Profile: Venugopal Iyengar: From engineering automobiles to engineering perceptions

By Sapna Nair , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Media Publishing | August 11, 2010
Venugopal Iyengar is head, marketing at Sun Network's DTH arm, Sun Direct

When Venugopal Iyengar joined Mahindra and Mahindra, in 1993, straight out of Pune University, it taught him how little-prepared he was for the real world. In the year that he spent there as an automobile engineer, Iyengar realised that theories don't work outside the classroom. He went on to pursue an MBA in Marketing from Pune University.

Iyengar then joined ORG-MARG (now The Nielsen Company), the research firm, as a research executive and was given the automobile, liquor and tobacco beats. He was involved in the concept testing, pricing research and communication design for brands such as ITC, Smirnoff and Mahindra and Mahindra. He spent two-and-a-half years there.

It was also a time when retail was booming. A friend told him that Shoppers' Stop was looking for people. An interview with B S Nagesh convinced him to join retail. He joined Shoppers' Stop as the head of the merchandising division for kids.

He describes that stint as 'a fun ride'. "We were strong in the West and South and were launching for the first time in the North, which had its own peculiarities," he reminisces.

Delhi, for instance, had different kind of consumers, in terms of their spending patterns, the time and nature of spending and most importantly their motivation towards spending. Another revelation for Iyengar was the importance of children in making a purchase decision. However, getting the parents to spend was difficult. For the average Indian consumer, even now, kids' apparel is something that has a short shelf-life as kids outgrow them fast. So parents tend to be prudent.

In 2001, he got an offer from Buena Vista International which ran kids' branded programming blocks (Disney animation) on various channels such as DD, Sony and Eenadu. Iyengar was responsible for promoting the blocks. With the advent of 24-hour kids' channels, however, the viewership of blocks started dipping as the platform was losing strength.

In 2002, he moved to kids' channel Nickelodeon, part of MTV Networks. Despite being in a two-player market then, Nickelodeon wasn't able to garner substantial share. "I learnt about the importance of strong distribution and localisation," he says. Later, Iyengar, who was yearning to work on a larger canvas, grabbed an offer from Zee Cinema and joined as deputy vice president, marketing. He learnt the fundamentals of mass television, calling it an 'eye-opening' experience.

One of the things he and his team implemented at Zee was break-monitoring. Research suggested that people found it boring to watch movies because of the long breaks. "We made the breaks consistent and made it more engaging by producing content for the breaks."

Next, he went on to join Disney as marketing head in 2006. Disney gives immense importance to franchise management. He cites the example of teen show Hannah Montana which was promoted heavily on and off-air and on various platforms. He went on to head marketing for Jetix and Hungama as well in the next 24 months.

While at Disney, he had worked with DTH operators. "Sun Direct was a chance for me to do marketing of a different kind and get involved in content and develop VAS with the second-largest player in the DTH space," he says. His new job entails managing Sun Direct and Sun HD, creating compelling product propositions for both, working with retail channels, ATL and BTL activities, creating promotional offers and simplifying communication.

Being from the broadcaster side, Iyengar believes he has an advantage. "It is about making a difference to the way people engage with television - from the viewing experience to the manner in which you watch TV and making consumers see the higher value of that experience," says the cycling and running enthusiast.

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