The recently-appointed CEO of Living Media India and Hearst Corp JV believes different media need to be tweaked to stay relevant and professionals across fields bear creative idiosyncrasies that can be worked on.
After a successful career spanning more than 25 years in retail and advertising, Sanjay Thapar is wearing a new hat - that of CEO of the publication joint venture between Living Media India (The India Today Group) and US media group, Hearst Corp.
"If you are coming as a head of business, it's important to see if you have that kind of understanding - can you work with people, can you lead a team, can you take some tough calls if required, do you understand the P&L model - all these skills at one level appear general but are specialised skills. A lot of times businesses need fresh challenges," he explains.
He says that many a time when one does the same job for three-four years, it becomes difficult for the person to spot change. That is why bringing a fresh perspective to the table helps businesses. This is probably the reason why he is the most deserving choice for the role, he adds.
The India Today and Hearst JV is exciting for him for a couple of reasons and he thinks he can manage it well. Thapar has an expertise in managing creative people and dealing with them. "I see creative quirks in the editors and the editorial team. Then there is my ad sales, brand management, and new business experience that will help a lot in terms of concept selling. There is content that can be created through partnering with people. All of this, plus the attitude of being able to try something new fearlessly, will always help."
Thapar goes on to add that he saw the seriousness with which both Hearst Corp and Living Media India want this venture to work. He understands that the print business is not growing at a rapid pace. "People are talking about evolution of digital and how the younger generation is not into print; these are generalised statements. When new forms of media and information come in, the consumption patterns change. Having said that, there is a role for everything in different forms. The need is to remodel, tweak and re-invent, in order to become more relevant."
But, how does one 'tweak' a publication? Thapar explains, "There are a lot of things. There will always be the online community, offline community, online-offline version, different content; this business will require a lot of depth and experience to come in. Lots of on-ground activities will continue from content and relevance point of view and that's how I see it getting tweaked and re-engineered."
Earlier, Thapar was CEO of Bates India. He calls his stint at Bates challenging; however, for others in the industry, Thapar was the reason behind the turnaround of the agency along with Ogilvy Kolkata. He had joined Bates at a turbulent time, when its senior executives Sonal Dabral and Sandeep Pathak had just quit the agency.
"When I joined Bates, it was unstable. There was anxiety in the client's mind and also internally in the team. I spent the first year stabilising that, spending a lot of time with people, communicating with them, getting the right management council. The fact that we didn't lose any client in the first six months and gained a couple of small ones, the fact that no major exits happened, and new inductions like Sourabh Mishra gave people the confidence. Ideally I would have loved to stay there for another year but opportunities just come sometimes, out of the blue," he says.
Thapar had joined Bates in 2012 from Ogilvy, a stint that began at its Kolkata office. He was with Mudra Kolkata, when he happened to meet Pritha Singh by coincidence. Thapar's meeting with Singh led to his appointment as the branch head of Ogilvy Kolkata. Apparently, Ogilvy Kolkata was going through a tough time when he joined the agency and he feels proud to call it one of the significant moments of his life.
Ogilvy Kolkata was a loss making office of the agency at that time. Thapar asked Ranjan Kapur (then MD, Ogilvy) to trust him in what he was doing, and took some hard calls with his team. The team decided to take a hit on the increments and not to take any small client or project. "We dropped two-thirds of our clients in terms of numbers and remained with 10. Despite that, in three years we were doing two or three times the turnover," he reveals. Within a span of three years, the agency got big clients like ITC Infotech and Tata Steel.
Thapar's first encounter with advertising was when he joined a year-old shopper marketing start-up, Ramms India. Moving out of Bata, his first job, after eight years, Thapar feels it was a good bridge since he understood retail with Bata and wanted to do communication next.
When asked if it was challenging to move from the client's side to an agency, Thapar says, "For me, it's been about partnership and collaboration, even when I was a client."
Thapar feels proud that he and his team at Ramms actually created a retainer model which in those days was unheard of, as everything was on project basis. He roped in clients like Hero Honda and Britannia. "If you get the product right, if you can package and market it well, there will be many takers for it," he asserts.
An MBA from Indian Institute of Management, Lucknow, Thapar started his career with Bata. His experience at Bata was across verticals. While he worked in sales in Pathankot, Jaipur and Mumbai, he also spent three-four years in Kolkata as brand manager before he moved to Delhi in a merchandising role. He believes that it's his experience at Bata, a place where he spent eight years of his career, which helps him remain grounded.