News papers and Media News portals like us flashed the demise of legendary Ad Guru and the proud son of Indian advertising Industry Shri AG Krishnamurthy.
In the early hours of 5th February 2016 he bid good bye at the Age of 73. It was time for AGK to leave the earth and follow the path beautifully epitomized by James Shirley in one of his famous poems……. ‘Death lays his icy hands on kings, scepter and crown, must tumble down one day, and in the dust be equal made’…… With his demise the country lost a legend and to most of us from the industry he was ‘ AGK’.
Across the Media Industry, spanning 25 years he has touched upon lives of people who worked with him. As someone said: ‘To live for oneself is a natural thing, but how much of a difference you make in some one’s life, that is important’. Succinctly said, AGK was one of them.
Corporate office at Ahmadabad:
To stray back to the days before he began his journey, he worked as Advertising Manager of Vimal in Reliance and thanks to the vision of Dhirubhai who gave him Rs 35000/, he started his journey from a housing colony in Ahmadabad. It was there the Agencies ascend began….. but not without mentioning, ‘nobody expected Mudra to take off, primarily as it was then from a not so happening city Ahmadabad’.
Anvar Alikhan Sr.Vice President JWT-India and Asia Pacific corroborates in his blog stating, “Thanks to what former P&G honcho Gurcharan Das, had famously called “The Ahmadabad Syndrome”, the city was home to a breed of ambitious Gujarati entrepreneurs, who were now looking to move their businesses up the value chain and needed branding support –to support that Mudra, of course, was ideally positioned to offer them. And thus were born brands like Rasna, Dhara cooking oil, Moov pain cream, Krack foot cream, Symphony air coolers, Zydus Cadilla pharmaceuticals and Wagh Bakri Tea.
The story of Mudra Communication Ltd today reverberates every corridor of Mudra Towers on the Ellisbridge Road in Ahmadabad. To begin with, the turning point for Mudra Communication was the textile advertising that came out those days for VIMAL. In his own words, AGK in his book ‘Ten Much’ says that the Vimal account came with a clear directive-produce the best textile Advertising”. And further adds ‘’Dhirubhai was not in a way bound to continue with us if he was not happy working with us”. In a way it was a huge challenge for AGK, either he swims or he sinks. He toiled and toiled and even forgoing his personal life. In his words “I was never around to see my children growing up”. So in a way the success of Vimal campaign paved way for the success of Mudra Communications Ltd as the largest Indian Advertising Agency from then on. And the addition of Rasna, Waghbakri Chai, NDDB (Dhara), Binnies chips, Symphony Air Coolers, Godrej Soap’s among the others reaffirmed the status. The success of the indigenous brands by an Indian Advertising Company paved way to the belief that, ‘one doesn’t have to be an MNC Advertising Agency to be successful in India’.
Then came the MICA-Mudra Institute of Communication in 1991 started of initially as an in-house training centre and then turned into a full-fledged academic institution dedicated to training of Advertising personnel for the industry.
Together with Mudra and MICA , though one cannot rebuff Mudra Videotech and other divisions from the same stable, paved way for the best talents in the industry. Advertising professionals churned out year after year carried a badge that they respectfully adorned along with the memories of their association with the Mudra Group and AGK.
Several people across walks of life spoke of him, all paying glorious tributes to their Alma mater.
AGK the person and professional
Many amongst us have seen witnesses: The growth of Mudra Communication Ltd, from what one would refer to as ‘desi’ answer to the J.W. Walter Thompson (JWT), Lintas, Ogilvy Benson and Mather(OBM), Leo Burnett’s of those era. For a person who was born and brought up in Andhra Pradesh’s Vinukonda, launching of Mudra Communications was an answer to the Madison’s Square’s apt rebuttal to the way the westerners looked upon the qualification to be an Advertising professional- ‘a person who of spoke in the Queen’s language, an anglicized accent, portrayed a larger than life impressions, one who indulged in rhetoric and a penchant for any things western’. With the creation of Mudra Communication on March 25, 1980 he proved the Western pundits wrong. He demonstrated, ‘to be noted in this Industry one’s work counts, that one really doesn’t have to surrender’s ones individuality and cease to be themselves ’. Few years later when AGK and his team catapulted Mudra into a leading Advertising industry, he proved that by remaining grounded and understanding the needs of the client becomes more pivotal than borrow from dossiers of the West.
Tvnews4u spoke to his former colleagues, and who have had their association with Mudra Communication in the past. The responses were overwhelming. Despite too many tributes and remembrances floating around across Media, we did manage to speak to many. Some were travelling and some needed time. The owner of an breakaway brand Symphony Air Coolers , Mr. Achal Bakri, CMD was attending a conference and sought time. Baalki from Lintas an ex Mudraite himself and few others were also left out due to paucity of time………..
16 people here pay their rich tributes to a man who they believe touched their life.
Sam Balsara, Chairman and Managing Director of Madison fondly recall his association with Mudra and AGK. “Mudra took a very Indian approach to advertising to reach the hearts of millions of Indians. There was always a certain earthy approach. No copying from the black room or drawing inspiration from the highly regarded British Advertising in those days. And to sum it up, he proved that, “It does not matter where you are from; it is important where you reach. And as a person what Sam saw and admired in AGK was the desire to evolve his thinking, outlook and leadership, as he escalated up the ladder. The obsession for growth was in sharp contrast to reticent approach to hog the limelight.
Madhukar Kamath, Chief Executive Mudra DBB, agrees and his statement was in sync, not different from what Sam had to endorse about AGK. That AGK was behind the scene operator. Shy, quiet, retreating and unassuming, qualities that go against the stereotypical marketing, media or advertising professional. He was never for the cocktail parties, the public functions or even award ceremonies. He believed his work would do all the talking’s. For him organizations were always bigger than him. Not for any reason he was often referred to as the Howard Huges of Indian Advertising.
G.Parthasarathy: “As a Researcher, the foremost trait I found in Shri. AGK was his readiness to accept research finding without hesitation. At the same time he was clear about the terminal objective of any ad testing study. A standing example of this trait of Shri AGK was his readiness to discard a celebrity ad for a fabric brand when a pre-test of the ad got a low ‘buy score’ for the brand”.
I was greatly impressed by his “ears to the ground approach” while discussing or developing Ad Campaign. Campaigns The campaigns for Rasna (soft drink) and BSA SLR (cycle) bears this out.
Rasna, an economic alternative to Coke, turned out to be an aggressive competitor to Coke by positioning Rasna as a brand spreading family happiness, by using flavour varieties and through attractive picturerisation of final drink.
Advertisements for BSA SLR, a cycle targeted at teenagers, used the “showy instinct” of a teenager, especially among fellow teenagers.
AGK’s dress sense reflected his competence to advertise VIMAL against established competitors – RAYMOND and GARDEN.
Personally I will remain grateful to AGK for the confidence he reposed on me as a Researcher.
GP is the Principal Consultant at Tandem Consulting, an organization he started in 1991 along with Venu Mohan Madhavan after relinquishing his post as a Vice-Chairman at Mudra Communications. He was one of the founder members of ORG. Under the inspiration of Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, ORG launched nation level market information tools, namely, Retail Store Audit, Readership Survey and Television Audience Measurement. Having joined ORG in its formative years, GP was deeply involved with sample design, analysis and interpretation of these research studies. In a sense GP can be considered as one of the founding members of ORG. Consumer Research has been another foray of GP. He has been involved in research studies for various FMCG companies.
Venu Mohan Madhavan, Marcom Consultant: “Mr. Krishnamurthy vanquished a million myths in the Indian Advertising industry of the 1980’s…… that you had to be an anglophile or that you had to be from one IIM or the other or that you had to be a socialite etc.. and above all that you had to be from Bombay. Mr. Krishnamurthy built Mudra at Ahmadabad. Nurtured 2 of India’s most noticeable brands Vimal and Rasna and perhaps contributed to laying the foundation for Brand Reliance”.
He made Mudra a part of the International Advertising Industry through its collaboration with DDB Needham. Mudra also ignited the growth and subsequent leadership status of several other Indian Brands. Symphony, BSA SLR, Butterfly, Wilman and Kerala Tourism being some examples.
Mr. Krishnamurthy and his brand of enterprise inspired me to set up a Marcom Agency to nurture the growth of Everest Blended Spices from a Rs. 3.57 cr. regional brand in 1992 to an all India market leader with a turnover of over Rs. 2000 cr. today.
While I pray for Mr. Krishnamurthy soul to rest in peace I hope that he and other great Indian Advertising Legends like SV Sista, Ravi Gupta, Mrs. Nergish Wadia, Bal Mundkur, G Parthasarathy would be awarded with Padma awards for being Instrumental in the creation of some of India’s most enduring brands.
Venu Mohan Madhavan has worked with Mudra Communications, later left to form his own agency Tandem Communication along with Mr G.Parthasarathy.
Piruj Khambatta: Managing Director and Chairman of Rasna International Ltd. For them it was more of relations of the teacher and the pupil akin to knowledge transcending from a ‘guru to shishsya’. AGK as a teacher was the person who catapulted Rasna into a renowned brand it is today. The iconic commercials that ended with the adorable kid saying ‘I love you Rasna’ slogan is his brainchild according to Piruj, is still fresh, the jingles still resonates whenever one see a packet in a grocery or a super-market. Says Piruj Kambhatta. “He was one of the most towering personalities in advertising world, a humble committed professional, his biggest legacy is the young talent he nurtured both in Mudra and his dream project MICA and my experiences with him was more of a master and apprentice then a agency and client, his loss to all of will remain irreplaceable.”
Prathap Suthan: Managing Director – Bang in the Middle: I worked with AGK closely for almost ten years. Whatever I am today is essentially based on what I learned during the time I spent with him.
One incident that happened still stands out very clearly. And possibly changed the way I have always looked at awards. In 1991, my first ever film Ajanta Clocks picked up Commercial of the Year and Campaign of the Year at the CAG in Mumbai.
I went down for the function, picked up the trophies and went back to Ahmedabad the next morning. I went to his office directly from the airport, and with a flourish I pulled out the trophies and told him that we had won the best two awards at the CAG. He simply looked at them, smiled, told me ‘well done’, asked me to keep them on his shelf, and went back to doing what he was doing.
For a moment or two, I was taken aback. I mean there just was no thumping of my back, and overt celebration, and glee, and whatever else. It was just matter of fact. Maybe he did that to keep my head on my shoulders. Or maybe that was how he looked at awards. Just another day. Just another spot of brightness. Nothing earth shattering. Nothing to derail everyday focus. He looked at awards as plainly as that.
That incident told me a lot and taught me a lot. That in the overall scheme of life and our business, awards are ephemeral. They come. They go. They cannot be the soul of being in this business. That’s one lesson I have never forgotten.
Around that time, in 1991, I also had the opportunity to work with him on the Winter campaign for Vimal Worsted Suitings. It went on win several awards, and was at that point the longest commercial ever to run on Indian television. At 90 seconds, it was the boldest move any brand had ever done, and it was so ahead of its time, that we even ran a print ad to announce the premiere of the ad on television. Without hesitation, I know this will be the best campaign that I have worked with him.
Sajan Raj Kurup – Founder and Creative Chairman, CreativeLand Asia .As a restless young lad working at AGK’s Mudra Ahmedabad office between 1994 and 1999, I remember walking into AGK’s room a couple of times with the intention of wanting to tell him that I wanted to quit and move on. And every time, he would turn me away at the door itself saying, “Not now. Not yet”. Until one day, after two years of trying and with a lot more work behind me, he promptly put his hand on my head and said, “Okay, go. You are ready now. You weren’t ready until yesterday. I know you will do very well and I will closely follow your career. Make me proud”. Then, many many years later I met him at a pitch for Only Vimal. I walked up to him and asked him, “Sir, do you remember me?” He interrupted, and in typical AGK style, fired me in front of all,”Of course, I remember you. You didn’t remember me. You didn’t invite me for your wedding…” And a load of other complaints followed. During the course of the conversation, I was humbled by how much he knew of what I had been up to. From being a stenographer to becoming the man who built the original Indian advertising company and the prestigious communication school –MICA, AGK was the original visionary. He was the original patriarch. And most aptly, the founder of Indian advertising. Sir, please don’t stop following my career. Please continue to watch over me from up there.
Sandeep Vij: Co-founder BNPL. Joined Mudra in 1998. Was Executive Director at Mudra and CEO Knowledge Bank and spent 22 years in the organization. Pretty long innings for a person who thought he would spend only two years. But then the charisma of AGK was wafting in the air around. His presence was all composing and in Sandeep’s own words, “His shadow over the organization was long and he could reprimand or cajole people as the head of a family would. We mostly accepted whatever justice he meted out because even in the most awkward meetings, we were probably flattered that he had the time for us”
But when Sandeep finally managed to talk to AGK that he would quit, what followed,’no fretting and fuming by the boss but an opportunity to start division within instead of elsewhere. . Moreover, it also entrapped Sandeep with a huge reluctance to say ‘no’ because AGK threw the gauntlet to him and Sandip just picked it up and floated a division by himself called Mudra Direct……….
Amit Ray: Partner & Co-Founder of Media First Consulting, Former Executive Vice President Mudra Media & CEO Optimum Media Solutions (1995 -2005).One of the most respected and admired person in Advertising Circles, Amit Ray is an unabashed admirer AGK in turn. According to Amit Ray, he always had this protective shield over his team members. His awe and admiration for AGK is palpable even long after he quit Mudra. Says Amit, his silence and composure ushered a security like canopy. While the team toiled over deadlines, AGK’S calm demeanor assured a soothing feeling. His tenacity to bring down the ruffled feathers and, soothing nerves , at the same time ruthlessly meticulous at work was hugely admired by all in and outside Mudra. The quintessential small town man from a village in Andhra Pradesh that AGK was, he was modest enough to acknowledge that. His admiration for the erudite, knowledgeable business school graduate colleagues in his team was no less. He had this constant advice of the advantage they had unlike him. But then AGK had his fair share of punitive actions on colleagues he thought deserved to be shown the way out. And in one chided Amit one day when he shielded a colleague ………’that there was no future for dead wood in this company,’ ‘actions when needed should be taken.
Recalls Amit Ray, in the year 2000 when he put down his papers over differences with a colleague, the great AGK intervened, albeit late. So much was his bonding with Amit Ray, he put halt to papers. To till this day, Amit Ray is still not sure what AGK meant when he remarked, “That life is not only about work and toil….but enjoying every moment.
Lakshminarayanan: Executive Director &CEO Mudra InfoTech and Digital, Remembering AGK—I had the privilege of working with AGK from 1992 to 2008 and assumed various roles during this 16 year stint—Vice President (South); Chief Operating Officer (South) and Special Initiatives; COO (South) and President (Media) and CEO (Mudra Marketing Services).
As a member of The Mudra Executive Board I had the opportunity to observe, from close quarters, AGK’s strategizing, decision making and delegating.
While there are so many admirable qualities about AGK, I recall :
@ He would always give his opinion (when you ask for it) but would never insist you follow it if you wanted to explore a different route.
Indeed, if perchance, you fail in your chosen option, he would NEVER say “I told you so”—would invariably brush it aside saying “now we know what won’t work”
@ I would also admire his risk appetite—since I was always volunteering for new initiatives, we had worked together on so many of them—the country’s 1st digital outdoor, in collaboration with an Australian company; the country’s 1st matrimony portal (www.andhramatrimony.com); our forays into Sri Lanka, Bangladesh etc.In many of them I had lost substantial amounts but AGK’s only response “The cost of a wrong decision is less than the cost of no decision”.
@ Finally I deeply valued his ability to practice “Every Good Strategy Demands Sacrifice”—for eg. he would focus on the Creative Product—the quality of the idea as well as its flawless execution. I quote so many of his sayings even now and shall miss him deeply. Am sure He is in a good place and looking down at all of us with lots of love.
Raghavendra Katte: Formerly General Manager at Jyoti Lab’s and currently Program Director Interlink worked for Mudra more than 5 years. He started his career in Mudra (1997-98), “I was fortunate to have worked with AGK on aone to one basis. What Ragvendra immensely admired about AGK was his forthrightness in his discussions, no hyperbolic rhetoric’s but the point, so was his disposition to others. His impeachable sincerity and commitments was his hall mark and expected the same from his team, designations did not matter, be it a fresher or a Director. He stood for no compromises but the best, and liked to say, ‘that if you dream it you can make it’. Raghavendra recounts asking him on what next AGK would do having reached the pinnacles at Mudra, to which he answered, ‘ I am a client servicing Manger for an account and service a client of jewellery in Ahmedabad with bench mark being Tanishq.
His famous dismissal of Peter England Launch with a base line, Honest to goodness price with price tag starting 499, left the Creative team tongue tied. They had no answer to, “what will happen when you change the price, will Peter England become dishonest?
Sanjoy Chakrabarrty: CEO& Founder, Graphene Media Pvt Ltd: As Management trainee in 1983 he joined the Mudra work force at Ahmadabad .Was employed in Mudra till 1996 before he quit as Associate Vice President- Media Services in 1996.Sanjoy reminisces ,fresh from college in 1984, he joined the Mudra at Ahmadabad .As a fresh Management graduate, he and his colleagues had clear mandate from AGK: AGK empowerment of people in the company was the way and came naturally. Never mind if the attempt fails. To be different, out-of box and offer innovative solutions was the rule at Mudra. During the early days, Mudra under the leadership of AGK did manypath breaking solutions on TV channel ( back then only DD). Audra back then was the crucible of innovative content planning – programmes like Hot Tracks, Spiderman, Buniyaad or the first telefilm in India- Janam were all conceived under the watchfulness of AGK. Audra Videotex was the household name. Evolution has been part of Chakrabarty’s career trajectory, from the time he was persuaded by AG Krishnamurthy (AGK) to get into media planning at Mudra in 1984. “AGK got me involved in content design, execution and planning the first batch at MICA,” says Chakrabarty.
Nikhil Naik: VP Media Investments ADJAVIS Ventures: Worked for Mudra from 1997-2006:
What bewildered Nikhil was the amount of publicity that AGK got when he passed away, an ironical thing to happen for a person who all his life shunned publicity and let his work do all the talking. Nikhil owes all his professional successes to AGK and when questioned is flummoxed to comprehend what he would have done if he did not have this mega influence in the beginning of his career. Thanking him profusely, Nikhil says , he is passionate about Media and cannot professionally look beyond this addiction. They as a team have put together great campaigns and for that to have happened, he acknowledges they often required the AGK to be a wedge between themselves and the client. Great campaign are a team sport-they require a partnership between a brand owner and the Agency and the trust they reposed was for AGK and his team, like two sides of the same coin.
Sudarshan Banerji: Founder Utopeia Communications, Former Director Business Development at Mudra (2009-2012) My association with AGK has been completely in spirit & never in person. I was sent to Ahmadabad in 2010 to head Mudra Ahmedabad, then rechristened as Ignite Mudra. Although AGK had retired in 2003, his presence was everywhere .Not only did I inherit many members of the team I also inherited his office. That cabin gave me the confidence to rebuild the agency which was then going through a patch of misfortune. I worked for 2years opened 2 more offices in Delhi & Mumbai & cherished & nourished a team that continues to flourish even now. Ronak Shah, Shekhar Pandey, Jayesh Waghela (JK), Deepak Shah, C.Arul amongst others. At Mudra Ahmedabad people were career Mudraites & continue even today. I was later brought back to Bombay & given the additional task of Director New Business for the DDBMudra Group. I still have a soft spot for my team in Mudra Ahmedabad. The biggest way it influenced my life would be turning me into an entrepreneur & in 2012, along with a few friends I happened to start Utopeia Communicationz. It has been 3 Yrs + now and has grown to 40 people. Maybe AGK’s blessings continue upon us.
Parag Desai, Executive Director Wagh Baakri Chai: For a young man brought up in Navarangpura of Ahemedabad, he had his house not very far from Mudra’s office and to Parag, his relations with the AGK was a multitude of them, Guru and mentor, Adviser par excellence and a friend as well. It was as if AGK was one-stop shop for solutions. Walking in and out of Mudra office, in a way it was like his 2nd home. The relations transcended beyond business, more a family member and with his demise it was as if the family lost their own. He approach to problems was like patriarch who knew the problems but would let the people solve it. Life according to him was a learning curve and nonchalantly said that ‘Hard work never killed anyone’. Parag Desai and his family are indebted to him every way.
Parag insists, there be reference to his earthiness and somebody who brought in some Indianess to the artificiality that prevails in most other agencies, with their borrowed western values. People meeting AGK for the first time were blown by his simplicity. This according to Parag was his strength and the awe and respect he commanded was the individuality he maintained and no qualms about his accent and the way in which he spoke.
With Mudra under his stewardship AGK had this MILI Tea account which he build from scratch. To build a brand out of a product needs Revenue spends and AGK balanced that very well, adept at understanding the huge reluctance of the clients to spend for Advertising. For 10 years Mudra Ahemdabad serviced the Account until they shifted to Mumbai.
As MICA was shaping up as a full- fledged academic institution dedicated to training Advertising personnel AGK often invited Parag to give his lecture on Marketing and communication something which Parag Desai always loved to do.
To all he remained a Client Servicing person all through, and this was amply demonstrated when long after he had retired from Mudra he set up his own brand consultancy ‘AGK Brand Consult’. As Anvar Alikhan says in his blog. “He was a tough, demanding client, and whatever might have changed about him over the years, one thing that evidently hadn’t changed was his dictum of, “Please leave your ego outside”.
In his book ‘TEN MUCH,’ AGK is all in praise for Henry Ford. In a tribute to the Motorman, “That is the power of dreamers who persists. Invariably they create a better life for the world around them while they pursue their own dreams”. Little surprising that this statements perfectly befits what AGK did when he was alive.