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Profile: Prasanth Kumar: The Go-To Guy

By Prachi Srivastava , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Media Planning & Buying | May 18, 2015
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Mindshare's CEO, South Asia, looks back at his 16-year-long career. He shares his experiences in the industry and the mentors who shaped his career.

A Kerala boy, Prasanth Kumar calls himself a "KV product", referring to Kendriya Vidyalaya, the school he passed out from. Fondly known as 'PK', Kumar graduated from Government Victoria College in Pallakad. Tennis and advertising were his twin loves. He started playing tennis early on in childhood and considered the sport as one of his career options. "But, even before I entered college, I wanted to be in advertising. My brother, who was working with Grey, was an inspiration," he recalls.

Prasanth Kumar

After completing his MBA from Madras University in 1999, Kumar joined PepsiCo in Chennai as a trainee for six-seven months before joining The Hindu in sales and marketing. "At PepsiCo, we went around the market, thinking on our feet, understanding challenges, interacting with retailers, trying to know the market and then coming back and working with the marketing team. It gave me a lot of exposure. My job at Hindu was to work with agencies and clients. That ambition to work for brands was always there," Kumar shares.

During his time at The Hindu, he got acquainted with Divya Gupta from TME (The Media Edge) and moved to the agency as a media planner. Eventually, he also got to handle media buying, working on brands like Rediff.com, Paramount Pictures and Colgate.

"We won the Tata media account and worked for them for over four years. After that, we won the Parle Products account, and more new businesses. It was then that I decided to go South. The learning at TME was through the exposure I got on working with new brands, understanding different platforms, creating innovations, getting into greater efficiencies for clients, new practices and working with media owners" he says.

The huge challenge for TME then, Kumar adds, was that they were not very big. He worked across categories like FMCG, tea, watches and biscuits. What he learned from Gupta (then president, South Asia, TME) was to be systematic, getting into the details and delivering the best for the client. "She also used to give us the space to work. I believe that if I am here it's only because my bosses and clients gave me the opportunity," Kumar states.

After five years at TME, he moved to McCann Erickson, but worked there only for three months. At McCann, he worked with VP, Srinivas Prabhu, who he is thankful to for laying the principles and approach towards brands.

In 2004, CVL Srinivas called Kumar and offered him to shift to Maxus, Bangalore, to head buying for Britannia. "It has been fantastic. Srini has the knack of challenging you to do newer things. I had joined as head of buying for Britannia. I eventually started looking after all the clients at Maxus Bangalore," he says. In 2006, he became the regional head, South, for Maxus.

In 2005, he became the first Indian to win the best media planner award given by the Hong Kong-based Media Magazine. "When we came back, Srini and Lakshmi (Narasimhan; now chief growth officer for South Asia, GroupM) decided to move on and Vikram (Sakhuja; now equity partner, Group CEO, Madison) came into my life. I spent a good seven-eight years with him and he is a great guy to work with," Kumar says.

Working with these people, for Kumar, has been like going to different 'gurukuls' where one learns different skills and usage of different weapons/ astras. Kumar feels he has always learned a sport by observing more and by only trusting the coach because a coach can see something that you cannot. He signs off saying that people who have worked with him will agree that when "they have a problem, or have something to say, they can come to me. I am a friend to my employees and colleagues."

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