Arati Rao
Oct 23, 2012

Profile: On a growth mission, with people in focus

Debraj Tripathy, MD, MediaCom India, recounts his early days - and nights - in the media business. By Arati Rao

Profile: On a growth mission, with people in focus

"Acquring a couple of large clients in a short period of time is one of the goal posts," says Tripathy

Among the things Debraj Tripathy won’t forget in close to two decades in media planning, is the night he got locked in at the Ogilvy (The Media Network) office by mistake. A lot has changed in the business since then, notes the managing director of MediaCom India. “I don’t see people working beyond 8 pm on a regular basis nowadays.  When we started, there were times when I used to sleep in the Ogilvy office for three or four nights at a stretch. Today, work happens within a specific period of time, after which people have learnt to say no. I think this is a great thing,” he reflects.

Tripathy was recruited on campus from IIM Kolkata in 1994. He joined Ogilvy’s Bangalore office in the media planning function, being drawn to advertising because of a course in the PGDM syllabus. He had also read a lot about Roda Mehta.

“I was recruited on campus by Sanjay Nayak. I think I joined along with three other people. The culture in Ogilvy was great; I don’t think any of us ever felt really that we were the junior-most guys there,” he recalls.

Ogilvy’s structured training programme where one had to go through all the functions helped. According to Tripathy, the biggest thing that happened was when some space restructuring resulted in his sitting with the creative guys. Tripathy was on the ‘Levers’ business, working on brands like A-One and Ruby Dust, and later IBM.

After three years at Ogilvy Bangalore, Tripathy moved to the agency’s Mumbai office. “The first thing that happened to me in the first six months (in Mumbai) was that I was completely disoriented. I used to wonder, ‘When do these guys think?’ Eventually, I got the hang of delivering a plan the same day as I got the brief. We did a lot of good work on Star, Asian Paints; plus I was anyway on Levers.”

He had spent eight years at Ogilvy when GroupM was formed. He moved to Fulcrum in Bangalore in 2002 to look after Levers Foods. On the transition, he says, “When we were in Ogilvy (The Media Network), we were working as independently as we could. The only thing that changed when we moved to a GroupM kind of setup is that we could control the business ourselves – the freedom and flexibility was far higher.”

Prodded on whether there was any demerit, he says, “In those days (early days of Fulcrum), I used to feel fairly cut off from the creative. Today, all of us have developed creative skills in-house. We may not be able to compete with creative agencies to create campaigns, but I think we are self-sufficient now.”

After a two-year stint at Fulcrum (2002-04), Tripathy moved to Maxus to head Delhi operations. “That was probably my second trip to Delhi, and people warned me. They said, ‘It’s a very different market; you’re going to get really slaughtered there’. Surprisingly, I found Delhi good. There was the kind of aggression that Delhi is known for, but if you knew how to manage that, then you could fit in with clients and people,” he says.

Even today, Tripathy prefers to be based out of the MediaCom’s Okhla office, travelling to Mumbai every week when needed. “I live in Gurgaon, and there is actually some space, compared to Mumbai. It’s close to the hills and I really love that. And my family is very comfortable there,” he says.

In 2006, Tripathy moved from Maxus to Deccan Chronicle’s Sieger Solutions, the sales and marketing arm. After about a year, he joined OnMobile. He notes that he possibly gained the equivalent of a decade’s exposure and learning (in an agency), in two years at OnMobile.
“We were developing a few projects that were direct to consumer, rather than going through operators. It was new at that time, and a little too early in terms of mobile marketing as well. Unfortunately, when things started to slow down, all the rest also slowed down; so it seemed time to move on,” he recalls.

Tripathy then took a year’s break - something he recommends to everyone. He says, “I was trying to see if I could build a start up of my own, but funding was an issue because we were just about getting out of the slowdown. So I thought of enjoying myself. I played with my daughter, and travelled a lot to the hills.”

Discussions ensued with GroupM and others. When the MediaCom option came up, it made sense to Tripathy, he recalls. “I always knew about MediaCom and that it had a really good set of accounts - P&G, Volkswagen and so on. It was the right kind of role I was looking for,” he says.
He joined as chief operating officer in January 2011. Tripathy moved as per the succession plan into the role of MD, when Divya Gururaj was elevated to a regional role a few months later.

Asked about the mandate, he explains, “One of the key agendas was to grow our client acquisition; we were anyway going very strong on our current brands. Thankfully, this has happened since April 2011. The other agenda was people. MediaCom had always been fairly strong in terms of HR, but there were some areas which we needed to sort, which we did. The third was systems and processes.” One of the people measures was to integrate MediaCom into the GroupM regional training programmes.

According to Tripathy, MediaCom’s digital business is now fairly evolved. The other area the agency has concentrated on is branded entertainment. There are plans of launching two more divisions this year, but further details aren’t forthcoming at the moment.

On what still needs to be done, he says, “MediaCom is right now the sixth largest agency in the country, and we have some good brands. So acquiring a couple of large clients in a short period of time is one of the goal posts. The other is to see how we can grow from being the sixth largest.”
The biggest challenge for him is to be able to hire the right kind of people. He rues that there is a ‘whole middle layer’ absent in the industry, something contributed to in ample measure by the lack of focus on people.

That leads to a personal goal post, besides the ones named for the agency. “If I’m able to get our people to have a really good work-life balance, I would have achieved what needs to be done,” surmises Tripathy.

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