The President’s position at the Advertising Agencies Association of India (AAAI) has been held by some of the most respected names in the Indian advertising industry. Some examples are Mani Iyer, Alyque Padamsee, Mike Khanna, Arun Nanda, Anil Kapoor and Sam Balsara, to name a few.
The AAAI has played a crucial role in the development of the industry through joint working committees with the likes of the Indian Broadcasting Federation, the Indian Newspapers Society and the Indian Society of Advertisers. The Association has also developed forums such as the GoaFest, which is a unique example at a global level – while most advertising festivals are run by professional organisations, GoaFest is organised by an industry body.
The President’s role shapes the growth of these initiatives and is not a position to be taken for granted. This year, the position would see a heated battle. Sandeep Goyal, Dentsu India’s Chairman, broke conventions when he announced that he would be standing for the elections this year. Nagesh Alai, Executive Director, Interface Communications, has spent 15 years as an AAAI member and is in no hurry to give up now.
Contesting not to clone possible dirty tactics, but to cleanse the system: Goyal
Sandeep Goyal has come a long way in the industry with various achievements to his credit. Apart from heading organisations like Rediffusion Y&R and Zee Telefilms (now ZEEL), he has been on the governing bodies of industry associations such as IBF, MRUC and even the AAAI, among others.
In an exclusive conversation with exchange4media, Goyal explained the rationale behind his decision. His key grouse with the AAAI is that somewhere the Association has become more about a close knit small group of big companies, ignoring larger industry interests. He said, “There have been no open discussions on industry issues for years, leading to an opaque environment, where a select few run the affairs of the Association to the preclusion of all the rest.”
Explaining his point further, Goyal said, “There has been so much negative PR on GoaFest. The AAAI should have had an open forum to discuss what went wrong and then course-corrected. Instead, after the initial media coverage, and no official condemnation by AAAI office bearers, it has all been swept under the carpet.”
Goyal is of the opinion that there has been a lot of pressure on smaller members by the big ‘daddies’. He said, “I have been openly warned that the ruling group will grab proxies, but I am contesting not to clone possible dirty tactics, but to cleanse the system. I have appealed to all member agencies to treat this as a vote of conscience and not succumb to any pressure.”
This is a battle, and Goyal is on the aggressive. He stated, “I have been inundated by nominations from across the country. Everyone is thanking me for taking up cudgels against what is just a closely controlled Big Boys Club. They do no good for those outside their inner circle. In fact, industry forums are being used by some ‘senior’ members to just grow their own businesses and ensure norms that just favour them at the cost of smaller agencies.”
AAAI President is about contribution, continuity & stability: Alai
Too many things about Nagesh Alai don’t fit in the AAAI President image – he is not an agency head, he is not an advertising professional but a finance head, and he is not the quoted-every-other-day kinds either. But most industry members had called him ‘deserving’ when he was appointed Vice President last year. The reasons were simple – Alai has spent 15 years working at the Association, and in that much time he has been actively involved in the various AAAI initiatives.
Giving his view on the situation at hand, Alai said, “The election of an AAAI President or Vice President is based on contribution, continuity and stability. One has to know what the Association is about and how it interacts with other industry bodies. But at the end of the day, AAAI is a democratic association. If someone wants to break away from norms, that is alright. All I can say is good luck. Finally, the members of the Association are aware of who is doing what, and it is they who will decide their representative.”
Amongst the various allegations on the AAAI at present, the GoaFest controversy is top of the list. Even though Abby Awards was run by the Bombay Ad Club, it was still part of the GoaFest and a joint responsibility of the AAAI – why did the Association fail to take a stand on the issue? Alai replied, “AAAI has been transparent and strong on the whole process. A few bad apples are spoiling the lot, but this is not the kind of negativity that can be taken up in a public forum. It is a joint initiative with the Ad Club and we are working on how we correct the process. But let’s not throw out the baby with the bath water. The AAAI is a strong association. I have been personally involved with it for 15 years only because of the respect that I have for the AAAI.”
Over the years, it does appear that the AAAI has become all about the big players. Alai replied, “You could not be farther from the truth. The AAAI Executive Committee consists of 20 members plus one ex-officio member, who is the immediate past president. The other members include eight full service agency heads, four creative agency heads and four media agency heads. There are three zonal heads from North, South and East. We also have the option of invitee members for fair representation. We have Network Advertising’s Vinod Nair, BEI Confluence’s Tapas Gupta, Neville Gomes, ASP’s Surajit Nag are in the committee.”
At one level, the conversation is about conventions, but it is not conventional for a finance head to be AAAI President. “Regardless of anything, I believe in grace and dignity in anything that is done and I will continue in the same manner. The AAAI President has to first go through engagement and interaction with other committees and industry members. The AAAI constitution does not have any clauses that restrict people from doing that. Finally, it is the choice of the members to nominate their representative. If at all, a finance person would know the length and breadth of the agency person, CEO and CFO work as two sides of the same coin. Let me remind you, WPP is also run by a finance person.”
While the two contenders are set, and the deadline for nominations is July 7, 2010, this is not the last that is heard on this before the AAAI annual general meeting on July 30, 2010, when the AAAI President would be announced.