you are a David in a battle of the Goliaths, you have to be that
much sharper, wilier, smarter and aggressive. Sam Balsara's Madison
Media fits that description well. An Indian agency without any international
affiliation or any connections globally, it has given the management
of large media houses - right from the Group Ms to the Mediacoms
and The Media Edges - sleepless nights. So much so that almost all
agencies in the media firmament love to hate it and are loathe to
acknowledge the agency in a positive light.
to what some of the more nasty ones have to say.
is willing to shave off commissions and clients to sign a client,"
was an oft heard criticism. (The agency denies this totally and
all clients maintain they go strictly by the industry norms and
do not undercut.)
even pulls the wool over the client's ears, overbills them,"
was a viewpoint from an agency head. (Clients and media owners,
however, maintain that they are amongst the more transparent and
honest agencies in India.)
pitches for every client, forget about its hoity toity statement
that it is selective," was yet another opinion. (The agency
all these comments, however, the fact is that today, the Mumbai-hqed
once-upon-a-time minnow has emerged as a major media force. With
billings of Rs 9000 million and 25 clients, it is probably the second
largest amongst all media agencies, straddling the industry like
a colossus. Almost in total contrast to its diminutive and squeaky-voiced
promoter Balsara, who is a tour de force in Indian advertising.
Communications chairman& managing director Sam Balsara
Media has evolved along with the Indian media industry. The last
two-three years have been particularly good especially in terms
of income and billings but it is significant to know that in terms
of number of employees, we have grown at an even higher rate than
our income or billings. So it makes me believe that we have a sustainable
growth oriented organisation in place that does not get destabilised
because of additional new businesses," says the dynamic Balsara.
was hardly 17 years ago that Balsara put in his papers at Mudra
where he was in charge of the Mumbai office. With two clients in
his pocket - Godrej and Nelco - a strong Tata brand in those days
- and a dream in his eye, he founded Madison Communications. Madison
Communications spawned Madison Media in 1994 when Procter &
Gamble called it to pitch for its media business, which the aggressive
Sam finally grabbed. Procter & Gamble wanted to maximise the
value it got out of its advertising spends just like Lever had done
when it centralised media buying under Sanjiv Gupta (until recently
Coke boss) and M Suku (today Broadmind CEO), and then under Fulcrum.
Media Group CEO Punitha Arumugham
1994, P&G was looking at consolidating media with one agency
- that is having an agency of record. There were a lot of other
agencies along with Madison that pitched for the business,"
says Madison Media group CEO Punitha Arumugham.
probably envisioned the growth in the media-only ad business much
before others did. The results are there to see: over the past two
years it has snared the media business of Asian Paints, Cadburys,
Marico, McDonalds, AirTel, Tata Tea, Tata AIG and TVS in quick succession.
only that. Balsara has also positioned the agency well in order
to exploit and offer clients various services. Once a client gets
into the Madison network whether for media or creative, he need
not shop around for other brand communication services. Balsara
has lined up enough of them in-house to woo them and stay with him,
the way long standing client Godrej has.
"Hats off to the man," says an industry observer. "He
works at a frenetic pace, is ahead of his time, is a task master
and is very particular about delivery. He is also responsive to
the changing environment. He realised that the traditional commercial
was not working as well in brand communications and in-programme
and in-film brand promotion would be the future and he rushed to
build this core competence, becoming just the third agency in the
country to offer the service. Additionally, he has set up this matrix
of services which he provides so well that clients are hooked, line
Madison Network has the following services under its umbrella: PR
(Madison PR), in-film promotion (through Mates), creative (Madison
Creative), outdoors (Madison Outdoor Media Services - Moms), and
retail promotion (Madison Retail Paradigm).
In fact, Balsara is a firm believer of the philosophy of intrapreneurship
- that is treating employees as entrepreneurs and giving them responsibility
and rewards as though it was their very own venture. He recently
launched two sub brands of Madison Media namely Madison Media Infinity
(headed by Ajit Varghese) and Madison Media Plus (headed by Basabdutta
Chowdhari). The duo will report to Arumugham.
major reason in launching them was to give our people, who have
been responsible for growing their own respective businesses, a
greater sense of ownership and independence about their own work.
Another reason for launching them was to institutionalise the way
in which Madison operated as an independent unit," says Balsara.
helped in other ways, says Arumugham. Senior managers heading the
two new SBUs could give clients' brands that much more more personal
attention. "Primarily they were formed to benefit our clients,"
here for Madison Media Infinity's clients and structure.
here for Madison Media Plus' clients and structure.
having more sub-brands or divisions under a large umbrella gives
Madison the flexibility to be in a position to find a solution to
a conflict of interest issue. While it does help, Balsara says it
is not to such a large extent. "I think if you look at our
businesses across the three units or even within a unit, conflicts
have always existed," he says.
all the three entities - Madison Media, Madison Media Infinity and
Madison Media Plus - pitch for business non-competitively. Explains
Arumugham: "It's a question of who we think can handle the
pitch in question in the best possible way. As a part of the pitch
process Sam, Madison Media Research Center (MMRC) and I are involved.
Only one Madison outfit will pitch for a particular business, which
is decided by more or less the location of the client and the capability
in handling the workload."
Media can boast of being the only media outfit in the country, which
has the highest average billing per client and also the highest
average team size per client. Also the fact remains that the agency
has just 25 clients. The agency also has its own research unit MMRC,
which boasts of tools like Madison Program Predictor, Madison Frequency
Estimator, M Cube, Madison Town & Country, Madison Demographic
Definer and M-Spectra.
with his trusted aide Arumugham at the Madison office
research as an important component of media buying and planning,
Balsara says, "These tools are extremely important as the senior
talent can work on strategic insights based on their experience
and expertise and the juniors can do sophisticated analysis at the
touch of a button. It also enables standardised ways of looking
at a problem and ensures that hygienic analysis is done at a faster
don't import any research tools from abroad unlike other agencies.
The way we operate is, if a client has some problem, then we try
and develop solutions around that problem at our research unit by
indigenously developing new tools. So there is a problem and we
try and work out a solution around it. The way MMRC works for us
is quite unique," says Arumugham.
further adds, "Also, what we're trying out with our businesses
is that media is not just about numbers, it's also about thinking
out of the box. We're getting more non-media professionals on our
team so that they can ideate, implement and do things that we media
people who are so number driven, don't think of."
agency undertakes analysis of specific channels, markets and media
from time to time and the findings and recommendations are fed into
the planning and buying processes.
Balsara's mantra was to focus on a few big clients. More recently,
he realized that it was not the right strategy to depend on two
or three clients and decided to look at new businesses seriously.
realized that we needed to grow not only for our learning but also
to ensure that our existing clients also believed that we are successful
agencies. So that's how we moved from a handful of clients to 25
clients. We still don't have 100 clients but we have progressed,"
the success of the agency in the highly competitive environment
Arumugham avers, "The reason for our success is that we've
been choosy about the businesses that we pitch for. There are lots
of times when we don't pitch for accounts where the pitch is rate
driven. Secondly, they way we are structured also chips in to our
success. On every set of business, we have a team of people who
are dedicated to that particular business. So even if we get larger,
the attention on current businesses doesn't suffer."
stresses, "We pitch very selectively. There is a certain strategy
we have in place for that. We don't want to grow at any cost. We
want to grow preferably on our terms. It may not always be possible
but we'll try."
peer agencies beg to differ on the claim that Madison is "choosy"
in what it pitches for. Says an agency head: "Madison goes
after too many clients and they are always there in a pitch. One
has to understand that not every client is profitable. Why would
an agency of that stature pitch for a Rs 40-50 million Tata Salt
account? I have heard that they are getting a commission of about
1.5 to 2 per cent on that. It's not economical for the business.
They used to be choosy, but they are beginning to change their stance."
The agency however rubbishes this and says that the Tata Salt account
follows normal industry standard commissions.
media professional concurs, "Madison only pretends to be selective
in its pitches and that is the way the management has projected
the agency. No one is selective based on the clients' volume as
they can't afford to do that. Selectivity is based on many other
Balsara stresses, "We pitch very selectively. There is a certain
strategy we have in place for that. We don't want to grow at any
cost. We want to grow preferably on our terms. It may not always
be possible but we'll try."
asked to outline the parameters on which the agency decides which
account to pitch for or not, Arumugham outlines.
agency claims that the success ratio on pitches would be over 90
per cent and neither Balsara nor Arumugham could recall a pitch
that they had lost recently.
that the media industry thinks Madison Media has is that it is very
good at buying for television only. When it comes to print and the
other media, it is not as good as the others.
disagrees: "I think like every other agency, we are hooked
on to television and press," but quickly adds that "somewhere
along the line, we are still more comfortable with numbers than
no numbers. We need to develop the comfort with the no numbers areas
just like the numbers arena."
view that comes across from the media community is that the agency
is a one-man show - Sam Balsara. An agency head points out: "Sam
Balsara is the strength and weakness of Madison. He has a huge personal
equity in the industry and that works for the agency. On the other
hand, he has a one-on-one relationship with his clients and they
swear by him, which makes the agency vulnerable. If Sam is not there,
media professional is a little more charitable saying that the agency
has a strong top line but is weak down the line.
Says he: "Madison Media has a natty and savvy senior management
but go below to the lower runs and there are patches of weaknesses
all around. There is a huge lacuna after Sam and the handful professionals
around him. The agency is seen as being driven more by a group of
individuals rather than as an organization as a whole," said
a media professional.
some well deserved praise also came Madison's way from peer agencies.
"The agency is doing very well despite the fact that it has
no global affiliations. They have a good leadership in Sam and are
known for their innovations. Add to that an A-list client portfolio
like Coca Cola, P&G, AirTel - this makes Madison strong,"
says an agency head.
is a strong and positive player in the industry. They are innovative
in using media and their practices are much Indianised. Also they
have a handful of good people that they can boast of," praised
asked about the challenges that the agency was facing in the industry,
Balsara says, "We face the same challenge that every other
agency faces. We have to find newer ways of doing the same job better,
faster, more economically so that we can grow at a faster rate and
meet the growth aspirations of our people. At Madison we constantly
look inwards to see what we can do better, cheaper, faster and smarter.
That's the only way. If we think that we can continue doing the
same thing that we did yesterday, I don't think we're going to survive;
are constantly persuading our people to find newer ways to do things.
I strongly believe that people who are going to succeed or survive
tomorrow are those who will be able to ride change. But people who
will prosper tomorrow are those people who will drive change. Clearly,
there is no other alternative," he adds.
that one comes across oftentimes is that being a truly Indian agency,
Madison does not have the backing of an international parent. However,
that doesn't worry Balsara. "We think we have demonstrated
that being homegrown by itself is neither a strength nor a weakness.
I think most intelligent clients want to deal with the best agency
in town. It is incidental whether it's an international agency or
an Indian agency because they recognise that the agency's quality
of advice is a critical input for their success and therefore they
can't afford to be governed by any "isms" otherwise their
survival is at stake. So the bottom line is that they want to deal
with that agency which can help them meet their objective,"
adds: "Shripad Nadkarni (once Coke's media point man) once
told us that because we don't have an international counterpart,
we are fighting in a market where so many MNCs are functioning and
hence we actually have to fight harder. We don't have any one from
abroad helping us out if we face a problem. It has worked for us
because we have mastered the market and the dynamics of media in
this market that much more because we have to learn it all on our
own. It has worked for us. But that doesn't mean that we are not
open to any international tieups. I think Sam would still like to
tie up with the right media partner who will help us grow."
Tele-Ventures director mobility and group chief marketing officer
Atul Bindal (whose flagship brand AirTel happens to be one of Madison's
biggest clients) says, "When we decided to associate with Madison
Media last year, the 'homegrown' bit was the last thing on our minds.
International affiliation or the lack of it was never a concern
for us when we were looking for a partner. Today we are a satisfied
further adds that the agency had delivered excellent value for the
brand and is like a thinking partner. "Sam is an outstanding
leader and is hands-on on the business. He is extremely sensitive
to the ever changing media environment and is fairly open to changes,"
Paints general manager marketing Amit Syngle says, "We have
been associated with Madison for the last two years and what they
bring to the table is good media planning coupled with a huge experience
they have with their existing clients. They have strong implementation
vigour and a high inclination towards media innovation."
whether Madison is stronger on planning or buying, Syngle says,
"Good planning is a requisite to a good buy and good rates
and Madison is good at it."
agency's oldest client Godrej is a satisfied one. Godrej consumer
products director marketing Tanya Dubash had this to say, "We
have a great relationship with them and they are very good at their
job - both planning and buying."
Media, like most agencies, is open to both the fee-based and commission
model. "On every client we have a set of incentives where at
the end of the year he appraises us and there is an incentive grid
based on which the client rewards us and that is shared among our
is a performance appraisal form that is mutually decided at the
beginning of the year and then there are performance evaluations
at the end of the year and sometimes also in the middle of the year.
The client evaluates the agency on those factors and the agency
also evaluates itself on what they have delivered to the client.
sit across the table and come to a mutually agreeable score. Let's
say at the beginning of the year we decided that on a scale of 1
- 10, if you score 3 or 4, we would be paid a certain sum
so if we do manage to get the score, then the client pays us that
incentive. We have been following this practice for a long time
now," informs Arumugham.
asked to rate the agency on a scale of 1 - 10, Arumugham modestly
says, "While we were ranked the number one by the industry,
I think that we still have a long way to go in terms of the kind
of work other agencies are doing internationally. So if you ask
me to rank us, I would say we are about 5 or 6 on the scale and
there is a long long way to go before we become the best. I would
like to think that we're amongst the best agencies that are there
in India but we don't think that we are the ultimate media agency."
have lots of weaknesses and we are constantly working towards overcoming
them and strengthening ourselves. As I said sometime back - it's
an advantage to know that you're at a disadvantage and that generally
helps otherwise it tends to make you complacent," stresses
agency head had this to say about Madison Media, "Madison is
the best agency in the country as far as agency PR is concerned.
Other agencies have a lot to learn from them."
Then why are they not?