As the COO – Digital Media, Radio City and Mid-day, Rachna Kanwar has a diverse portfolio comprising of Radio City Digital, Midday Digital and Integrated Media Solutions. She brings with her more than 2 decades of rich experience in the Media and Entertainment industry spanning Digital Media, Radio, TV & Documentary Films.
She is credited with building radiocity.in into India’s first & leading online radio network with over 18 channels with millions of hours of original content and strategic alliances with numerous international organizations.
She began her career with Bennett Coleman & Co Ltd (Times FM, Times Internet), prior to joining Radio City. She holds a degree in Botany (Hons) from Delhi University and a Diploma in Mass Media.
In today’s Leaderspeak Rachna Kanwar, Chief Operating Officer, Digital Media, Radio City & Mid-day speaks on the growth of Radio City, the Digital business, innovations during the pandemic and lockdown, and much more…
With 20+ years of experience in the media, how has your journey been?
My journey across the media and entertainment space has been wonderful and every day counts as a learning experience. This journey witnessed the rise and establishment of almost every new media innovation that spans from FM Radio, Television to Print and Digital. When I started out in Times FM, it was thrilling to witness the acceptance among the masses for a new media format that continues to impact lives. Post-Times FM, I ventured as an independent producer and narrowed my focus on TV, Radio, and Documentaries. During this stint, I got the opportunity to work with various production houses as an independent consultant. It gave me exposure to travel to remote areas in the country and experience first-hand the richness and depth of India’s diversity and culture.
I returned to Bennett Coleman & Co. Ltd when India times was launched in 1999. As their core member, I handled the Communities and the Entertainment verticals later. These early days in Digital Media were entrenched in experimentations and gave me the fortune to forge lasting relationships with some stalwarts of the Digital world.
In this journey, the sweetest moment happened when I joined Radio City in 2007 and soon began leading their Digital Radio initiative that saw me working with ApurvaPurohit, the then CEO of Radio City. During my time at Radio City, we created many digital media properties like Web Radio, RadioCity.in, Radio City Freedom Awards, etc. MidDay.com, Gujaratimidday.com, Inquilab.com got added to my portfolio when I was named COO for Digital Media in 2016.
Over the course of my professional journey, I have held on to the belief of ‘finishing what you started’. This philosophy was practiced and reflected upon every role I played across my career. Ensuring that projects and visions see their fruition has helped evolve me in my personal and professional journey.
10+ years with Radio City, radio then and now what have been the challenges?
Radio has seen an enormous transformation since its inception. It has held its ground in the face of evolutionary and innovative digital mediums that have time and again posed a challenge for Radio’s sustainability and existence. I have often heard about how the Radio is close to its eventual end as a medium and this perception has continued to pose a lot of barriers for the industry. However, it is this industry that has been heralded as the second most accessed medium according to a Nielsen report. Radio is a more credible medium and the first choice among PSAs and mass targeted campaigns. Radio has grown and established itself even as the pandemic only increased the overall impact and efficacy of the medium. With the rise of Digital media, Radio City has appreciated and blended the complementary role that Digital media plays to enhance its proposition and create impact. We launched our website in 2008 and in 2010, launched India’s first Internet Radio Station which we called as Fun Ka Antenna. There have been multiple genres that were added into our web radio networks and now boast of 18 stations that stream live online.
Our early adoption of Digital Media with Radio helped us take quick and giant strides during the pandemic. As of today, we overcame several challenges to enable our listeners to enjoy the rich and original Radio City experience across platforms like Radio, our website, social media, and other distribution channels.
Radio City has been the first FM station in India, the growth story?
Radio City carries a phenomenal growth story. It was the first private radio broadcaster in the country and continues to enjoy a dominant share in listenership in Key Metros like Bengaluru, Mumbai, and Delhi. Since our inception in 2001, the past 19 years have been incredible. Radio City is a part of Music Broadcast Limited (MBL) which is a subsidiary of Jagran Prakashan Ltd. Music Broadcast Limited currently has 39 stations across 12 states, comprising 62- of the country’s FM population. Radio City reaches out to over 69 million listeners in 34 cities and provides terrestrial programming along with 18 other web stations, through its digital interface, www.radiocity.in.
Radio City spearheaded the evolution of FM radio as it offered unique and path-breaking content to popularize the passion among its listeners while heralding its brand philosophy of “Rag Rag Mein Daude City’. Concepts like humor and agony aunty as BabberSher and Love Guru gave the listeners fresh and original content. Radio City’s Freedom Awards prepared a platform to celebrate the independent music space and launched budding singers with Radio City Super Singer as its striking talent hunt for the best singers on the radio.
Its growth has been studded with 85 awards across national and international platforms like Golden Mikes, India Radio Forum, New York awards, ACEF awards, etc. in FY 2019-2020. As far as the workplace is concerned, Radio City has consistently been featuring in the ‘India’s Best Companies to Work for’ study conducted by the Great Place to Work Institute for the 7th time. We aspire to continue this growth story and leave behind a legacy of sensational and passionate content to celebrate and recognizing talent and rewarding them on our platform.
You have spearheaded the Radio City Digital and Mid-day digital, how difficult was it to change the mindset as the audience was used to physical newspapers and Radio?
It was the preparedness that made the transition easier for us. While the Newspaper and Radio are still the first preferences for people, they are looking for more accessible options too. While change is not easy, switching is still possible when great content is served with a powerful proposition. Digital disruption is here to stay with both Radio City Digital and Mid-Day digital. We are leveraging this by providing terrestrial shows and exclusive content on the consumers’ devices. Multimedia consumption is inevitable and with Radiocity Digital, we have strongly set the foundation for digital transition within the radio space. With our RJs as digital influencers, foray into the digital and social media space is almost effortless. It helps us overcome the obstacles of geography and become the e-face of our 39 radio stations. We extend this online with additional 18 web radio stations and our dominant Social Media presence.
Mid-Day digital extends the presence of Mumbai’s favorite tabloid online. Known for its hard-hitting credible news and fearless journalism, Midday is synonymous with Mumbai. During the lockdown when we faced a challenge of newspapers distribution, we moved to a brand-new version of our e-paper. The Mid-Day Digital Tabloid was an overnight hit. We also used innovative marketing methods to distribute it. The interactive digital tabloid leverages technology to enhance the reading experience by providing multimedia features in the paper giving it an edge over the others. It is the first newspaper in India to provide animated visual vocabulary, videos, and interactive ads.
In the entire process for both Radiocity. in and Mid-Day digital, we focused on our strengths and created something that other legacy publications and radio broadcasters would not risk attempting. We built on our core strengths of connection, communication, and content to leverage and provide our consumers across the country with the latest, most credible content served as a digital experience.
During this crisis and lockdown, what were the innovative strategies to reach out to your audience?
The pandemic and subsequent lockdowns made lives much harder for a lot of people. The beginning of the lockdowns made it difficult for people to read their newspapers and disrupt their everyday morning routine. To innovate and brave the pandemic-induced lockdowns, we gave our readers PDFs of the newspaper for free. We relied on the trust built over the last 40 years and understood the need for innovation to go beyond the outdated e-paper format even as about 10 Cr PDFs were being sent out daily. While the PDF was providing the news, the feel and connection were missing and hence we took the technology a notch higher and that is how the Mid-Day tabloid was born.
Another innovation that took place amidst the lockdown with a lot of people facing difficulty to make ends meet were Mumbai’s dabbawalas. They have always guaranteed delicious home-cooked meals to reach us in time every single day and yet more than 5,000 dabbawalas were having difficulty feeding their families. We decided to act and initiated a fundraiser, ‘DabbewalekaDabbaBharo’ with our RJs across their shows urged Mumbaikars to come forward and contribute in whatever way they can. Various celebrities and digital influencers like Amrita Rao, Sahil Khan, Rohit Roy, Aditi Singh Sharma, Abhijeet Sawant, Madhushree, Mumbai foodie, etc. came forward to lend their support and made the campaign a success.
Just as with the dabbawalas, the lockdown impacted students in the city who were impacted as they could not afford laptops or tablets for educational purposes. That is when Radio City launched a campaign City Ki Tech-Shaala. The 3 week-long campaign played on Radio City RJ Archana’s show and amplified across Radio City’s social media pages. With stupendous responses pouring in from all corners, stories of joy and hope spread across the listeners as deserving kids received a hope to fulfill their dream with technology-driven education. This was in line with our brand campaign of Rag Rag Mein Positivity, Radio City Bazaar was launched keeping this in mind. Radio City gave the spotlight to deserving home-grown business initiatives and helped them build brand awareness for their products and services. Through this initiative, various businesses were able to increase their reach across a diverse set of audiences. Utilizing this power of radio to build a connection with its listeners, we are committed to garner support and create noise about being vocal for locals. This campaign celebrated the spirit of entrepreneurship and brought in factual and motivational stories of courage and strength by instilling hope to strive and wave over this tide together.
During the lockdown there were no newspapers, news, television saw a surge, your thoughts?
The lockdown taught us every adversity also carries an opportunity. We did face challenges in getting physical newspapers delivered and then used WhatsApp to send out about 10 Cr PDFs of our print version. This included readers across the country who wanted to consume news about Mumbai. The next step was to launch an upgraded version of our e-paper which would be a top-of-the-line product that our readers would not mind paying for. We knew that animation and videos will add a lot of outdoorsy feel to our Digital Tabloid and make the readers feel happy to have an immersive experience. With a rich multimedia experience for readers at just Re.1 per day, it was a great way to get them habituated to the digital disruption of the future. We leveraged social media and WhatsApp to help take the message of this launch across cities and states. So far, we have got an amazing response for the animations and content experience. Apart from readers, the multimedia advertisements continue to create excitement and encourage brands to partner with us.
Mentor you want to mention and what is that one thing you learned that has led you in good stead?
I have personally been fortunate to receive consistent support from strong women leaders in my personal and professional career. My mother was my first pillar of unwavering strength, followed by my sister who has also been my emotional anchor, guide, and friend. As a media professional, I would regard ApurvaPurohit, Ex-President of Jagran Ltd, who has been my boss and mentor. She continues to instil inspiration within me. Her mentorship that she gained over a vast career experience and her knowledgeable insights played a crucial role to help me balance and handle the various parts of my life. I always hold her rich counsel and guiding principles with high regard. Her beliefs and philosophies on navigating the difficult tides of life have deeply influenced my approach to balancing work and personal life. These are a challenge to many and her way to approach this had completely changed my own views as well. One of the things that I hold value is about creating a support system for the next generation of leaders and provides them the required expertise to grow and mature as powerful future leaders.
As a women leader, what is your take on women getting more opportunities in the corporate world?
There is enough and more said over the years about women and their journey at the workplace. I believe it is time to act on those insights and implement them in an ecosystem where growth is achieved on merit irrespective of age and gender. The number of women in the workplace reduces as one keeps going up the ladder. It is quite heart-breaking sometimes to realize that you are the only woman in the room. It is high time to change this imbalance at our workplaces and create a conducive environment for women to continue with their careers and thrive.
Women themselves must create support systems at home & at work and families have to come forward to help out their girls when they need that work-life balance. Any kind of change would involve certain alterations to old beliefs that perceive single women as risky and more likely to quit post-marriage or mandatory provision of childcare facilities for working women.
During such times, when women support women, magical things can happen. Just like how I am eternally grateful to my mother-in-law who was my biggest support during my early motherhood. Mentorship by senior women leaders also plays a huge role to help grow and climb the corporate ladder.
How do you de-stress yourself? Your go-to activities during the weekends?
During the pandemic and even otherwise, handling stress is a very important factor for each of us. I love being around my family and playing with Astro, my pet dog. I find joy and solace in my balcony garden and eagerly look forward to budding plants and every bloom of the flowers. Traveling on holidays with my family in the country and abroad recharges my senses and gives me the much-needed break to revitalize my focus and keeps me energized. Music plays a quintessential role as my hobby in discovering new Indie artists and listening to their music.
I keep my weekends strictly for my family, play board games, or watch some shows with my husband and son. Before the pandemic, meeting and hanging out with friends was one other fun activity on weekends.