Shephali Bhatt
Sep 07, 2012

Profile: Breaking on through, to media’s other side

After over two decades in media agencies, Divya Radhakrishnan tells Shephali Bhatt about her journey as a seller

Profile: Breaking on through, to media’s other side

In November 2011, Divya Radhakrishnan, managing director, Helios Media, set up her own specialty company for broadcasters after having worked in an agency model for over two decades. On 13 December, she announced that Helios Media will handle non-network channels’ ad sales inventory, market these channels, be their content advisory, brand consultant, and social media manager. “I’ve been on the media planning and buying side of the business since 1987; I have to constantly remind myself that I am in sales now. And it’s not just me, even buyers get intimidated now when I ask them to buy my (client) channel,” narrates Radhakrishnan.

Setting up Helios Media was far from cakewalk. She had set out to do something in the broadcast medium, in collaboration with her brother Yogesh Radhakrishnan, who had just launched music channel M Tunes then, and Bala Iyengar who was with Zoom earlier. Hiring the right talent took time. “From January to March, I was occupied in putting people in place in the different verticals. By April, we started stabilising and selling M Tunes in the market,” she recounts.

Currently, Helios is handling M Tunes (channel’s revenue is Rs 50 crore) and Music Express and marketing Sun Network’s six channels in the USA. The opporunities are far more, explains Radhakrishnan: In the Indian broadcast business of around 632 channels, there are approximately 285 channels that don’t belong to a network or are a part of a smaller network. These don’t have the consolidation power of the big networks. They invest in programming, content and distribution but she points out that their sales division gets compromised.

“If one of these channels does an estimated business of Rs 10 crore, in entirety it becomes a business of Rs 3000 crore. If Helios could manage even 20 per cent of this, imagine the size of business one would be handling! And you are not working for a meager 2.5 per cent anymore,” she explains.

She admits the returns are far more satisfying than the commission model of the media agency, but knows that to make her business economically viable, she still needs a couple more channels. “Therefore, the period from July to September is meant to pitch for new business,” she surmises.
While she has had to reorient herself to selling, Radhkrishnan notes that it helps her guide her team (of 30 people now) by taking them through the buyer’s life. “The moment you know how the person across the table operates, you become stronger,” she adds.

The Art of Living practitioner was not always this confident in treading new paths. She reminisces, “In those days (late 80s) we hardly had people to guide us through making the right career choice.” Radhakrishnan thought of pursuing psychology from Xavier’s but she joined SIES College  - because all her friends were going there! Graduation had to be in arts because she hated mathematics. To make the course a tad intellectual she also took up economics. “Also, it was the only course in Arts which had some guys enrolled in,” she quips.

Love for HR could have taken her to TISS (which she got through), but she was put off by the idea of dealing with labour issues. Finally, after turning down an offer from South Indian Bank, she joined CH Vishwanath as an ad sales representative for leading newspapers in various languages. In no time, she was charting her path into the agency business. Starting with da Cunha Associates in 1987, Radhakrishnan handled the operations part of media for Amul and LIC (with Bharat Dabholkar).

After getting thorough with her basics in media planning, Radhakrishnan moved to join Bharat and Alka Dabholkar, and TN Ravindran, at Zen (1991). “We didn’t have an office to operate in when we made the first estimate on Frooti,” she recollects.

She was soon handling Luna, Zenith Computers and Good Knight in addition to Frooti. In 1993, she topped in a workshop  for media planners organised by Shripad Kulkarni (CEO, Allied Media).  “It boosted my confidence that I was going ahead in the right direction,” she beams.

At Zen, Radhakrishan got the opportunity to interact with Prakash Chauhan and Adi Godrej. Mr Chauhan took her to the Bailley’s factory so that she  got a first hand experience of how the product is manufactured and packaged. Recounting her first encounter with Adi Godrej, Radhakrishnan says, “I had met him in a conference for HIT in Andhra Pradesh where his team had spread the creatives on the table. He entered the conference room and asked for the media plan first, stating that he would see the creatives accordingly.” She was overwhelmed by the respect Godrej showed to their area of work at a time when creative dominated.

Her ties with Zen ended soon after the agency was sold to Publicis in 2000. The next stop was Rediffusion Y&R (2003). Rediffusion’s media arm TME (The Media Edge) set up in 1999 by Divya Gupta (now CEO, Denstu Media) opened the doors to Tata’s bouquet of 26 brands, a huge team of 70 people, and an access card to Bombay House.

Radhakrishnan was elevated to the position of president in 2008. She started reporting to Mahesh Chauhan, then Group CEO, Rediffusion Y&R. She became head of the Contact Practice (umbrella brand for the divisions Rediffusion PR and Showdiff Worldwide). She was not involved in planning and buying anymore, but directly dealing with corporate brands.

“When TME lost Colgate-Palmolive to MEC in 2010 (MEC was the global AoR), pressures soared. I had a chat with Sir Martin Sorrell. He  told me that there’s nothing much I could do to change this pattern. To me, the agency model seemed more warped with each passing day. Therefore, one fine day, I decided to call it quits.”

Her experience on the agency side is coming handy with Helios. And large network agencies are on the radar too.  “ We will be pitching to offer research and traffic management services to big networks,” she says. For the moment, Radhakrishnan has her hands full with Helios Media - and her production venture Toucan Entertainment, with Vinta Nanda .

The Flip Side

Age 47

Where do you live Oshiwara (seven minutes from my office, precisely)

Favourite gadget iPad

App Angry Birds

Movies Gangs of Wasseypur among the latest releases. I don’t watch the 100 crore movies

What drives you to happiness on a dull day Music. There’s melody in everything

Holiday destination Masai Mara, Kenya

Mantra for life You have to go through the bad to come to the good. What is your context of comparison otherwise? 

Campaign India

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