Media agency Lodestar's Mumbai office, the mood is jubilant

The date: 2 July 2004. At media agency Lodestar's Mumbai office, the mood is jubilant. President Shashi Sinha, vice-president Nandini Dias, and general manager Arpita Menon have just heard that their agency has been awarded the Shaw Wallace account.

It all began here!

However, there's no time to celebrate as the team has to head for India's leading media awards, the Emvies 2004. There's more good news in store for the trio: at the function in the evening, Lodestar is crowned the media agency of the year. The Lodestar team is ecstatic. And they head for the city's Grand Hyatt Hotel to pop some champagne and down some bubbly.

The next month, August, is even better for Lodestar, which is actually a part of the FCB Worldwide network. Following the breaking up of the Tata AOR from TME, Lodestar bags Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), Tata Motors, Tata Indicom and Trent - a significant chunk of the brands from the reputed Tata stable.


Lodestar president - Shashi Sinha

Since then, there has been no looking back. Says the calm, soft spoken, but inwardly extremely aggressive, Shashi (as he is known to all and sundry): "It was in 2001 that we charted out a plan to become one of the top media agencies in the country. The seeds were sown then. The results are showing now. Our dream run began with the Shaw Wallace acquisition which led to the past 12 months turning out to be the most dramatic ones in the agency's history. It truly has been a golden year. The Gods are looking down upon us favourably."

To know about what peers think of Lodestar - Click Here

New Biz : 04'- 05'
Tata Motors
Shaw Wallace

Oberoi Hotels
SC Johnson
Unitech Builders
ICICI Lombard
Hong Kong Tourism

He's got enough reason to sound happy. The agency snared 20 new accounts last year (its client roster ended up having a healthy 50:50 split between media only and creative-led media business). And it lost just three clients during the year - IDBI, Samsung and Henkel. The latter two departed on account of a global realignment.

It grew at a blistering 60 per cent, notching up year end billings (according to industry estimates) of Rs 7400 million. In the process, it pushed its way into the ranks of the fastest growing media agencies in the country. Topping that is the fact that it is not really reliant on its overseas parent FCB for clients. Just five per cent of its business comes its way courtesy its umbilical connection with FCB - the two big names on its roster being SC Johnson and Hong Kong Tourism.

With that kind of hyperactivity, practically no one in the industry views it as a media arm of FCB Ulka anymore. Sinha says a lot of effort has gone into creating a separate identity for Lodestar Media over the past 18 months.

Key Accounts


Baush & Laumb
Blue Star

Says he: "Agreed, there was a perception problem. But it was something that was prevalent two years ago. Today that does not stand. We have ensured that we function as a separate entity. We have shifted into new premises, we make separate contracts and ensure that we behave like an independent."

Interestingly, it is only in India that FCB has a media agency which does not go under the sobriquet of FCB Media. The fact is that Lodestar is a significant contributor to the network's Asian revenues accounting for a sizable 30 per cent of the agency's Asia Pacific billings, making it the leader office among the 18 Asia Pacific countries (Hong Kong, New Zealand, Malaysia, China) FCB Media has offices in.

Recognising that something good is happening out of its India operation, the FCB Media management centralised its Asia PAcific operations under Lodestar Media, with Sinha being given the additional responsibility as regional media director in December 2004. On his shoulders lies the responsibility of acquiring new businesses and handling the media requisites of other FCB agencies in Asia Pacific region.

So what is it that has got Lodestar's fortunes on the ascendant and got it the MFN status in the FCB Media network? For starters, it is the way it looks at how media should be handled. It has 110 media professionals on its rolls. 70 of them are planners, while the remainder work in operations. However, in the Lodestar scheme of things, every media professional within the agency is both a planner and a buyer. A process, that Sinha instituted around five years ago. He explains: "This structure ensures strategic-focus even while buying and has a higher likelihood of brand-focused innovations."

Nerolac Train Case Study 2002:

Media helped solve a problem with an innovative idea.

The Problem:

1) Nerolac seen as the ‘white paints’ company

2) Asian Paints at 50% SOV dominates every claim

3) How do we showcase our range ?

Lodestar created the WORLD’S LONGEST Shade Card - On a train with a total of 1800 shades & every shade had the right name and number.

(Nerolac Train Gold for best Media Innovation at Emvies 2002)

Lodestar vice president - Nandini Dias

Lodestar Media vice-president Nandini Dias adds: "Till 2000, we followed the structure of having two separate blocks of planning and buying. But we realised that the moment you separate the two functions, you do not have a brand custodian. With our current structure, there is more ownership towards a brand which drives professionals to get a media positioning that is distinctive."

Lodestar's localised tools

Then there's its focus on research and on the development of planning tools which emerges from the LabCentre which it set up in 2000. "It started as a necessity for me, as I was competing with the Group Ms and the other big agencies of the world. They were bringing in their global tools, so this was our answer. The work kick-started in 2001," points out Sinha.

Lodestar GM - Arpita Menon

Adds Lodestar Media general manager Arpita Menon who oversees the Lab Centre operations, "This is our way of raising our capability."

The Lab Centre, run by Mahua Chaturvedi, today is a revenue generator to fund the agency to invest in and develop localised tools. It contributes 10 per cent to Lodestar Media's overall revenues and takes on consulting assignments from other firms. This apart it develops tools for FCB Media counterparts in the Asia Pacific making it "a centre of excellence" in Sinha's words. He points out that his agency is the only one in India to export its tools to others in the region. It has also organised training workshops in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Sri Lanka to familiarise managers in these regions with the tools.

What is exciting Sinha is the fact that FCB Media's US office has picked up an indegenously developed proprietary tool called 'Media Graphics.' Developed locally with AC Neilson it is essentially a media segmentation tool which allows users to understand how different people consume media, although they might be in the same age bracket. Additional recognition has come in the form of the Lab Centre being assigned various jobs in global modelling from FCB Worldwide.

Sinha believes that success despite, he has challenges on hand. The first being maintaining the agency's momentum and the second sustaining the culture that organization has built for itself. The third is growing scalable backend systems so that managers can cope with growth.

"With the agency becoming larger and a lot more people coming on board with different sets of experiences, my task at hand is to imbibe in them the agency's belief and spirit," he says.

What will help is the fact that Lodestar moved out of the office space it used to share with Interface Communications into its own premises in Mumbai's Lower Parel area. Investments have been made in software, hardware and communications to ensure an uninterrupted service to clients.

He points out that growth for Lodestar is very clearly going to come from organically. Just last month, the agency pocketed the Rs 600 million Loreal account. This should go a long way in helping it keep up the scorching pace it has set itself.

"Loreal is most definitely a strategic win with a lot of potential. But the focus will most definitely be the Delhi market with Lodestar Delhi getting active this year," says Sinha, adding that the Lab Centre will be leveraged to further strengthen the agency's position - both internally (within the FCB international network and externally - to win new businesses).

What will also add to the growth is the specialised cells that he set up within the agency in November 2004 in order to build expertise in and unconventional media solutions. Amongst these: FCB i (the interactive division), Lodestar OOH (Out of Home), Lodestar Brand Experiences (non mass media). A rechristening of FCB i to Lodestar i is on the anvil with the FCB i team at Nariman Point reporting to Sinha, thus completing the integration of all of the divisions under the Lodestar umbrella.

He will be adding a public relations and an "interesting" sports unit to the list of specialised services with cells being set up in the agency in the not too distant future.

We rock!

Says Sinha: "Its not been easy. Media is a game of scale. So in 2001, I used to wonder - Will we ever play the big game questioning every move of ours in terms of if we were on the right track? 2004 has been a big confidence booster for us. For FCB as a whole, the Lodestar story is a big success story."

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