Ashwini Gangal
Defining Moments

Defining Moments: Divya Radhakrishnan: "Rediffusion was my dream agency!"

Radhakrishnan, who quit TME, the media arm of Rediffusion-Y&R in February this year, believes it's difficult to have life-changing defining moments unless one is a Hindi movie hero, yet singles out a few turning points in her 24-year long career.

I hail from a conservative Tamil family and grew up in Matunga. After studying Economics and completing a management diploma from SIES, I got an offer to work at South Indian Bank.

Defining Moments: Divya Radhakrishnan: "Rediffusion was my dream agency!"
Rejecting this job was my first defining moment. By doing this, I completely broke tradition. Believe it or not, I hated Mathematics, so not taking up Science was already a deviation from convention. My father thought I was mad. My inspiration was my uncle. He was a marketing manager with Crompton Greaves, and he helped me gain exposure in marketing and advertising. I was fascinated with his world. He kept encouraging me and said, "Forget that bank job, get into this instead."

In 1987, I joined DaCunha Associates, and worked there for four-and-a-half years. It was a strong agency that time, and handled accounts like Amul and LIC. I was a media assistant when I joined, and my job was to update publication rates. The era of media planning had just begun (Roda Mehta had introduced that in Ogilvy).

Most of the pitches at the time were full service pitches. Whenever we had to make a media presentation, I would make it. Interestingly, I picked it all up, not from my bosses (as they were not planners), but from books, and by trying to see other presentations and making self-tutorials. I used to worry during pitches. I'd wonder 'Did I fare as well as competition?', simply because I didn't know what the standard practice was.

The Zen phase

In 1991, Bharat Dabholkar from DaCunha Associates (along with Alka Dabholkar and T N Ravindran) decided to form Zen Advertising. They took me along. That was an important moment for me, because had it not happened, I would have still continued being in an environment of media operations. Zen was about creating your own path.

I got involved with every aspect of communication. I handled media from the perspective of having understood the brand. My interaction with marketing people increased. The big clients at the time were Tata Tea, Parle and Transelektra. I interacted one-on-one with owner-entrepreneurs. There's plenty one can learn from such people. They are very enterprising.

In the early 2000s, I felt I had worked a lot in this 'Indian agency environment' and thought of switching. Around that time, (Bharat) Dabholkar decided to sell the agency to Publicis. It helped that the world kept changing around me without me having to change too much. At Publicis, I was exposed to international tools. I underwent a lot of training, and went to London, Paris and Singapore for the same.

The dream agency

In 2003, I joined Rediffusion-Y&R. This iconic place was my dream agency! Working on the consolidation of Tata agency of record (AoR) was a fantastic experience. It was about managing 28 different Tata companies. I learnt about culture and values from Tata.

The Tata AoR was dismantled in 2005. By then, media buying had really caught on, and we set up an organised buying function at TME. It completed my transition from media planning to media buying. When Anupriya Acharya (former president, TME) quit, I was made the president of TME, and reported to the then group CEO (chief executive officer) Mahesh Chauhan. It gave me the chance to sink my teeth into the business of advertising. While I had loved working on Tata, I felt alienated from the whole creative process. In effect, he brought back what was very close to my heart.