Ad industry needs a mix of top business-school skills for strategic insights and creative abilities

It was the year 1965, when Mumbai was called Bombay and advertising was becoming a sough-after profession. 29-year-old Kersy Katrak returned from London with the idea of setting up an ad agency. During his time aboard, Katrak read liberally about the Western ad businesses, and when he returned home he wanted his agency to be styled like Bill Bernbach’s DDB – small but powerful. Katrak set up MCM (Mass Communication and Marketing), a creative shop in Bombay that gave many of later years’ ad legends their big break. But MCM kick started a new, more significant trend in the Indian ad industry. The agency assembled a team of MBAs from the Indian Institute of Management (IIM).

Diwan Arun Nanda, a gold medalist from IIM Ahmedabad, left his job at Hindustan Lever to join Katrak. Ajit Balakrishnan from IIM Calcutta turned away offers by MNCs and joined MCM because advertising excited him. “It was a time when marketing science had just stumbled on the concept of ‘brand’- an abstraction which meant more than the physical features of the product. This was driven by the innovations in chemistry that were leading to a constant stream of physically identical chemistry-based products such as soaps, detergents, toothpastes, cosmetics,” recalls Balakrishnan. Companies were looking for solutions that could make their products look and feel different. “Ad agencies stepped up to provide the expertise to do that, first in New York (Madison Avenue) and then it spread elsewhere. In India, IIM graduates stepped in to provide the analytical skills needed to negotiate through this territory of ‘brands’ with their measures such as awareness, recall etc,” he adds.

A few years after joining MCM, Nanda and Balakrishnan teamed up with their colleague, the legendary adman Mohammed Khan to set up Rediffusion, one of India’s oldest independent ad companies. And another agency that attracted IIM graduates away from the typical MNC jobs.

Ambi Parameswaran, a chemical engineer from IIT Madras, joined IIM Calcutta to pick up management lessons. Parameswaran, who missed out on a summer placement with Hindustan Lever, heard about Rediffusion, which had arrived on campus to recruit fresh talent. Parameswaran’s stint with Rediffusion kicked off a career in advertising that spanned decades. Parameswaran recalls, “To be honest, I was attracted to Rediffusion because it looked like an MBA friendly set up. When I started full-time with them I realised that advertising opened a new world of learnings for young management graduates. We could work on a number of categories at the same time. We added value to creative ideas. We could sell them better,” he says. Parameswaran, who later took on various marketing roles, tried to bring in IIM graduates even when he was at Ulka Advertising, an agency that he worked and built for over two decades.

Another ad man who understood the value MBAs was Alyque Padamsee. While Rediffusion was busy adding IIM power to its team, Lintas’ legendary chief Padamsee didn’t want to miss out on this trend. He understood the difference “the MBAs” made to the ad business. People who have worked closely with Padamsee told us that he was “desperate” to hire IIM graduates to win the debates that he often had with his biggest client, Hindustan Lever. The first time he went to IIM Ahmedabad he picked six MBAs, a first-of-a-kind move at Lintas. It was an effort to put more left and right brains in one space, a trend that somewhat faded with time.

Missing Piece Of The Puzzle?

Shashi Sinha, an alumnus of IIT Kanpur and IIM Bangalore, joined Ulka after a stint at UB Group. He moved to advertising because it seemed “cerebral”. Sinha, the chief executive officer of IPG Mediabrands, says, “From the mid-90s onwards there was a sudden emergence of creative stars. The business environment started changing. Also, the romance of being on the account planning side started dipping.”

When Sinha left a marketing job to join an ad agency the compromise on salary wasn’t big. However, today, the salary gaps have widened dramatically. An average IIM graduate who takes up a marketing job at an FMCG company is paid Rs 18-20 lakh per annum. On the other hand, the entry-level salary package at a network agency is anywhere between Rs 5-6 lakh per annum. Old hands in the business think ad agencies cannot match these salary standards. Though wages is a major hiccup for ad agencies to bring on board IIM graduates, there are a few other reasons that are a turn-off for the top B-School graduates.

Partha Sinha, vice chairman and managing director, McCann Worldgroup, who is from IIT Kharagpur and IIM Ahmedabad, says changing business models in the advertising industry shook up a lot of things. “As ad agencies moved from the commission-based model, it became all about deliverables. Today, many agencies think they are adding value to a brand by creating ‘good films’. Only a handful are working to find solutions for brands. The unfortunate part about the business today is that not many jobs in advertising are meaningful,” opines Sinha. However, advertising evokes excitement, discussions, and debates, even today in IIM classrooms, says Sinha. The women and men sitting in the best B-school classrooms in India still feel about advertising how Balakrishnan felt back in the day. It’s exciting, but not enticing enough.

Reigniting The Spark

Balakrishnan, the founder of Rediffusion Brand Solutions and Rediff.com, is positive that IIM graduates will flock to the communication business again in the near future. He thinks ad agencies will have to bring in talent for building new user communities on the Internet, from chat boards to instant messengers, in various forms. “The industry will need its mix of top business-school skills for strategic insights and creative abilities to make the community platforms attractive. Brands and agencies have to make users come back, get new ones on board, and keep the computer programming platforms humming,” says Balakrishnan.
On the other hand, Parameswaran, who works independently as a brand strategist and is the founder of Brand-Building.com, thinks agencies will have to create specialised divisions if they plan to get IIM graduates on board. “There is still an excitement about advertising on IIM campuses. To keep that energy going, agencies will have to create cerebral arms that will justify the hire and strike a balance of talent in their systems.”

Adland’s IIM Alumnus

Diwan Arun Nanda, IIM Ahmedabad
(Nanda left Hindustan Lever to join MCM. He is the founder of Rediffusion)

Ajit Balakrishnan, IIM Calcutta
(Balakrishnan teamed up with Nanda and co-founded Rediffusion. He is also the CEO of rediff.com)

Ambi Parameswaran, IIM Calcutta
(Parameswaran joined Rediffusion right after college and worked at Ulka for over two decades. He is now a brand strategist)

Ritu Banga, IIM Ahmedabad
(Banga, too, joined Rediffusion after her MBA. She is currently the co-founder of Zoomdojo)

Rama Bijapurkar, IIM Ahmedabad
(Bijapurkar’s first job was with Lintas. She went on to become a management consultant)

Late Anand Halve, IIM Ahmedabad
(Lintas hired Halve in the late 70s. After working in several other agencies, he co-founded Chlorophyll)

Arvind Sharma, IIM Ahmedabad
(Sharma is instrumental in building the creative hot shop Leo Burnett in India. He is currently the chairman of Cheetahsoft Technologies)

Richa Arora, IIM Ahmedabad

(Arora spent over a decade in Ulka before moving to marketing. She is now CCO (Consumer Products Business) of
Tata Chemicals)

Shashi Sinha, IIM Bangalore
(Sinha started his advertising stint with Ulka. Currently, he is the CEO of IPG Mediabrands)

Vikram Sakhuja, IIM Calcutta
(Sakhuja worked with MNCs for many years before he switched to advertising. He is now group CEO, Madison Media and OOH)

Pranesh Misra, IIM Ahmedabad
(Misra was in Lintas for several years. Today, he is the chairman and MD of Brandscapes Worldwide)

Vishnu Mohan, IIM Ahmedabad
(Mohan joined Euro RSCG in the early 2000s. He is currently the CEO, Havas Group India & South East Asia/ CEO Havas Media APAC)

Partha Sinha, IIM Ahmedabad
(Sinha worked as a brand manager at Citi before joining Ogilvy, which was his first advertising stint. He is currently the vice-chairman and managing director of McCann Worldgroup India)

Arpita Menon, IIM Bangalore
(Menon started her career in advertising at FCB Ulka. She is currently the EVP & head, partnerships & innovation, Star TV)

Suman Srivastava, IIM Ahmedabad
(Srivastava has worked at Lintas, Euro RSCG & FCB Ulka. He founded marketing unplugged eight years ago)

Rajiv Agarwal, IIM Ahmedabad
(Agarwal founded Nexus Equity, the advertising agency which later merged with Enterprise)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *