How Pradeep Guha Reorganized The Times Group And Turned It Into A Business Giant
If the Bennett, Coleman and Company Limited is a huge juggernaut today, Pradeep Guha, who passed away on August 21, 2021, must deserve some of the credit for laying the foundation for its growth.
Guha was part of a small team of young professionals that Samir Jain, the company’s vice president, gathered around him in the early 1990s and who implemented strategies that increased his income exponentially.
Young Jain, son of then-president Ashok Jain, had recently joined the company and had a new set of ideas inspired not only by seeing foreign publishers like Rupert Murdoch and some American media owners, but also Indian consumer behavior. He believed that Indians were price sensitive and that any discount would appeal to them.
Bennett was at the time a conservative, if not narrow-minded company, run by senior executives who were largely on their own by the president. The same was true of the editorial – the Times had editors like Sham Lal and Girilal Jain, mainstays who tolerated no interference and certainly not from Samir Jain. The separation of “Church and State” was sacrosanct and even the newspaper’s managing director was careful not to break it.
But the company made a modest profit and Jain Jr believed that it was not exploiting its stocks like the Times could. But his ideas were too radical. He therefore formed a new team which did not carry any baggage from the past and which would support him. Guha, then managing director of the Calcutta office, was part of the team, as was Dileep Padgaonkar, who was deputy editor of the Times and later, Pritish Nandy, who was brought in from Calcutta, where he worked in corporate communications.
The first plan was to lower the price of The Times of India – halve it – and increase advertising rates, promising them higher print runs. “The ‘Invitation Price’ model was risky, as advertisers might balk at the new prices, but they had no choice but to comply since the Times had a gigantic circulation that far exceeded the competition, ”Guha had recently told the writer, during a conversation about this period.
It was Guha’s job to explain this not only to advertisers, but also to coordinate with the editorial team who were furious at the importance placed on commercial activity. “They thought it would encroach on editorial space, and that’s what happened. The stories were removed at the last minute to accommodate a late announcement, ”Guha recalls.
He said he was still hesitant to go to the editorial department as it would infuriate the editor-in-chief, but the influence of the advertising department was undoubtedly increasing. Some elders say the interests of advertisers were protected, with stories that would hurt business partners. Guha insisted that was not the case and, “Even Samir believed in not interfering in the editorial and I strongly believed in it.”
Guha said he resisted Media Net, a new setup to offer editorial space to anyone who buys it.
Further plans followed – the advertising department, until then a sleepy facility like a government office, where executives waited for announcements to reach them, was renamed Response and Smart Young Professionals, many with diplomas in Graduate studies in Marketing and Sales, were hired and trained to attract and attract new advertisers. A team was hired just to talk to international companies and sent overseas to meet with them, even before foreign companies entered India in the post-liberalization period.
Guha was also the architect of two other innovations that have survived to this day – the “page 3 supplement” in the India time and the many awards, including Miss India, Miss India World, Filmfare, which advanced year after year with the same old model.
Page 3 caused a sensation. The supplement, Bombay Hours – soon to be reproduced in other cities – mainly concerned the entertainment industry and the “celebrities” who attended all the parties in the city. “I believed that emerging urban Indians of a new generation went out a lot, to restaurants, to parties and even abroad for vacations.”
The men and women featured on page 3 became famous, and then, quickly, infamous. More and more people wanted to participate and rumors began to circulate that bribes were being given to find space. Management stepped in not only to shut it down, but they also put together a team to figure out the rates for anyone who wanted to be part of the supplement – a new movie, a new product, a new restaurant – n ‘ anyone. It quickly became a new source of income that is still going strong.
Other publications complained about every innovation, starting with the invitation price, but quickly followed – most now have city supplements and prioritize the advertising department.
Along with Pritish Nandy, Guha also revamped magazines – Femina, Filmfare, Science Today and The illustrated weekly –by eliminating old editors and bringing in new, younger ones who could work closely with the sales department. Nandy himself took over the Weekly, which has grown into a better designed and more aggressive publication. Hindi magazines – Dharmayug and Madhuri– were closed.
The award functions became large-scale events and sponsors were recruited to cover the costs. Every event had to be profitable.
Under Samir Jain, publications were now “brands” or “products” and readers were renamed “consumers”. For the old guard it was a sacrilege, but the old guard was coming out. Padgaonkar became the new editor-in-chief of India time when Girilal Jain retired, and made it more impactful. Deputy editors with diverse opinions – from the far left to the far right – were recruited under Padgaonkar’s presidency.
Circulations, but not all magazines, were increasing, revenues had skyrocketed, advertisers were happy, readers even happier (the newspaper’s raddi value was greater than the cost of paper), and editorial departments had been dabbled. Bennett Coleman has grown into a large, cash-rich company.
If the journalists felt that the editorial aspect had been undermined, there was nothing they could do about it.
Guha went on to become the company’s CEO and the undisputed Czar of a large media company. It was a long journey for the young leftist student who had organized strikes and was part of the team that created the Leftist Education and Documentation Center in Bombay, a valuable research resource for journalists.
During a relaxed evening, Pradeep Guha had said to this writer and a few other friends: “I am at heart a middle-class boy, for the sole purpose of owning my own apartment.” In the end, he did and remained a staunch friend, but no less with a keen business instinct.
Guha fell out with the Jains – by this time Samir’s younger brother Vineet had joined the company – and left without looking back. He joined Zee TV and launched the Daily News and Analysis (DNA), in 2005, hiring a lot of people from the Times group. He gained invaluable experience at the helm of a television station and then, a few years later, bought 9X, the entertainment television division originally created by Peter and Indrani Mukerjea. Guha also invested in an event management company.
He retained the loyalty of not only the friends and those he had mentored, but also the many young stars he had helped early in their careers – his annual parties had a mix of famous actors, advertising executives, industrial and sheet music. of his former colleagues whom he had mentored and who had now reached senior positions.
He was running both successfully, until just a few days ago he was diagnosed with liver cancer which was in its fourth stage. Despite the best efforts of the doctors, he passed away. An important era in the newspaper industry in India has come to an end.