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Tara Sinha: Remembering the doyenne of Indian advertising

RV Rajan | Updated on December 14, 2019 Published on December 14, 2019

Tara Sinha

A brilliant creative personality, she broke many a glass ceiling in the sector

I had the privilege of working with two legends of Indian advertising when I started my career with Clarion McCann in 1964. One was the late Subroto Senguta, and the other was an icon of advertising in India, Tara Sinha, who passed away on Wednesday at the age of 87.

While Sengupta was a hardcore advertising professional who believed in systems and procedures, Tara Sinha’s brilliant, creative mind was constantly innovating. If she had a good idea, she would go all out to sell it to the client.

Often, an idea would occur to her a few days, sometimes a few hours, before a major presentation, and the entire team would have to junk whatever they had done until then and start working from the scratch on her new idea.

Those were days when everything had to be done manually — no falling back on technology for instant solutions to any problem we faced. But the team, inspired by her leadership, would always deliver the goods.

Two big ideas

As an innovator she contributed two big ideas to the industry. When she was in Clarion, Bombay, she introduced the concept of media planning for the first time in Indian advertising, when media departments were handled by managers who produced media estimates based on rates negotiated with various publications.

She persuaded Praveen Desai, who had introduced innovative media ideas as a media manager in LIC, to join Clarion and head the Media Planning Division.

When she moved to Delhi to head ACIL (Advertising Consultants of India Ltd), a sister unit of Clarion, she was looking for people. She also wanted to experiment with her new idea of separating the planning and operations functions in an ad agency. Though ACIL was formed primarily to handle public sector accounts, thanks to Tara Sinha’s reputation and connections, ACIL had on its roster of clients, big MNC names like Nestlé and Coke.

I was working with Grant K&E in Bombay when she persuaded me to join ACIL in Delhi as her first GM (Planning), a designation that was forerunner to the concept of Account Director.

She was a demanding professional who did not tolerate fools and had little patience for laggards. Tall and elegant, she would breeze into the office, always attired in a graceful sari. She could be extremely charming when she wanted something done but also ruthless when somebody made mistakes or did not stick to promises.

I was one of the survivors. She promoted me as her Deputy Chief Executive within a year of my joining ACIL. While delighted at the promotion, when I was just 30, I was totally unprepared for her exit from ACIL in a few months, when she quit to join Coca-Cola, an important client.

Overnight, my boss became my client. Instead of replacing her with an outsider, the Clarion management requested me to hold the fort, promoting me as GM/CEO of ACIL with the mandate to ensure that no client or senior staff left the company.

Stepping into the larger-than-life shoes of Tara Sinha and occupying the corner room at 18, Hanuman Road, in Delhi, was daunting. I survived the turbulent but challenging two years until the management brought another senior manager from within the Clarion group to take over from me, and I moved to Chennai.

After moving to Chennai in 1974, I lost touch with her, though we would occasionally meet at some conference or seminar. She made a mark in all the organisations she worked with: Coca- Cola, Clarion, McCann Erickson and many industry bodies. It was from her that I learnt the important life lesson of having the courage of conviction in whatever I did. Despite controversies surrounding her as a professional, she remained a towering personality in the advertising world, highly respected by the industry and revered by hundreds of people, like me, whose lives she touched.

The writer, a long-time adman, ran Anugrah Advertising

Published on December 14, 2019
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