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He cracked even the hard nuts of Chennai

RKS was multifaceted. He backed his advertising proposals with extensive market research and data analytics, which convinced the clients on the logic for advertisement spends. These skills were extended to RKS’ involvement in the management movement.

The Advertising Club of Chennai and the Madras Management Association presented the first annual endowment lecture in memory of the doyen of advertising and marketing, R K Swamy (RKS). S V S Raghavan, the illustrious public sector enterprise leader, described RKS’ as a successful advertising startup who had a pan-India presence. The youngest of six children of RKS, Shekar Swamy, presented a lively account of the life and contributions of RKS.

Introduced JWT to Chennai

RKS hailed from Kumbakonam. He had his schooling in a Gujarati school in Mumbai and joined J Walter Thompson at the age of 17. He rose rapidly in assignments at Kolkata, Mumbai and Chennai. He identified the potential of Chennai. Unlike Mumbai, Chennai did not have many flourishing consumer products. A large number of light engineering companies were just in their infancy. With modest resources and mostly doing B to B sales with a limited clientele Chennai businesses did not feel the need for advertising as a marketing tool.

Swamy built the team, the client base and the supplier ecosystem… Combining these with innovative campaigns, plans and persuasive marketing skills, he succeeded in making JWT, Chennai, emerge quickly as a significant contributor to the company’s total business. When JWT bypassed the claims of RKS to be appointed as the managing director, RKS set up the RK Swamy Advertising Associates with a capital of just Rs. 1 lakh in April 1973, along with a few prized colleagues of his at JWT.

Tryst with PSUs

S V S Raghavan, who headed BHEL, MMTC, STC and BBIL with great distinction, described the persuasive ability of RKS to induce PSUs to advertise to great effect. Remember, those were the times when the PSUs were mostly catering to select government undertakings. As Raghavan described, the boilers produced by BHEL were sold mostly to government-owned power utilities. But Swamy persuaded BHEL to release large-size advertisements highlighting the spectacular transformation of villages in Tamil Nadu benefited by copious availability of electricity. In a short time, the image of BHEL as a vital change-agent was widely appreciated. Raghavan pointed to such advertisement campaigns for MMTC, engaged in foreign trade, creating a favourable public image. Perhaps for the first time, southern companies experienced the power of advertising in corporate image building.

RKS was multifaceted. He backed his advertising proposals with extensive market research and data analytics, which convinced the clients on the logic for advertisement spends. These skills were extended to RKS’ involvement in the management movement. He was closely involved with the MMA and AIMA. We do notice these genes effectively transferred to his sons, Sundar and Shekar.

Deeply religious, RKS liberally supported the renovation of several temples and the Ahobila Mutt.

He created new demand

RKS constantly saw new market space and created new demand. V Balaraman, a former Managing Director and CEO of Pond’s India, expressed his admiration for RKS’ marketing skills and brand building expertise. He referred to the disciplined methods and organisational skills brought by RKS to the advertising world.

Balaraman pointed to Chennai for long remaining in the backwaters of advertising and RKS attempting to change this and to Chennai’s rich creative advertising people. He suggested the Tamil Nadu government setting up a R K Swamy Communication City.

The crowning piece was the first RK Swamy Memorial Lecture by D Shivakumar, Group Executive President, Aditya Birla Group, on Consumer Engagement in the Future.

Chennai, with its concentration of engineering, IT and leather industries, hasn’t nurtured a culture for corporate image building. RKS attempted and succeeded in this to some extent. But sadly, the metro has miles to go in this regard.

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