As usual, I seem to have stirred up the advertising industry over the past couple of days. I have deliberately chosen to say I stirred up the industry, I didn’t say I stirred up a controversy.
Because I received many WhatsApp messages, a few mails and many many phone calls post my blog on Wednesday ‘picking a bone with the AAAI’ on not honouring Tara Sinha with the Lifetime Award ahead of Roda Mehta. Almost everyone called to say I was right in pointing out that Ma Sinha had not got her due from the AAAI. The calls were nostalgic; not controversial. It was not as if I had touched a raw nerve. It was more like I had jogged old memories; woken up a few.
The Campaign India office too was flooded with calls and messages. Almost universally supporting Tara, saying a wrong needed to be righted.
But the best mail to come in was from Chintamani Rao. Chinta held top management positions at Ogilvy & Mather, McCann Worldgroup and The Times of India Group till he retired a couple of years ago. He was in fact Roda’s contemporary at Ogilvy from 1986 to 1996. More importantly, he was a director of the Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF); a founder and director of the News Broadcasters Association (NBA); and chairman of the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC). He was also on the executive committee of the Advertising Agencies Association of India (AAAI), and on the board of the Media Research Users Council (MRUC), and served on the TAM Transparency Panel. So Chinta is surely someone whose views on the subject matter.
Here is what Chinta had to say:
“Thank you, Sandeep. I couldn’t agree more about Tara Sinha. Circa 1991, though, her agency was thrown out of AAAI – for, ironically, breaking new ground.
The offence was that on one account, Videocon, they did the creative work and media planning, but handed over to another agency for media buying, and of course in that process shared the 15 per cent agency commission. That was labelled discounting, and was meant to be a violation of AAAI rules.
Sinha was summoned by the AAAI. R K Swamy accompanied her to lend support. Mine was the lone dissenting voice on the Executive Committee, which included AAAI laureates Anil Kapoor (in the Chair), Goutam Rakshit and Arun Nanda. When I pointed out that Hindustan Lever had been doing the same thing for many years, Nanda said it was he who initiated the practice when at Lever, and told me, “You should tell Hindustan Lever to stop it.”
That was some six years before Carat started in India, in 1997, and ten before Universal McCann and Mindshare did.
Roda Mehta said in her acceptance speech that the award to her was for the work she did from 1976 to 1992. By that token it is not too late for AAAI to honour Tara Sinha and indeed to make up to her. All they have to do is to tacitly acknowledge that their committee of 25 years ago didn’t see the future coming, when she did”. - Chintamani Rao
I salute Chinta. For his narration. And for urging, “it is not too late for AAAI to honour Tara Sinha and indeed to make up to her. All they have to do is to tacitly acknowledge that their committee of 25 years ago didn’t see the future coming, when she did”. AAAI has always been a closed-door elite club, with no place for ‘outsiders’. In a manner of speaking Tara Sinha was an outsider. And so she was treated.
The AAAI has never really changed (or mended) its ways. When I was the chairman and India JV partner of Dentsu, I too was subjected to treatment very similar to what was meted out to Tara Sinha. Circa 2007-8, I had done an inventory re-selling deal with Sony TV for the newly launched IPL. I had picked up 800 seconds per match, for 59 matches in IPL-1, in a bulk deal. Many of the AAAI members objected. Dentsu, they said, was being unethical. It could not be allowed to act as a media reseller. The IBF-AAAI appointed an Ethics Committee to investigate the matter. I refused to appear before the committee as the chairman, and one of the members, had in fact bought the very same Sony-IPL inventory from us at Dentsu. So if I had been unethical in selling the Sony-IPL inventory, I reasoned those who had bought inventory from us were equally guilty. The chairman and the said member had to step down. The committee was re-constituted with Lynn D’Souza in the chair, Paritosh Joshi (then Star TV) and I. Venkat (of Eenadu) as members. I presented my own case before the Committee. I said, much like Tara Sinha would have done many years earlier, that the world was changing and the AAAI needed to be more open-minded to market realities. Lynn and team gave me a patient hearing.
I eventually was let-off with a mild reprimand. (For details, read pages 238-239 of Konjo-Fighting Spirit, by Sandeep Goyal, Harper Collins, 2014).
Enough I think has been sad on the subject for now.
I am happy, as I said earlier, to have stirred up the industry; and I have no intent to stir up a controversy!