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Consumer is the king, believes Vaishali Verma, CEO, Initiative

She shares with the cornerstones for success and why despite not having many women leaders, the media industry is still one of the most inclusive and diverse

Vaishali Verma

(This is a special series on the women leaders in media agencies. will bring to you stories that will explore gender bias in the industry, how to strike a work-life balance and what it takes to make it to the top through the lens of leading ladies in the media fraternity.)

An alumna of MICA, Vaishali Verma started her career at Mudra Advertising in Delhi and after spending about six years there, she moved on to McCann Erickson.

“At that point in time, there were no AOR media agencies. I literally worked in the media department of a creative agency,” she said.

With just about seven years in the industry, she got the opportunity to head the Bengaluru (then Bangalore) operations of Universal McCann.

“At a young age, I got the opportunity to lead a team and that was a great learning experience for me. From there, it has always been onwards and upwards,” she recalls.

Growing the Bengaluru office from a mere 15-member team to an organisation with 100+ employees, she feels, is one of the biggest milestones.

Earlier this year, she was promoted to the role of Chief Executive Officer of Initiative, which is part of the Interpublic Group’s media management network IPG Mediabrands.

With a career spanning about 22 years in the A&M industry, she has seen the industry evolve and change over the years.

“Earlier, we used to think in terms of one TVC or one print ad. Today, communication has become medium-agnostic. Consumer and not content is the king now," she explains.

Verma shares with what, according to her, are the cornerstones for success and why despite not having many women leaders, the media industry is still one of the most inclusive and diverse industries.


A life mantra that you follow.

Talent is overrated and hard work is underrated. There is no running away from hard work and there are no shortcuts in life.

How do you manage your family/professional commitments?

It is challenging and it is not easy. There have been times when I have prioritised my kids’ PTA meeting over some review and there have been times when I have prioritised a very important meeting over my daughter’s sports day. There is no set guide to what gets more priority; sometimes it is all about what is more critical to you at that point in time. I am blessed with a strong support system and that is how I have managed to balance both work and home. Also, my daughters are older now and they have imbibed that their mother might not be present physically all the time and they have been very supportive. It is also about planning. We have charted out all of their important school events and ensure at least one of us (Verma and her husband) is there with them.

What are the key attributes that you think are critical for success?

Vision and ethics are the key attributes that are critical for success.

If you were to re-start your professional journey, what would you change and why?

I wanted to study law and become a lawyer but somewhere along the way, that dream disappeared. But if I were not in media I think I would have done something on my own and definitely in the area of art.

Does gender bias exist in the media business even today? How has the industry evolved over the last 15-20 years in this regard?

I have always seen more women in this industry. Even 20 years ago, women were the ones ruling the industry. There was Ambika Mehta, Roda Mehta, Lynn de Souza and when I was at MICA they would come as guest faculty and I remember being in awe of these women. So, I would consider myself fortunate that I am in an industry where I have personally never seen any instance of gender bias. It is a fairly diverse and inclusive industry. I agree that there are fewer women leaders on the top but that might not necessarily be a result of gender bias. A lot of women leave the industry when they can’t find the balance between their personal and professional lives.

What is your recommendation to youngsters joining the media trade?

Now-a-days you do meet a lot of youngsters who want things fast and easy and I keep telling them that the first thing they need to do is be patient. It is also important to have a collaborative mindset and to be true to oneself. We are in the business of consulting, we are not selling a product. We are giving advice and, therefore, one has to be cautious about what to say and how to say it.

(Discovery is celebrating the achievements of India’s high-flying women through its show Women Fighter Pilots. In line with its show, the channel has partnered with to celebrate the achievements of women leaders in advertising through the inspiring series – Discovery Women Achievers.)

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