A purist on measurement - ad frat applauds Roda Mehta’s AAAI honour

Roda Mehta, doyen of Indian advertising who played a legendary and pioneering role in establishing scientific media planning and buying in India, was felicitated with the AAAI Lifetime Achievement Award on Friday, July 4, 2017 in the presence of who’s who of the advertising fraternity and her former colleagues. 

Roda Mehta built a whole generation of media professionals for the advertising industry. She joined Hindustan Thompson Associates (now JWT) in 1971 and became the first MBA and first woman in the Media function of an advertising agency in India. She moved to Ogilvy Benson & Mather (now Ogilvy & Mather) in 1975, and rose from Media Group Head to Media Controller for the Mumbai office in 1976 to representing Media for the first time on the Managing Committee of the Mumbai office in 1978 to being sent to London for 3 months to introduce Account Planning and Research in the Indian operation in 1980 to the Board as Director – Media & Research in 1982. She transferred, as President – South in 1992, became Director - International Client Service in 1994, and Managing Consultant - the Media Network in 1996. Along the way, she pioneered Outdoor planning and buying and set up a Rural Media network to service client requirements. 

Invited on several committees and associations by the industry, including the Expert Committee on TV Marketing for Doordarshan & AIR, she was Founder Member of the Market Research Society of India (MRSI) and Founder Member and Chairperson - Technical Committee of the Media Research Users Council (MRUC).  She chaired MRUC from 1994-96. Ms Mehta was also on the Board of several other committees including Advisory Board - Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (Govt of India), AAAI’s Media Disputes Committee, Economic Times Advisory Panel, etc.  An avidly sought after speaker at industry conferences/seminars, she served as faculty on training programs run by Ogilvy & Mather India and Asia Pacific. 

Roda Mehta bagged several prestigious awards including the David Ogilvy Award for Asia Pacific & Agency of the Year Award (Public Service) 1992 for the National Literacy Mission campaign. 

Currently she is associated with several non-profit organisations as a Trustee of the Lila Poonawalla Foundation, which provides scholarships and mentoring to economically challenged girls from Maharashtra for post-graduate, graduate/diploma and secondary school education; Board Member & Treasurer of Nagrik Chetna Manch, a citizen’s watchdog organization on public expenditure. She administers a very active Citizens’ Whatsapp Group for civic affairs of PMC Ward 21 and is a practitioner of Kriya Yoga. 

‘A lone woman among an army of men’ 

The industry was gushing in its praise for Mehta. To all, she has been an inspiration, a purist on measurement and someone who spearheaded data base approach in media planning. 

“Roda Mehta is widely acknowledged as the first women who spearheaded data base approach in media planning,” remarked Sam Balsara, founder, Chairman and Managing Director, Madison World. He added, “She also took initiative in media research and to some extent she disciplined media owners with their pricing policies. The AAAI has been late in recognising and acknowledging her contribution. Since I was there in the committee, I would like to say ‘Better late than never’.” 

This sentiment was share by Bobby Pawar, MD & Chief Creative Officer, Publicis India, who felt that Mehta should have been honoured by this Award many years back as “she is the most deserving person for this award”. 

Nakul Chopra, President, AAAI, too, said, “It’s more than a well-served honour for her. The Award should have come to her much earlier.” He further said, “I don’t think I have the standing or audacity to give Roda a message on winning the Award because she is our senior and someone we all have looked up to. She is an inspiration to today’s generation.” 

Though Vikram Sakhuja, Group CEO, Madison Media and OOH, never worked with Mehta, he said that in the 90s, she was one of the most respected media agency professionals. “Roda Mehta stood out as being a purist on measurement, and in training a generation of media planners,” he added. 

On working with Mehta, Ashish Bhasin, Chairman and CEO - South Asia, Dentsu Aegis Network, said, “It was always a pleasure working with her, but you have to be alert at any point of time because she was so aware and so involved. While she would appear to be very tough and difficult, but if you made a logical point, she would listen to you.” 

Bhasin further said, “If she can continue working in the way she did in the media industry in her next inning at her non-profit organisation, she will change and influence the society and county, just like she has changed the media industry. I wish the best for her.” 

Advertising veteran and a contemporary of Mehta, Lynn de Souza, Founder, Social Access Communications, expressed her delight at Mehta being awarded a Lifetime Achievement recognition by AAAI and added, “It actually recognises the contribution of media services to the profession, a stream that she pioneered.” 

Speaking further on Mehta, de Souza said, “In a very disciplined and committed way, she transformed a backroom function that operated on wining and dining into a highly respected, almost feared one, based on the application of science and measurement. It was not an easy journey for such a pioneer and she made a lot of enemies along the way. But she also earned the respect, sometimes grudging, of her peers and those she groomed to work in the profession with flying colours. She was also for a long time a lone woman among an army of men, and did a lot to encourage and grow other women into the business without making it a soft or compassionate move, just one based on genuine merit.”

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