Radio City CEO Apurva Purohit

There aren't many women CEOs in media, and the one's who are in that position are put under the microscope. Every decision is scrutinized. And, even among those women who break the glass ceiling, few survive in the highest echelons; Apurva Purohit is one among them.

Purohit's 17 years in the advertising, television and currently the radio industries have proven to be the perfect combination for shaping the creative vision of the organizations that she has been associated with. She has developed an enviable reputation in her field and is widely respected by peers and seniors alike.

She brings a solid blend of modern advertising agency experience and traditional marketing and branding expertise to the Radio City management team. She is a quintessential example of a radio city listener. Furthermore, her advertising agency experience has given her a clear understanding of media buying, placement and production.

She is also known to have a broad skill set with expertise in human resources administration, employee development, sales and marketing support, event planning and is passionate about current events in all related mediums.

Born in Chandigarh, Purohit spent her childhood in Ahmedabad and Mumbai, as her father was in a transferable government job. Completing her schooling in Mumbai, she went on to graduate in BSc, Physics (Hons) from Stella Maris College, Chennai in 1987 and then completed her post graduate diploma in management from IIM Bangalore in 1989.

"Growing up I did not have any definite plans, just went by my parents' guidance. Unlike the current generation, we were naïve and went with flow," says Purohit.


Apurva with Andre Nair and Ashish Bhasin

People known to her have been instrumental in getting her where she is. Her peers describe her as engaged, knowledgeable, and someone who holds high expectations of everyone she interacts with. Purohit is a person who "expects a lot but gives so much". She is a believer in exploring other mediums as "to define oneself within a box is to stagnate".

"I had not planned out anything. I fell in love with advertising during my two months IIM summer training at HTA. I saw an opportunity to work with multiple brands rather than work with one or two brands. I enjoyed the culture at HTA and became determined to get into advertising. Back then in 1989, it was not a sought after career especially after doing management. It was a low paying kind of job, I remember I pulled down the average of my batch with the salary I accepted," says Purohit on how she became a part of media.

"I joined Rediffusion Advertising as a management trainee (client servicing) in 1989 after my training at HTA. The person I worked with in HTA had moved to Rediffusion and offered me a chance to join it. That is how it all started."

Those were the heydays at Rediffusion, with the agency getting all the best creative awards. It had big accounts like Colgate, Gold Spot, Eveready, among others.

"Then, Shashi Sinha asked me to join media buying at FCB Ulka Advertising in 1991. My son was born soon after and I was looking for more normal working hours. Ulka is a very HR focused type of agency and gave me the option of flexi timing. There was no separate media department, so the job was interesting because I was entering a new phase in the servicing role. With the flexi timing I enjoyed at work, it was a welcome shift to media," says Purohit.

Sharing a laugh with Shashi Sinha and others
Sharing a laugh with Shashi Sinha and others

Buying media time is a skill, or perhaps even an art, that requires experience. To do it right -- which means to get the most TV spots, running at the right times, for the least amount of money is a tough job. It's tedious, involves a great deal of organization, research and planning.and requires someone with the skills of negotiation, persuasion, and patience. Purohit fitted the bill.

Starting as accounts manager at Lodestar in 1992, Purohit became its media planner in 1993. She has an uncanny ability to communicate strategic visions and convert them into the building blocks of successful corporations.

She is credited with bringing into the county the concept of media buying as a separate business and started the first media buying house in the country when FCB Ulka launched Lodestar as a separate media house in 1995. Purohit steered Lodestar over the next few years culminating in its winning the Advertising Club media awards Emvies in 2001. Today, Lodestar is counted as one of the top 5 media houses in the country.

Post the advent of Lodestar, many advertising agencies started media buying and operations as separate business enterprises and these units today form an integral part of every large communications agency.

As yet another pioneering effort, she launched the Lodestar Labcentre, a unique consultancy, in the field of media planning and developed media tools like IMPRESS, Mediagraphics and Journeyman which work on the principles of maximizing client ROI and improve efficacy of the science of media planning. These tools are being extensively used in the international network of FCB.

"In 1997, my husband changed jobs and went to Chennai. Ulka did not have a branch at Chennai. Then, Rediffusion had won the Citibank account and they were looking for a media professional so I took over running Chennai and Bangalore branches as media director. Subsequently, the head of Rediffusion Advertising, pulled me into doing work for Delhi and Mumbai. But, I kept working out from Chennai.

"We returned to Mumbai when my husband changed jobs again.At that point, the person heading Ulka had left and they wanted me in that position. So, though, I had the option of continuing with Rediffusion, I joined FCB Ulka as media director in 1999," says Purohit.


With Subhash Chandra

In the last five years, Purohit has been an integral part of the TV media business. Says she, "Sandeep Goyal joined Zee and pulled me in. In the last 10 years, I have not made a CV. Friends have given me one opportunity after another. I knew that as a media director, I had no scope of growth and this time, it was a conscious decision to make that leap forward. It helped me get into the business of media rather than remain in the planning part of it."

Purohit was made the president of Zee TV in 2002 where she was heading the channel operations and structuring its content, marketing and sales strategies. She had a clear mandate - to take charge of Zee and bring back those glory days. It was no easy task, considering that the market had matured over time with audience's attention span getting shorter and rival broadcasters getting sharper and more aggressive.

"It was a different experience. This stint had its own kind of learning, I got to try out a lot of new things. The willingness of the management to allow new ideas was there. I learnt the whole business of media at Zee."

Purohit took some bold decisions during her tenure with the Thursday Premieres, Chausanth Panne and the critically appreciated soap Astitva Ek Prem Kahani, and even shifted the prime time programming line-up of Zee from the conventional Monday to Thursday to Sunday to Wednesday.

Her tenure was marked by a certain consistency, both on the programming as well as on the management front and Zee was able to break into the Top 100 with shows such as Astitva, Jeena Isika Naam Hai, and Thursday Premieres.

To provide viewers with high quality and thought provoking entertainment and specifically to project and depict women in a progressive manner, Apurva launched Astitva in 2001. It went on to become the symbol of the contemporary and progressive woman. It won many awards.

She speaks of her experience of making Astitva in 2001 at a time when saas-bahu sagas ruled. "Astitva.. was a bold move when we launched it. In an era dominated by women whose persona was defined by the role she played vis a vis her male relatives: husband, father, son... Astitva talked about a woman who wanted to have it all, a husband, a family and a successful career, and on her own terms. She was not willing to take things lying down, and wanted to be treated as an equal. I think it was a huge step in the right direction and the fact that it ran for close to three years is a testimony to its appeal."

Purohit also played an instrumental role in getting Zee to subscribe to TAM, which it chose to rubbish in the wake of the TVR controversy in 2001, and HLL was back as an advertiser on the channel owing to her efforts at convincing both the client and the agency MindShare that Zee wanted to regain its position at the top.

Then Times Group offered Purohit the position of COO of their to be launched channel Zoom in 2004. Apurva initiated BCCL's venture into television and set up India's first glamour and lifestyle channel Zoom. The channel was launched in a short span of seven months.

"It was exciting getting into the actual process of a start-up channel, buying space on satellite, getting the team." But, she adds, "Zoom was a claustrophobic kind of environment, very bureaucratic in its functioning, there was little scope to build further on it from availability of resources point of view. Unfortunately, they are still a very print focussed group."

"In that sense, I felt Zee had far more ability to take risks, though it was in a shaky position when I had joined them," she admits.


Speaking at Frames

When Star's stake in Radio City was brought out, the investors at MBPL asked Apurva to step in as CEO in mid-2005.

Today Purohit is leading Radio City's foray in the new opportunities and markets opened out by the Phase 2 policy of the government in the private FM sector. Radio City proposes to commence broadcasting in Chennai by this month end and Jaipur by the current fiscal end.

"The investors of Radio City are again people I have known. Here, I have complete freedom in running this company. The investors in the company are very intelligent and committed to build this as a very professional organization. I have the operational freedom to run this organization and this gives me scope to leave a mark of my own. That is what one looks for ultimately. We have a great team here and the learning happening in terms of scale is huge. Radio is an interesting medium and this is my ideal job," says Purohit.

She is deeply in tune with her target audience. One of Apurva's top priorities is ensuring product usability through her work with both clients and industry experts to consistently refine and improve the existing standards.

"Clearly, It is a very difficult marketplace. There's an enormous intersection -- a real convergence -- of all sorts of consumer-focused businesses. There's lots of competition and we have to keep working at keeping audiences hooked on to our radio shows. It just becomes more and more challenging. Radio City has made its name as a company that is consistently on the cutting edge. It's important to keep the brand experience, one that serves as a boundary for the consumer, one that they feel interested and comfortable with. They will continue to return for good content," says Purohit.

Speaking of her challenges in this job, she says, "Radio as a medium has not innovated enough. It still has to make an indelible mark on the consumers psyche, but doing it in the given environment where one has to play mass music is the biggest challenge. Also, driving complex minded people to a common cause is a huge challenge and managing competition is anyway always there."

Adds Purohit, "My time is split between strategic planning, budget and project management, and the creative side of programming. Radio City is constantly pushing the barriers and one of the best aspects of working here is that you continually find yourself at the forefront of product development. It is full of bright people in an open and friendly environment. I manage a big team, so multi-tasking is essential, Being able to deal with the day-to-day issues, developing strategy and managing budgets are all part of the job. Knowing the industry is key and I am very close to the realities of every region that we will be setting up stations in."

With Mediacom's Jasmin Sohrabji & Vinod Kambli at the Emvies

To the competitive advantage that Radio City has over other radio stations, Purohit says, "It is a well liked brand and is continuously innovating. Our polite and well mannered RJs have connected with the listeners. In the last five years, we have had a great experiential learning like what works and what does not work on radio. As far as people friendliness goes, in the media environment, we are the most professional. As we open new stations, getting local talent is important and training them to deliver a similar success like our established stations keeps us on our toes.

"The knowledge I have gained from producing prime-time programmes for general-interest television is being leveraged to create a powerful medium with proven consumer appeal. The radio is everywhere on the planet. And, it is just on its way to far greater heights," says Purohit.

Purohit is very content at the way her career has shaped out. "I have never been the over ambitious kind. I do not regret anything and I feel that it has all moved in the right direction. I do not rub people the wrong way, I am a people's person, In all my working years, there have been just three people whom I have actively disliked." Not going into names, she says, "I do not like people who are not intelligent, those who actively follow an agenda not related to their job in order to further their interests."

"Maybe the only regret I have, at times, is that of recruiting the wrong people. I hired them based on their skills and not on their values. Later, working with them, I realized, I had made a mistake," says Purohit.


Is it a challenge being a woman in this industry? "Yes and no! Fortunately for women in my generation, there was a generation of women professionals before us, who more than us, had to contend with a glass ceiling, we have been luckier in that sense. So I did not face too much of a bias. At the same time, there are certain men who do find it difficult to work with a woman, especially as a boss."

Purohit feels strongly about the need for television to reinvent and take a fresh look at itself to survive audience fragmentation. Says she, "Today with far higher risks at stake, cinema has been able to reinvent with films like Black, Chandni Bar and has seen a lot of fresh thinking and resurgence. Unfortunately, TV has stopped experimenting. Also, I believe that there is a dearth of programming talent in the TV industry leading to its current state of stagnation. People will start looking at options beyond TV, in cinema halls, theatres and the Internet for their entertainment if TV does not take a long hard look at itself."

The following are people who have left an impression on Purohit in her career
Ratna Rajaiah: As normally happens, ones first boss, moulds a large part of ones corporate thinking and behaviour.She is one of the most talented women I have known
Shashi Sinha: He is the person who got me into media and whose advise I value. I learnt how to manage context. When one is young, we are pure and think in a box, but leaning how to manage the environment around us, manage the dynamics of a situation, I learnt from him.
Anil Kapoor: His visionary thinking I now understand and draw inspiration from. He is very intelligent in terms of managing people. He understands the psychology of people like no other.
Sandeep Goyal: He recognized my inherent talents and pushed me into striving for more.
Subhash Chandra: His scale of thought is one that I can never emulate but, only look upto. He is a clear visionary and goes wholeheartedly into something he believes in. He is always in a hurry to implement his ideas. As a professional, my thinking is much different has I have to be system oriented, look into HR and many other aspects. An entrepreneur is idea oriented and if one is able to achieve that balance between ideas and systems, then it is a winning combination.

"It has to change. Telling different stories well is what will have to be given prime importance. Content is still king, because compelling content is the engine that pulls the entire train of profit And, radio is more like a personal friend than television and we will see further growth in the specific time bands of early morning, evenings and late nights. " says Purohit.

On current issues that are on top of her agenda, she says, "In Radio City, currently, we are facing the challenge of quickly ramping up from a 4-station network to a 20-station one, a humungous task in itself. Launching in new cities where there has been no FM, recruiting close to 300 people to man the stations, quickly cascading the organization vision across the geographical spread of the network and translating the success we have enjoyed in our current markets into new markets."

Purohit considers being extremely focused, task oriented working style, straight and matter of fact approach, high levels of commitment to organization and a far sighted constructive approach to issues as her strengths.

Purohit misses her lectures at MICA and NM due to an hectic schedule, and it is "something that I will take up more actively in the near future".

How you view India today? "I think, all professionals today are fortunate to be participating in the incredible growth story of India, it's the best time to be part of corporate India - huge shareholder value being created, lots of dynamism in the industry, a positive outlook in making things happen by the Government and the regulatory authorities. I just hope the policy makers concentrate on building economic value and don't get sidetracked into managing political agendas. The bad part of India is the rotten infrastructure - the bad roads, the bad airports, that unending wait for the aircraft to land.

Purohit speaks of her association with the Emvies, "I handle the Emvies as part of my role as joint secretary at Mumbai Adclub. Emvies are the gold standard in media awards and I have been associated with them right from the beginning. They reward excellence in media strategy, research and innovation. I have helped design the awards, the categories, the judging processes and the event. The awards have increased in scope and depth from year to year and today encompass the entire media fraternity from media agencies to media marketers."


Husband Sanjay Purohit was one batch senior to her at IIM Bangalore where they met. Sanjay is the director - sales and marketing of Cadbury India Limited and is on the board of the company. They have a 12-year-old son.

Personal Trivia


Reading especially crime fiction, travelling, writing and music as her favourites.
Favorite Holiday spot
Any part of Europe.
Three guests you would love to dine with
Arundhati Roy, Gulzar and Aamir Khan.
What makes you laugh
My son's jokes and my husband's company.
Stress buster
Reading / spending time with family.
Best trait
Deal with people with a " you are ok I am ok" approach: believe in live and let live.
Philanthropist efforts/ special interests
I do try and contribute regularly to children's causes. But, I would like to do something on a larger scale with disadvantaged children sometime in the future.
Pet Peeve
Litter! Why cant people have more civic sense in Mumbai? I have an intense dislike people who litter their surroundings, .it is a personal mission to stop on the roads and shout at people who throw garbage, spit , litter etc.

On how she balances professional and personal life, she says, "I have been fortunate to have a strong support system in my mother and husband. My mother gave up her career and brought up my son, so in that sense, there was lesser guilt, something which all working women have to contend with. Apart from that, I try not to work on weekends and, between my husband and I, we try to be present on all important occasions in his school life; sports days and parents day, etc. Of course the guilt remains always of having not been around when he was ill, but you learn to deal with it. We want our son to be a world citizen, give him maximum exposure to maximum opportunities and let the final choice of career be his."

"I have a younger brother working abroad and a younger sister in Delhi. I maintain close family ties and I am very close to my mother. She gave up her job as a psychology professor at St Andrews college to help me raise my son. She is very encouraging & it is only because of her being an involved grandmum, that I have been able to come so far.

Her formula for success is simple. She says, "Concentrate on the job at hand, build the small things and the large things will take care of themselves."

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