They were both at the pinnacle of their careers and then, the entrepreneurship bug bit them. After over two decades of a rewarding career spanning account planning, client servicing, research, analytics and media planning, Sudha Natrajan and Raghav Subramanian resigned as CEO and COO, respectively, of Lintas Media Initiative, one of the leading media buying houses in the country. The duo joined hands to float a new company TMC, which, besides providing what both Natrajan and Subramanian are good at ? that is media consultation, will also be offering gastronomic delights primarily to media professionals. To put it simply, under TMC are housed The Media Consultants, whose interests are self-explanatory and The Media Cafe, which is essentially an eating joint with an original menu meant to draw in crowds from the media and advertising agency offices spread across Gurgaon. In an interview with FE?s Vishakha Talreja Guha, the two well-regarded professionals speak about what made them quit their secure, well-paying jobs at a multinational agency and chart their own course.Edited excerpts:
What was the trigger behind quitting Lintas and starting your own venture?
SN & RS: We had spent about 20 years in the industry. Burnout is not the word we will use in our case but there comes a time when one feels one has achieved what one wanted to and rather than basking in that glory, one needs to take fresh challenges. So we thought, let?s start a venture that tickles our imagination and throws us back into action. I think the key difference between us and the others is that we decided to quit when we had reached or were reaching our peak, standing tall and doing well. We thought let?s quit now when people and the industry wants us rather than quitting when we want the industry.
What will your media agency focus on?
SN & RS: The name of our company is TMC, which stands for both The Media Consultants and The Media Cafe. And, as the name suggests, these will be the two focus areas.
What has happened in the business is that somewhere down the line, the full service agency has fragmented into different verticals?research, creative, account planning, media, etc. Most agencies have focused on efficiencies but there is an implementation problem. Agencies are working in silos and there is little or no communication between various verticals. Clients now feel that they were happy with the full service integrated model where an account manager was the custodian of the brand and would understand the ramifications of every decision, be it on the research or analytics front.
We also realised that with everything getting fragmented, nobody is taking that responsibility of engaging with the consumer, which is the ultimate objective. The agency system is limiting because they are focusing on the efficiencies too much and not thinking imaginatively. Both of us have skill sets that are complimentary and together, through TMC, we can put up a big picture about where the brand needs to go.
While setting up TMC, we were talking to clients and realised that the industry also has a clamouring need for training. There is a lot of product level training we will be doing for our clients as well.
With the two of you at the forefront, what type of a team are you envisaging?
SN & RS: We want to bring in people as stakeholders and not just as employees. We are working on specific projects where they will also have a stake. We have this new found love for entrepreneurship and we want to encourage others too. If, after few years, 10 of our people want to leave to start their own agency, we will be very happy. Proliferation of start-ups is good for our industry.
Launching an agency and then, selling it off to an MNC after it has taken off is a good way of making few millions, if not billions. Do you see yourself selling out TMC if it becomes big?
SN & RS: There is no thought about that at all. We would rather like to grow with our people. We will do this for however long we want to. We will do this for as long as we are passionate about it. You can go on only till you have that energy and passion. The day you don?t have that passion you would want to sell out. Both of us don?t believe in valuations. We just want to enjoy and ensure that our time is monetised to the extent that is required.
Where does the food fit in the media business?
SN & RS: Media business is essentially people?s business. Both of us belong to the era when agencies were integrated. It was a lot of fun when all the teams — creative, media, planning, etc, would hang out together. We decided we must do something for our people because that fun element has gone missing. We decided to put together a place where people can get together and party. We wanted to bring back those good old days. We already have party bookings from agencies and media houses. What can be a better place to party or strike a deal than this.
After over 20 years in the profession, what do you think are the big challenges facing the industry today?
SN & RS: One of the reasons we quit was also that we do not see much of a future considering the way we are going. Advertising earlier was on a par with marketing. But we have fallen behind and today advertising is still where marketing was years ago. Most of the people in the industry are there today because of their past deeds not because of their future potential. Marketers today see us as a cost element not as a value adding input. They keep thinking about bringing media costs down even though the business is getting more complex. Setting this right is the biggest challenge before the industry. Through TMC we will try and regain that lost position.