Press Release

The Fab Four To Uday Shankar goes the credit of turning around Star Plus, the Hindi general entertainment channel of Star India, the broadcast company owned by Rupert Murdoch.

18 October 2011

The Fab Four

For the past four years BrandWagon has been bringing you news from the world of media, marketing and advertising. It has been the chronicler of the good and the bad times for the industry, getting the views of top marketers, media honchos and advertising veterans to better understand the changing trends in the industry. We have, at times, attempted to read the future and identify opportunities as well as pitfalls awaiting the big and small players in the industry.

On our fourth anniversary, we fete four eminent leaders from the media, marketing and advertising community who have through their wisdom, creativity and vision led the industry through turbulent as well as intoxicating times. These Fab Four of the industry – McCann Erickson Worldgroup Asia-Pacific regional executive creative director and McCann Erickson India executive chairman Prasoon Joshi, Group M CEO-South Asia Vikram Sakhuja, Star India CEO Uday Shankar and Indian Premier League CEO Sundar Raman – talk about four unique features of their businesses. They identify the challenges for their fraternity and also, share valuable insights on how to work out the solutions.

We also have MG Parameswaran, executive director and CEO of DraftFCB Ulka Advertising, enumerating the lessons drawn from the experiences of the last four years. At the other end of the spectrum, we have the doyen of Indian advertising Piyush Pandey, executive chairman and creative director, South Asia, Ogilvy & Mather India talking about the raison de etre of his monumental work. For him, it's the everyday ordinariness of life and the special people and moments that inhabit it that ignite sparks of inspiration.

Hope you enjoy reading the edition.

Vikram sakhuja

CEO, South Asia, Group M

Leading India's largest

and most awarded one-stop shop for marketing investment Group M, Vikram Sakhuja has his fingers on the pulse of the media buying industry. Group M, the media buying division of one of the world's largest marketing communications group WPP, accounts for more than 40% of the business in India. Group M has top-league media buying agencies under its umbrella such as Mindshare, Maxus, MEC, and Mediacom. Together, these agencies service big advertisers such as Unilever, Mercedes Benz, Colgate, L'Oreal, Reliance Communications, Vodafone. As the chief executive officer of GroupM South Asia, Sakhuja has led these agencies through overwhelming times of media proliferation, audience segmentation and intense competition within the industry. He has mastered the art and science of keeping capricious clients in good humour by delivering value for every rupee they spend on their marketing. Sakhuja has often been critical of his business and industry. He has publicly voiced his angst against the commoditisation of media buying business, the undercutting of fee by agencies to win a pitch, the constraints under which media buyers have to operate. But clearly, the dissatisfaction with self is the mark of man seeking constant improvement in self and the world he inhabits.

Prasoon joshi

Executive chairman, McCann Erickson India & regional executive creative director, McCann Worldgroup Apac

India’s advertising guru who gets his high from penning poems and writing dialogues for Bollywood films, Prasoon Joshi is the man behind memorable ad campaigns such as Thanda Matlab Coca-Cola and Log Kyun Khate Hai Chlor-Mint. Starting off at Ogilvy and Mather where he worked under creative genius Piyush Pandey, Joshi has time and again tapped his small-town roots to come up with ad jingles that are an instant hit with India’s masses. Slice of life portrayals, cultural nuances, the Indian penchant for witty dialogues, real life characterisation – were all evolved by him to create a distinct identity for Indian advertising and script success stories for myriad brands. In 2002, he moved to McCann Erickson where he went on to build it into a creative powerhouse and an agency to reckon with. In 2009, Joshi became the first Indian and the only one from emerging markets to be inducted in McCann Worldgroup’s global board. Joshi, incidentally, is the first person from the creative background to be included in the board of the company. A celebrated creative writer and a talented lyricist, Joshi was already holding a global position as the regional creative director for McCann’s Asia-Pacific operations.

Uday shankar


To Uday Shankar goes the credit of turning around Star Plus, the Hindi general entertainment channel of Star India, the broadcast company owned by Rupert Murdoch. Shankar gained his reputation as an astute television head with the launch of Aaj Tak in 2000, as he steered the Hindi news channel to the top spot in the ratings charts, and it was his success there that took him to Star News in 2004. He took over as CEO of Star India in 2007 at a time when the two big stalwarts of Star India –Peter Mukherjea and Sameer Nair had quit the broadcast company. With the entry of Viacom 18’s Colors in 2008, the former badshah of general entertainment saw difficult times as the upstart wrested away the top slot. Among his first moves was the decision to scrap long-running shows from the Balaji Telefilms stable, which had helped Star Plus hold on to the top slot for nine years, but were now a spent force. Shankar also emphasised the need for differentiated content, out of the box thinking and taking risks, and his stand was vindicated when Star Plus won back the top slot in 2009. Earlier this year, Shankar also oversaw Star India and long-time rival Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd’s distribution arms form a joint venture to take on cable operators and raise their share of subscription revenue.

Sundar raman

CEO, Indian Premier League

Indian Premier League (IPL), the Twenty20 cricket tournament of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) may be seen as the brainchild of Lalit Modi, but it was Sundar Raman, who as its CEO, laid the foundation and turned Modi's vision into reality. Raman came into his own in 2009 when the second season of IPL was shifted to South Africa just three weeks before the scheduled start date. Not only did he manage to pull it off, IPL2 turned out to bigger, brighter and a whole lot richer than the inaugural season.

Even before joining IPL, Raman had shown his mettle as managing director at Mindshare, one of the media buying agencies of GroupM, part of WPP Plc., where he was responsible for growing its business in India while providing strategic direction and operational focus, leading the media strategy for some of the biggest brands in the region such as Unilever, PepsiCo, Motorola, Samsung and Amex.

Post IPL3, as CEO of the money-spinning IPL , his task has been to bring back IPL's lost glory.

Prasoon Joshi

Chairman, McCann Erickson India

Four pursuits of a creative mind


Advertising is all about creativity and creativity is a deeply personal attribute. What sets one's work apart from the others is the uniqueness of one's emotions, observations and experiences and their expression. What distinguishes good work from the average is the depth of the understanding of an object and its expression. The process of assimilation and its regurgitation has to be real and authentic without any kind of impurity in it. Authenticity is an important attribute for creativity. Being real, experiencing things the way they are, perceiving them in their real form, and then, expressing them the way one sees them is the best to be creative than to express one's self to fit in a certain form or formula. Being what you are is important to be able to create. Trying to be somebody else that you are not stifles creativity. The process of creation, with no extraneous influences, is almost spiritual. It is meditative. It is when you lose yourself into an idea or a thought that it takes seeds and blossoms into beautiful work.

Appreciating all art forms

A good artist is the one who is in sync with all art forms, this is something I have learnt over the course of my personal and professional journey. Being able to relate with the world around you, to be able to appreciate the written word, music, painting, design, even technology, is important to be able to create one's own work. I have been an avid reader of Russian literature, I have been inspired by Nietzche, I love country music, I listen to hip-hop, I am also a gadget freak, I love to explore tech applications and even design them, I appreciate music and all these indulgences make me the artist I am. I am inspired by them, I am influenced by them, I absorb them and allow them to churn inside me. Advertising is an ensemble of all art forms. To be able to appreciate and connect with diverse art forms only enriches one's craft. It expands one's horizon and enriches one's experiences.


Being obsessed about one's work is an important ingredient for producing good creative work. When I am trying to develop an idea, I get totally engrossed in it. I think and think and then, rethink and then, think it all over again. I am obsessive about details. Even minor aberrations make me ill at ease. I like my ideas to look the way I see them.


Practice makes a man perfect may be an old saying but its relevance is universal. Masters of any craft are men who never give up practicing. They do not produce work to simply meet a demand or fulfill a commitment. They produce because it's the process of creation that inspires them, excites them, exhorts them and exhilarates them. It also hones their skills and makes them better at their craft. One should never undermine the usefulness of practising in the journey to being a good artist. I remember a poem by one of my favourite poets Iqbal in which he talks about how the falcon chases its prey, catches it, then drops it and then, yet again begins the chase. The poet says the falcon does this even when it is not hungry. The chase,

the drop and the catch are part of the process of sharpening its hunting skills.

Uday Shankar

CEO, Star India

Four realities of the broadcast business

TV is and will always be about driving social change

Television is the ultimate mass medium; it transcends the traditional barriers of education, income and class. It can reflect and mobilize public opinion and it can get millions of people to focus on any one issue. With this significant power comes immense responsibility to ensure that the media is able to devote credible time on critical issues, keep interest on relevant issues alive over longer periods of time and on occasion, bring in a tone of moderation that allows sensible compromise and positive action. Hence, anyone trying to create a successful and robust media business without keeping this at the core of their strategy is destined to lose out in the long run.

The industry is stymied by a shortage of vision

Content creators are often chasing the lowest common denominator to maximise the “entertainment value” as against the opportunity to engage meaningfully with its audience. There is a limited focus in building the fundamentals of the sector. For instance, there is no focus on nurturing talent, incubating centres of excellence or in building long-term credibility. In the infrastructure part of the value chain, cable operators capture a dispropor-tionate share of value undermining the profitability of the content component of the industry, and the DTH (direct-to-home) players who provide better technology and quality are made to suffer conse-quences of ill-conceived regulations that appear motivated to serve the interests of cable industry as against the interest of consumers. There is a shortage of vision on part of the government because it failed to see this sector’s potential. It only sees it as a tool for propaganda or a source of annoyance.

Media will always be vulner-able to stifling regulations

By virtue of its role, media has the legitimacy to monitor those in power and hence, the political class and the government will always look to restrict its independence. It is only a rare politi-cian who is actually prepared to walk the talk in support of media. In my experience, I know of only two instances when a politician has expressed support for the freedom of media and he or she was not doing it for public posturing. We must be conscious of this and remain united in our stand against intervention. India is a unique emerging market where major international players will play a dominant role in broadcasting. The presence of a supportive and progressive regulatory framework will ensure a sustainable level playing field.

We must learn to thrive in an intensely competitive market

The opening up of the Indian media industry has created a highly compe-titive market. This intense competition should have ideally resulted in high quality customised content delivered to consumers in a highly segmented manner, akin to consumer products. However, that has not happened. And that is primarily because of the absence of a level playing field for infrastructure platforms, rent-seeking by select players, and a desire amongst the industry team to gain peer approval. A more level playing field that rewards content creators who are able to connect to customers can usher in this transformation.

Sundar raman

CEO, Indian Premier League

Four universal principles of marketing

Common sense, howsoever rare it may be, is the first and foremost necessity for anything and anyone in the world to succeed. It is a universal and the most fundamental requirement for success in business and life in general. Then, having one's ears to the ground, taking firm steps and being ready to accept brickbats along with bouquets and not shying away from changing the course when needed, are some other fundamental principles that define success. Apart from these, I also feel that delivery of promise is as important as the making of promise. This basically means that there has to be a trigger to make things happen and then, execution is as important as the talk. These, according to me, are the cardinal truths that, in fact, apply to all walks of life, not just marketing or businesses alone. And all these truths are integral, as well as interconnected to each other.

Let me explain these through the example of the Indian Premier League or IPL. IPL's success, in fact, rests on these fundamental principles. Launched in the year 2008, it was a format that did not exist earlier. It was a completely new idea and experiment. Our challenge was to explain that to the consumers and make them accept it. At that time, a lot of people said that we did not stand a chance with this kind of a format and it would definitely not work. However, our gut belief was that it would work for sure, and we established that.

Over the course of all the seasons, there have been various learnings. For example, in the second year of the IPL tournament, we had the ability to go out to another country and execute the tournament most successfully. In that case, the execution of our ideas was absolutely critical. (The second season of IPL was conducted in South Africa because it was coinciding with the general elections in India). It was a great success. The season 3 of IPL had its own learnings. We had to get back IPL on the road.

Our learnings from IPL are on a daily basis. It has nothing to do with one or two things or instances in particular. Our decisions are taken on a daily basis so we have to constantly think. There are various discussions that take place everyday and based on them, we change our course every now and then. Each IPL season has provided it unique learnings and through them, we have managed to constantly improve the brand and will continue to do so. We are setting new standards with each season.

In terms of marketing the brand, I think that the traditional approach, the 4 Ps (product, price, promotion and place) of marketing, is still quite relevant today. However, their relevance for consumers has changed. Products like IPL and Facebook have swept consumers off their feet. Due to this, we have moved from long gestation periods of taking decisions to instantly figuring out what actually works in the market and what does not. We, thus, have the ability to take calls instantly and to change things instantly.

I also believe that the learnings from IPL are not necessarily unique to the brand. They can surely be applied across brands and categories. These are not just learnings from the marketing point of view, there are many business learnings too. As much as we learnt from various sectors like consumer goods, telecom etc, other sectors can definitely learn and benefit from sports marketing too, which we have done through a brand like IPL.

Vikram Sakhuja

CEO, South Asia, Group M

Four home truths of the media buying industry

“I am mad as hell and I ‘m not going to take it anymore!” (Howard Beale in Network, MGM 1976)

I am a media buyer. I actually thought I was a marketing investment manager but that was just a delusion of grandeur. Don't get me wrong. I am proud to be a media buyer. I just feel underutilised.

Marketing is treated like a cost

not an investment

Rs 30,000 crore of media and another similar amount in BTL (below-the-line), activation, sponsorship, celebrities, etc., is driving roughly Rs 3,60,000 crore of our marketing GDP (the bit of our Rs 9,00,000 crore GDP that spends (as distinct from invests) on marketing). Marketing is supposed to get more people to buy our brands more times, more often, right? Then why is it that in the face of financial adversity marketing cuts precede most others. Once CEOs transcend their CMO role, compulsions force them to view marketing as a cost despite their best attempt to deny this. Not their fault. For marketers are trained in measuring return on marketing investment more through savings than driving profitable growth. This despite there being enough evidence to prove that marketing ROI (return on investment) is indeed measurable. Ah! but that requires CMOs to go back to school. Will it happen?

Media plans have regressed to salience building

In the good old days of arcane media planning, we used to talk of reaching the people who count, rather than just counting the people we reach. Two decades later when there is even a more burning need to do just that, we are being bombarded by a mind numbing blitz of share of voice advertising in an over-cluttered market that threatens to convert one of the last countries who like to watch ads to become active avoiders.

There are some of us who talk of moving from interruption to engagement to advocacy. Indeed, the winning entries at the awards show there is hope. But as the award functions indicate, there are only a handful of campaigns every year who demonstrate how it needs to be done, while others persist with cacophony. Value planners and get them to plan to a communication rather than a salience objective.

Price in media is the most poorly understood metric

Now here’s the irony. In a market where savings are seen to be of greatest importance, the understanding of price benchmarks is abysmal. For starters, efficiency metrics change across media. In TV we employ CPRP (cost per rating point), in print we look at cost per square cm, in radio it is cost per spot, in OOH (out-of-home) it is cost per hoarding, in internet it is cost per thousand (CPM). Moreover, benchmarks could extend from price paid last year, to price versus rate card, to perceived lowest price in the market to a price versus market inflation. For those who wish to confound the confusion, a higher price on TV, say, can be explained away by a different prime: non-prime mix, base: impact mix, budgetary variations, etc. It is almost as if price savings in media are a function of how glibly you can explain your position. This is strange considering media is all about reaching audiences with (CPM/CPT) being the globally accepted metric. Inflation too is a reasonably straightforward construct of demand over supply. Measuring a CPM stand-alone and versus inflation needs to be the absolute immovable metric.

The justification of price premium is far more interesting. Today the premium paid (for say an IPL spot, or a front page solus (FPS) in a daily, or ground sponsorship of the F1 race) is based on the ability of the seller to establish a new benchmark explained away, often speciously, on cost of rights acquisition. The buyer calculates the premium versus existing benchmarks after factoring all exposure (for example, IPL at 4X of base CPRP, an FPS at 2 times base cost/sq cm, etc.,). That part is easy. The more difficult part is taking the call on how much premium to pay. And that is where the client-agency-media owner ecosystem is not taking enough pains to explain the premium in terms of its ability to achieve the communication objective. So for a young, upstart mobile phone taking on the market leader the premium to be paid for sponsoring a cricket series is peanuts in return for the respectability and stature that the sponsorship can provide the brand.

Quicker we move to a standard measure of computing efficiency and inflation, and in being able to justify premiums through value, will a buyer be treated as an invest-ment manager rather than a second-hand car salesman.

Clients undervalue media agencies

In their internal visioning exercises, media agencies fantasise about being clients’ lead business partner. Indeed, we feel we have a right to make this claim. We understand consumers, marketing and its impact on P&Ls; we understand research, data and how to harness it; And of course we have the skills to manage the implementation of all plans. Where this happens the result is magic. Agency teams are motivated, client is happy with a one-stop shop, and brands get stronger. However, at its worst, agencies are treated as implementers and paid accordingly. And the virtuous cycle turns vicious.

The four cardinal truths of media agencies are symptomatic of the marketing industry today. Marketers have turned wasteful and activity has been prioritized over strategy. The time has now come to get back to basics, and ask the question – what builds a brand. In answering this, value will get unlocked for the brand, the advertiser and the media agency.

Source: Financial Express - The Band Wagon

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