Saturday, July 27, 2002
A G A I N S T  A L L  O D D S

By all accounts, an adman par excellence

VishwanathAT 76, he can look back and say that he battled all the odds and came up the hard way. At this age, he can also say that a new agenda has to be set and the reinvention of the self has to start all over again. So, despite the Mercedes Benz at the doorstep and the comfort of an expensive leather-bound chair, Vishwanath likes to sweat it out both in his age-old Daryaganj office and in his swank gym. "Life is all about chances that come your way," he says philosophically as he surveys the traffic chaos on the street from his office window. "I just worked hard on the opportunities that came to me."

Success has not been easy. His peers speak of the energy and the doggedness with which he pursued accounts and won over potential clients. They also recall with a hint of envy how most of his professional accounts transformed themselves into life-long personal relationships. "He wouldn’t give up chasing an account and used to be on his toes perhaps all the 24 hours of the day," they say. They also doff their caps to his effort at organising the advertising sector. He was the founder-president of the National Council of Advertising Agencies in India and the founder-president of the Delhi Advertising Club.


The hard work shows. Vishwanath did not even have the money to find a shelter for himself in Delhi after the partition of the country. Today, he heads a Rs 30-crore advertising empire that spans not only this country but several others across the globe. His list of achievements speaks for itself. His company, Interads, was the first advertising agency to bag the prestigious Clio International Award in 1987. The award is likened to the Oscars in advertising. Interads is also the only company to be listed in the Limca World Book of Records. Personally, Vishwanath has been awarded the International Kim Il Sung Prize this year. Earlier, he had been awarded a doctorate in socio-political sciences by the Government of Democratic Republic of Korea and the International Friendship Award by the erstwhile Government of USSR. Presently, he is serving as the Director General of the International Institute of Juche Idea which has its headquarters in Tokyo.

Interestingly, he started his career, after passing out from the Mayo School of Arts, with The Tribune in Lahore in 1943 as an apprentice reporter. The then General Manager of the paper, PLSondhi, advised him to switch to the business side. Vishwanath took the advice and was soon in the thick of selling. "There were few brands then and fewer advertisers. The operations were clean unlike what we have today," he reflects. As he reminiscences about the days when he went about learning the ropes, he remembers, "Soft drinks were then locally produced and were known as Punjab Kesri drinks. Till 1948, Coca Cola was handed out free. Then there was this face cream called Tibet Snow. It used to be very popular. In one week of my starting, I landed five accounts for my company Laurals’."

Partition meant starting off once again. He came to Delhi and tramped through its streets looking for a job. "I used to The rarest of rare opportunity came his way. "One day I was strolling near the Soviet Centre when a man came out and we got talking. The Soviets wanted to start the magazine Soviet Land and were looking for a suitable local hand. I took it on." From composing to printing and even editing, Vishwanath did everything virtually singlehandedly. The Soviets were obviously pleased by his effort for the association deepened and broadened. In 1962, he opened Interads office in Moscow, perhaps the first Indian advertising agency to do so. A London office was the next one to be opened. Vishwanath and his company had truly arrived at the international level. Today, it handles over 200 national and international accounts. Besides, it has set up more than 450 exhibitions for various clients both at home and abroad.

"Times have changed fast," Vishwanath says," There is so much cut- throat competition in this field now that it has become difficult to play as per the rules of the game. Everybody wants and gives discounts that are below ethical levels. The margins have been squeezed to the extent that it does not make business sense to run agencies any more. Yet," he says with a wry smile, "They say that the agency business is doing well."

The old timer, who has seen many newspapers start and become successful over the years, does not hold much hope for the future. " The revenue is not growing for newspapers as it ought to. I don’t know how many will survive." — AB