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Women Power: Divya Radhakrishnan

Divya Radhakrishnan could have ideally fitted into a banking or finance career after graduating in economics. But it is the world of marketing and communications that fascinated her. And that is how she moved into the advertising profession.

With over 24 years of experience, Radhakrishnan moved up the ladder across agencies like Dacunha Communications, Publicis Zen and Rediffusion Y&R. After becoming president at TME, the media arm of Rediffusion-Y&R, she decided to start her own venture and floated Helios Media in December 2011.

In the second part of our International Women’s Day coverage, Indiantelevision.com looks at the lady who says that the “gender divide” has vanished over the years as she moved up the hierarchy. Radhakrishnan believes that a "CEO is a CEO be it in a suit or a skirt!"

What has your experience as a woman in the media business been over all these years?

When I joined the media business two decades ago, most media agency heads were women - Roda Mehta, Lynn D‘Souza, Ketaki Gupte and Kalpana Sathe. Having said that, it‘s not as if this was any reason for me to choose this space. Being part of a full service agency, most of my colleagues were men (the boss I was reporting into was a man too!). Hence, there wasn’t any gender leaning of any sorts.

However, large amount of media spends in my early days of media planning was driven by FMCGs and most media plans therefore were housewife centric. Therefore, there was a slight edge in understanding behaviour (not that it gave me, a thoroughbred Mumbaikar, an upper hand about housewives in Kerala to sell Kanan Devan Tea to them).

As I rose up the ranks to head the agency, this so called gender divide vanished. A CEO is a CEO be it in a suit or a skirt.

In my current role as a person running my own company in the media space, all I can say is it gets noticed a bit that "yes she is a woman too!". I am also discovering special allowances that the government has for women entrepreneurs which makes me feel very proud of our Indian governance. For example, the scheme for Small enterprises for financing by PSU banks has greater flexibility if the owner is a woman.

How conducive is the environment for women to thrive in the media business today?

Communications business has been about delivering the right ideas and ideas that work. Hence there needn‘t be any deterrent about being a woman to succeed in this space. The environment today is more conducive than ever before with the mobility of the office tools, with laptops and smart phones one needn‘t be tied down to your desk to complete work. The deadlines remain impossible like before but this flexibility keeps a check on the hours at office. Like it’s said "Office begins at 9 am but work begins at 7 am".

What are the major challenges women face today in the media biz?

The challenges faced by women are the same as that of men. The challenges do not differentiate gender. But if I have to give specific examples pertaining to women, I would rather elaborate the opportunities than challenges because a challenge is a challenge till you face it and then it promptly converts into an opportunity.

What changes would you like to see in the work environment to make it a better and more conducive place for women?

Changes, I want to see is for the profession per se:

1. Enough training opportunities before students take their career decisions of coming into media. Many a times, they do it blindly.

2. Practical exposure rather than exposure to database. "Can you run TAM/IRS software" is a question that should be banned in interviews for Junior planners

3. Diversion of business outside of the metros is not just about servicing a client in Trichur but getting closer to the consumer located there.

On the personal front, which are the TV shows that you like watching more? Does this influence your buying and planning decisions positively?

I am a voracious media consumer myself. I read five newspapers in the morning, listen to radio at drive time, surf net during the day and watch a lot of TV at night. I love daily soaps on GECs and reality shows (however uncool that may sound, don’t care). During my media planning days, I made sure that I had sampled whatever I recommended in my plans. This was a result of my early training days.

What kind of movies are you fond of?

Hardcore Bollywood entertainment.

What is your vision of media and the role of women in it 5-10 years down the road?

Media business has clearly demonstrated that there is equal space for all. It depends purely on your talent. Early days of women agency heads to current trend of men, five years down the line there will be no doubt at all of any wanting to know if the gender had any role to play for these positions which will get clearly established. Leadership definitions 10 years hence will be determined by pure leadership skills rather than the technical media knowledge. Gautam (Kiyawat) at Madison has already set this trend going.

What are your views on traditional media?

In the context of India‘s population construct, traditional media like press is yet to reach its optimum reach capability where it hovers currently at over 45 per cent. With literacy catching up, this will expand. TV, The more popular traditional medium, though larger, is still to reach the entire spread of the nation.

What is your perception of emerging media such as the mobile screen, tablets, online and social media? And your perception of these being used as a targeted medium to communicate brand messages to consumers?

Any place, space, time that a consumer can be found (even if it is a wash-room) becomes a medium. I think the line of traditional and emerging does not exist.

And specifically mobile screens are certainly not emerging as they have travelled even beyond electricity and reached villages where consumers charge their phones on solar energy.

All product categories have their own defined set of consumers and their media habits therefore become the relevant medium for the brands in that category. One cannot generalise on a medium per se. What works for one will not necessarily work for another.

What will the media buying look like in 10 years from now?

Media agency is the better terminology and not media buying agency. For a media investment to get its full worth, it needs to go through a full-service media agency and not focus on buying alone. This will become a fundamental given in 10 years wherein it will get more and more complicated to get those elusive reach numbers. Strategies will have to evolve towards providing the consumer "Opportunity to experience" (OTX) rather than the traditional "Opportunity to see" (OTS).

What advice would you give to the young girls entering the business of media today?

Be aware of what you are getting into. Early years of media business is extremely challenging and one needs to be fully researched on what it entails.

Be a voracious consumer of media yourself - my favourite example is the men at the saree shop who drape the saree around themselves unabashedly to demonstrate the saree‘s beauty.

Be well-read about society and people to map behaviour which needs to reflect on the media strategies. Rise above the numbers that data throws at you to give the client true value for his investments

Whoever controls Media controls the Mind…. a space we women want to be in our relationships!

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