Simran Hoon says she’s never shied away from a punt in her career, and the one she took in 2007 has been one of the most successful. “I met Haresh Chawla in August 2007 and all I knew was that Viacom18 was launching a Hindi general entertainment channel. The chief executive officer hadn’t been found as yet. There was no mandate to give because there was no brand; I just knew that there was a JV that was set up. I’d been in startups and setups, but my biggest challenge was to be part of a launch team that was all about scale.”
Hoon joined Viacom18 in January 2008 as executive vice president and head, advertising sales, of what was to become Colors, with 14 years of experience in advertising sales. Keen on a profession where she could meet people and had something to do with advertising, she joined The Times of India in the ad sales department, post graduating from The Times School Of Marketing in 1994 (she calls The Times another “university”). Of the experience, she says, “I spent a year and a half at the ad department there. In the beginning, the way the FMCG guys put you on truckbacks and send you out to Godforsaken places, with me, they put me in the classifieds department. I started my career in Delhi and had to go and meet small mechanics and used car dealers – not the best of customers but that really taught me how to handle a very different set of people that you don’t normally deal with. Later, I graduated to the fancier brands like Pepsi, and started dealing with the bigger agencies.”
Hoon then joined Sony Entertainment Television, three days before the channel launched in 1995. “Literally, from the stage of clients questioning the colours of the logo, or thinking we were selling television sets,” she recalls. “It was difficult to switch from print to TV. I learnt on the job – there was nobody to coach you, you picked up the terminology and did stuff on your own. Everybody was from print, nobody was from TV at that time. The agencies were learning as well, measurement systems were different – there was no Peoplemeter, just diary systems.”
Hoon got onto the dotcom bandwagon in 2000 with Vindia.com, to handle sales for the North. After a year, she shifted back to channel sales with Star. In 2005, she moved to Mumbai (“because it is the media capital of the country”) with Zee. “2006 was a point when Zee was almost neck-to-neck with Star, it was the phase of Sa Re Ga Ma Pa, Li’l Champs, Saat Phere and Kasamh Se. I have been lucky enough to be a part of successful teams and the high points,” says Hoon, who was national sales head of Zee TV by time she left.
Commenting on the early days of Colors post its launch in July 2008, Hoon says, “It was extremely challenging because everybody thought we were another flash in the pan. We opened with a great rating, but people were sceptical because they’d seen that with another channel as well.” However, the team believed in what they were doing and the sales team considered their product to be “fabulous”. “We valued it and never compromised on that – whether it was going in with 50 per cent inventory filled levels. Till we got our desired rates, we were fine with the channel just running some key advertiser campaigns. We broke with ten of them on day one, just to make the channel look complete – Reliance ADAG Group, ITC, Paras, Emami, Airtel, Hygienic Research and Nestle were some of them. When they came in as founder advertisers, they were also taking a punt and we don’t forget those guys,” she says.
On what has worked for Colors in the past three years, Hoon believes, “One thing we’ve done right is pricing – ratings do matter, but how do we get a premium on that rating is something we’ve been working at. The other big cornerstone of our strategy is that we’ve gone beyond the 30-second spot. For embedded content in shows, like with Uttaran and Skoda recently, we get briefs very often but we’re very selective to ensure that it meshes well with our programming.” Elaborating on one example that was particularly challenging, she says, “We did one on Balika Vadhu for Max New York Life Insurance. We had decided on the show, and a deal was done with Max New York Life for an in-programme integration for one of their child schemes. Now the challenge was that Balika Vadhu has a rural setting. So we had to wait for months to find the right environment in the show for the brand to come in and do something. The on-air date changed many times, but we had a patient client. We had to wait for the script writers to send an uncle into the city, who would come back to tell someone who was pregnant in the family about the policy. We also played the ad in the break at that time. An insurance agent’s wife in Surat caught the episode and the client was very happy.”
Other trends that are catching on include vignettes (Sunsilk did one on Na Aana Is Des Laado in September 2011) and advertiser-funded programming (LG Mallika-E-Kitchen). Title sponsorships are still going strong though. “With Akshay Kumar being brand ambassador for Thums Up, we took the title sponsorship to another level with Thums Up Khatron Ke Khiladi.It wasn’t an advertiser-funded programme, though it looked like one. The brand was extremely visible, the ambassador was jumping off cliffs - it looked like a commercial. It was one of the biggest stories of marrying content and brand,” says Hoon.
Moving to the future, with the onset of digitisation, Hoon predicts, “The sunset period is set for April 2014. Digitisation is going to help us to pick up our distribution revenues. 80 per cent of the revenue comes from sales currently. That dependence will come down, a lot of people won’t play us. Also inventory will come down, more self regulation will happen there. Inventory may not be treated as a commodity anymore, and there could be more exclusive selling to better premiums; better rates will prevail.”
Where I live: Juhu Tara Road, Mumbai
How do I relax: A cup of espresso by my window
Reading involves: A lot of newspapers and Asterix comics
If not in sales, I’d be: a horse riding instructor
Always in the fridge: Wine, cheese, chocolates, ice-cream, beer and sometimes normal food
Mantra: Live life to the fullest, whether it’s your work life or personal life