AAAI rift out in the open

Last Updated: Sun, Jul 11, 2010 19:10 hrs

The slugfest in the ad industry deepens.

Fissures in the Indian advertising industry are showing up again. After the Goafest fiasco in April this year, where certain jurors were found voting for the work of their agencies, it is now the post of president at apex body Advertising Agencies Association of India (AAAI), which is drawing attention.

Dentsu India Chairman Sandeep Goyal has decided to contest the election for the post of president this year against current vice-president Nagesh Alai. The elections are slated for July 30.

The elections for the post are being held this year because incumbent Colvyn Harris, chief executive officer of ad agency JWT has decided not to keep a second term. "By convention, the president has kept a second term in the interest of continuity," says Madhukar Kamath, managing director and chief executive officer, Mudra Group, who was Harris's predecessor, holding the president's position for two years - 2007-08 and 2008-09.

The impending elections, in the process, have divided the industry, with some throwing their might behind Goyal, and some behind Alai, who is regional chief financial officer at ad agency Draft FCB. Alai has been involved with the AAAI for the last 15 years in various capacities.

Goyal’s agency, in contrast, say industry sources, has been a member of the body for the last two to three years only. "So how can he stand for the post of president so quickly? Ideally, he should have been involved with the body for some time. This would have ensured that he has a track record to show," says a media agency head, on condition of anonymity. "Alai to me is a worthy candidate. I am all for him," he says.

Though Goyal himself remained incommunicado despite repeated attempts to contact him, his supporters reiterate that his election will bring about the much-needed change in the body. "There is a leadership crisis that has to be addressed," says an advertising agency head. "The Goafest issue recently has only brought to the fore the Association's weaknesses. In my view, a change of guard is needed."

Goyal’s supporters also insist that the Association is nothing more than a "boy’s club" run by a "handful of members".

This charge is refuted by Kamath, who is currently a member of the outgoing executive committee. "I don't think we are a boy’s club. The Association is a fairly democratic organisation, where the 21-member executive is put in place through a process of nomination and election. I don’t think the body would have survived over 60 years if it had been a boy’s club alone."

This point is corroborated by another former president of the AAAI - Ramesh Narayan. He says, "I don’t find the body to be a boy's club. Definitely not," he says.

But the Goyal camp is egging on with emails and flyers going out to agency heads touching upon the need for change. These leaflets have been titled ‘Convention v/s Disruption’. Goyal have even listed the names of people who had supported his bid for presidency in these emails and flyers. This included advertising veterans such as Munawar Syed, who is one of the founders of ad agency Triton Communications, Goutam Rakshit, head of Mumbai-based ad agency Advertising Avenues, and Piyush Pandey, executive chairman and creative director, Ogilvy & Mather, South Asia.

Both Rakshit and Pandey in subsequent open letters, dated July 8, expressed their displeasure at finding their names being used openly by Goyal. Pandey in his letter said, "At the time of nomination, I was not aware of who else was being nominated, and therefore it does not guarantee that I would vote for Sandeep. I will pick my choices only after seeing and evaluating the candidate."

Pandey was not immediately available for his comments.

Rakshit, meanwhile, in a conversation with Business Standard said, "I have said whatever I have in my open letter. I am open to the process of election, but I do not endorse the candidature of Sandeep Goyal."

In this crossfire of emails, the Alai camp remains silent. "I prefer to maintain my grace and dignity. I will not respond to this," Alai said. "By convention, the vice-president takes over as president. But there is an election happening this year. Let the best man win."

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