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Profile: Amitava Mitra: On Two Wheels Mainly

By Devesh Gupta , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Advertising | May 20, 2014
For a major part of his advertising career, Amitava Mitra, CEO, Percept/H has handled two wheeler accounts. He was also the man behind Congress' Bharat Nirman campaign in 2007.

What some people may not know is that Mitra has handled two-wheeler accounts for 27 of his 32-year long career. After handling brands like Bajaj, Yamaha, Hero and LML, the category is quite close to his heart.

Amitava Mitra

Mitra began his career in the early '80s selling cigarettes before one of his uncles working at a senior position in JWT (then known as HTA) invited him to try advertising. He joined JWT in 1982 and the first six to eight months were spent on wondering if it was the right profession for him. In 1984 he won his first review board prize (an internal award at HTA) and he was convinced. Mitra won in the next two years too. "It changed my life," he says.

Moving on

Mitra moved to Everest Advertising in 1987, the second-largest agency in Delhi then, and got good exposure. He was also made the branch head in 1990, one of the youngest. At Everest, the Pan Parag account taught him about retailing. The brand had just introduced sachets which revolutionised the packaging industry. MM Kothari (the driving force behind Pan Parag) would take him on long walks showing his products being sold at every pan-bidi shop in New Delhi. In 1992, after the Everest-Triton split, he moved to the latter for two years.

On two wheels

In 1994, Lintas wanted him to start their Bajaj division, the second largest account for the agency after Unilever. Mitra rates the Bajaj-Lintas years among his finest. Bajaj was an exciting challenge. "Marketing bikes was completely different. Moreover, Bajaj was the leader in scooters but was just starting off with bikes." Mitra was no stranger to bikes. In Everest, it was LML Vespa and at JWT, he was involved with Yamaha right from the launch. "It was 1984-85, and people didn't know much about bikes. There was only Rajdoot. We studied everything - from seeing how the factory was set up to communication," he recalls. But it was Indian entrepreneurial businesses such as Pan Parag, Sahara, Hero, Bharti and Bajaj that shaped his career.

He had two short stints with IB&W and Pratibha Advertising (the only agencies along with Triton where he did not handle a two-wheeler account) and a short 6-8 month break where he moved to consulting before joining Percept in 2000. Mitra recalls how Harindra Singh, vice-chairman and managing director, Percept asked him to start the Pune operations. Hero is a two-wheeler account he has been handling since 2000 at Percept.

In 2003, Mitra moved to the Delhi office. The task was to bring in the right people, accounts and professionalism. In two-three years, the Delhi office became one of the best in the Percept family.

CEO-speak

He was promoted as COO, Percept/H in 2013 with a pan-India mandate. His task was to set Percept's Mumbai office right for which he spent a lot of time in the city. Now, as CEO, how does he compare Percept with his other stints? Mitra believes that Lintas and JWT are more structured with good reporting styles. The advantage with Percept is that one can do and plan things differently, as long as one delivers. The advertising scenario in India has changed. "Strategic planning has evolved, since the '90s, and it has become a key product. Every agency has two products - strategic solutions and creative," he says. Mitra also feels that the agency-client relationship was a far stronger one in the earlier days.

He was also the man behind the Bharat Nirman campaign of the UPA 1 government. He points that the task has been extremely challenging and after the campaign started it got bigger and bigger. "We have been making 100 films a month for the campaign till a few months ago. Each communication message had to be delivered to people across India which required cutting across different languages in different states. This was a huge challenge." The campaign started in 2007 and ran till a few months ago and each time the Information and Broadcast minister changed, the brief was altered. The idea was to highlight the government programmes and efforts. Mitra fondly recalls, "When in 2009 the UPA came to power, The Economic Times, a business daily on the very next day mentioned that is the win of the UPA government credited to the effective Bharat Nirman campaign."

And Percept? "It is one of the few agencies which has specialisations - be it events, activations or sports. That is the biggest thing that Percept has given to the industry," he points out.

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