"Once you get used to the place, form your team, let the work seep in, you start doing great work," says de Souza
Almost three decades old in the media agency business, Lynn de Souza, who was most recently known as the chairman and CEO of Lintas Media Group (LMG), is currently embracing her additional role as co-chairperson, IPG Mediabrands India, alongside Lodestar UM’s CEO Shashi Sinha.
The new entity has been formed to integrate the media agencies under IPG (LMG and Lodestar UM). “The objectives have been laid out. The task will be to increase profitability by combining back-end functions and to fill in the gaps for LMG by leveraging on Mediabrands’ capabilities and resources,” states de Souza.
De Souza believes in living each moment as if it were the most important of her life. It shouldn’t surprise us then, that she has a vivid memory.
She reminisces how Roda Mehta would visit her MBA institute JBIMS, as a guest faculty, and how she was enraptured by her understanding of the media planning business. “Roda was considered to be someone who had championed the media planning space at that time. And then there was Vinita Bali, my marketing professor, who eventually helped me to join Roda at Ogilvy in 1983. Roda mentored me right from the beginning. She was the one who taught me how to calculate reach and OTS,” recalls de Souza.
In her stint of four and a half years at Ogilvy, de Souza primarily worked on the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) account. “I was known as the ‘J&J girl’ in my office,” she quips.
While handling the account, de Souza had approached Sathya Saran, then editor of Femina, to have an entire issue for J&J with articles focused on mothers and kids. She even wrote some of the articles herself. “Those were some of the never-done-before innovations for that time,” she adds. At Ogilvy, she learnt that the right media strategy and the right segmenting of target groups, are elements that distinguish a good media plan from an ordinary one.
From Ogilvy, de Souza joined Trikaya Grey in 1988. While Ogilvy was all about learning the basics under a structure, Trikaya Grey was more about charting her own course to set up a media unit within the agency. “Trikaya had this buzz about it. With Divya and Ravi Gupta as bosses, it was more like having fun with the business of media than about the function of media,” she recalls. It was at Trikaya Grey that de Souza hired Jasmin Sohrabji (OMD), Harish Shriyan (OMD) and L V Krishnan (TAM), to set up her team. With this team, she started a division called AdValue, which later bagged J&J’s media business from Lintas.
Around the same time Prem Mehta of Lintas asked de Souza to come on board, which she eventually did in 1995. “When I had joined Lintas, they had just lost Levers (now HUL), for the first time in 60 years. It had gone to Mindshare’s newly setup Fulcrum. But Meenakshi Madhvani (then at LMG, now Spatial Access) had got us ITC at the same time,” recollects de Souza.
Since Lintas was a bigger place to work at, adapting to the silos structure didn’t come easy for her. “But once you get used to the place, form your team, let the work seep in, you start doing great work and enjoying the momentum,” she clarifies. At Lintas, she launched and ran Initiative Media, hired Ravi Kiran (ex-SMG) and Suresh Balakrishna (LMG), and together they went on to win accounts like Cadbury, Bajaj Auto and Maruti. The agency still retains Bajaj Auto and Maruti.
In 1998, de Souza took a sabbatical for a year and headed to Australia to pursue her interest in studying veterinary nursing. She came back to join Lintas, only this time she was running the integrated communications division that dealt with activities related to direct marketing, public relations and market research. She also launched two new divisions, one for events and another for healthcare communication.
When IPG acquired 100 per cent stake in Lintas, de Souza started reporting to the Lowe
Worldwide CEO. With effect from January 2012, LMG’s financial reporting will fall under IPG Mediabrands. Since we were on the topic, we asked de Souza about the growth scenario for the agency. She responds, “LMG grew by 39 per cent in 2010 over 2009. Then we lost ITC, which was a big blow. But we managed to grow at 11 per cent the following year.” She attributes aggressive pitching and winning 54 out of the 70 accounts pitched for as the reason for the 11 per cent growth. This year, she hopes to achieve 24 per cent growth, and adds that the year has begun on a positive note with Henkel’s account coming on board and the Jyothy Laboratories account growing in size.
The co-chairperson of IPG Mediabrands also dons the hat of the chairperson of the Readership Studies Council of India (RSCI). “The new IRS report will focus on two things, it will make use of technology to overcome problems in data capturing and it will highlight how reading habits have transformed,” she explains.
Amidst managing umpteen units, does de Souza find the time to play the role of mentor? “Certainly,” she affirms. “Some of the best names in the industry like Punitha Arumugam (Google), Jasmin, Ravi, Suresh, Kartik Iyer (Carat Media), Ashish Bhasin (Aegis Media), and Yesudas (Vizeum) have worked under me. They have metamorphosed into something great and it has been a pleasure to watch them grow,” she adds.
She says that she has a tough way of grooming people. “I don’t sit and train, I ask tough questions and expect the protégé to find answers,” she explains. And who would be her mentors? “They would be my first two bosses: Roda Mehta (Ogilvy) and Ravi Gupta (Trikaya Grey),” she notes.
Assuming her new hat at IPG Mediabrands, de Souza says that the entity will help LMG get global clients. She is gung ho about launching another unit under LMG which will help acquire conflicting businesses. Leveraging on the media buying intelligence of another unit (Magna Global) and sharing resources for growth with Lodestar UM, are other things de Souza is keenly looking forward to at present.