The man and his Midas touch: Looking back at PG's legacy of excellence

After four decades in the M&E industry across print, TV, advertising, marketing and films, Pradeep Guha leaves behind a formidable track record of transforming everything he undertook

e4m by exchange4media Staff
Published: Aug 23, 2021 8:22 AM  | 6 min read
pradeep guha

9X Media MD Pradeep Guha, who passed away on 21st August due to liver cancer, has left behind a rich legacy in the Indian media & entertainment (M&E) sector. He spent over four decades in the M&E industry across print media, TV broadcasting, advertising & marketing, and film segments. 
An alumnus of St Xavier’s College, Guha, fondly known as PG, began his media career in 1976 with the Bennett Coleman and Company Limited (BCCL), a company where he spent almost 29 years. By the time he left BCCL, Guha had built a reputation for himself as the foremost advertising and marketing professional of the time.

At BCCL, he worked closely with Vice Chairman Samir Jain to take the conglomerate's print media business to commanding heights. Guha became a close confidant of Jain, and the two went on to create many business milestones that would cement BCCL's position in the Indian print media industry.

While his key responsibility at BCCL was growing the ad sales business, Guha also dabbled in content. He is the brain behind the Page 3 culture through Bombay Times. As the publisher of Femina and Filmfare, he is credited to have built Femina Miss India and Filmfare Awards into top-notch event properties as National Director of these events.

By the time he left BCCL, Guha had left an inedible mark on the company's DNA. Ace journalist Srinivasa Prasad, who has 36 years of experience in journalism across publications like Times of India, Hindustan Times, and DNA, perfectly summed this up in a series of tweets while condoling Guha's demise.

"Few realise the immense, positive contribution he made, though indirectly, to the evolution of content as well in #TOI. We are talking about an Editorial Model that other papers adopted with few changes later. The Editorial Model didn't merely consist of pagination but also what went on pages, especially FP. But PG didn't impose himself on Editors who were, however, too happy to execute any template given to them," Prasad said.

"The editors were not good enough to fully comprehend why power cuts and potholes made better sense than a Lok Sabha walkout and why India-New Zealand match should replace earthquake in Indonesia on FP. But they were good enough to obey instructions," he added.

Prasad also said that the marketing and editorial changes, in which Pradeep Guha played a key role along with Samir Jain and Vineet Jain, were roundly criticised by rivals as crass commercialisation of journalism but were embraced by them later.

After calling time on his close to three-decade-long association with BCCL, Guha joined hands with media baron Subhash Chandra who roped him in as the CEO of Zee Telefilms (now ZEEL). Having been in the print media industry for close to three decades, Guha had decided to take the plunge into the hyper-competitive world of TV broadcasting.

The veteran media executive joined Zee at a time when the satellite broadcaster was facing tough competition in the market. The company's cash cow Hindi GEC Zee TV was losing market share to rival Star Plus. The one point mandate for Guha was to revive the organisation and bring back its glorious days.

During his stint at Zee, Guha helped Zee TV to grow its market share and come close to the market leader Star Plus. He also played a pivotal role in launching DNA, a 50:50 JV between Zee and Bhaskar Group. Through DNA, Guha took on the might of his old company, the BCCL. He built DNA ground up along with many of his former colleagues from The Times of India like Gautam Adhikari, who was the first Editor of DNA, and Ayaz Memon, the first sports editor of DNA.

Guha's two and a half year association with Zee came to an abrupt end in June 2007. His exit came at a time when newer players like Viacom18's Colors and 9X Media's 9X were looking to enter the Hindi GEC market to take on established channels like Zee TV and Star Plus.

Following Guha's exit, Chandra's son Punit Goenka was promoted as the CEO of the company in 2007-08. Prior to his elevation, Goenka used to work under Guha as the Network Operating Officer. Reacting to Guha's demise, Goenka tweeted on Saturday, "Devastated to lose my mentor, guide & friend Pradeep Guha. One of the most prolific leaders in the M&E Industry. It is a huge loss for all of us. May God give strength to his family and loved ones. Rest in peace!"

Apart from his stints at BCCL and ZEEL, Guha has also produced films like Hrithik Roshan and Karisma Kapoor-starrer 'Fiza' as well as the 2008 film 'Phir Kabhi', which featured Mithun Chakraborty and Dimple Kapadia among others.

His next big move in the media industry was taking over as the MD of 9X Media, which was founded by former Star India CEO Peter Mukerjea and his wife, Indrani Mukerjea. Guha took over the reins of the three-year-old loss-making company, restructured it and brought it back on its feet through a series of strategic moves including selling the GEC 9X to ZEEL.

Even as other Private Equity (PE) investors opted out of 9X Media, New Silk Route (NSR) remained invested in the company and decided to put their trust in Guha. In 2010, Guha acquired a 15% stake in 9X Media, while NSR increased its holding to 80%. Within four years of running 9X Media, he transformed the company from a sick unit to a profitable one. From one music channel (9XM), Guha expanded the network by launching 9XO, 9X Jalwa, 9X Tashan (Punjabi) and 9X Jhakaas (Marathi).

Having established 9X Media as a leading music broadcast company, Guha and NSR started scouting for buyers. According to reports, the two stakeholders were in talks with Sony Pictures Networks India (SPNI) to sell the network for an estimated value of Rs 250-300 crore. In October 2017, the music broadcaster managed to find a buyer, with ZEEL deciding to acquire 9X Media and INX Music for Rs 160 crore. But the deal was terminated in March 2018 due to "non-completion of certain material conditions precedent".

Guha remained at the helm of 9X Media as MD till he breathed his last. He spent more than 11 years at 9X Media, which is his second-biggest innings in a media company after BCCL. He was also a co-founder of FountainHead MKTG, an experiential marketing agency that was launched in January 2010. The agency eventually got acquired by Dentsu in 2015 for reportedly Rs 300-400 crore.

He was also associated with many media, marketing, and advertising bodies. Guha has been the President of the Indian Newspaper Society, Chairman of the National Readership Studies Council, President of the Advertising Club Bombay and the first Chairman of the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC). Furthermore, he was also associated with International Advertising Association (IAA) and Asian Federation of Advertising Association (AFAA).

Guha was responsible for enlisting India at the Cannes Lions Festival and was the first Country Representative from India for 10 consecutive years. He was also the Chairman of the Steering Committee, which organised and executed the World Congress of the International Advertising Association for the first time in India in February 2019.
Photo credits: Kantaa Advanii

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