The Advertising Club, Madras, conferred its first ‘Distinguished Service Award’ on RK Swamy in the year 1994. In its 60th year, the industry association honoured the late ad legend’s son Srinivasan K Swamy, CMD, RK Swamy BBDO, by naming him as the sixth recipient of the title. The award was presented to the adlander who is also president of the IAA India chapter, at a ceremony in Chennai on 3 March 2016.
N Murali, co-chairman of The Hindu group of publications, and second recipient of the title, was the chief guest for the evening.
RV Rajan, past president of Ad Club Madras and founder president, RMAI; Ramesh Narayan, past president, AAAI; N Lakshmi Narayan, vice chairman, Cognizant India; and DK Srinivasan, honorary secretary, Hindu Mission Hospital, of which Swamy is president, felicitated the award recipient on the occasion.
Like father, like son?
Delivering his address, Murali drew a parallel between the first recipient of the title and the sixth. Ceding that ‘the graph in case of the junior was even more meteoric’, he cautioned that one must take into account the environment that existed during the late Swamy’s time.
“RK Swamy was one of the founding fathers of the industry itself. When he started his own agency at the age of 50, the conditions for advertising were difficult. The whole industry was in a stifling environment, but advertising faced hurdles which others did not. Policy makers thought of advertising as a necessary evil and a wasteful expenditure,” observed Murali.
He credited the senior Swamy for having paved the way for public sector advertising, adding that the industry owed him a ‘big debt of gratitude’ for that alone.
Murali pointed to the key roles played by the father and son in industry bodies, including the AAAI, which was once seen as a ‘bastion of advertising professionals in Mumbai that no one else could enter’.
“By sheer dint of his abilities and fighting spirit, he (RK Swamy) breached that bastion, and he took on the leadership role at AAAI. He was the first person from this part of the country to do that. The only second person to have done that is Sundar (Srinivasan) Swamy.”
Murali recounted the ‘adversorial’ relationship between the INS and agencies during RK Swamy’s time and the role he played as industry leader, and pointed to Srinivasan Swamy’s handling of IBF and AAAI.
If RK Swamy held the 15 per cent commission as sacrosanct and saw the full service agency as a given, he noted that under Srinivasan Swamy, “RK Swamy BBDO today is probably the only agency of its size that is full service under its own umbrella.”
Underlining Srinivasan Swamy’s contribution to the industry, Murali said, “The rest as they say is continuing history. His chapter is not done yet.”
The famous five…
In his acceptance speech, Swamy cited five things, which in his view, could be counted as his contributions to the industry.
The first on the list was ironing out of differences between IBF and AAAI, paving the way for a 'bilateral' and 'equal' relationship, one that continues to date.
As several speakers at the ceremony pointed out, Swamy was also at the helm of AAAI and instrumental in creating the Indian ad industry’s biggest festival, Goafest.
Making media agencies a part of the AAAI, creation of CAAAA (which owes its origins to the Japanese Advertising Association) and enhancing the status of the IAA India chapter in India and globally, rounded off Swamy’s list.
While he has received global recognition for his contribution through industry bodies, Swamy noted that this award from Advertising Club, Madras, was special. He said, “To me, this award will always be the most honoured one. This is most important. This club gave me the first platform to be a leader of this industry.”
There’s more to Swamy…
In 1987, cricketers walked Mount Road in Chennai, in what was a big fund raiser and publicity event for the Hindu Mission Hospital. Under senior Swamy’s charge, and by his own acknowledgement, the hospital had created history of sorts. One of the key pairs of hands at work was that of Srinivasan Swamy.
Letters, some of which had been written by RK Swamy himself, to potential donors, are delivering rich returns. And now, the junior Swamy delves into them with keen interest. “Year after year, we get a few crores because of those letters,” said the hospital’s secretary, Srinivasan.
From 700 students who could continue only upto class VIII, Valluvar Gurukulan School Society, of which Srinivasan Swamy is chairman, today houses more than 3,000 students in 100 classrooms – without government aid.
While he handled commitments to multiple national and international industry bodies, his agency, other companies, and social causes, Swamy acknowledged that it was his better half Sudha who made it possible, taking care of his life.
Ramesh Narayan noted that while playing a leadership role in the industry, which has been widely acknowledged, Swamy looks at a person not 'as a position or designation', but as a human being. While that makes him a leader with a ‘heart of gold’, Narayan added, “He also has the ability to stop everything for two full days, and be with a friend – only because he asked him to.”
Cognizant’s Narayan quoted from the values of the RK Swamy Group: “We carry a responsibility to the industry. No amount of time or money is an excess in serving the industry. It is the hand that feeds us.”