Arati Rao
Aug 16, 2012

Profile: Loving the thrill of the start-up, five years on

Jasmin Sohrabji walks Arati Rao through her career, stints in ‘non-established’ places, and the OMD India journey

Profile: Loving the thrill of the start-up, five years on

Jasmin Sohrabji’s OMD India chapter started with a headhunter’s call back in 2006. “I had just left MediaCom, and already had a couple of options. This was one of them, but it wasn’t the first on my list - at that time I was seriously considering a stint in Asia,” recounts the managing director of the media agency. “But my first boss, Mike Cooper (who was then chief executive officer, OMD Asia-Pacific), did a very good job of transferring his passion to me, so even I got excited about this opportunity.”

Rather than recoil at the idea of a start-up, that too a late entrant in the Indian media agency scene, Sohrabji says it gave her a thrill. “Five years later, we still feel we’re in start-up mode, because that keeps us motivated and passionate about the business that we are in,” she adds.

A key highlight for Sohrabji in OMD’s journey in India occurred within the first quarter of 2007. “I came on board in February 2007. We didn’t have an office, or even a business centre for that matter (that started in August). We were prepared for doing nothing for weeks. We were quite taken aback when a month after we launched, Johnson & Johnson went up for a global pitch (it was the biggest business that went up for a media pitch in 2007), and OMD became part of the roster of agencies.  Even though we were new, we were able to participate effectively and bring the business home. That, along with the Parle and Ambuja businesses that we won, was really a big achievement for us. No one was expecting it of us, and none of us were expecting it either,” says Sohrabji.

The agency also ended that year with a RECMA Grade A. A third milestone was deciding to set up digital at the end of 2008. “A lot of decisions at OMD looked planned from the outside - such as starting from Mumbai and moving to Bengaluru and Delhi and Chennai. But it was just that we went where the businesses were,” explains Sohrabji.

She adds, “Digital was a conscious plan that we made and I think the timing was very good. In the case of other agencies, digital came in 10 years after the traditional agency was in place; for us, it literally came in a year and a half after starting up. Now it’s more of a cohesive, seamless offering, and it doesn’t look like digital is a completely different entity.”

Asked about the fact that agency isn’t a big award winner in India, Sohrabji says, “The fact is that in five years, we are among the top six or seven agencies on the basis of our scale of business. That is what we have focused on. Awards are not in the first level of priorities, but are definitely important.”

OMD isn’t the first ‘start-up’ in Sohrabji’s career. Earlier, she had been part of teams that set up the media functions at Trikaya Grey, and then at MediaCom (1996). “So I started to feel that I had the skill set to do start-ups and set-ups very well,” she explains.

Sohrabji began her journey in media planning at Contract Advertising in 1988, which lasted for a couple of years, after which she joined Trikaya Grey. She says, “I had met Harish (Shriyan) at Contract and we have worked together forever as a planning-buying partnership. Harish moved to Trikaya, and I think Lynn (de Souza) must have asked him, ‘So do you know any media planners we can recruit?’ He must have replied, ‘I know Jas.’ That’s how I got a call from there.”

Then, in 1996, Grey’s global media division MediaCom was set up in India. “The transition for us at that time was that we just got a new identity and we sort of felt that we were more than a department,” recalls Sohrabji. “Also, I think, with the change in name, there was a little more interaction with our global MediaCom partners. It helped us in terms of aligning tools and processes and so on.”

Sohrabji had two international stints at MediaCom – one each in Jakarta and New York.  “There was a vacancy at the Indonesia office and while I was waiting for my paperwork for New York to come through, they requested for me to be sent there in the interim. The Indonesia experience (which lasted five to six months) groomed me into a business role, because I was literally thrown in there. In India, while I had a business lead role, there was always the head of Grey, Nirvik Singh, with whom the buck stopped. In Indonesia, all the people issues, the work issues, the new business pitches were mine.  I had to do it all on my own, so it also exposed me to the region,” she says.

“New York was an amazing experience in every sense of the word. At the level that I was at, at that time, it gave me the confidence to realise that it really doesn’t matter where people come from. If you are really good at what you do, you are truly a global citizen,” she adds.

Sohrabji quips that post her return to MediaCom India in 1999 to run the South Asia region operations, she made the most of opportunities for her people to have stints in the APAC region, so much so that she came to be known as a resource for sending people there. She also had the additional mandate of running the P&G business for Asia-Pacific for a couple of its brands (including Pantene).

Asked about the major changes she has seen in the past two decades in the media agency landscape, Sohrabji says, “In terms of media planning, we have so much more access to data, as opposed to 15-odd years ago when we were dependent on very basic data, which also came in very large gaps. The bigger shift is that today, we have moved away from traditional media planning to more of communication planning.”

A further change she would like to see is more clients giving their media agency partners an equal seat at the table. “Everytime we get that kind of window with a client, it’s a huge step ahead for us,” she states.

For Sohrabji, next on the agenda is to bring more global offerings from OMD into India, analytics included. Growing business would be top priority, followed by building on the one Cannes shortlist this year. What is unlikely to change is the start-up mindset with which Sohrabji and team OMD will approach these goals.

The Flip Side

Where do you live: Breach Candy, Mumbai

How do you relax: I watch a lot of television, but it’s all mostly American TV shows, so they are mostly via downloads and DVDs. And I love shopping. So my walls are filled with DVDs and my floors are filled with shoes.

Favourite website or blog: IMDB, I think I go to it every day to find out which movies and TV shows I should be watching or following up for release.

Most used gadgets: My phone and BlackBerry are probably most used because of work. But other than work, it would be my iPad, which I use for entertainment.

Mantra that has served you well over the years: I’m not sure if it’s a mantra, but I’ve always believed in setting the benchmark, rather than following it.

Campaign India

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