‘IT’S BEYOND ME HOW CREATIVE AND MEDIA CAN BE DISSOCIATED’
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
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.