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Adman & entrepreneur

Shuchi Bansal  |  New Delhi 

founded Advertising Associates in 1973, when he was overlooked for the top job at JWT, having served the multinational ad agency for 32 years. Today the agency is called BBDO with Omnicom holding significant equity in the company. To be sure, is not known either for its media edge or its creative brilliance and producing Orbit white or Mentos kind of commercials is not in its DNA.
But then not all advertising that works needs to be a showcase for creative genius. Simple communication based on research and hard facts is equally effective. And that is exactly what the veteran advertising professional, the late R K Swamy, believed in. You don't need pretty faces to sell a product, he used to say. "Flashes of brilliance are good. But consistency will always win in the long term," he told colleagues at the agency that he started from his brother's house in Madras.
You can catch glimpses of the man "" both in his personal and professional life "" and the agency that he created, in his biography R K Swamy: His Life and Times, released by the family a few months ago. Swamy was a no-nonsense, hardworking man who set up a no-nonsense, hardworking agency. Small wonder that has managed to keep its position among the top 10 or 15 advertising agencies in the country.
Like all "humble beginnings" stories, the tale of a village boy from Tamil Nadu rising to the top rungs of a contemporary profession is charming. Swamy's father moved from a Tamil Nadu village to Mumbai in search of livelihood and had to make do with housing in a "chawl". Swamy landed a translator's job with advertising agency JWT since he could read and write English and Gujarati. Over the years, however, his talent drove him to head the agency's Madras operations. Again, Swamy proved his mettle and within a year of landing in Madras he won several accounts and expanded the company's business.
Eventually, when Morris Mathias pipped Swamy to the JWT CEO's post in 1972, the Madras operations (headed by who else but Swamy) accounted for 58 per cent of the total revenue of the agency, the book claims. Sadly, the book does not deal at length with the issue of succession at JWT and how it really impacted Swamy at that point. It deserved more than a sketchy account since JWT sprung a surprise candidate all over again some years ago when its long-time India chief Mike Khanna retired.
Critics laud Swamy for his guts for turning into an entrepreneur at the age of 51. Though he did not poach from his former employer, several of his former colleagues approached him for jobs in his start-up. Establishing R K Swamy Advertising Associates was an uphill task. It was then that his management skills were put to test and he passed with flying colours. His obsession with meeting deadlines, quality of work, attention to detail and understanding of finance stood him in good stead. Swamy discovered the knack to win public sector clients. He won MICO (spark plugs) and Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL) accounts against Thompson (JWT earlier). Later, HMT, MMTC, ONGC and HPF were added to the kitty. R K Swamy BBDO continues to be a major public sector communications expert.
The book is well-produced and the pictures are awesome. But it could have been a little more insightful. For a start, though Swamy entered the world of advertising in the 1940s, the book does not bring alive the advertising scene of that era. As a result there is no contextualising "" obviously, the agency did not exist in a vacuum devoid of competition. The high and lows of R K Swamy, the agency, are missing, too.
The biography is divided into several chapters and often the information seems scattered all over the place. And it gets repetitive, too. The biographer has assimilated the information from the same bunch of people who have paid their tributes to the advertising doyen at the end of the book. Consequently, you find the same anecdotes in the biography as well in the tributes.
Finally, R K Swamy: His Life and Times is a glowing tribute to Swamy by his friends and family that's been disguised as a biography. The gentleman is portrayed like Raymond's Complete Man "" he's always immaculately dressed and appears to have no flaws. However, his love for religion, which he almost wore on his sleeve, is visible. He was ritualistic and believed in astrology. Also, references to his ego and the hard task master that he was who disliked employees taking leave, lend him a human quality.Vision : "Providing information that creates wealth and enriches lives."
R K SWAMY
His Life and Times
Biographer V Ramnarayan
Editor V S Chakrapani
Published by Srinivasan K Swamy
Rs 1,800; 225 pages

First Published: Thu, November 01 2007. 00:00 IST
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