Akila Urankar has spent time across industries as diverse as telecom, banking, hospitality and publishing but it is media that has held her fascination for the longest time.
That’s ironic because with her background, she had never really considered media as an option to begin with. After a job in telecom as marketing manager with BPL Mobile, Urankar recalls how her interview with the Business Standard management persuaded her to join the organisation.
“I wasn’t too sure I wanted to be in media. And, if you ask me, monetarily this wasn’t the best option. But I really enjoyed my interaction with the people who interviewed me and the vision that they had for the brand. From a marketing point of view, it would be a challenge. Secondly, the position that they gave me here shifted me from a marketing role to a general manager position. I thought it was a good stage in my life where I could afford to learn. I didn’t want to be experimenting when I was in my 40s or 50s,” she recalls.
Urankar began her career with Diner’s Club, then moved on to join Hotel Corporation of India.
She explains, “I realised I wasn’t cut out for that culture. It did, however, give me a career boost as I started handling a team. I then joined Eureka Forbes as a product manager, which was an opportunity in marketing.”
Urankar soon moved to HSBC as marketing manager in the credit card division. Then the telecom boom happened. Urankar met Rajeev Chandrasekhar, who convinced her to join BPL Mobile.
Urankar recalls with amusement the reaction she got from friends on hearing about her decision to join BPL Mobile. “People thought I was mad, leaving a secure job with a bank to join a new industry like telecom,” she says.
“I was there during the launch phase for BPL Mobile. The service was launched on October 2nd, 1995. I went along with my colleagues and our direct marketing firm (at the time) to places like Mahalaxmi Racecourse at 6:30 am. We got people to stop in the middle of the road, we gave them a phone and said — “call whoever you want”. As exciting as those times were, Urankar was set to leave the organisation by the end of that year.
Does she have any regrets? She answers, “When you’ve joined an industry at the cusp of a revolution, you do wonder what would have happened if you had stuck around. But at that point of time, it was impossible to have stayed on.” Urankar joined Business Standard soon after.
“They had a very strong editorial team but a very small team on the business side. It was still a part of ABP Group back then. We had to set up a team. The fact that it was more of a general management role was what attracted me. So, for almost one year, till we launched the edition, I was head of Bombay. Then new stakeholders took over and re-structured the company. I was made in charge of circulation sales. When I took over, our circulation was less than 50,000. We had three editions then— Delhi and Kolkata and then Bombay was launched.”
She adds, “We did well in sales. Perhaps the time was right —we got the pricing right and we had a strong product. We went up from less than 50,000 to 1 lakh. We rolled out more editions. We took a call on our pricing, improved product packaging and we kept going steady.”
Urankar was promoted to the role of COO and later elevated to the role of president in 2002.
On some of the biggest changes that have taken place in the print business over the last few years, Urankar says, “One has been the advent of digital, so the readership patterns have changed substantially with the result there is a certain pressure in the metro markets for everybody to grow genuine circulation/ readership.”
Urankar believes that since the metro markets are saturated, much of the growth is coming in from B & C class towns due to low internet penetration. She adds, “The readership patterns have started changing. The current generation is far more specialized in what they want to consume. They are not interested in the big picture, until they probably get to a certain age. ”
“People always ask, ‘Will newspapers die in ten years?’ I tell them they don’t have to worry just yet in India. Overall digital penetration is low in smaller towns. However, when that shift takes place, it will happen very rapidly. That reality is still sometime away,” she says.
Urankar believes that the advent of tablets will significantly impact consumption of products like e-papers.
Urankar isn’t perturbed by the onslaught of business news channels having a go at the advertising pie for business news.
“I don’t think TV has impacted the business (in terms of readers) because TV has to do with immediacy. It does not normally have the time to do the kind of analysis which can only be put out in print or Internet. As for the Internet, I would say it has, although it has a credibility issue there.
On the future of print, Urankar says, “Print will continue to grow, maybe not at the crazy pace that it was growing for the last few years but I think between 10 to 12 % growthY-o-Y unless we get into pockets of recession. On the readership front, I would worry a bit about some of the large markets that don’t seem to be expanding. More so for the business information segment. That has to do with fragmentation. Growth is coming from smaller towns, which is fuelled by the SME sector.”
As for the next five years, Urankar has a simple wish list. “I would be happy if we can establish a big lead over the other players. We want to strengthen our position as a number two brand. If we can maintain the quality of content that we put out, then as an organisation we would be very happy tomaintain brand equity that we have built and consolidate our position in the next few years.”
2002 President, Business Standard
1999 Chief operating officer, Business Standard
1997 Vice president - circulation, Business Standard
December 1995 GM (Bombay), Business Standard
August 1995 Marketing manager, BPL Mobile
1992 Assistant marketing manager, HSBC
1989 Product manager, Eureka Forbes
1988 Assistant sales manager, Hotel Corporation of India
1984 Sales executive, Diner's Club