I recall an incident with Anirban Das Blah from an industry event, where he was invited on stage for a panel discussion as 'Mr. Blah'. His name invited a few giggles from the audience but the sport that he is, Blah came on stage, laughed it off and said, "That's not the first time I've received this response."
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His first tryst with marketing was at Indya.com, where he worked for less than a year. Taking a big step, he moved to Sweden to work with a venture capitalist firm that unfortunately went bankrupt. He then joined Ericsson and continued till 2002, when he returned to India.
Blah is best known for his association with Globosport, the Mahesh Bhupathi-promoted celebrity management agency in Bengaluru. The story goes that when he returned to India, he worked briefly in Bengaluru with Bharti's Telesoft, a provider of integrated VAS solutions for mobile operators. Here, he dealt with creative agency FishEye that was also handling Globosport's brand identity. Inspired by the 1996 Tom Cruise-starrer Jerry Maguire, that has Cruise as a sports agent, he decided to try his luck at Globosport.
In fact, the name of his new company, KWAN, comes from the same movie, where the character, Rod Tidwell, a footballer, says to his agent, Maguire, "It's not just the money I deserve. It's not just the 'coin'. It's the Kwan."
"They offered me a job in marketing. I thought this was the time to take risks and experiment while I was still young," he says. Working his way up, he became the CEO by the time he was 26, crediting the rise to Bhupati's faith in him. Till 2004, Globosport wasn't making any serious money. Later, as it signed on stars such as Sania Mirza and Saif Ali Khan, things changed for the better. "Luckily, at that point, Sania's performance went through the roof. She became a hot commodity. This also suddenly raised our profile as a company."
He shares something of what he learnt at Globosport. One was 'positioning Sania'. There was a conscious effort not to position her as the premium niche 'tennis brand' since, in India, not many care about tennis or understand the game. "The idea was not to make her a premium niche tennis brand but to make her a 'glamorous gharelu brand'."
In its early days, Globosport had to define the brand and go out there and monetise it. He gives the example of what it did with Saif Ali Khan when pitching him to Seagram's Bikram Basu. "We told him, 'If you want to reach a housewife in Bareilly, sign Shah Rukh Khan but for urban India, this is who women want to date and who men want to be.' We took Saif's greatest liability - his urban, anglicised image - and made it his biggest strength."
KWAN has got off to a flier and is already handling 25 celebs. Freida Pinto, Genelia D'Souza, Soha Ali Khan, Mugdha Godse, Raima Sen and Anurag Kashyap feature in its portfolio. Talent management, according to Blah, has gone beyond just handling a celebrity's endorsements. There are five areas that a celeb can earn from. The first is the core - for an actor it is films, for a sportsperson, the match. Then come endorsements, appearances, performances and TV.
Blah reveals that KWAN is looking at younger talent and people who can become celebrities but does not go after them individually. For example, it promotes sports talent through sports marketing initiatives and not by chasing individuals and finding them endorsements. "That's not our business model," he says, adding, "We're here with a marketing budget and unless we see a marketing benefit, we won't go ahead. A business cannot run on altruism only."
(Profile is a regular column which peeps into the career path of senior advertising, media and marketing professionals, who are currently in news.)