Profile: ‘30 pc of our top line revenue are from referrals’

In a conversation with Jagadeesh Krishnamurthy, S Yesudas, MD Indian Sub-continent, Vizeum, talks about his journey so far

Profile: ‘30 pc of our top line revenue are from referrals’

Yesudas, who calls himself a restless and self-made first generation entrepreneur, chose to enter the media and advertising space, unlike some others who ended up here by accident. “I took fancy to advertising, quite early in life, as a subject that was part of my commerce education.  I felt my ability and passion for connecting with people at all levels, made me a suitable candidate for an advertising career since the fundamental premises of advertising is connections,” he reasons. 

As he wasn’t any business school pass out, Yesudas had to knock several agency doors, before he got his first break in 1991. Since he wasn’t getting any responses from agencies where he sent his applications, he started walking into agencies and literally knocking on their doors. One such door led him to daCunha Associates’ then media director TN Ravindran who helped him launch his career in the media planning and buying side of advertising business. Taking over the responsibilities as a media assistant, his first set of clients were LIC, AMUL and Parle Agro. “In those days, media efficiency was then concluded as the agency’s ability to fix spots as close to the beginning of the programmes as possible on Doordarshan and getting an ad on The Times of India for the next day’s edition. Those days I believe HTA (now JWT) had a person appointed only to ensure the agency’s ad in TOI appeared as scheduled,” he recalls.   

While he learned the basics of media planning, negotiation and implementation at daCunha, he points out that the foundation for his media planning career was laid at Karishma Advertising (Lintas Group) in late 1992 under the guidance of Helen Anchan and Yadavendran. In 1993, he decided to move to Trikaya Grey to head the media department for their Kolkata office. However, during the orientation in Mumbai, the agency requested him to stay back in Mumbai and he soon rose to head the media division of Trikaya Grey II (the agency was split in two divisions at that time). 

In 1995, with C&S opening up the Indian media landscape, Yesudas moved to Initiative Media, which was launched as India’s first media specialist agency. During his six-year tenure there, he recalls the heavily contested pitches for Cadbury media AoR and being involved in resolving the Coke-Pepsi war during the Wills World Cup 1996 where Pepsi had convinced Doordarshan to sign an exclusive deal in response to Coke’s exclusivity on the C&S platform.

His tenure also saw Lintas’ first successful foray into digital - Digital Initiative, in 2000 as well as Media Futures, touted as the country’s first media consulting outfit. “This was launched based on my belief that every media channel has the merit to be in some plan or the other, and recognizing the need for some of the media partners to ably present themselves. The outfit not only helped media owners present their cases for inclusion in media plans, but also helped them to create opportunities that they didn’t know could be monetized,” he explains. 

By the time he climbed up the ladder to be the executive vice president, he was also heading Aaren Initiative (the OOH arm acquired by Lintas). Soon, he was mandated to launch its second media agency, Insight as its head. However, he decided to move out in 2002 in his quest for seeing a change in his resume. “I had a habit of writing a resume every year, not because I was looking for a job every year but I wanted to see the difference in my resume. 2002 was the year when my CV looked almost identical to 2001 and I knew I needed to push ahead,” Yesudas explains.  

An overseas assignment came his way, and he took up a position as the regional director for Initiative East Africa, based in Nairobi followed by a stint with Initiative, Indonesia, based in Jakarta as business advisor. Growing home sick and not wanting to miss out of the action playing out in India, Yesudas decided to shift back home. In 2006, he joined R K Swamy Media Group as their chief executive officer and was responsible for the re-launch of Media Direction. 
Along with adding new businesses, he helped the agency with its digital foray – Digital Direction and gave momentum to their OOH outfit Hansa Outdoor. At the end of a successful three year stint with the agency, a different kind of entrepreneurial bug bit Yesudas, and was looking at setting up a business of his own. “I was in talks with a venture capitalist, who had spotted me in 2003 during an award function in Hong Kong. We started talking and got to a robust business plan when Ashish Bhasin came to me with the offer of launching Vizeum in India the way I wanted it.  

Recalling the meeting and the following months, Yesudas says, “Ashish and I met in Mumbai and drew up a business plan on a paper napkin which I still carry in my wallet.  And Vizeum happened in 2009 June. I was the first employee of the company - V001. All I had on the first day in the make-shift office (a mini conference room) was 100 business cards and a laptop.” 
However, the limited resources didn’t deter Yesudas from participating in the largest media pitch of 2009 - Essar Group, within five months of their launch which they eventually won. Talking about the kind of talent on board at Vizeum, he explains, “I must have met over 200 people during the initial stage and picked up leaders who were ready to move to the next level, but didn’t have such opportunities in his/her current organisations. Moreover, our product was extremely differentiated and had a robust component of adding tangible value to clients businesses. We also ventured into markets like Chennai which wasn’t a market many agencies focused on.” 

Sharing Vizeum’s success story, he adds, “Our clients are truly our ambassadors. Thirty per cent of our top line revenue in 2012 came from referral businesses which didn’t have any pitch cost associated with it. I can say with pride that today we have 60 per cent of our clients giving one consolidated communication brief to both the creative agency and us, unlike the practice of media briefs to media agency. Our aim is to take this practice across to 100 per cent of our clients.”

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