With time on my hands during the recent bandh, I began flirting yet again with the prospect of leaving the industry to which I have dedicated the last 12 years of my life. The reasons are numerous but here are a few…
Outdoor is a business where the entry level barrier is so low that every corner shop owner is a Rupert Murdoch of the media business with assets that are disproportionate compared to the average salary growth. Even so, every media owner is habituated to cribbing that his losses are mounting and profit margins are depleting. Yet, when you escort them out the door, you are mesmerised by the sexiest sedans of the world waiting in the drive way to whisk them off.
Hypocrisy has risen while intellectual growth has been limited to the next OAC medal tally. Increasingly, your friends are part of alumni only and family is provided everything but time. One’s claim to fame emanates from the praise of self-appointed appreciation groups and/or mutual admiration societies.
What really keeps us ‘outdoorians’ going is the dynamic nature of the business. The initial years were full of enthusiasm and excitement and the whole agenda revolved around making a fortune for the management and making them look good in every aspect of the business. The hardest I ever worked was from 2001 to 2006 which were entrepreneurial years. Let us not forget that in the mid 2000's, clients were carnivorous animals. If you weren’t at the top of your game, they would eat you for breakfast without salt and pepper. As a result, I believe I learnt ‘the businesses from the best’. The ‘will do’ attitude made us work for 15-16 hours daily without even a hint of exhaustion or tiredness. But, the downside is that one can easily get addicted to ridiculous working hours. To the point where all we would discuss over lunch would be 40x20 and which campaign was done by whom and who joined where.
The power of outdoor really hit home when I found myself transferred to Hyderabad. On day one, I ventured out with my new bride to get a feel of the city. And, we got lost in our second-hand family car Maruti 800. Local language wasn't my strength at the time. So, I called my local mate and he guided me to civilization giving directions using hoardings as landmarks!
During the journey, life threw up experiences which have made for really interesting anecdotes. Some of them are mentioned for a laugh...
Our biggest and only client in 2004 was launching its service in Punjab. Our limited resources didn’t allow us to hire the most-known talent then. The gambler in me took the challenge of acquiring talent. One morning, I was at ICICI bank in Mohali when I met an agent with whom I struck an instant rapport. I hired him and today he is very successful in the OOH industry.
Another talented recruit was a call centre agent. I joked that I would give him a job if he got my problem sorted out. He became our second in command.
I was sitting at one of a local vendor’s office in Chandigarh and took my chances persuading a print delivery guy to come with me for a recce with a client. The recce went fine notwithstanding that I was pointing right and he was pointing left while showing the same site to the client. He completed my team in Punjab for the telecom launch.
Then, there was a guy with a similar name at work who was searching for brides. Our receptionist transferred a verification call to me. The person on the other side asked, if I was Mandeep, to which I responded “of course”. The first few questions were regular and I also answered them honestly. Then came the bombshell, “Beta ladki pasand hai? To which I said “Ki gal kar rahe ho… Meri shaadi ho chuki hai ek bacha bhi hai. To date, I don’t know whether the other Mandeep got married or not! This is when I learnt the importance of accurate reach in communication (though at someone else’s cost).
And that is how over the years, the industry became family and family become an annual pilgrimage. Having said that, when push comes to shove...I am proud of being part of true ‘outdoorians’. Outdoor has become my family and you don’t leave family, you just get married to an extended one.
The author is President, DDB MudraMax