The leg­endary Roda Me­hta, a pi­o­neer in estab­lish­ing sci­en­tific me­dia plan­ning and buy­ing in In­dia, was honoured with the Ad­ver­tis­ing Agen­cies As­so­ci­a­tion of In­dia’s Life­time Achieve­ment Award in Mumbai re­cently. Here we present ex­cerpts from her ac­cep­tanc

Impact - - SPOTLIGHT -

This award has come as an un­ex­pected sur­prise, for in the past 19 years since I left this in­dus­try, I have thought and worked on much else than ad­ver­tis­ing. You are hon­our­ing me for much to­day. As far as I can re­mem­ber, all I did was a good day’s job, fol­lowed by a good night’s sleep, and that was all there was to it. That all these de­vel­op­ments took place at a time of rapid change was en­tirely co­in­ci­den­tal. But since you have cho­sen to hon­our me for it, let me share how this came to be.

Back in 1971, at the age of 21, faced with the choice be­tween an un­known called ad­ver­tis­ing that was ask­ing for com­put­er­i­za­tion of the Na­tional Read­er­ship Sur­vey 1970 and a known called bank­ing, the ad­vice of a pro­fes­sor guided me: “If your aim is to con­trib­ute and grow, take the for­mer. If you want a steady path in your ca­reer, take the lat­ter”. I took the for­mer and was com­pletely un­de­cided on the wis­dom of that choice for the first two years. I re­mem­ber the first day I stepped into HTA at Ex­press Tow­ers, Heather Almeida, a se­nior ac­count ex­ec­u­tive, ex­claimed, “What is an MBA do­ing in Me­dia?” That pretty much summed it up! For, un­known to me, Me­dia was pri­mar­ily a cler­i­cal func­tion, re­leas­ing ad­ver­tise­ments cre­ated by the agency. Not too long af­ter came the re­al­iza­tion that with only printed data on of­fer, com­put­er­i­za­tion was well nigh im­pos­si­ble. All this laid bare the very rea­son for my be­ing there.

Those first years were spent study­ing the NRS in­side out, link­ing it to other sources of in­for­ma­tion like the Au­dit Bureau of Cir­cu­la­tion, Cen­sus data, etc., and in de­vel­op­ing Reach and Fre­quency es­ti­ma­tion meth­ods with sis­ter agency IMRB. Those for­ma­tive years de­vel­oped my knowl­edge and set the foun­da­tion for what was to come.

In 1973, the Clar­ion-Mote Me­dia Model was pre­sented at the Ad­ver­tis­ing Club of Bom­bay and HTA was asked to cri­tique it.

The talk cat­a­pulted me onto the in­dus­try stage. A two-month sec­ond­ment to the In­dian Space Re­search Or­ga­ni­za­tion for their Satel­lite In­struc­tional Tele­vi­sion Ex­per­i­ment, work­ing with some bril­liant minds, fol­lowed, and then a study across mar­kets on the im­pact of Hindi Cinema on young adult be­hav­iour. My first in­dus­try ex­pe­ri­ence was on the Ad­ver­tis­ing Club Com­mit­tee for All In­dia Ra­dio. In 1972, an as­sis­tant in the Ac­count Ser­vic­ing Depart­ment re­quested for train­ing in Me­dia and was as­signed to me. Her name was Rox­ane Guz­dar. Oth­ers fol­lowed. One day, a Me­dia clerk came up and said, “You train out­siders, but you never train us”. It came as a jolt. That day I vowed that no one, ir­re­spec­tive of his or her job role, should be held back from work­ing at his or her full po­ten­tial. But by then, I was close to leav­ing HTA.

The for­mal of­fer from Ogilvy Ben­son & Mather came with­out a meet­ing; so I asked to in­ter­view the Manag­ing Direc­tor (Mani Ayer)! I placed be­fore him two con­di­tions – com­plete in­de­pen­dence in work and no pol­i­tics. Mani Ayer ac­cepted and I moved to OBM as Me­dia Group Head in Au­gust, 1975.

The very first me­dia pre­sen­ta­tion made to the mar­ket­ing direc­tor of an in­ter­na­tional food com­pany was in the pres­ence of Mani Ayer and the full ser­vic­ing team. Af­ter many ap­pre­cia­tive com­ments, the client left and then sent back their usual list of pub­li­ca­tions for re­lease. That ex­pe­ri­ence drove me to tar­get­ing one client ev­ery year to sci­en­tific me­dia plan­ning. For­tu­nately, client com­pa­nies had also be­gun hir­ing MBAs as trainees and pro­mot­ing them to Brand Man­age­ment. As we spoke the same language, very soon sci­en­tif­i­cally con­ceived me­dia plans were be­ing ac­cepted down up.

Now un­like HTA, where Ac­count Ser­vic­ing would an­a­lyse and de­code client brand mar­ket­ing briefs for Me­dia, at OBM, client briefs were handed over di­rectly to Me­dia. With lim­ited re­sources and am­bi­tious tar­gets for an over-stretched func­tion, I re­mem­ber storm­ing into Mani Ayer’s cabin one morn­ing stat­ing that Ac­count Ser­vic­ing was not do­ing its job and was merely pass­ing down client mar­ket­ing briefs, to which he qui­etly re­sponded, “Then you do it”.

That is how the Me­dia func­tion, through back­ward in­te­gra­tion, started mar­ket-con­sumer-me­dia anal­y­sis that be­came a part of ev­ery brand me­dia strat­egy. Clients took to this ap­proach in­stan­ta­neously and of­ten fine-tuned their own ob­jec­tives through this process.

Now to ev­ery di­rect ap­proach made by the Me­dia to clients came the re­sponse “Our agency de­cides our me­dia plans”. With nowhere else to go, they learnt soon enough that a visit to OBM ne­ces­si­tated a deep un­der­stand­ing of their prod­uct – its con­tent and lay­out, ad­ver­tis­ing cat­e­gories (par­tic­u­larly use by clas­si­fieds), ad­ver­tis­ing place­ment strate­gies, dis­tri­bu­tion net­work, print­ing qual­ity, etc. Why was this nec­es­sary? Be­cause the pro­jec­tions in the NRS from small sam­ple sizes at each tar­get group level needed other mea­sures to rat­ify me­dia choices. Pub­lish­ers be­gan chang­ing their sell­ing ap­proach, train­ing sales per­son­nel with a study of their read­ers, with in­tra-me­dia and in­ter-me­dia com­pet­i­tive pro­fil­ing, etc. Thus Me­dia be­gan to hire dif­fer­ently and to pro­fes­sion­al­ize its ser­vice.

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