Divya Radhakrishnan & the Helios solution

Media veteran Divya Radhakrishnan gets a little nostalgic as she recollects that moment a couple of year ago when she was contemplating which direction her life should take. Says she: "After working for almost 25 years, when I told my mother that I was planning to quit, I least expected her to be supportive of my decision. But then her response motivated me to go ahead: she said just do it. And so I did it."

The former TME president finally dug her heels in and made the drastic career change.

"I knew I was going to be on the other side of the table now and it was not going to be easy," she says while thanking the leadership role she played at Rediffusion-Y&R, which helped her get an insight into how things work in various verticals of a media business. "But then I thought to myself that being independent and leading a business with decision-making power at my own risk would give me a greater sense of freedom and that really motivated me," she adds.

Her decision was pretty calculated too, she says.

"There are close to 180 odd channels in India not aligned to any broadcast network. Agencies, clients, vendors, and others, however, expect them to have everything that a large network does like sales, marketing, research, and what have you. Now in a large network you can amortise your costs across several channels," she explains. "But for a standalone channel the high overhead can be killing. Hence, I decided I would first focus on the sales outsourcing function for TV channels and once I achieved that, I would add more services. I needed to find someone who had a similar vision and I found that in Bala Iyengar and so we started out."

Right from the start, Divya was clear that her agenda would go beyond being just-another-organisation to fill a need gap, and getting recognition for creating a brand in a commoditised business of air time sales.

Hence, Helios Media has ambitions to provide advisory and undertake operations for independent players in the broadcast industry. In order to differentiate itself it has set up various verticals like sales, marketing communications, advertising, research, content, PR, broadcast operations, syndication, events and new media to create a 360 degree outsourcing company which television channels can rely on. Divya on her part is also involved in a TV content production firm TouCan with sister-in-law Bhavna Radhakarishnan.

With over 50 people on board now, finding the right team was not easy for Divya at the start. "Since I was coming from the other end, I needed to get the business heads in place so they could get the correct people for us," she says.

Among those who she managed to snare figured: Bala Iyengar (business head Zoom), Vaibhav Vishal (a former MTV veteran) and Prashant Nigam (also from Zoom). Iyengar is business director and leads the sales vertical. Vishal is the creative and content leader whereas Nigam looks after content syndication and special projects. The four pillars run the show headquartered in Mumbai, although the organisation has branches in Delhi, Bengaluru and Chennai.

Helios is like a morphing organism, tailor making itself, depending on client and market needs. Though its headquarters are in the Maximum city, it has resources at regional levels as well.

The organisation which started with its first client MTunes is now handling four different channels and is hoping to bill almost Rs 100 crore in revenue by this year end for them. Divya is also in conversation with others including an international TV network which wants Helios to draw out an entry and operational plan for a few of their channels.

However, getting clients wasn‘t easy for it as it had to prove its credentials to the market.

"The first eight to 10 months were all about investment of our resources, energy and talent to prove not only to ourselves but also to channels what we can do for them," narrates Divya.

Two agencies had approached the MTunes management when they announced that they would be outsourcing their ad sales functions.

"The approach and the pitch with which Helios met us made us realise that they have enough insight and perspective about how to sell the channel at its launch stage itself," says MTunes HD CEO Saravanan P, who asserts that the association helped their operations to touch inventory levels as high as the top two channels in the genre and they could also maintain it almost through the year.

"The challenge was to pull off a decent ER (effective rate ) but we managed a very aggressive one which can be termed as an achievement for a channel in its first year of operation," Saravanan adds. The agency also handles marketing, research, PR and social media.

MTunes HD CEO Saravanan P says Divya & her team helped the new channel get very aggressive effective advertising rates

"The past performance of the Helios team is very well known in the industry. Their recent success story with MTunes strengthened our belief on their capability. However, that is not the only reason why we outsourced our sales to them. FoodFood, being a genre creator, needed to be correctly represented to the clients and the agencies. Helios came forward with that understanding of the channel and the genre. For the long run, it is not just a few crores which advertising clients would like to put into the channel but would also like to get the correct association. We hope that Helios Media will be able to build that bridge between us and clients," points out FoodFood CFO Sanjay Kumar Ballabh who came on board around four months back.

Helios has a tool called DARE (defining, articulating, resulting and extending) to understand the brand and find solutions for the brand, especially for niche channels.

"Using the tool, we could draw up the brand promise for MTunes as ‘Music like never seen before,‘" she says. "We worked almost like partners of the channel when we enabled the creation of a music countdown show called Trending which is probably the only show on right now with an indicator for the top songs in the country. We track them on YouTube, Hungama, and Radio City airplay etc and Ormax is our partner on this initiative. The concept is completely ours and has found a presenting sponsor in Airtel."

Divya has been focusing on other services such as marketing and content for her clients ever since she has got the ad sales engine chugging well. She says: "Marketing a channel is very different from marketing a biscuit. The customer is not really paying for a channel, and hence we have to be creative while inducing him to watch it. "

Vivaki Exchange‘s Mona Jain & Mindshare Fulcrum‘s Amin Lakhani are impressed with Divya & the Helios team and the innovative solutions they offer brands

Sources indicate that Helios has advised client FoodFood to go beyond cooking and also talk about other aspects related to food like eating out, food conversations, what to eat and when, health and nutrition, among others.

Divya refused to comment on this but what she is really kicked about is the power of social media. "Digital should accentuate what‘s going on television," she says. "And we have shown what can be done on digital through our work for MTunes."

Helios has designed and put together the online consumer interface for the channel in the form of its website with audio players, playlists, interviews, and what have you. But she faced a major challenge when she was assigned the task to build consumer engagement for MTunes HD on Facebook and Twitter: it had no rights to put the music it airs on TV on digital. Hence, the solution it found was to start conversations about youth interests.

"Generally we spoke to them on Facebook and Twitter like a friend would do to them about everything that concerned them," says Divya. "Of ocurse we also had guessing games about celebrities eyes and created special events online on friendship day. Right now we are working on creating a TV program which uses the interactivity of social media."

Divya and Helios have got fans in the media business. For example Vivaki Exchange CEO Mona Jain and Mindshare Fulcrum principal partner Amin Lakhani. "What sets Helios apart from the rest is not only the team which is packed with experienced as well as young talent but also the innovative ideas they come up with to service and represent a brand," echoed both Jain and Lakhani.

Divya knows she is onto a good thing and is looking forward to capitalise on the strengths she has built up in Helios. Says she: "When the 10+2 ad cap comes into play we will be best equipped to help our clients. Because I have all the verticals in-house and hence solutions that can help channels monetise what they have better."

Clearly, this is one lady on a mission.

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