The group which has been rather quiet since the last few years is now ready to "explode", declares Chitralekha's President and Publisher, Mitrajit Bhattacharya. The year 2010 is of prime importance to the Group. Not only will it be celebrating its 60th anniversary, but the group is also planning to foray into various new segments.
"We have had a pretty reasonable consolidation phase for the first six years since I joined and now we are ready to explode again. This year is our 60th anniversary and there are a slew of launches coming up like our recent tie-up with Autocar India. We are also looking at the entire genre of kids," says Bhattacharya.
Bhattacharya started his career in Kolkata in market research with MARG (now AC Nielsen). He then moved to Bangalore with MARG in the early 90s to handle the Unilever Foods research business. "It was tough in the beginning but I had a very solid grounding there. We used to do maddening amount of research and the manpower was short with the company was growing really fast." After four years in research, he wanted to move to a more holistic marketing experience and therefore he joined an MNC, ICI Paints where he worked for two years .
His association with media started when he got an offer from Anandabazaar Patrika (ABP). "I had a hunch that media is going to be the next big thing and that eventually happened." At ABP, Bhattacharya was one of the youngest national heads. He says, "It was a very complex organizational setup at that time, with some of the people reporting to me being twice my age and many from the younger lot and thus, it was a big challenge. The company was transforming into a modern company from a very traditional company. I had two reporting bosses and it is a bit risky to have two line bosses. However, I think my learning at ABP was solid in terms of human relations and interpersonal skills."
This was an interesting period for him as media was growing and ABP and The Telegraph were huge brands. He says, "85% of the revenue in East used to come to ABP. We were omnipresent. We conducted about 250 plus events in a year. During the last six months of my job, I was also managing The Telegraph as a brand. That was quite a good experience as it's a very vibrant brand."
He then had to move to Mumbai and amongst many job options he joined the "least expected" of them, Chitralekha. He says, "This was purely because of the challenges involved. I realized that money beyond a certain point doesn't remain the motivating factor. I knew that this is a huge opportunity. Any kind of regional media is extremely difficult to manage in today's context. Secondly, the company was going through a slightly tougher period during the end of 90s. That was the time when we needed to do things differently. It was a sort of a tipping point. I decided to start from HR. I feel that the most important thing in any organization is people and in an organization like ours, everything that we do depends on people. At that time, we were not able to hold on to good people and I realized that the first thing we needed to do was to manage the people front. I brought in a lot of good people who I felt could make a difference to the Group."
Further talking about hiring, he says, "The most important thing in an organization is smart recruitment and then nurturing those talents. You don't necessarily need the best talent; it is more about suitable talent. I believe in management that empowers people. Traditional way of hierarchy may still be required for a large set-up. However, in a niche group, you need entrepreneurs and thus we wanted each of our people to be an entrepreneur. All my key people have been around for 5-6-7 years and that's our strong point. The second factor is the speed of decisions, which is very fast here as there is no hierarchy."
The group which will now celebrate its 60th anniversary is also celebrating 60 years of being on top, feels Bhattacharya. "We are low key but we have always remained profitable. It's a family business, so profitability is the most important factor. All our products are number one or maximum number two. None of our products cannibalize each other and they all have their roles in the group portfolio. For us, every business must be profitable and must compliment our organizational goal.
He also feels that this occasion is a time to not just move forward, but also to retrospect. "We want to thank our readers who are fanatics in terms of loyalty. For example, the successful serial on television Taarak Mehta Ka Oolta Chashma is an adaption of our column by the same name which has been running since last 40 years. And that we feel is a real test of time. We have serialized novels since 1950 in print and a lot of our successful novels have been televised. Our readers are in for a royal treat this year as a gesture of gratitude from our side"
Next year, the group is also looking at ad sales representation model and has signed up with a leading travel magazine and an employment newspaper. It also aims to focus more on its watch consultancy business 'The Horologist' which Bhattacharya set up in 2007. Under this business, he consults some of the finest watch brands in the country and is now even toying with the idea of retailing.
In terms of the Indian language print market spanning out in the next few years, he says, "It has to grow. In terms of demographics, there are more people becoming literates. There will be growth for mainly two reasons: there is a lot more leg space. In the Hindi belt especially, there is a lot more room to grow. Secondly, regional publishers did not realize their potential so far. Now they have realized their potential and the result has been phenomenal growth. Regional media has realized that it's all about building the brand and having the right connect with the audience. In the coming years, the balance will shift more on to regional."
He adds, "There are about 15-20 categories of advertisers on which most magazines are dependent. You have to keep monitoring the profiles of advertisers who will invest in a particular media vehicle and keep tailor making your product. You will see a lot of niches within a broad platform and niche, on its own, will obviously be there. Clients' needs are of paramount importance. Tailor-making your product to deliver within that target group, working on brand image and working on environment are important. Coming to Chitralekha, it's a very different product. While most regional magazines operate in the women genre, Chitralekha is unique being a news weekly. The advantage we have is that there is no product category which can't advertise with us. So overall, I only see growth, growth and growth."
Bhattacharya also stresses on the point of accountability, especially for niche titles. He explains, "In India, there is nothing called niche. If you are in India, you have to sell well, otherwise your model wouldn't work. What we call niche has to deliver numbers too. In Europe, a retailer makes enough margin on lifestyle brands to sustain on limited volume sales whereas in India a similar retailer needs to make up with volume sales owing to low margins. Another reason of low numbers of copy sales in India is our weak reading habits. Unlike the west, we are community centric people. We love to socialise. In the west, people consume a lot more print media. Thus there is a need to move to accountability and accountable media will find it easier to survive in the long run."
Bhattacharya, by his own confession, leads a very charmed life. "My work allows me to see sumo wrestling in Japan, hot air ballooning in Alps and other such rare opportunities. I love to travel. I like watch industry because it allows me to see and experience best things in the world and meet people."
Though he consumes lot of TV and watches movies in all languages, this year he would like to up his reading time, which has been coming down due to hectic schedules.
2005: Publisher and President, Chitralekha Group
2001: VP-marketing-Chitralekha Group
1998 to 2001: Chief Sales manager, Dailies
(Later also Marketing Head for The Telegraph)
1996 to 1998: Product Manager, ICI Paints
1993 to 1996: Associate Research Director, ORG MARG
Corrigendum: We apologise for mentioning that Mitrajit Bhattacharya worked at Unilever in 1994 in the print version of Campaign India. This is the corrected version.