I joined the media industry in an era when relationships were prized. Media sellers spent what would now be deemed inordinate amounts of money courting media decision-makers, even junior ones like me.
Lunches were long and lavish and I cannot recall spending a Friday afternoon at my desk. Cocktail parties and dinners kept my single household grocery budget ridiculously low. I experienced some wonderful, if somewhat hazy trips, with my media colleagues. Jollification seemed to be the order of the day. Admittedly, there were some meaningful conversations, wedged in amongst the revelry; and some useful connections were formed. Some of the solutions I delivered to my clients would not have been possible without this relationship building.
Times changed: Evenings were now spent completing online business ethics training by the mandatory annual deadlines. We were alerted to the hazards of reporting for work under the influence of drugs or alcohol, taken through demonstrations of what constituted bribery, regardless of cultural and social traditions. While we were assured that the code was not intended to prohibit “appropriate entertainment”, the level of paperwork that had to be submitted to the global company for approval of trips with media vendors was a significant deterrent.
The ‘Mumbai MBA’ experience
Despite these obstacles, e.tv has continued to run its ‘Mumbai MBA’ trips, the first of which took place in 2005. During my media agency tenure, I was never able to undertake one of these expeditions; pitches or crises always took precedence, so it was with great curiosity that I accepted the invitation to join the Class of 2018 as a judge.
Last Wednesday night, I set off with an intrepid band of around 50 or so media agency personnel, clients and e.tv staff, drawn from across the country to discover for myself what this experience was all about. Initially, arriving at that epitome of upper-end Indian hospitality, the Taj Lands End, one might think that one was in for some serious old school junketing. All such notions were rapidly dispelled, when Khalik Sherrif, deputy chief executive officer of eMedia Holdings, outlined the curriculum to the 14 teams and judges on the first evening.
Each team comprised of two e.tv clients paired with an e.tv sales team member, with some experience of the city. The first section of the curriculum required participants to “unveil Mumbai” by completing 10 Amazing Race-style tasks, which would take them to various parts of the city to discover the people and places of the “maximum city”. These experiences were to be presented to the judges in a creative presentation on the Monday. In addition to travelling the city, each of the teams were asked to identify and investigate a product or service traded in the informal business sector, and to develop a business plan to ensure its longevity and success.
In addition, the teams were also tasked with creating “an extraordinary garment” for a school’s matric dance, with the stipulation that it must be “fashionable, presentable, elegant and most of all an item of pride for the recipient”. (All garments were donated to students.) One member of each team was required to model the garment at the banquet on the final evening. Yet another requirement was that teams needed to either perform an act or find an act on the streets of Mumbai, which is worthy of featuring on ‘Mumbai’s Got Talent’: This had to be presented as a video or live performance on the Monday evening.
Finally, each team had to present a themed presentation of their learnings on the streets. And all of these things had to be accomplished in three days on a budget of $300. To add to the constraints, there were also mandatory suppers which were welcome from a sustenance and social perspective, but which contributed to the time pressure. It felt a bit like a pitch on steroids, and I was somewhat relieved to be a judge.
Sensibly, however, my fellow judge, Jimmy Gill, and I were paired with e.tv’s Bev Mouton and Kelebogile Seokolo, so that we, too, could complete the first 10 tasks, thus developing a good sense of the demands made on the participants. It was clear that planning and time management were essential; people skills, team work, stamina and negotiation skills were fundamental to succeeding. But they would not be enough to secure the winning spot (and the reward of further travel to the Maldives.) This required confidence, curiosity, and lashings of creativity.
Out of their comfort zones
The 14 teams certainly dug deep and delivered truly interesting responses to their tasks on the Monday, when the third judge, Manav Kapoor, of Whisper Media, Indonesia, joined us. I certainly got not only a firm sense of how each and every participant had been truly taken out of their comfort zone, but also how each one had embraced the challenges, and succumbed to the extraordinary allure of the bustle and buzz of the maximum city.
For several participants, this was their first experience of travelling internationally; the more experienced travellers admitted that India had not ranked as a priority country in their travel plans, while some told me how they had long been hoping to have this experience. Each and every one truly got their feet dusty, and their hearts and minds exposed to extremes of poverty and luxury, as well the resilience and kindness of humanity. It is difficult not to agree with Deepak Chopra, who wrote that he found “in every conversation I’ve had – with housewives in Mumbai, with middle-class people, upper-class, in the slums – everyone says there is an underlying consciousness of karma. That people believe in karma – that what you’re putting out is going to come back. If I do something to you, the energy of it is going to come back to me in the future”.
It struck me that e.tv asks a huge amount of the sales team in giving them total responsibility for their clients in Mumbai. It is not a dangerous city in the way that Johannesburg is, but it is an extreme one, and people were asked to travel well out of their comfort zones. The relationships that the sales people forge with their clients over this period have to be completely unique. There is no doubt that e.tv will indelibly be top of these clients’ minds – a particularly useful place to be when ad hoc budget adjustments need to be made.
This was certainly not a junket; it was a journey of discovery. Danny Boyle, of Slumdog Millionaire and Trainspotting fame, wrote: “It’s not so much what you learn about Mumbai, it’s what you learn about yourself, really. It’s a funny old hippie thing, but it’s true as well. You find out a lot about yourself and your tolerance, and about your inclusiveness.”
Such self discovery is enduring and transformative, and that is not what one gets out of a junket.
Having spent some decades working in the media agencies, Britta Reid now relishes the opportunity to take an independent perspective on the South African media world, especially during this time of radical research transformation.