Lakshmi Narasimhan: Waiting to tap magazine opportunities

By Surina Sayal , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Media Publishing | July 07, 2008
"The good thing about India is that there is a large addressable population here and we want to get in quickly," says the new CEO of Infomedia's magazine publishing business. Infomedia plans to launch five new magazine titles in the next six months

The new & #BANNER1 & # chief executive officer of Infomedia's magazine publishing business, Lakshmi Narasimhan, has had a varied career, playing different roles in media buying, revenue management and business development. Infomedia is a Network18 company.

The 39 year old Narasimhan started off as a media planner with HTA (now JWT) in early 1994 looking after the PepsiCo business. He says, "It was an interesting time there because that's the time Coke was doing a face launch in India. It started off in Punjab and Delhi. I shadowed the whole Coca-Cola launch." He stayed in HTA's Delhi office till mid-1995.

Around this time, the media agency business was scaling up. HTA was acquired by the WPP Group. The concept of agency of record (AOR) came into being. HTA pitched for and won the Hindustan Lever business. Narasimhan requested a transfer and moved there. A team of six - Ketaki Gupte, Suresh Shanker, CVL Srinivas, Sandip Tarkas, Sundar Raman and Narasimhan - set up HTA Fulcrum (now Mindshare). Srinivas and Narasimhan went on to handle the agency's Southern operations out of Bangalore.

Lakshmi Narasimhan
"Setting up something like that involved a 20 hour, seven day week. Working with that team was one of the best times I've had. It was almost like inventing a Nano car," he reminisces.

Around the time of the 1999 Cricket World Cup, Srinivas and he moved to Madison Delhi to handle the Coca-Cola AOR business. After spending an eventful year there, Narasimhan moved back to Mindshare Fulcrum in Mumbai to head trading and buying for the Hindustan Lever business once again. "Fulcrum was great. Just when you thought your team was doing a fantastic job in planning or buying, the client would come and throw an entirely new challenge," he says.

Later, he was elevated to head the company's Central Trading Group or CTG. He says, "CTG was almost like a federation of five different companies, but bringing them together for one trading objective was a slightly different job." Narasimhan says he learnt a lot there on concept management, asset management and retaining talent, among other things.

In February 2007, he moved to Network18. He was instrumental in setting up Sport18 and Synergy18. He says, "Synergy18 is the private treaties business model. Being a huge supporter of small businesses, the objective was to make our network available to small businesses which otherwise would not have the spare cash to use on our network."

How did the move to Infomedia happen? Infomedia has four large revenue streams, yellow pages, magazine publishing, printing services and publishing outsourcing. Talking about his mandate as CEO, a new position in the company, Narasimhan says that any business Network18 is into, it's in the No. 1 or No. 2 slot. The plan is to scale up the existing operations. There are huge opportunities in magazine publishing. The company is looking to expand and get into large profitable niches.

"The good thing about India is that there is a large addressable population here. We have a 300 million strong middle class, 250 million mobile phones, and the fastest growing web market in the world. Every segment - single women, teens, kids, auto enthusiasts, tech enthusiasts, globe trotters - has a huge population and we want to get in quickly." Infomedia's portfolio consists of 21 special interest titles, including Overdrive, Chip and T3. It wants to launch five new titles in six months.

The plan is also to strengthen existing magazines and extend brands by leveraging Network18. Overdrive was extended to TV with an Overdrive show on the network's CNBC Awaaz, which reaches close to 50 million homes.

On the personal front, Narasimhan is married to a classmate from MICA. He enjoys reading books - he has a huge collection - and watching movies. A fitness enthusiast, he finds time to work out thrice a week.