Rubeena Singh with almost 20 years of experience, has developed expertise and built an enviable track record across digital, print and broadcasting.
Singh has the ability to build and scale up businesses on the sustainable foundation of strong, motivated teams, business relationships and efficient processes is her strength. Under her leadership, iProspect India has grown rapidly & now serves 100+ clients and employs over 200+ people and added marquee brands like OLX, Essilor (APAC digital mandate), PayPal, GoAir and many more to its client list.
She takes immense interest to encourage women leadership – empower and encourage women to take on leadership roles and eventually break the glass ceiling. In 2018, she started the Women@iProspect initiative which allows in-house talent to grow and excel as the future leaders of the industry. She is also spearheading the Dan Global Female Foundry in India.
In this Leaderspeak, we speak to Rubeena Singh, CEO iProspect India on her Career path and the way forward for iProspect
Who is Rubeena Singh?
I think everybody knows a lot about my professional life and what I do professionally. Let me start with what matters to me the most. It is my family; my husband and I, we are proud parents of a daughter, who is seven now going on eight or maybe I should say on 17! I am very fortunate that my mother and mother-in-law live nearby and that has been a big help for me while continuing my work and raising my daughter. A working mother always needs a support system. Besides that, as a family, we are avid travelers.
I am a Punjabi and I am fond of eating, but at the same time, people know that I am a fitness freak and I work out every day. I often joke about it that fitness came to me very early in life. I was two years old and I was put on a diet as I could not walk and started walking only at two and a half years old.
I moved to Bombay about 22 years ago along with my family. I belong to Amritsar that is why the love for food. I was trained to be a statistician but eventually ended up with the job in the media. I started my job with Star TV, now I really enjoy what I do especially at my current role at iProspect because I think it appeals to both the marketer, on one side and the statistician in me on the other side, so it kind of brings us together.
20 plus years in the industry from your first job at Star TV Network and now CEO at iProspect? How has your journey been?
20 years is really long and it makes me feel old but I think it has been a very interesting I was with Star India for about four years, that was my first job and I learned a lot during that time. I was part of the Media Sales team, and grew very quickly through the ranks and sales is very cruel and dispassionate and there is no room to hide, so either you learn numbers or you don’t. Even in my current job when it is influencing people, getting them to trust you and simultaneously having a sharp focus on the business numbers is an extremely important part of a CEO’s job and I think I have been very fortunate to have picked up some of these skills from some of the finest mentors I have had in my career and it has been a wonderful journey.
The challenges you faced and the most important achievement in your career?
I think I consider myself very fortunate to have had a career that has allowed me to do different things to constantly reinvent myself and this has its own set of challenges. I started off my career with television, moved on to print, moved to digital on the publishing side, came to an agency business side, it has been challenging. But I also think it has been very fortunate, what happens when one steps into a leadership role of a new kind of business that it is not something that you intuitively know and that you have worked for that particular business for 20 years that you know at the back of your hand.I think it needs some extratime and efforts, patience and commitment to bring yourself up to the speed and the initial times are always more challenging, however, it is not like something which is insurmountable. I think hard work, proper application of mind and a bit of imagination can work wonders and which has really worked for me. Those are challenges which have come across the day but like I said I have enjoyed these challenges.
What I am really proud of is, I think to single out two things that really stand out for me in my career if I look back many years, I am really proud ofthe first one was move from traditional media, I had spent about12+ years of my career in planning in traditional media from television to print and from there to move to a category-leading business Money Control. I think the high point for me and I definitely consider my stint at Money control as an accomplishment because I was able to reimagine the way things were done, for instance, seven years ago to be able to sign a million-dollar deal on content marketing, the first perhaps in the country of that size and scale was huge and that was on one side and on the other side also it was the first product role for me. But alongside with the team I worked with them and we managed and revamp the entire product and that time with management going through major changes, this was a time that RIL had acquired Network18 and despite that we revamped the product and the new mobile app, and won as the best Financial Mobile App in the Mobile World Congress. I am very proud of my achievements and was there and being able to navigate the system and do it. Actually what I am more proud of is, that when I left the business it was stronger and larger and continued to be stable and I was able to build a team that was able to carry on the business without needing me as much. That is something I have been proud of.
The second one which has really stood out for me, has been of course my stint at iProspect and bringing those learnings I have had in my previous roles and to be able to launch intelligent content or solution labs at iProspect which has helped us to provide robust, integrated solutions to our clients. That is definitely there but one thing that stands out for me specifically personally, is the ‘Female Foundry’ and women’s initiative at iProspect and that is really close to my heart, we launched the programme in2018 and 2019 respectively and the objective of these program was to support and mentor women to take up leadership roles and become leaders of fo tomorrow and I am glad both these initiatives have been very successful even still, that is something I am extremely proud of.
With COVID-19 and new normal way of life, how do you think the industry and clients will cope and will mind-sets change?
I definitely think there is a mind-set change, if you look at the current times the consumers are preferring to stay indoors because of health and safety reasons, you do not see them even going to shops, while more and more consumers are also spending more time on digital, they are keeping themselves entertained and consuming content on digital, they are discovering, experiencing and interacting with a lot of new brands or interacting with the existing brands even more. If you see data now a lot of consumers on digital already, digitally transacting consumers has increased in a very fast pace the last few months and they have started transacting on digital, perhaps for most the preference was to go to a store and buy but today that behaviour has changed completely. In my mind digital was always faster but it has grown faster in the current times and is accelerated because of COVID and digital marketing today has become mass and centrepiece.
Digital marketing was always like, let’s do traditional first and put a little money on digital, it was always fashionable, as a brand it makes me look good but that has changed in the past two/ three years, but normally the pace at which consumers were talking but today I think brands have begun those conversations right, brands that were using digital, in a sophisticated way to acquire customers or service them by using digital methods, but today I think brands are beginning to have conversations but even want to spread awareness and consideration to digital. As people are not going out, also there are lesser avenues to interact with people outside of their homes, and that is increasing on digital.
What we have done at iProspect is that we have built a commerce solution that is helping brands create that whole desirability, fundability, availability and viability of their products repeatability of their consumers. We have been working on and I think from a business point of view, brands will need to pay more attention definitely to the digital assets right now, and how the staff functions because truth be told, there area lot of people in the marketing teams and I do not know how many of them at the top level engaged in digital and I think that is being changed as we speak and marketing is becoming more digital while technology and marketing functions will begin to converge. That behaviour change that I am seeing from all sides be it consumers, solutions from our side to what clients are doing.
Voice is the new technology, how have you incorporated with your clients, do you advocate Voice?
There has been so much written, there is enough data, and everybody knows Voice technology so we don’t talk that much about Voice. I think everybody knows that the proof of the pudding is to be able to demonstrate a use case and show it to me as an interesting option. We launched the iProspect Voice assistants as part of our Solutions labs last year, what the assistant voices does is it helps you understand your performance campaigns. Campaigns on digital usually have a lot of data, there will be like hundreds of rows and columns of data and lot of time spent in understanding the data and getting insights of the data. The iProspect voice assistant helps clients is, to sift through the data and understand how the key marketing and business metrics are moving with just simple voice.. For instance, I want to know that how many leads to get this month, and I just have to say that, get the number. Another query, go deeper and say that what is the conversion rate you will get to know it, but how is it comparing with my conversion rate comparing with last year is important, you can also query that and that helps you analyse data in a much faster, quicker way to be able to derive insights out of it. That is why it has had a huge uptake with our clients. This is what we are doing for all our clients.
The other opportunity that we are working on brand is to getting the content optimized for Voice queries. As I said before also in the current COVID times it has only accelerated and we are working with brands in building content and optimizing it in search for voice searches right now, which is different from your traditional SEO because if we look at the voice searches they are different from other searches as they are longer, conversational, long-tailed and more specific. We believe that there is a huge opportunity for brands to create this content, which is conversational and searchable in Voice right now because while building content and driving things organically, it takes much longer and it is a harder route to take. But it is also at the same point in time very difficult for your competition to beat you if you get your strategy right there and I think most brands have already begun that journey and for those who have not, I think they must upgrade now as the users are really there and it is only a matter of saying that platforms will come up with monetization opportunities and then the brands that have not started content initiative will have to spend a lot of marketing money just to play catch up. What we are doing is we are working with clients is to build content for voice search.
You said that Women at iProspect program has done well, in the past 2 years what are the changes that have taken place in iProspect and how have the women in iProspect prospered?
I would say the platform was created really to discuss issues affecting working women and the challenges faced and how to create a work-life balance. The first thing we did was we created a network of employees, to exchange ideas, as all of us go through the same thing as working women, and we even had guest speakers to come and give an outside point of views and share their valuable piece of advice and share inspirational stories on how they navigated these challenges and what kind of mentorship and the support they got from other women and also male colleagues, to be able to move forward in their careers.
We identified about three women employees and put them on a fast track where they were mentored by the senior leadership in iProspectand they actually progressed faster in their career graphs and we set milestones and goals for them and we kept a close eye on them through the year to make sure that even in this appraisal cycle they move faster than they would have otherwise done. These are some of the things that we have been able to achieve. It is not just this, in general as a culture getting even our male colleagues to be more supportive and encouraging women and I think we have been able to influence that change also gradually. If you look at our diversity numbers it has gradually improved over the last year. More than that we have focused on helping women reach senior roles with more confidence and that is what we are trying to do in iProspect.
But then like I said, we got a good response from our teams internally and teams across DAN, iProspect Global and DAN Global and a lot of accolades. Then we said why we should restrict it to only Iprospect. It is really sad to see that women form 50% of our population, but the representation in the workforce is really very small and it shrinks at the senior levels.
In iProspect we said let us try and change that in our own little way, we took this initiative to call women entrepreneurs as well and we ran a program called ‘Female Foundry’, we ran a 3-day boot camp guiding women entrepreneurs on tackling different aspects of their business and currently also in this COVID times that how they should change their business models etc. and all of that. Working in that space as well hopefully in the coming years it will grow stronger and bigger.
As a women CEO what is your take on fewer women in the boardrooms?
First of all I am fortunate to work in the media industry where we have a lot of women and find a handful of women in senior roles as compared to the other industries. While my husband is in finance it is very unusual to see women in senior roles there. I cannot be better than the other but having said that, it is not that we cannot do better to demonstrate. There are challenges that always occur during your professional journey. There are some I can attribute to being a woman, some honestly and some not and there have been situations which has challenged my confidence as a woman especially in a more traditional working culture and I have not let that bother me as a person and let it affect me. That is me as a person and not let it affect me. What I know is that I am much supportive of younger women in the industry today, understanding from my own experiences and the support and mentorship can change the path of anyone and everybody just wants the same thing to get respect and recognition, which is completely unfettered by bias, that is really my point of view on this.
A mentor you want to mention and what specifically did you learn?
At different stages of my life many people have influenced me and I will give them credit for it. During my formative years, I am from Amritsar a very small city and being the eldest I have a sister and a younger brother but it was my father who gave me the confidence and encouragement to get a career for myself. Growing up in a small town right from the time when I was a little girl he encouraged me to be ambitious and to be someone of my own and especially in India when a girl turns 20 she is told that time for her to get married. My father played a key role in my formative years and I started grooming myself and that gave me confidence, and I give him lot of credit for that and the second person when I started working my biggest inspiration was my first boss, which is a case with most of us. He instilled in me a lot of work ethics which is essential and I give him credit for like pushing me and not cutting the slack because I was a women and making sure that I delivered my best and today I am very confident. I also have a smart and supportive husband who is my sounding board for all my problems every day. And I learn from him everyday.
How do you De-stress yourself?
Spending time with my husband and my daughter and that is how I recharge myself. That is the best therapy for me. Generally, I am a positive person and being happy by just spending time with my family.
Go to activities on the weekend?
We as a family travel a lot, but this lockdown has given us other extraordinary opportunities, whether it is like terrace picnics or indoor camping or puppet show. We have done tea parties or Sunday lunches with my mother at home, or you having date nights every fortnight with my husband. We are making memories and recording them. I am sure as time passes, we will use data from these memories, which will definitely put a smile on our faces and I want to remember the happy times. Like I said, I am a positive person. I try to remember the happy times to make the most on the weekends.