I want my identity back. I don't want to be known as the CEO of AOL Time Warner . . . I'm my own person. I have strong moral convictions. I'm not just a suit. I want poetry back in my life.
- Gerald Levin, Former CEO of AOL Time Warner (the world's largest media company)
This existential dilemma is confronting senior Indian media, communication and advertising professionals too.
Every week at least two senior people from the domain of marketing, media, communication come to me for seeking counsel and bouncing off their ideas. Some of these are senior professionals – CEOs of large businesses who are contemplating an entrepreneurial venture.
Mostly I hear them out and with my limited understanding of this domain and little bit of common sense, I discuss the options and navigate them towards something that we both believe is natural calling and logical progression.
In the last six months, I have seen a huge amount of burnout amongst senior professionals. The reason I say this is that a lot of them have asked me if I can help them find very senior options matching the skill-set they have outside communication, media and advertising domain. They ask me if I believe that these domains are increasingly getting saturated and whether the growth and number of opportunities at their level of responsibility and remuneration are few and far between.
They ask me if the media industry is becoming increasingly less lucrative and too demanding in all aspects. Some of them even cite the burnout of promoters of media companies and their current phase of indifference as reasons to leave.
I share all logical answers and discuss philosophical issues about our domain and profession.
A large number of friends who have come to me have been very senior dynamic advertising sales heads and professionals who increasingly feel they are chasing the law of diminishing returns in all aspects.
Some of these professionals do not know each other but say very similar things to me. We have all read jokes on what working in the media industry is about – extra hard work, no family life, little monies and too much stress.
Increasingly younger professionals are willing to do more for less. Technology and its adoption is changing the way our industry works. The job merry-go-round for some of these professionals is almost ending.
I believe that ‘Samudra Manthan’ is taking place in media and the flux will result into more opportunities and more excitement albeit in a different shape.
"I had all those cable networks reporting to me, I had a number of windows in my office and I had all the corporate perks you could possibly imagine, but that wasn't what I was about, so I left."
- Geraldine B Laybourne, resigned as President of cable TV operations for ABC and Walt Disney, now with Oxygen Media
Sometimes I feel that these senior professionals who come to me want to quit Indian media because their leaders, CEOs and promoters have failed to inspire them and they are seeking to find and emulate new role models in bigger, much bigger and stable industries. I am reminded of what Pablo Picasso said, "If you become a soldier, you'll be a general; if you become a monk, you'll end up as the pope. Instead, I became a painter and wound up as Picasso."
The era of mad men in advertising, metaphorically speaking, has come to an end in Indian advertising.
Digital media and internet start-ups are the new frontiers these senior professionals can seek. The young geeks need mentors and experienced professionals as leaders.
I, through my column, would like to say what I have said to these professionals all along... Indian communication, advertising and media sector is moving into a new phase of maturity. Hence, we all as professionals need to reinvent ourselves. The Indian media is finally consolidating and seeking profitability and not just valuations. Finally true convergence is here with telecom, media and entertainment companies in India becoming one or collaborating. My message to them is two-fold, stay on and build on the skills you have, and secondly, understand the future will not be like past...so reinvent.
I would like to remind them what Stephen Jay Gould, the evolutionary scientist, said "Any human being is really good at certain things. The problem is that the things you're good at come naturally. And since most people are pretty modest instead of an arrogant s.o.b. like me, what comes naturally, you don't see as a special skill. It's just you. It's what you've always done."