afaqs!

Defining Moments: Pradeep Guha straight from the gut

By Sapna Nair , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Media | November 12, 2008
Guha's instinct for making the right moves has made him a legend

He & #BANNER1 & # is a man who backs his intuition to the hilt. Be it in print (at The Times of India Group) or TV (at Zee), Pradeep Guha has facilitated changes that the industry marvelled at. From print to TV to movies (he produced Fiza), Guha's instinct for making the right moves has made him a legend. Here, PG, as he is commonly known, shares some of the defining moments of his career, which spans almost three decades. Excerpts:

At Bennett Coleman & Co. Ltd, he was sent to Kolkata as head of the Eastern region, with general management responsibilities, in 1983. This was the time when Sameer Jain was inducted as executive director. It was fortuitous for him, as with Jain, he could look at broader issues concerning ToI. This association brought both of them close. That friendship lasted right through his career in ToI and continues even today.

"Why I call it a defining moment is because at a very early point in my career, I got the opportunity to work closely with an entrepreneur who had the ability to take risks and make significant changes to his company," says Guha.

The next big moment in his career came in 1988 when ToI was in its 150th year. The late Nandita Jain (Sameer's sister) and Guha were entrusted the task of handling the celebrations of the 150th year in a manner that would change the brand profile of ToI.

What followed was one of the biggest branding exercises ever in the history of Indian media, perhaps in the history of Indian brands as well. ToI used to be referred to as the Old Lady of Boribunder and was seen as a fuddy-duddy company. The journey to transform a brand from one-of-many to an exclusive one meant making changes, ranging from renovating the office to complex ones like changing the pricing strategy.

The scale at which they operated was huge and ranged from a YSL fashion show organised at the Gateway of India to music nights with the biggest maestros in cities where the ToI was present. That marked his induction into event management. From working with carpenters to putting up stages or getting international artists to perform, they did it all. Suddenly, the "old lady" was wearing a mini skirt!

A critical defining moment in Guha's career came when he decided that he had had enough of print. "Media was becoming more digital and the Internet had just come in. The closest digital platform that I could find at that time was TV and the offer from the Zee Network came at an opportune moment. I took it thinking it would be just another medium, but once I got in, I was shocked. Print and television are like chalk and cheese. The only similarity is that both cater to mass audiences," says Guha.

He had to relearn a few things and unlearn some others. For six to eight months, he'd head home from office, read up about the industry till late into the night and keep thinking, 'If I have got into it, I have to make something of it.'

"Had I known what the switch would entail, I might not have ever got into it. But now I am glad I did. During my tenure, Zee, which was a distant No. 3, surged ahead to nearly No. 1," Guha remembers.

"Before I get into anything, it is my heart (or is it gut?) that tells me whether I should get in. The mind takes over thereafter," he ends.

(Defining Moments is a regular column which talks about the incidents that shaped great advertising, media and marketing careers.)