and gives people pride in what they do. By doing the same thing over and over again, they become experts and specialists in it, and then you can offer that superior service at a lower cost to the clients, because an expert is handling it. So, I am sold on the benefits of specialisation, however if there is any good thing you know, you can overstretch it, so I think today we are probably hitting the boundaries of specialisation to its nth degree. But having said that, I think the need of the hour is to collaborate. Since we have so many units and servicesat Madison, we encourage our various units to collaborate a lot more than what they have done in the past and because of this focus on collaboration, we have seen that we are able to offer multiple services to the same client, which makes them happy and also because they are receiving multiple services of high quality from the same group rather than having to deal with the individual groups. We have consciously focused on this aspect for the last two years and I think we are beginning to see the results of that even in financial terms.

  • Can you tell us about the most unique advertisement you came across in the past 10 years?

  • What has been the biggest lesson for you in the past decade?

  • How is media planning and buying function changing today? What will the media agency of the future look like?

  • Being a board member of ASCI, please tell us how ASCI has played a key role in curbing misleading advertisements?

  • What is the importance of self-regulation in advertising and a body like ASCI?

  • How are advertisements today different from those 10 years ago? Thoughts on the new way of advertising compared to the old?

  • What remains unchanged in Advertising during this decade?

  • What are the 10 major changes that you have seen in the industry during the decade?

  • In 2019, you had presented the 10-year challenge. If you could go back to 2008-09, what are the things that you would want to change in the advertising industry?

  • Earlier this year (2019), you had presented the 10-year challenge. If you could go back to 2008-09, what are the things that you would want to change in the advertising industry?

    The last 10 years have been the most dramatic years in advertising history. For example, the market has tripled in size in the last 10 years, which gives us a compounded annual growth of 12 per cent – from about Rs 20,000 to about Rs 60,000 crore. The number of channels has multiplied on the back of regional news. The number of advertisers has increased dramatically, especially in print, by about 88,000 (approx.). Digital penetration has hit the roof. The advertising market has become dynamic, fast growing and treacherous. It is becoming more and more difficult to succeed for brands using advertising in this market. I’ve been saying this for some time and I don’t know if it has completely changed in the last 10 years, but advertisers have begun to look at agencies as businesses. Earlier, they used to look upon advertising people as professionals and this has brought with it a whole lot of problems. One of the problems that has surfaced is the fact that unfortunately when you are dealing with a business, you want to squeeze the business as much as possible. This situation has led to a huge quality-talent crunch. 10 years ago, we were able to attract talent from A grade business schools. Now it is getting difficult to attract talent from B grade business school, forget IIM Ahmedabad or Bajaj Institute and what not. Also, the emergence of several new sectors such as management consultancies, startups, Internet companies, and others seem to offer a far better rate of growth to management trainees than the advertising sector does. Advertising that once upon a time used to be reasonably up in a management trainee’s priority list to join, has now gone way down. That is one thing I do not like about the last 10 years.

  • What in your opinion are the key trends being witnessed in the Indian Media and advertising over the last one year?

    Last year was an unusual year in more ways than one. It was the year when Marketing Myopia reached its zenith on Indian shores and Brand building took a back seat. Advertising money got diverted to promotion. Marketing Managers under pressure from their stock-market driven Managing Directors became Salesmen responsible for weekly sales. In the past, press lost to television because of the audio-visual impact of television and high cost of newsprint. Now television has also become high cost, not just because rates have gone up selectively, but because of severe fragmentation and low TRPs and has started loosing to other media like outdoor, direct mail, and events in addition to below the line. The tantalizing features of television which made it such a hit medium resulting in galloping growth are slowly disappearing, thanks to channel fragmentation, low TRPs and huge clutter. The veil that the Indian Consumer is using to filter advertising through is becoming thicker and thicker and this is resulting in advertising working less efficiently.

  • How does one train a fresh entrant into media planning / buying ? Is there a lack of skilled, good people ?

    Yes, there is lack of skilled good people in Media. Once agencies have regimented processes and systems in place to crunch data in a systematic way it will enable a large number of young people to join the profession at low cost to agency and then turn into a skilled work force for the industry.

  • Can tou tell us about the various sister companies that Madison has?

    The various units we have are as follows: Madison Creative Madison Media Madison PR Madison Outdoor(MOMS) Anugrah Madison(Rural)

  • Don’t you think more and more media planning is buying led? Shouldn’t it be otherwise?

    In the normal course Media Planning precedes Buying but given the current state of churn in the industry each impacts the other and there is continuous interaction between the two before the final buying is done. This is why today more and more Clients are vesting responsibility for media planning function with the buying agency rather than the Creative agency. Infact, I see a time not so far away when the entire strategic communication process will be led by the media agency. This will cut out a lot of waste that currently prevails in the system.

  • What do you attribute the trend of having separate creative agency and a separate media planning / buying entity?

    Full service agencies did not do justice to the media function. They failed to recognise the power and impact that intelligent and clever use of Media can deliver over and above what good creative can deliver. Few clients were quick to recognise this and started seeking out media specialists who could do a good job. This separation of media from creative has enabled agencies with good creative skills to retain creative accounts and not loose them altogether. Specialisation is always good. It builds resources and expertise which is very necessary in a young business like advertising. However I am not sure that the mindless agglomeration which is taking place today across the globe in our industry is good for advertising.

  • What is your opinion on Media independents? What kind of an impact will media independent arms like Mindshare have on the Indian market place? Do you think they will lead to better practices and efficiencies in media planning?

    Media specialists are good whether dependent or independent, but if you are talking of agglomeration for the sake of size, it is definitely not good for the Clients because they tend to sacrifice transparency, though it may be good for agency shareholders. On the other hand it may not be good for agency shareholders too because it is difficult to manage all the fall outs of client conflicts, agency cultures, client and employee egos.

  • Tell us about your latest outdoor services venture. What kind of a gap in the market is your outdoor services firm going to cater to?

    More and more advertisers are discovering the power of ‘outdoor’. Especially with the advent of affordable ‘skin’ for good 4 colour half tone reproduction. The outdoor market is bound to grow. Most of the outdoor business today is transacted directly between advertisers and large number of hoarding contractors, because conventional full service agencies don’t bring much value to either the advertiser or the hoarding contractor. Advertisers need a strong agency, as a one-point contact who has the infrastructure and resources, is transparent and can be relied upon. There are hundreds of small hoarding contractors who do not have access to clients and whose hoardings remain vacant, who are quite happy to give them out at reasonable rates, provided they are assured of bulk business and payment on time. MOMS (Madison Outdoor Media Service) hopes to successfully meet the needs of both the advertiser and the hoarding contractors. MOMS has been started as a separate company with a capital of Rs.1 crore, has a staff of 20 with offices in Bombay, Delhi and Bangalore. MOMS has completed projects for many prestigious clients including: Jet Airways, Blow Plast (VIP & Delsey), B4U (B4U Music and B4U Movies), Zee Network (Zee TV / Zee Alpha / Zee English), Maruti, HBO, Kinetic, Coca Cola, and Nokia.

  • What is the role of innovation in media planning? How does one balance it with reach and frequency?

    In the current scenario innovation has already become a very fundamental requirement and tomorrow’s media stars will be those that will come up with more impactful campaigns through use of innovation after meeting reach and frequency objectives.

  • Adnova started as very ambitious project and the industry had a lot of expectations from it. Why do you think it failed to pick up ? Was it too early or it is because of mindset issues?

    Yes, Adnova was a very ambitious project. We have moth-balled it for the time being because it is going to be quite a while before the broadband infrastructure in the country is well established which is a pre-requisite. Secondly I think we need to have a slightly more mature and stable state in the television industry among the channels before Adnova can get adopted as a common platform.

  • What is your opinion about Internet as a medium ? Has it lived up to its potential?

    Internet has a long way to go. It is a good interactive medium but at best will notch up 5% of the total industry size in a couple of years. Today, I see it more as an alternative or competitor to ‘direct marketing’ than an alternative to mass advertising through press and television. Don’t forget, “The medium is the message”.

  • A lot of senior people tend to back all your initiatives, what do you attribute these to Sam Balsara, the individual or because of the work that Madison has done?

    I am a hands-on manager (not an arm-chair one!) and try to keep my nose to the ground. All Madison’s new initiatives are born out of a deep conviction that a need exists in the market place for such a service and not just because of a corporate growth objective. Most successful organisations, more so in the service sector are strongly identified with the CEO. It’s a bit difficult to separate the CEO from the organisation, especially in a young enterprise.

  • What are your plans regarding the future of Madison?

    Well, my business is doing well and I have said this before so it is not new. It is not that we have a philosophical disagreement with partnering or selling; we have done it before and are not averse to doing it again. But we are aware of our strengths and we have built a good business. We are not about to deliver the agency on a platter to a multinational firm. But yes, if the offer is good and it is in the interest of our clients, our employees and our stakeholders in that order, then we will consider it. But if someone offers us an opportunistic price based on the logic that ‘anyway you are going to die’ then that is not a logic that we are ready to accept.

  • What do you make of the new media launches and the increasing clutter (to which we have added our own)?

    The proliferation of media is not good news for the advertiser, because it diminishes the return on investment. But the proliferation of media also brings down prices and as I have learnt, rather late in life, you cannot quarrel with the power of pricing. If media is available at low rates, clients are tempted to take it.

  • The advertising business is substantially dominated by foreign-owned agencies. Most of the Indian clients are going to foreign-owned agencies too. You do not have the foreign affiliations that almost all your competitors have. And yet, today Madison is the number two media buying agency. How did you achieve this?

    One of the key reasons is that we have a single source of income - only from the client. We have limited, large, blue chip companies as clients, who are demanding and who understand the role that astute media buying strategies can play in building their business and profits. We also have large and dedicated teams to do justice to clients’ businesses. We have by far the highest number of people per business and of course also highest billing per client. Finally, we are focused only on productive expenditure that contributes to client delight and on minimising expenditure on non-productive areas like travel, conferences, unnecessary expenses etc.

  • Madison even have a rural marketing cell. Why did you create that?

    The existing team at Madison neither has any link nor aspirations relating to rural work. Their psyche is urban. They are not happy going to villages and finding out what drives rural consumption. I have also strongly believed in not setting up something just because it is a money-making opportunity. First, I must feel that the client needs the service and second, I must have a resident expert in that area who can offer that service. Otherwise it does not work. It is no point announcing the launch of a service and then go around putting together a team. In rural marketing, I have a guy called RB Rajan who ran an agency in Chennai. When I met him and evaluated his clients, he had a solid rural focus in everything he was doing. I took him over and it became the new rural unit of Madison. I came across a bright young person in outdoor and he set up our outdoor unit.

  • Madison has subsequently grown very fast and is now the second largest agency in media buying and that too without any foreign affiliation. How did this happen?

    Well, it started with my role in leading the charge for unbundling the different functions of an agency in India - for which the industry probably hates me. You see, until then, an agency did everything. It got the client, evolved the strategy, did the creative, bought the media space and released the ad. Everything was done under one roof by the same agency. We were the first, thanks to Procter & Gamble, to get appointed to handle the entire media buying for P&G, irrespective of whether we handled the creative or not. It was P&G, which discovered that we had some strengths in media buying. They invited a pitch from all their agencies to handle the media buying separately and we were selected. We led the charge of unbundling the media but we did not stop at that. We felt that what the clients are looking for is not an agency that can deliver all that a client needs. The clients want to deal with the ‘best in class’ in each area of communication. With this belief we created separate units to offer public relations, retail, even a separate cell to handle the entertainment industry. It is my strong view that with the clutter of media and advertising increasing in the marketplace, plain vanilla TV will not work anymore. I have seen TV improve sales of brands manifold but this does not work anymore. You need to have specialised services.

  • What were the two or three things you have really learned and liked doing at Mudra which prepared you for turning into an entrepreneur.

    The biggest thing I learnt from them was the culture of getting the job done, and getting it done in double quick time. There was no question of saying, ‘no this cannot be done’. If an ad had to be released tomorrow, I think most other agencies at that time would have said, “don’t be ridiculous” and most other clients would not have expected it of you either. That is the truth, but there, we just did it.

  • What was the learning at Mudra? How was it different?

    It was a sea change. I was the head of the Bombay office. The biggest learning was that the job had to be done no matter what. And it had to be done in double quick time. That was the bottomline. This was not the prevalent culture in ad agencies that time. Agencies had a more relaxed, laid back, happy-go-lucky attitude. The work culture was different. And the most difficult aspect of this work culture was that I had to work on Saturdays. I am reasonably hard-working but somehow the concept of working on Saturdays took some getting used to.

  • Some path-breaking global advertising has come from cigarette companies - the Marlboro Man or the Virginia Slims campaign for women (‘You have come a long way baby’). What are your views on this?

    These are few and far between. The vast majority refuse to change and have a fear of failing. Now, I know from experience that there is no shortage of ideas. Anybody can come up with a good idea. My belief today is that it is not just the generation of ideas that makes you outstanding. It is the generation of an idea and your ability to sell it to the client. And you can sell it to the client only if you have earned the confidence of the client. It is this combination that makes an outstanding advertising person and not just that you have come up with an idea. I think what worked for us at that time was not only that Mohammad was very good and had come up with a great idea, but that VST had confidence in him. Otherwise it would have been difficult to do it.

  • Why did you choose client servicing?

    That’s where most marketing people would go because that is the strategic part of advertising. Managing directors those days invariably came from the strategy side. So, I was in Contract for four years. It was a wonderful experience for me, working with Mohammed Khan. Also, I dare say it was a bit of a culture shock. From being a brand manager of Cadburys, I was suddenly at the beck and call of clients. I think my personality was malleable enough to adapt to this rather shocking change -- taking calls at odd hours, rolling up your sleeves and getting down to work anytime.

  • Why did you move from marketing to advertising?

    I knew that I was not going to become the marketing manager at Cadbury in a hurry. I was also beginning to realise that advertising was a very critical component of the total marketing job and therefore, having spent eight years in marketing, I thought to myself, let me pick up different skills in a related area. One other option was sales. So, you could be in sales, brand management or advertising. I intuitively and instinctively preferred advertising.

  • What was your most important learning of your first job?

    One of the best parts of that job was extensive travelling. As a brand manager, I travelled at least 10 days a month. Today, most brand managers are not travelling enough. Travelling gave me a very good grounding; I have been to virtually every town in India. If I look back, that provided the foundation for my marketing and advertising career. I am not just a media person or an advertising person or a PR person. I have an overview which I earned in that period. After about four years I moved to Cadbury.

  • One of the earliest mantras of Madison was that if it is safe, its risky. What do you mean by this?

    It is just a smart way of saying that the biggest risk is not to take risk and play safe. That, in today’s world, does not work. It happened like that with my dad in the face of adversity. The business just went when he was too old to start it all over again; that too in the 60s, when things were very different. But he was very gutsy and made a very important decision at that time of moving from the one-hick town of Balsar to Bangalore. He bought a hotel there and ran a Western-style boarding and lodging. That’s how I moved to Bangalore. Our lifestyle changed. It was good for me - better education and more opportunities of all kinds. I went to Bishop Cotton School from St. Joseph’s Convent of Balsar. I then did my B Com. My eldest brother was an engineer but my middle brother was a Chartered Accountant. Even my dad was into finance and stocks. I distinctly remember he used to read a paper called Vyapaar. I have vague memories of him poring over the paper in Balsar and then in Bangalore.

  • What made you choose marketing as a career?

    I was born in Bombay. Father’s family was from a small town called Balsar in Gujarat, from where I get my name. My early education was in a so-called ‘convent’ school. My father was a forest contractor and timber merchant. In those days you could bid for vast tracts of forest land, cut it, sell the timber and make money. In the 60s, the whole thing got nationalised and my father lost his business. These days there is lot of talk of risk-taking and so on. One of the earliest mantras of Madison was that if it is safe, its risky.