Ashit Kukian the Chief Executive Officer of Radio City, India’s leading radio network. In his present capacity, Ashit is responsible for building effective teams, streamlining operations and strategy across the organization, with the objective of enhancing market share and driving sustainable growth. Ashit brings more than two decades of cross functional media, entertainment and management experience to the role to drive continuous business improvement and help exceed the revenue and profitability objectives.
In the part two Leaderspeak with Ashit Kukian, CEO, Radio City speaks to us on his second stint in Radio, the communication strategy, his mentors who shaped him and much more…….
As during this lockdown the radio listenership may have seen a dip? What will be the objective of the communication/ marketing strategy?
Contrary to your question, the latest AZ Research PPL report records 82% people have been tuning in to the radio during COVID-19, and the industry now witnesses a listenership of 51 million people, an increase from the 48 million listeners before the lockdown was implemented. Radio’s home listenership has also increased by 22% and has grown from 64% to 86%, with most of it coming from mobile. Even the time that people spend listening to the radio has increased by 23% to 2.36 hours every day during the lockdown, second only to television. FM channels have also emerged as the second most credible source of information for the masses, with a score of 6.27, first being the internet with a score of 6.44, and TV standing third at 5.74.
In light of these positive numbers, I think we can safely assume that most of our audience have continued to stand by us and will continue to do so. Also, radio’s ubiquity, hyperlocal nature, timelessness, ability to entertain as well as create awareness on issues of local and national importance, all ensure we will be one of the few businesses to come out of the woods faster than the others. What is also encouraging is all our initiatives which we started during the lockdown have been successful so far, so we will continue to keep the momentum going.
Given the current situation, we have been hearing only negative news which is affecting everyone’s morale. So, with Rag Rag Mein Positivity initiative, we adopted the proposition to proactively find information-led positive angles and spread positivity and hope for society and nation at large in an otherwise challenging situation.
How did you keep the morale of the employees during this lockdown period? On a personal note, what kept you positive?
Radio City has always been an employee-driven organization and the management is involved in taking care of the well-being and safety of our teams as a priority. We have made it to India’s Great Place to Work rankings consecutively for the last 8 years, and we even made it to Asia’s top 5 Great Place to Work for list, all of which is a testimony of our culture that promotes diversity, work life balance, and a collaborative approach.
In this lockdown, our key priority was to ensure all our staff across 39 stations were healthy, safe, and able to seamlessly work from home. On the professional front, we ensured that our employees are digitally enabled and can access the company software and systems for on-boarding and servicing clients seamlessly. We are also conducting virtual team meetings/calls with the reporting managers to track progress and to make sure that the teams are motivated during these tough times.
We have also been sharing a personally penned note from my desk at regular intervals with all employees to keep their spirits high. From providing necessary emotional support to keeping them engaged with various team building activities, we are ensuring that employees are keeping in good health while at home. We have also partnered with a medical app for our employees to have online doctor consultation plus delivery of medicines on discounts. As a responsible brand, we also actively work towards ensuring work life balance of our employees.
As far as I am concerned, while one ended up more time on work, the need to innovate and change rapidly in these difficult times in itself has been motivating me. On the personal front, I have developed this newfound hobby of cooking. I have been experimenting with recipes to my family’s delight. Also, I have started spending more time with my family, which otherwise was a luxury. All in all, it has been a good change to be working and also getting time for yourself.
What are some of the strategies that you will use to bring the business (advertising revenues) back on track?
Radio City has been focusing on enhancing its digital offerings. With the help of our engaging digital campaigns, we have witnessed a stupendous 280% growth in our social media reach numbers. We have also focused on content and on finding newer distribution channels and newer streams of revenue. We have provided a bouquet of offerings to our advertisers, which include both on-air and digital services. Additionally, we have led various innovative campaigns and audience engagement initiatives to ensure that we keep our audience motivated and entertained during these tough times.
In order to provide much needed support and impetus to homegrown businesses, we launched a novel initiative called Radio City Bazaar through which Radio City has been providing a platform for local businesses to help spread awareness about their business proposition, enable their growth, and also propagate the spirit of entrepreneurship. The campaign has enabled us to bring many industrious homegrown businesses into the limelight. All our stations across the nation are giving an opportunity to these businesses to talk about their offerings on-air and reach out to a diverse set of audiences. We are already witnessing an immense inflow of requests from small businesses across the country to help them with their business growth.
On our part, we will just have to ensure we keep at it. I also feel analytics will play an important role in helping bring brands back to radio and will also help us track audience engagement and progress of campaigns and initiatives, thereby helping us in overall business growth and recovery.
Do you have a significant mentor and what did you learn?
I have learned from people with whom I have worked and I don’t have one but two mentors who shaped up my entire career and my learnings. I will start with the first one, this goes to the time when I had just started my media career. I had Dr Bhaskar Das who was heading the team, and I had the privilege of working with him very closely. A lot of my learnings have come from the initial days of working with Dr. Das. As you know irrespective of his age, the kind of zeal and enthusiasm he has is something which I must say very few people have, and today also when I meet him, he is like a guy who just started his media career and doesn’t think of any job as small for him and that is something that I have learnt. He wouldn’t mind getting into the smallest of things. In the media industry, a lot of people have inflated egos but what I have understood and learned is that there’s no space for ego if you really want to do a great job here, no matter which media or company you are representing. So that’s another learning I have tried to adapt and implement throughout my career. I think, he is a great proponent of servant leadership, which he demonstrated each time. I haven’t seen this kind of commitment in many people that he has shown.
My second mentor is Ms. Apurva Purohit. My stature in media and growth even at the personal level came under Apurva. The sort of confidence that she had when she picked me to take up a national level role even though I was just a regional head when I left Radio City and having worked with me for briefly 12-14 months while handling Zoom is something I will always cherish.
She has always given me credit saying that we work together to build Radio City as a brand as when we joined it was just a 4 stations channel. Apurva joined in May 2005 while I joined in November 2005. Star India used to manage the revenue part of the business then. I guess I was lucky that she reached out to me. I was doing quite well at Times and it took a while for somebody with 14 years of experience to say yes immediately, so I told her to give me some time and it was after a week or so that I was ready for the gamble and I took up her offer. Then, in 2005 we joined and the entire phase two expansion happened. Each year since then has been a learning year, for the things that I have learned from her as a mentor is first- the art of detailing things and keeping an eye for attention to detail.
The importance of communication, which I believe most heads lose out overtime is something I learnt from her. It is important for you to communicate what you mean especially at levels that we are right now at. I think communication is crucial to manage your teams well and it’s something that comes with knowing the difference between delegation and abdication. When you go up the corporate ladder, your commitment should be increasing at each level. So honestly it’s the other way round, contrary to a lot of people complain about how the boss is not going to have to do the job. It has been 25 years and I have not seen a boss like her who is more committed and is hard working than what a boss should be. And that is something which has rubbed on me.
The difference between the mentorship that I look between her and Dr Das is that my mentorship with Dr. Das was in a period of happy going when the market was with you. You were a great brand, people come asking for you, and so on and so forth. And from 2005 to now we have seen two setbacks, its virtual adversity in the media world when it comes to 2007/2008 and now with this ongoing pandemic.
So, how to manage adversity is something which I have learned from her because everything we do has lot of detailing and we are very prudent about costs. When you look at hindsight, especially these types of absolute challenges that we face, we are happy that we are very prudent in the way we manage our business. This is helping us survive in these tough times and this approach is what I have learned from her. So, in order to save yourself from another rainy day, it is the small and simple things that you should keep a note of and implement to ensure better status during difficult time.
A very important thing to mention at this point is, in the last 23 years in the media, I have realized that everybody has their lows in life and I’m no different and at such times both my mentors have stood rock solid besides me and I could reach out to them anytime.
Let me share a small incident with you. I am a Taurean and Taurean’s are emotional so there was a period in my life when I was looking at my career and I was feeling that it was not going anywhere. That’s the time when I left Radio City and then one day I realized that I will have to possibly change myself in my career. So, naturally, I reached out to my mentors. When I reached out to Apurva, Radio City was going through its IPO and it was a maddening phase for her and she had some 20 meetings across various states. So when I called her, she was in Chennai and was heading for an investor meeting and I mentioned that I want to talk to her, she called me up as soon as she finished the meeting. Even after being on a tight schedule she made sure she spared some time to talk to me. During that period, she had back to back investor meetings which are very stressful, especially when you have to convince them on IPOs. She has to sit through 20 meetings in seven days and on such days anyone else would have avoided me but she met me at 8’o clock and headed for another investor meeting at 9’o clock. That meeting left a mark on me for life and I think these are the pillars that you put forward in your life and I am lucky.
The second stint has been as much of a learning and challenging but like I said, I have loved each day of the second stint.
How do you de-stress yourself?
I love listening to older retro indie music maybe even from the 1920s and 30s. I do some light reading, surfing the net, going through speeches from ex-president, something I believe adds some good value to your life. I also go through motivational speeches or anything which is nice to hear. I read a lot of shayaris as well. So any light reading which makes me destress is what I do. Also meeting friends is a huge stress buster for me, especially my childhood friends. I think when you meet them everything seems good. I’m a little happy go lucky person, so I don’t get stressed very often.
What are your go to weekend activities?
Family dinner on weekend is mandatory. Now of course, in the last 5 and a half months that’s not happening. I also meet my friends religiously almost every weekend, as weekdays are jam packed.