Profile: Mona Jain - Build associations with people

By Sangeeta Tanwar , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Media Planning & Buying | February 19, 2010
The new COO of VivaKi Exchange recalls personal experiences collected over 21 years of her career

When Publicis Groupe re-branded India Media Exchange (IMX), the consolidated media buying arm of Starcom MediaVest Group, ZenithOptimedia and Solutions Digitas, as VivaKi Exchange, Mona Jain, its chief operating officer, was just two years into her job.

Jain is focussed about what she wants to do with VivaKi. "In addition to buying functions for print, radio, TV and cinema, the focus will turn to digital media. We will concentrate on research, new tools and techniques to up the service quotient for our clients."

Having spent 21 years in the ad industry, Jain knows how to walk her talk. She recalls that there was never any ambiguity regarding what she wanted to do in life. Thanks to her mother, who was associated with research and field services as a professional, she was surrounded by terms and tools such as tabulation and questionnaires. However, her father wanted Jain to pursue something that was more popular. She ended up at Delhi University, pursuing Chemistry (Hons.). Subsequently, she was picked up by Ranbaxy but quit the organisation after some time.

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Later, Jain joined Symbiosis International University, Mumbai. Her first break came in 1989, when she joined HTA (now JWT) as a trainee. She spent three years at the organisation and it was here that she met Nitin, whom she married later. Since HTA had a policy against employing couples, Jain moved to Contract Advertising. Her four year stint at the agency was followed by five years in Mudra Communications as a consultant.

Her superior, Sandeep Vij, who was head of Mudra Delhi then, was a great influence. "Sandeep was all for flexibility. When people trust you and give you freedom, you don't let them down."

Her reason for moving out of Mudra was an emotional one. She had worked on Samsung from the day it was launched. When the account moved from Mudra to Lodestar Universal, so did Jain. She has, more often than not, handled the same brands at different agencies. She had handled the transition of Electrolux Kelvinator to Whirlpool at Contract and again, worked on the brand when it moved to Lodestar Universal.

In 2003, Jain switched over to the client side, joining Glaxo SmithKline (GSK) as general manager, media - but not for long. She explains that in an agency, the accountability was greater. However, while managing media duties for a company, one is not the decision maker. In hindsight, Jain observes that she could have continued with GSK had she not got a call from Cheil Communications (the integrated communications subsidiary of Samsung) in 2004.

It was here that Jain had to face a 'complication'. She was pitted against her husband, who was then with GroupM handling LG, a rival brand. Samsung had sponsored the one day international series between India and Pakistan but LG, as associate sponsor, was engaged in ambush marketing.

"At home, both of us were busy talking separately about the same property to the same set of people, client and agencies," she says.

It is important to build associations with people, emphasises Jain. She recalls that she was lucky to have enjoyed the confidence of big clients such as Pepsi (and individuals such as Vibha Rishi) and Samsung (Shubhodip Pal, who continues to be in touch, despite having moved to HP). Jain has handled brands such as Horlicks, McDonald's, Whirlpool, Frito-Lay, Hyundai, Nokia and Nestlé.

Others who influenced Jain include Manpreet Singh, HTA's Delhi head. He taught her to look beyond numbers. She acknowledges Ambika Srivastava (one of the people who interviewed her at HTA), chairperson, VivaKi Exchange, as her mentor.

The media business has changed much in the last 20 years. "Media then had limited opportunities. It has now opened up to innovations and is more flexible. Take cricket. Action was restricted to properties such as the World Cup. Now, there are new formats, including the IPL. Also, there are new tools and techniques. In the past, one had to take recourse to hunches before arriving at a judgement. Today, we can back a hunch with data," observes Jain, whose favourite form of relaxation is to escape to the hills.

(Profile is a regular column which peeps into the career paths of senior advertising, media and marketing professionals who are currently in news)