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40 years ago...And now: Knowing circulation figures by heart was enough: Balsara

The founder of Madison, one of the largest indigenous media agencies, recalls what it was like

Sam Balsara 

Russi Mody, Sam Balsara
The late Russi Mody, former chairman and managing director of Tata Steel (second from left) with Sam Balsara (third from left) at a Bombay Ad Club meet

Forty years ago when Business Standard was born, I was three years into my working life, having passed out from the Jamnalal Bajaj Institute in 1972. At the institute, Pran Chowdhury and Tarun Gupta taught me marketing, as it was known then. I must say, the fundamental principles expounded by Theodore Levit (renowned American economist) haven't changed much. But of course, everything else has.

In 1975, I was getting ready to leave my first job at Sarabhai, which was offered to me by my professor, Pran Chowdhury (who was then its director), to join Cadbury, which had a huge image even then.

But guess what was its turnover? Around Rs 20 crore! And 50 per cent of its sales volume came from four metros; 35 per cent from Bombay (now, Mumbai) and of that contribution, 50 per cent came from south Bombay that was also south of Cadbury's office.

That is why Cadbury, at that time, had its own vans to directly distribute its products from the warehouse in its basement, where the vans were parked at night, to all of south Bombay to save on distributors' commission. I am sure today's kids nor Mondelez, its new owner, can believe this.

The size of the advertising market today is Rs 41,000 crore, according to the latest Pitch Madison Advertising Outlook Report, 2015. What could it have been in 1975? I don't know, but my educated guess is no more than Rs 500 crore!

The Cadbury office was bright and white, with no carpets and smoking was not allowed in the entire office, except in a designated area called ' Lounge' where senior managers relaxed on wooden easy chairs over a cup of coffee after lunch, while some even took an afternoon siesta.

We took the liberty of having our agency meetings there, because our agency guys couldn't get their nerves in place to handle us without a cigarette in their hand.

I remember Ranjan Kapur walking in every Wednesday morning with his entourage, and four cigarette packs in his extended palm.

If the advertising to GDP ratio is 0.36 per cent now, it was as low as 0.03 per cent then. Mercifully, in this period, the ad market has moved up almost a 100-fold, whereas the GDP has grown only seven times.

When I moved to advertising from - from Cadbury in 1979 to Contract - the major qualification required of our media manager was that he needed to know the media reps, as they were then called. The media manager needed to know the circulation of large publications by heart and have the ability to type fast so that if the typist did not turn up or could not sit late, he could keep the estimate ready for the next day's meeting.

In the creative area, the job of client servicing was essentially to do minutes and coordinate everything to ensure timely delivery of the creative and media product.

Then, Reader's Digest was famous for hosting parties in its office. Fancy ad men would graduate to campari and soda from gin and tonic. The staple (Royal Bombay) Yacht Club lunch would give way to The Outrigger, a Polynesian restaurant at the Oberoi hotel, Mumbai, after the winning of a pitch.

Cut to the media agency of today, with highly specialised, trained and experienced people, specialising in many areas ranging from strategic planning, analytics, data mining, consumer research to buying, negotiating and systems.

From a full-service agency in the late-90s, most agencies are now 10 separate specialised units, offering communication services in diversified areas such as advertising, media, outdoor, experiential, rural, entertainment, celebrity management, sports, mobile, search and social.

Each unit is headed by a specialist who is trained, experienced in his field of specialisation.

Agencies today provide content; agencies help set up social listening rooms, offer search; public relation agencies advise the board on image management; entertainment agencies integrate brands in popular cinema in a manner that consumers love. Celebrities are made available to brands to benefit from.

Specialisation has developed a cadre of people, who by virtue of doing the same job over and over again, have become proficient in their jobs and are domain experts.

The agency is able to provide this highly technical service at a throw-away price. Tell me, in which other function is so much value created in the business chain - from raw material to end consumer - in return for such a small price?

Advertising has moved from information and exposure to engagement and conversations. Vive la change!

The author is chairman & managing director, Madison World

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First Published: Sun, March 29 2015. 21:40 IST