Held in the memory of veteran adman Subhas Ghosal, the evening saw Ronnie Screwvala and Sam Balsara engage in a talk that covered the length and breadth of the advertising industry
BestMediaInfo Bureau | Mumbai | March 6, 2017
The Advertising Agencies Association of India (AAAI) held a Subhas Ghosal memorial lecture on March 3, 2017 in Mumbai. The lecture held in the memory of the veteran adman Ghosal --who was the legendary head of Hindustan Thompson Associates (HTA), now JWT--saw Ronnie Screwvala, Co-Founder, UpGrad and Sam Balsara, Chairman and Managing Director, Madison World in conversation.
The talk covered the length and breadth of the advertising industry as the two discussed about entrepreneurship in India with Balsara seeking advice from Screwvala on how to turn his son-in-law into an entrepreneur.
The event was kicked off by Titoo Alhuwalia who drew similarities and differences between the two ad professionals.
“While both Subhas and Ronnie have differences on the surface, they have many similarities beneath. While Subhash started and ended his career and his life with the same company, Ronnie seems to reincarnate every few years in an even successful avatar. Both of them are also great builders of institutions and teams, both are committed to integrity and authenticity. Most importantly they are men with big ideas and big hearts,” said Alhuwalia.
Balsara started the talk with a little anecdote about Screwvala and his entrepreneurial instinct even when he was a little boy.
“Ronnie used to sell window views from his home at Grant Road, which used to face a theatre. He would get his friends to sell window seats in his home at a time he himself couldn’t reach the window, so that is Ronnie,” said Balsara.
The first question that Balsara threw at Screwvala was about whether one needs to be born with entrepreneurial genes to be an entrepreneur. To this, Screwvala, who was neither born an entrepreneur or was someone who has had an entrepreneurial upbringing, said that what was necessary to be an entrepreneur was conviction.
“The very definition of first generation entrepreneur is that you don’t have entrepreneurial genes. There are two challenges that entrepreneurs still have to face in India. One is that it is still not very aspirational and in India we still have a huge persecution about failure, we don’t talk failure that often and because of that we are closet entrepreneurs. Finally, at the end of the day it boils down to your own conviction. If you have conviction in yourself only then go ahead with it because it is not for the soft-hearted,” said Screwvala.
Balsara then grilled Screwvala on his serial entrepreneurship. Screwvala has built up many businesses and sold that many businesses. When asked what his advice would be for the young entrepreneurs in the country, Screwvala said, “You never start something with the objective of selling it off. If you start building something to exit it later, it just doesn’t work because then you are not building a business.”
Balsara then broached the topic of not being able to attract the right kind of talent, which is a pain point for many in the advertising industry. Screwvala then gave the example of how when he had started UTV back in the day he had to build credibility for the entire media and entertainment industry.
“After I had interviewed the 30 people I needed for UTV, I had to talk to their families to explain to them what the media and entertainment industry was. Inspiration is a big currency and I think that works well. I am hiring people who are only half my age and you can attract that kind of talent only if you have clarity of vision,” said Screwvala.
Bringing into focus the problem of larger agencies being outsmarted by smaller creative sharks, Balsara raised the question of bringing scale with creativity to which Screwvala replied that the role of the leader of the organisation needs to be defined.
“If you are the creative brain in the organisation maybe your ability to get the best creative talent to your organisation will not be very good because everyone else will feel very subservient to you. But if you are the catalyst who backs other people, then creativity flourishes and you can get scale.”
Balsara asked Screwvala for some advice on how to convert his son-in-law, who is a pilot, into an entrepreneur. Screwvala politely answered that converting someone into an entrepreneur will be a difficult task if they themselves don’t want it, eliciting laughter from the audience.
While discussing about how brands today are blowing up good advertising money without creating any branding, Screwvala gave the example of Flipkart. Calling it a platform and not a brand, Screwvala said that a brand becomes a brand when people go back to them for their goods and services without the lure of an offer.
Sharing his view on digital advertising and its role in building brands Screwvala said, “Can advertiser ignore digital, the answer is no. But digital alone cannot build a brand because it is still limited in its context, its storytelling ability and its impact. But should people look at it for more than 15 per cent of their advertising spends? Yes I think they should.”
The event came to an end with Nakul Chopra, President, AAAI, presenting a memento to Screwvala and Rana Barua, CEO, Contract Advertising, giving the vote of thanks.