Serendipity has its own consequences, and amusing ones at that. For Ashish Bhasin, CEO, Aegis Media, landing into the realm of advertising was as accidental as one could imagine. Bhasin reminisces, “25 years ago, I was your quintessential spoilt South Bombay boy whose world was confined within the radius of three to five kms of Colaba.” After graduating with an MBA in marketing from Sydenham Institute of Management, Bhasin had two job offers in his hands. One from Godrej for their soaps category, which was then touted as ‘God’ soaps instead of Godrej Soaps and the other from Lintas Media. He shares, “In those days, Godrej used to be a dream company for every youngster. After one year, if you were made permanent, you would be given a house in Vikhroli and a red Maruti car.” Bhasin gave up the opportunity of seizing all those perks and ended up at Lintas Media because the latter’s office was in Nariman Point and thereby closer to his home, Colaba. “Plus Lintas seemed a lot of fun too”, he added. And what was taken up at the spur of the moment stayed with Bhasin for more than two decades of his career.
At Lintas Media, he got to work on the Hindustan Unilever business which he likes to describe as ‘ten years of grinding work’. He states, “Unilever is a university of training on marketing and what I got to learn while working on their brands were nuances of rural marketing which helped in the establishment of Linterland (a rural marketing arm of Lintas Group in India). During my first assignment for the launch of Wheel against Nirma, I actually spent 15 days in a village, Etah, to understand the consumers our brand was to cater to.” Having learnt his lore from the days of yore, Bhasin has made it nearly compulsory for his managers at Linterland to spend some time in a village in order to better understand their consumer.
He then went on to head the Madras (now Chennai) branch of Lintas which was running under heavy losses and brought it to the shore so much so that it won the Agency of the Year award within 2.5 years of his taking up the role. Bhasin didn’t stop at that, he wanted Lintas to be given a 360 degree feel and therefore went on to form Linterland (rural marketing), Linopinion (PR), Advent (event management), Lintertainment, dCell (design), Aaren Initiative (joint venture for outdoor advertising) and Lintas Healthcare as a part of an integrated marketing exercise that his CEO Prem Mehta had encouraged him to do. These units were put together under IMAG (Integrated Marketing Action Group). Bhasin was then asked to run another arm of Lintas, SSC&B. It took him two years to turn its fate around. Coincidental as it may seem, it’s almost magical how all the not-so-well doing units would come under Bhasin and he would resuscitate their balance sheets within two years as if ‘two’ was his lucky number.
To further elucidate on that, when Bhasin joined Aegis Media, in mid 2008, the company was not in its best state as far as numbers were concerned. Bhasin stepped up on the plate and Aegis Media broke even by the end of 2010. So, ‘two’ could definitely be his lucky number!
Bhasin was given Aegis Media at the cusp of global recession but he took that in his stride as well. He explains, “Recession or boom, you have to make sure your strategy is right. Aegis had Carat (media agency under the umbrella brand) at that time and it wasn’t doing well for years. I had to hire a lot of talent and let go off a few people with negative attitude. Next step involved stopping the bleeding owing to mismanagement. I hired Kartik Iyer as MD and appointed a new CFO for the company. Hiring at that time was a gamble that actually paid off now, thereby making me a hero.” It was almost a no-brainer for someone like Bhasin to adopt the 360 degree formula at Aegis now. By the end of 2008, he had brought in Posterscope (for outdoor media), and Isobar (for digital media) to provide holistic services to their existing clients. Diversification didn’t take a halt at just that. The fourth unit under the umbrella brand was Vizeum formed more on the lines of a consulting media partner for its clients. Then came Carat Fresh Integrated (a home-grown brand for activation, ground events and PR), Hyperspace (for retail innovation) , Brandscope (outdoor agency for other agencies in the business), iProspect (for search related operations), PSI (airport advertising arm) and the recent one, Doosra (in partnership with a creative agency to provide creative solutions to their clients). With that, Aegis Media presents itself as a complete package of offerings to its clients, Bhasin believes.
While Aegis Media makes around half of its profits from its media planning and buying arms, Carat and Vizeum; approximately 17% of the same is garnered from the digital and search units, Isobar and iProspect. The OOH and retail arms viz. Posterscope, Hyperspace, PSI and Brandscope contribute to 20-30% of the business while the rest comes from the activation and creative units, Carat Fresh Integrated and Doosra. Bhasin plans to focus on digital and OOH in the coming years and is open to acquisition options for iProspect.
“Despite serious competition in the outdoor category, Posterscope, which started off at the 19th position in the market, has reached the number three slot now thereby becoming one of the top three outdoor players in the market”, states Bhasin. He adds that the organisation has come a long way from 60 people to the current strength of 200 and that they are in a rampant growth phase. The principle of ‘One country One P/L account’ has helped him because while the clients get the benefits of specialisation, he doesn’t have to face the hassles of silo-isation. “Maybe when we grow big and employ 1,000 people we might not be able to stick to the one P/L system, but at the moment it works in our favour and keeps the brand intact,” he concludes.
Where do you live? Cuffe Parade, Mumbai
How do you relax? Spend time with my family and children. I also love to read. I am a voracious reader for that matter.
Reading involves Management books, some fiction, magazines and newspapers
If not the CEO of Aegis Media I would be a lawyer
Can’t leave home without My Mobile phone
Favourite gadget Blackberry
Favourite app An app that helps you set up meetings at standard World Time
Afraid of My daughter who is 11 years old and my biggest critic
Always in fridge Cheese
Holiday spot African Safari, Rwanda
Favourite hangout in Mumbai Arbour Bar at Taj Colaba
Mantra for life Devotion to duty determines your destiny