Life was good!
Till the time we took on the mandate for a political party!
Leaving behind new learnings, as indeed a rude lesson on ‘how not to do business’.
Those, however, were exciting days, particularly in the political firmament.
New alliances were being formed, and as the state elections approached, there was nothing else that media wrote about, but politics!
However, peace reigned at the firm I then called home, in Pune.
One day, a gentleman with a beard, dressed in crisp kurta pyjamas, walked into the office to see the owner, who was out for a meeting. However, the visitor insisted on waiting.
The owner walked in half an hour later, and took the visitor to his cabin.
10 minutes later, I was asked to join them. I was also introduced to Mr ‘XX’.
Introductions done, I was told that the firm would be doing a political advertising campaign for the newly formed.
Requirement: 6-7 ads – all in Marathi. Across Maharashtra. In regional media.
I was flustered. Because I had no clue about the importance of regional media then. As indeed I had no clue as to the functioning of political parties☺.
The next 2 days saw three meetings with:
- The client and two of his colleagues
- A research firm for an insight into what people felt in areas like Nanded
- A famous creative director
The client meeting ended with us agreeing to show them the creative approach in a week.
The research firm was browbeaten into getting us top line findings from 6 districts of Maharashtra in the next 4 days.
The creative director, after much persuasion, agreed to do the campaign and deliver in 2 days (he was reluctant in the beginning, because he had major ideological differences with the coalition partners – our client).
We started discussions with the media chosen for the campaign (social media was non-existent those days). That is when I learnt that all media was charging a premium on political ads. Not just that, they asked for payment in advance for every ad (though we were a media accredited firm).
So, it was back to the client, who had yet to see the creatives, and was reluctant to pay in advance. The owner, however, was clear. NO ADVANCE. NO CAMPAIGN. NO CLIENT.
It took me the better part of two days, and a trip with the client to Mumbai to meet his party bosses, for them to agree to the advance payment.
One hurdle taken care of!
Research came in; creatives were developed, and presented to the client.
Barring minor changes, the client in Pune approved the campaign. However, I had to travel to Mumbai once again to get the final sign off from the ‘bosses’. This, too, happened.
Another hurdle crossed.
One week before the campaign launch, the client told me that I would have to go to Mumbai before every ad was released, and collect the money.
The first trip to Mumbai was incident free. I reached VT station with my empty suitcase, and went to the party office. The money was handed over. The suitcase filled. And me back in the Deccan Queen to Pune.
The entire return journey was a ‘nightmare’. I had never carried so much money in my life. I was unable to let the suitcase out of my sight, and obviously, was unable to even go to the loo!
Reached Pune. Handed over the money. First ad published.
Five more trips to Mumbai with an empty suitcase. Four of them uneventful.
The fifth trip was the kicker.
I reached the party’s office, only to be told that I needed to go to Thane to meet the treasurer. Off I went from VT to Thane. There, I was told that I would be paid the next day.
Naturally, I missed my train. Stayed over at the party’s guesthouse in Dadar.
The stress about the money ensured no sleep.
Next morning at 10, the party boss appeared.
‘I don’t think we can pay you’, he said.
Seeing the expression on my face, he added… ‘ You have not donated anything to the party. So we will keep the balance as a donation from your firm.’
I honestly did not know how to react. It was not my money, and the publications needed to be paid.
I just told the party boss, ‘Sir, it would be better if you spoke to my MD. He is the only one who can decide’.
Party boss called the owner. And said exactly what he had told me. Then the owner wanted to speak to me, so the phone was handed over.
‘Atul, I don’t like this. But in the worst case scenario, reduce the amount by the media commission we would have earned. No more.’
Looking at my face (I was in tears by then), the party boss softened up a little. The amount payable was reduced by the media commission, and I took the train back to Pune with the rest of the money.
The last ad was released. The voting took place, and this new coalition made huge inroads into the Vidhan Sabha.
It was also the day that I swore to myself never to handle advertising for political parties again. I have been lucky. In 2014, we turned one similar mandate down.
Stay away from political advertising, if you can resist the money
- Know if you are a good businessman. I am not!
- Maintain relationships. That’s our business. The relationships I made with the political party helped me in other ways…but that’s another story.
The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.
Atul…Parts of the story sound familiar having gone through them in my life. Tech magazine, getting a well known political figure to speak at our awards show based on which we had got a plum sponsor, steep demands on us to get other top media to attend, they offered to offset some of the costs, I got into a mess, they didn’t honor their word, instead ask for donation to party fund, and I land up at a desolate farmhouse clutching a diaper-pack sized bag containing contents printed by RBI/ Mint of India.