(This is a special series on the women leaders in media agencies. BestMediaInfo.com 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.)
Having spent nearly 24 years in the industry, Sanchayeeta Verma, Senior Vice-President, Wavemaker, started her career in marketing in 1994 with TTK Pharma.
Two years later, she shifted to HTA Media and boasts of having had a very exciting career in media and communication planning across IPG, Mindshare and Wavemaker (earlier Maxus).
Sharing an anecdote that was an important part of learning for her, Verma said, “In sales and marketing stints, one has to start as a sales trainee and walk the streets as a sales representative. Those days, I would have possibly been one of the first women to go out to the market in this capacity in West Bengal where I was posted. When the shopkeepers used to see a woman coming to take the order for Kiwi Shoe Polish, which was a very push-driven brand, they used to look alarmed, wondering what kind of family calamity had befallen me, pushing me to pick up this unorthodox job. A lot of times, I had to reassure these people that I was a management trainee and I was doing all of these by choice. The sales stint first covering up-country West Bengal and later the entire East Zone was a really good experience.”
During her span in media planning, she has seen the media measurement system in India start and evolve from inception, and was able to be deeply involved in the development of the field.
“My longest stint with a client was while handling GSK and Nestle for about 7-8 years between HTA/Mindshare and IPG and of course TCL and Myntra at Wavemaker. Other than that, I also launched different flavours for Mirinda, Moto Razr, Women’s Horlicks, Google Chrome and many other exciting brands in India. It is important to understand the art and science of media planning and these clients had that understanding,” Verma added.
She headed the insights division of Mindshare India, being a part of their global team. Within that, she launched the first communication planning framework for GroupM India.
In 2009, she took over the Wavemaker (then Maxus) South business, which was a small-sized business with only one client in Bangalore.
She brought in new clients — Wipro, Tata Global Beverages, Myntra, RedBus, Jana Small Finance Bank among others and expanded the market by setting up operations in Kerala, Hyderabad and Chennai.
In fact, the Google business, which now rests with Essence in Delhi, was won under her aegis. During her entire stint across agencies and functions, Verma has handled almost every category ranging from FMCG to durables, finance to auto, but says that her South stint gave her deep insight into retail, lifestyle and ecommerce.
She has also handled South Asia mandate with a lot of work being done in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Since last year, she is looking after the Wavemaker ITC operations. ITC is operational across 50+ categories and aiming at 10x growth in the coming years. The agency has multiple teams under her, working on ITC across Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad and Kolkata.
“As ITC is now expanding to other countries, we help them in building the global brands too,” she added.
A life mantra that you follow.
One should be their authentic self. You have to be what you are. In addition, you have to give your best shot, whether in your personal or professional life.
From my mentor Dr Daisaku Ikeda, president of the Soka Gakkai which I am part of, I learnt one more thing which I swear by and that is ‘believing in the limitless possibilities of every person and every situation’.
How do you manage your family/professional commitments?
This question comes up more now than before. I have a 16-year-old daughter. I have never taken a break from work. Sometimes, I have had to choose family over professional commitments and vice versa. But the one thing I have always done is to give 100% at the place where I am. When I am at home, I don’t think about work and vice-versa.
The other thing is that despite how society pushes stereotypes, I have never stuck to any of them. I have not followed the prescribed frameworks of the many roles and responsibilities carved out for women. It’s tough and it does get to you at times, but I have learnt that it is the quality of time that is more important than the quantity of time for us to do our best.
What matters most is what is in our heart. It is essential that we always keep our family’s, especially our children’s, happiness in mind. And develop the ingenuity to cultivate in our children the inner strength to live their lives well and help them become large hearted.
There have been times when I was not able to be with my daughter, but at the same time I am happy to see her become independent and yet sensitive about surroundings. She has the confidence that whenever she needs me, she can call me and I will be there for her. I might sometimes not be physically there with her but technology enables me to be always available.
What are the key attributes that you think are critical for success?
You should follow your passion. Be hungry. Be driven. Don’t short-change yourself. It was quite by accident that I fell into media planning. I am a Maths honours graduate, and media planning really brought together the two things that I loved — maths and the passion for great stories, be it in books or on the silver screen.
Also, nobody can succeed alone. So it is all about mutual respect, collaboration and coordination between teams.
If you were to re-start your professional journey, what would you change and why?
In the beginning, I was very interested in research. Now I find AI fascinating, though I still don’t have a very good hang on it. But I would probably do more on that.
Does gender bias exist in the media business even today? How has the industry evolved over the last 15-20 years in this regard?
To tell the truth, I grew up unaware of gender bias and only became more aware of it after it has become a talking point. I have worked around men and women who have never made me feel the bias. However, the bias is real and present. The first time I thought about this was when I read Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In.
Her book made me realise that the challenges of working women are pretty similar across countries. While the number of women entering workforce versus number of women on boards is a testimony to gender bias, there are also other underlying dimensions to this. I also recognised that part of the challenges were not at work, but also because what happens at home. Women unconsciously take up the entire share of duties towards family and child care. It is about women having accepted this mentally. The number of things that a woman is trying to manage simultaneously in her mind is far higher than what men do. And that accounts for immense stress.
Once, in a meeting with Sandberg, I asked her about why she wrote this book and she said, “The countries where there are more women in power, in the government, are the countries that are more prosperous and the ones that go to war much lesser.” She had a lot of data to show that how women in the leadership positions can make a lot of difference.
Any imbalance, I feel, is bad. A team with majority of women is as bad as one with a majority of men — I have been managing teams and offices for a very long time now and I have hard empirical facts in support of this on the basis of my observations of the teams I ran. Both men and women bring in their different perspectives and they are important. WPP Chief Transformation Officer, Lindsay Pattison, did a programme ‘Walk the Talk’, which was another eye-opener. It derived that the reason why women find it difficult to succeed, is not only because of the external circumstances, but also because how women are geared internally and how women think about themselves.
Biases are not only about gender. There are many types of biases. There are people who like to party and then those who don’t. Some like team lunches and others dinners. Some want to hang out in the evening with friends, others with family. Everyone has different sensibilities and likes/ dislikes. But often biases creep in, passing judgement on either way. Ultimately it’s about respect — respecting the other person’s perspective, that’s when biases will go.
What is your recommendation to youngsters joining the media trade?
Firstly, you need to use both your right brain and left brain — art and science (numbers).
S Ramakrishnan aka Ramky (a sports expert), once said, if you want to succeed in cricket, play all games, because you need to activate all muscles in the body. Similarly, if you are coming to media planning, you must also understand brands, marketing, content, creative, entertainment and technology. You must have a good understanding of nuances of different regions, people and cultures.
(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 BestMediaInfo.com to celebrate the achievements of women leaders in advertising through the inspiring series – Discovery Women Achievers.)