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Specialisation, the only way to survive in the field of advertising’

Now the clients expect perfection, says R.Swaminathan

Coimbatore: “My father used to say ‘ability is poor man’s wealth’. I had neither money nor knowledge (of advertising) when I entered the field of advertising. Of course, apart from my capacity for public relations, the time was opportune for this activity,” says R.Swaminathan, Managing Director of the SASI Advertising Pvt. Ltd and former Secretary General, Public Relations Society of India. His company is one among the top in the non-metro advertising firms even at the national level.

A sterling example of Coimbatore’s entrepreneurial mindset, he tells G.Satyamurty about the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune in his early life, his straying into advertising, and the evolution of this sector.

Born in a village near Coimbatore in 1948 in an agricultural family, penury forced him to quit the pre-university class.

For a year, he struggled to make both ends meet working in various places including electrical shop, automobile shop and lathe workshop.

Joining the Chinthamani Supermarket as a Depot Assistant in 1964, he worked for 15 years. Meanwhile, he organised more than 140 cultural programmes including that of M.S.Subbulakshmi, A.R.Rehman (then Dilip), Cho, R.S.Manohar, Visu, Mouli and P.C.Sircar under the banner of Urvasi. This gave him excellent contacts as the club had more than 1,500 members, including the who’s who of Coimbatore.

“This taught me event management and funds management. The orchestras inspired me as to how meticulous one has got to be to emerge successful. And this gave me a lot of exposure to the media people.”

How does he stray into advertising and publicity?

“It was the Malaimurasu which paid me Rs. 400 for helping it bring out a supplement using my contacts. This was followed by offers from the Malaimalar and the Daily Thanthi. During late 1970s, the number of local ad players was just a handful while some big ones had either only a branch at Coimbatore or were liasioning from Chennai. This gave the opportunity for a local lad like me. Sasi Advertising was born in 1979 and I quit the Chinathamani job where I was drawing Rs. 300 a month.”

“Those were times when getting an advertisement published in The Hindu used to be a Herculean affair and I used to personally wait at its Chennai office for hours to get space for a 5X2″ ad. Even for ads costing just Rs. 50 I used to travel to Chennai. All such struggles had their rewards.”

The contacts that he had built up over the years came in good stead and from the domestic, he graduated to the national and international level advertising setting up offices in own buildings including in Chennai, Mumbai, Tiruchi, Bangalore and Hyderabad. His company has handled several spheres.

He has quite a lot to say on the current scenario.

“You can never see any professional except the ad agent struggling for just two to three per cent. He has to shell out 85 per cent of the ad cost in 60 days to the paper, pay the salary of the staff and wait for the client to make the payment.”

Over the past 25 years, this sector has expanded exponentially. Technology has started eliminating middlemen like the ad agents. Any information could be obtained from the internet and nobody needs to seek his assistance for contacting a client.

Earlier, these agencies used to provide integrated services - creative, media planning, media buying, servicing, visualising and content writing. “This system has now disintegrated. Now the clients expect perfection and are no more interested in anything average. They seek specialists’ help. Only specialisation can survive in this field.”

On the flip side, technology has been of great help because advertising has become global and companies in any corner of the world are able to utilise our services.

But, attrition rate could be as high as 90 per cent, especially among the creative team.

“What is important is man management, how to get things done. Attrition is inevitable because most of the big companies that set foot in Coimbatore choose to poach my people because they believe only those in this field could be of value in public relationship, publicity and marketing. And the market is also growing rapidly. This is a highly competitive field in which MNCs have garnered a substantial slice. Electronic media is also a very big competitor that might eat into your pie.”

He is excited as the competition is throwing up new challenges. “After all, change is the only constant thing in life and an ad agent should be prepared to face them,” he concludes.

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