Fighting the good fight, and winning: Shekar Swamy remembers Brahm Vasudeva
Swamy, Group CEO of R K Swamy Hansa, writes how Vasudeva was a fearless man who was about doing the right thing, even if it meant fighting for it
I started working with Brahm Vasudeva in the first quarter of 1986. We worked together as client-agency for 34 years, and this continues. As an individual-to-individual relationship, this must be among the longest in the business. During this period, we nurtured a bond that is hard to put in words.
I want to focus on one abiding quality in the man, which helped him build his business and defined him in so many ways. It endeared him to me. It is a central characteristic of the man. Brahm Vasudeva was fearless. He was about doing the right thing. If it meant fighting for it, so be it.
My mind goes back to 1993-94. The availability of data about readership of print media, and viewership of TV channels, had dried up. The attempts with conducting the National Readership Survey regularly had failed, as that media research activity had stopped. Brahm Vasudeva was a big believer in the power of advertising. His Hawkins brand was built on the back of focused advertising investment. The unavailability of media data meant his advertising investment was not directed properly. Repeated attempts to get the industry bodies to address this issue had failed. The larger print media publishers were content to let this situation continue.
Brahm Vasudeva voiced his frustration in various forums. He was joined in this by Roda Mehta, an outspoken media veteran from advertising agency Ogilvy & Mather. Enough talk, the two decided. They started to gather together a group of other like-minded people. The two took me aside and spoke to me in an industry gathering. I agreed with them and joined their informal band. Mr K Kurien of Radeus advertising, another upstanding professional, came in. Slowly and steadily the group expanded to perhaps 10 or more people from different companies.
The leadership for this was all Brahm, with Roda as a joint commander. The meetings took place in the Hawkins’ office in Cuffe Parade. We worked for days on end, putting together the framework for a new Readership Research Users Council. The name was soon changed to Media Research Users Council. Brahm wrote the constitution which continues till date. There would be four constituents – Advertisers, Publishers, Agencies and Broadcast & Other Media. Each would have equal representation in the Board. The Chairman of the Board would rotate among the four. It was the right thing for all sections of the industry. It was fair, balanced and inclusive. That was the problem with it, in the eyes of some.
Undaunted by earlier failures, we went to the industry bodies viz., Indian Newspaper Society (INS), Advertising Agencies Association of India (AAAI) and the Indian Society of Advertisers (ISA). Brahm and Roda explained what was being attempted. We invited the support of all. This was an industry initiative for all the constituents. Everyone will benefit.
Brahm was frustrated but not discouraged, as were all of us. We really wanted a fully representative group to come together. We had good intentions and plans, but no money. We huddled again in Brahm’s office. After some discussion, we decided to move forward undeterred. The MRUC would be formed and launched, and we would appeal to the individual companies to participate and become members. Eight of us signed on as individual promoters of the MRUC, two from each category of membership. Brahm Vasudeva reluctantly became the first Chairman of MRUC.
It is a truism that when one starts walking, one discovers new paths and solutions. The newly formed MRUC decided to approach the research agencies for support in conducting the first Indian Readership Survey. We invited proposals. We felt that if we went to market with a defined product, we could garner subscriptions. We found a believer from an unexpected source. Ashok Advani of Business India was then the owner of ORG MARG, the research agency. He agreed to vendor-finance the IRS, and start the work. It was a Rs 2 crore project, a big risk for him and for us. Ashok was an entrepreneur. He put his faith in the MRUC team, led by Brahm. He assessed that this team would come good.
We launched the first IRS. I was asked to head the Marketing Committee. The MRUC team spent days on end and cleverly designed the offer. We sent out more than a hundred individual appeals to advertisers, agencies, publishers and other media. Despite an active lobby against the MRUC, we received subscriptions worth over Rs 60 lakh within a month. The game was on. Over time we raised all the money needed to successfully fulfil the obligation to ORG MARG.
Those were heady days, with a great team pulled together by Brahm Vasudeva. There was no personal agenda. The team chased an idea, and wanted to see it come alive. It took the fighting spirit of someone like Brahm to pull it together. He was not trying to show up anyone. During the process, he never spoke ill of anyone. He stayed focused on the task, and got it done. He went about the work as seriously as he went about dealing with his business and other matters. No short cuts. Always the worker.
The MRUC has completed 25 years of service to the industry. Brahm Vasudeva gave it around 10 years of his life, before he withdrew. His name is nowhere now. He couldn’t care less. That was another trait. He was not in it for personal limelight.
There was much to learn from Brahm. I have seen him lead his team to great success in his business. That is another story. Fighting to do the right thing came naturally to him. He couldn’t see it any other way. The beauty is, he never thought about it.
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of exchange4media.com.
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