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The next generation of media stars

It's only apt that the hunt for the next gen of media stars - planners, buyers and specialists be as challenging as the business itself.

ET Bureau|
Jul 23, 2008, 04.31 AM IST
It's only apt that the hunt for the next gen of media stars ��� planners, buyers and specialists be as challenging as the business itself.

Brand Equity chased agency heads and clients alike to place their bets on some of the most promising names in media services, and after much sieving and refining we arrived at a list of some of brightest sparks in the world of media.

They exude a lot of confidence, are adept at the art of strategy and buying, and are all in the right side of 30s. This group has fine tuned the art of picking cherries for their clients with an ample dose of innovation thrown in. And much like today's youth, it's not just number crunching or negotiations which keeps them busy. Sports, movies, food ��� it's an eclectic mix of pursuits for the young media stars.

As has been the case every year, the final names went through rigorous cross verifications, with recommendations from more than one person, from both clients as well as agencies. And it's become commonplace to fend off a volley of comments ranging from, 'don't want to divulge names as they will be poached immediately' , 'can we add few more names to the list' and 'wish I was younger, could have got featured'.

Well, we can be modest about it, but one cannot wish away the facts. Be it the list of budding marketers, salesmen, media guys or creative folks ��� we have an enviable track record of spotting the best. When these professionals make the headlines again, remember, you first read about them here.

Rising Star: Gautam Surath

From constructing a thermal power station to building tools for media measurement and analytics; it's been a wide learning curve for Gautam Surath. A mechanical engineer by qualification, he joined advertising when the job at Neyveli became boring. After graduating from MICA in 2003, he worked with Madison for a month before moving to Starcom.

"Media strategy appealed to me because my background of mechanical engineering naturally equipped me to work better with data and numbers," he says.

At Starcom he started with the P&G business. Ravi Kiran, CEO, South Asia, Starcom Mediavest says, "While media is very analytical, there are very few people who can understand the data and provide solutions to the client. Gautam brings a combination of both." Mature for his age, fiercely curious and strong in his conviction are some of the expressions used to describe Surath.

He enjoys listening to 60s and 90s English rock and dabbles in badminton when he has the time. A sci-fi buff, Surath loves reading science fiction novels. His top favourites in the media business are CVL Srinivas, Sam Balsara and Ravi Kiran. "Srini has a very structured way of working . Sam is very good at client-servicing and it is because of him that the media business in India has come to the forefront and is respected by MNC clients. Ravi is like a venture capitalist, whom you can approach with ideas and he will make sure you get the resources," says Surath.

Surath thinks media in India is highly undervalued which even clients don't pay much attention, but that hasn't stopped him from creating measurement tools which have given Starcom an edge in the Indian media space. He deployed TARDIIS, a TV optimiser developed in Australia, in India.

"Most countries have a single market or at best two markets to plan for, but in India there are multiple markets, each different from the other. TV planning in India was mostly done manually, but now each planner at Starcom uses TARDIIS to do the planning," says Surath.

He has also been part of the team which launched AMIGO - a reach optimiser; used to reach people and convert the reach into volumes for the business. His future looks promising , but according to someone he's worked with, "Although Gautam is strong in strategy, he has limited knowledge of investment and buying. That may prove to be a concern."

Control Speak: Maneesha Asthana Khanna

Post management degree in 2001, Maneesha Asthana Khanna, Media Controller, Lodestar Universal remembers saying "no , thanks" to about eight prospective employers, including a couple of clients. "Three years back, they stopped calling," says Khanna, with a tinge of self-doubt that only loyal employees can feel ��� am I no longer in demand?

Her clients would be the first ones to brush aside such doubts. Rajesh Jejurikar, EVP, marketing & sales - automotive sector, Mahindra & Mahindra, is among those who has no doubt about Khanna's abilities. "She gets proactively involved in understanding the business expectations of clients and manages to straddle both media planning and buying effectively, which is a rare trait," he says. Nandini Dias, COO, Lodestar Universal, Khanna���s mentor, seconds that.

"Maneesha's work was highly endorsed by Mahindra and they wanted her as a part of the team, when new businesses were being assigned."

But that's the kind of arrangement executives like Khanna would be uncomfortable with. After all, she believes that the best thing about the media business is in interacting with a whole lot of categories and understanding the dynamics and pressures about different businesses.

Take Tata Indicom���s case, a client that Khanna handles. Category spends are huge and Tata Indicom does not spend as much as Airtel, Reliance or Vodafone. But it has to own critical media properties in an extremely competitive scenario. Says Shashi Sinha, CEO, Lodestar Universal, "Handling an account like Tata Indicom requires one to be extremely methodical. Maneesha has consistently displayed that quality."

Her discipline possibly stems from the fact that Khanna���s father served both in the Army and the Airforce, because of which she developed a liking for travel and has seen most parts of the country. When she's not travelling, she loves to relax with a book or create glass paintings, with her three dogs sitting around. Her forecast for the media business: "Clients will see and expect more value when we can start delivering not just on media, but also make recommendations on the business." Only then will the media controller be in complete control.

Dial M For Media: Amin Lakhani

Had Amin Lakhani hadn't responded to a Group M call for recruitment way back in 2004, chances are, he would have still continued in sales and marketing. Ultimately , marketing's loss was media's gain. "It was a good call," says the electrical engineer from Mumbai, who at 34 is the oldest in the pack of young media stars identified by Brand Equity.

But, unlike sportsmen who peter out in their early-30 s, Lakhani's career graph is at its peak. He handles three responsibilities at Group M ��� head of cluster of TV channels, content trading and TV buying for Maxus & Mindshare . No wonder, he needs to keep his stamina levels high.

Apart from running the half marathon and actively doing community service, it's his family which is the stress buster. "My family helps me survive in the media," he laughs.

After his masters in management, Lakhani joined Zandu Pharmaceuticals as a brand manager for Zandu Balm. The stint brought on table a definite proposition when he joined Group M. "Understanding the brand, identifying the target audience and working out associations and sponsorships came from my experience at Zandu. When you engage the client in the same language, they are more confident of dealing with you," he explains.

His calm composure while negotiating deals has won him admiration, both from agencies and clients. "He is a tough negotiator, but that doesn't mean he is difficult to negotiate with. He deals in such a way, that it is a win-win situation for both the agency and clients," says C D Mitra, president, Mudra Max. Raj Nayak, chief executive, NDTV Media says Lakhani displays humility despite a position of strength (a buyer from a powerful media buying agency). "Power can get into one's head with salaams and namastes from media owners. But Lakhani's got his head firmly on his shoulder," says Nayak.

Counting the Vodafone India launch which won him accolades as his career high point, Lakhani believes that the silos have helped media create an identity of its own from the creatives. "The media have become creative themselves. Earlier, we were just the last 10 slides of a presentation. Today, we can do 100 slides on what we can do," he states and adds, "while the basic principles remain the same, whether one is meaningful, makes an impact and is relevant to both brands and the target audience will be a challenge."

Animal Instincts: Prasanna Kumar

Once while rescuing a snake in college, the reptile bit him, Prasanna Kumar was so petrified that he thought his end was near. He came home, hugged his parents and went off to sleep, thinking it was all over, but he lived to narrate the tale.

At 28 years, Kumar is the youngest media star in the latest pick of the young stars from media. A wildlife enthusiast, Kumar, started his career in advertising with Zenith Optimedia. He credits Rashmi Bandela from Zenith for helping him understand the nuances of the media business and after doing strategic planning for Garnier at Zenith for a year and a half, he moved to Mediacom.

Within a week of joining Mediacom, he was sent to Sri Lanka to work on the P&G and Reckitt-Benkiser business. "In Sri Lanka, I made the pitch presentation for the P&G business which got selected and that helped me realise my potential," says Kumar. Today does strategy planning for 50% of the P&G business at Mediacom and is extremely proud of his achievement.

Says one of his former bosses, "Prasanna was instrumental in changing the media metric for one of the P&G brands in order to avoid a competitive GRP game and instead focus limited budgets on purchase intent. The media benchmarks were completely turned around and at almost half the proposed investment, the brand recorded target growth rates."

Apart from excellence in work, Kumar is a member of PAWS (Plant and Animal Welfare Society) and is also the Mumbai leader for Freshness ��� a people initiative by Mediacom, which covers employee development activities like anger management , life coaching, music classes as well as social activities like tree plantation, old age home visits and so on. Kumar thinks media in India is becoming more challenging, "the approach in media is shifting from media planning to communication planning. It's becoming more of a touchpoint game.

Number Game: Anand Singhania

Like any scion of a business family, Anand Singhania took a sabbatical from his job to join his family business. But after two years, he realised his calling ��� back in media. "I was simply missing media," he says. Now with OMD, Singhania spent the formative years of his career on the servicing side at Grey after his post graduation in business management in 1999.

His time in servicing , he says, gave him a ring side view of both worlds - client as well as media. "I used to regularly interact with the media team. That's when I realised I had a knack for numbers. So in 2002, Singhania joined Mediacom.

He quickly realised that a knack for numbers is not sufficient to make the cut. That's where his experience of working with clients during his servicing days came in handy.

"In a relatively short career span he has experience at the client's end, and (within advertising) in account management and media planning. He uses this unique experience very effectively; with the ability to relate to all stakeholders ��� marketing, sales, consumer , research and media," says Jasmin Sohrabji , MD, OMD India.

At Mediacom, Singhania worked on Marico handling Saffola and Mediker. The innovation using 'addas' of mothers congregating outside schools in Kolkata for Mediker and branding on rickshaws used by school children in small towns are some of the work done by Singhania. Ashish Bhargava, former head - personal care, Marico looks at Singhania as a professional committed to building brands and trying to do things differently. Sohrabji seconds the observation.

"He is always part of the new business think tank and prides himself for his ability to think of non-traditional media solutions ," she says. A movie aficionado, Singhania makes it a point to catch atleast one movie every week. His other passion is experimenting different cuisine. Now with OMD, Singhania believes the timing to return back to media couldn't have been better.

"TV in the future will cease to play the most dominant role. Other mediums will take over." His cites the double promotions twice in his career as the high point, while working on a pitch and not getting a chance to work on it after winning is something that still rankles him.

Upwardly Mobile: Anish Appukuttan

When Anish Appukuttan graduated in commerce from the University of Mumbai in 2001, a career in advertising seemed to be a natural choice. But for the state level triple-jumper from Bhopal ��� he has seven medals to his name ��� it was not a smooth leap into advertising. His first job was to be market research with Market Information Group assisting data analysis and designing research proposals.

But the athlete in him kept the never-saydie spirit burning. A year later, he broke the ice with Madison Communications. It gave Appukuttan not just a chance to learn the ropes of the media planning business, but also work for big spenders like Coca-Cola . "In two years he will be a star," says one of his co-workers from Group M. In the back-biting world of advertising , such compliments from peers are rare.

But then advertising is also known to be lavish in its praise for its talent which is constantly in short supply. Even those who haven't worked closely with Appukuttan give him the thumbs-up . Nandini Dias, COO, Lodestar Universal is one among them.

"He is one of the brighter people I have come across in the recent past ��� highly motivated , level-headed and one who understands the business well," she says. That his head stands firm over his tall and lanky frame is evident, when Appukuttan talks about the media business. The self-confessed foodie feels that media services is a highly underrated business.

"Fifty per cent of the work we do is consulting, but we do not even get one per cent of what companies pay consulting companies ," he says and counts upon his current boss Ajit Verghese and CVL Srinivas as two men he admires the most for their ability to come up with brilliant solutions in difficult situations. According to him, the media services business is among the few industries that develops an individual from multiple perspectives.

"We sell ideas to clients, buy concepts from vendors and also do our own analysis and strategic thinking to keep learning consistently. All these are different skill sets which other industries might not allow a single person to do," he says and adds that this is one business where you can work on a pitch for 10 days and get lessons for five months.

Max Impact: Jigar Rambhia

When the crowds thronged stadiums to cheer cricketers at the Indian Premier League, a national level table tennis player got goose bumps. Cricket had not converted another sportsman into its cult, but it was a media professional savouring the best moments of his career.

"The four months of IPL have been the best, in the seven years of my media career ," says Jigar Rambhia about his IPL experience. He says that work on brands like IPL and for clients like Parle, in his previous job with The Media Edge (now TME), have got out the best in him. Anupriya Acharya, President, TME, says that Rambhia is known to bring an integrated approach into media planning. She says, "His ideas go beyond the regular . His contribution clearly stands out."

One of the reasons for Rambhia's helicopter-vision is his early stint in below-the-line advertising with Drachma, ad agency Triton's sister concern. There, Rambhia got the opportunity to conceptualise and execute events for clients ranging from Coca-Cola to Walt Disney. His next stop was Art Advertising , where he planned and strategised ad campaigns for an assortment of small brands ranging from Anchor and Marlex to Sapat.

All along, he finetuned his media skills, under media veterans like Divya Gupta at The Media Edge, whom he claims, made a big impact on him. Rambhia feels that the future belongs to new media as traditional media is getting increasingly saturated. Clients are also asking for these solutions, he says. But his vision does not stop with trends in the media business. Rambhia also feels the need to make the media business better for g e n e r a t i o n next. After l e a d i n g teams for more than three years , he has a grouse: "Young media executives are not really passionate.

They are enthusiastic and keen learners for the first two-three years and then become disinterested." He plans to tackle the issue by setting up a training centre for young media professionals to inject the right doses of passion into aspiring media professionals. Will he accomplish that in five years? "Maybe sooner," he says. Knowing what he did with IPL, he might as well make it happen.
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