Sam Balsara: Krish crashed the party

Ad man Sam Balsara remembers AG Krishnamurthy, founder of Mudra Communications, who passed away on Friday at the age of 73

“It’s an advantage to know that you are at a disadvantage.” I constantly remind Madisonites about this adage that I made up for myself in the early years of Madison and I feel Krish (I called him that) knew it and therefore motivated all of us to work harder, think smarter and think differently. The Reliance advertising account for Brand Vimal was with Frank Simoes then and as their brand VIMAL became more prominent, Raymond got uncomfortable and gave Frank Simoes an ultimatum, to choose between Raymond and Reliance. Frank chose Raymond, and thus was born Mudra, the ad agency in Ahmedabad. And Girabehn Sarabhai’s assistant and later Advertising Manager of Reliance became its captain. Krish was a small-town person who through sheer guts and wits had risen up the social strata and business world.

AG Krishnamurthy set a standard for Indian advertising
AG Krishnamurthy set a standard for Indian advertising

In those days, ad agencies were a School Boys’ Club, close knit, 15 per cent commission, 45 days credit, worked 9-5, 5 days a week and routinely said ‘No’ to a client or asked a client to wait! And took 30-45 days to turn around a campaign! Into this environment came Mudra with a determination to crash the party! Mudra’s early success with Vimal soon convinced everyone, that Mudra could be successful in getting clients beyond Reliance. The first to come in was Rasna in Ahmedabad. Then, Godrej in Mumbai.

Sam Balsara
Sam Balsara

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 book or drawing inspiration from the highly regarded British Advertising in those days. In jest he would often say of a Storyboard, “Where is the Buccha and Kutta.” We did not call it Emotional Advertising then.

Krish had a work ethic that was unbelievable. Mudra worked late nights six days a week, and the Ahmedabad office where Krish operated from, worked even on Sundays, mercifully half a day. And for years Krish took the night train from Ahmedabad to Bombay on Sunday night and returned by the night train on Tuesday, staying at the Ritz on Monday night. That work ethic has stayed with me till now.

I must say Krish and Mudra were obsessed with growth and beyond the early settling in years, of which I was a part, took concrete steps in terms of hiring the right talent and setting up infrastructure, to achieve it. And as a person, Krish was quick to grow and evolve his thinking, outlook and leadership style with each level of growth. And, in my view, that was a significant and admirable quality of the man.
Krish did not attract media attention and despised those that did. He said Mudra’s work should speak for it. No one or nothing else. He continued this belief, I believe till the end. So I was surprised when after a few years of retirement he put out a signed series in Business Standard.

I am sorry to have caused him some grief when one day rather suddenly I decided to leave Mudra and leave to start Madison. He overestimated the damage I could do or intended to do and underestimated Mudra’s resilience. The crowning glory in his life will always be MICA, the first dedicated institute for advertising that he conceived, which has blossomed into a highly reputed space.

It does not matter where you come from; it is important where you reach. Krish and Mudra indeed crashed the party and as the environment turned competitive, some even drew inspiration from Mudra. It is ironical that the man that shunned publicity has today so many obits written for him.

Krish, I salute you. History records your contribution. May your soul rest in peace. Sam Balsara is founder and chairperson of Madison World.

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