Comebacks aren't easy, my wife thought I should decline the offer politely: Dr. Sandeep Goyal

Saloni Surti
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Dr. Sandeep Goyal

Life comes in full circle and it has for Dr. Sandeep Goyal who returns to his “karma bhoomi”, Rediffusion. Dr. Goyal shares his plans for the agency, giving us an inside view of what went behind the decision of his comeback.

In his time away from Rediffusion, Dr. Sandeep Goyal tried his hands at many things and currently in addition to his role at the agency is also the Principal Secretary to the Punjab Government. He is Chairman of Snapchat’s India Advisory Board; and Chief Mentor of the Indian Institute of Human Brands (IIHB). He is also the Chairman of the Forum for Ethical Use of Data (FEUD). This year Dr. Goyal is also Co-Chair of Assocham’s Marketing & Branding Council.

Not much will change, Dr. Goyal tells us in a candid conversation as he explains that the idea is to keep doing what the agency is doing right keeping “awesome advertising” at the heart of things. In conversation with Social Samosa, Goyal shares his plans for Rediffusion while commenting on the changing nature of the Indian ad world in the face of a global crisis. 

Edited Excerpts:  

What does your current role look like? Please take us through the specifics of the decision

I took over as Managing Director two weeks ago. Mr. Arun Nanda remains Chairman. Navonil Chatterjee and Rahul Jauhari continue to be Joint Presidents. So nothing much changes beyond my induction into day-to-day management.

What was the one element that motivated you to take the leap? Could you give us a peak in terms of what went behind the doors during the meeting? What did homecoming feel like as you signed it & made it official?

I had withdrawn from operational management at Mogae since 2018. I had started to spend more time on writing and doing some teaching. I even agreed to take on an important government assignment in my home state, Punjab where I am CEO of the state CSR Authority, in the rank of Principal Secretary. But still somewhere deep down, I was restless and a bit bored.

So, when Mr. Nanda called me a few weeks ago and suggested that I come back and run Rediffusion, I was intrigued. My wife thought I should decline politely. Comebacks are not easy. The ad agency business has only gotten tougher in the years that I have been away. But the more I thought about it, the more the idea of going back to Rediffusion excited me. So, I took the plunge. And I’m already loving it. 

From a P&L front, what was the rationale behind this decision? Please take us through the math-ness & madness that went behind this decision

Too early. I am still getting to understand nuances of current client businesses. I am very clear-headed. But I need to absorb all that is happening at the agency before tinkering with what is already in place. The good news is that clients seem happy. The team is very good. The strategic capabilities are A+. The creative product is strong. For me these are key indicators.

We launched the Rediffusion Consumer Lab (Red Lab) last week. One report on the IPL is already out. Another on the language re-contouring during the pandemic will be published next week. Lots happening.

I am inundated with CVs. So, the Rediffusion brand continues to have pull and magnetism. Which is heartening.Three new clients are in the pipeline in the two weeks I have been here. Clients want Rediffusion as their agency of choice. I am optimistic.  

While 2020 had many redeeming qualities, AdSpends projections still in for a difficult year. What are your plans to recover the investment made in Rediffusion? By when do you plan to break even?

Rediffusion is a profitable agency.

I am looking at re-entering Media and launching digital, performance, programmatic, content, social and other lines of business. Mogae already has a JV with Versa of Australia in conversational AI and voice solutions. We will integrate that. I have much to do, going forward. But for now all my time is devoted to current clients and getting to know them better and take current businesses further. 

Also Read: 58% in favour of IPL getting played amidst the pandemic: Red Lab Report

The last few years for Rediffusion have been interesting, to say the least. Right from trying to make it into the "the George Clooney" of Advertising to now "Nanda ka Banda" taking the reins - how have the last few years shaped the agency - in terms of brand image, work, and P&L?

It is all part of the journey. Sometimes you have a sea-view and sometimes you see snow-capped mountains.

I don’t really know what went on in the years I was away. But under my charge all we will focus on is making our brands and clients successful. We will focus on good strategic thinking, and create awesome advertising. 

I am known to work with my own hands … I still write my own presentations and never hesitate to stand up and present. At Rediffusion I launched Airtel in 1994/95. 

For nearly 8 years I would meet Sunil Mittal and his younger brother Rajan sometimes twice a day if needed. 

At Maruti Suzuki, I shadowed Jagdish Khattar – taking our share of his business to 80%. I came on to Colgate Palmolive when Y&R globally was threatening to sack us. We not only kept the business but got Colgate CDC up to 44%+ market share from 37%. I built the entire Citibank retail brand, including credit cards by setting up Rediffusion Chennai. We won the entire BPL business back in those days.

Rediffusion has been my karma bhoomi. I have just come back for a second innings. 

What are your plans for Rediffusion? This is an agency with many iconic names (including yours) & campaigns attached to it - do such accomplishments hold the same weightage in the industry? 

Well, it is not easy to say. Having pedigree and a good reputation helps for sure. But we lack the benefit of network agencies and readymade clients. At the same time we are not bound by any norms or guidelines. I will recruit when necessary. I will invest wherever appropriate. There are no global ratios, no constraints.

Digital is a space I understand … and that has been the bane of traditional agencies. Rediffusion will offer ‘communication without lines’ as we go forward. No silos. No demarcations. Just one dedicated, charged-up agency team. 

Conversation in the A & M industry has largely changed from Agencies - to Conglomerates, Independent Agencies, Boutique Agencies, Umbrella Brands, Consultants, Retainer Agencies, Project Based Agencies, and whatnot. Where do you see Rediffusion fitting in? What will be your USP? 


We will be the brand’s communication specialists and not just the media agency or creative agency. The break-up of the agency of yore has been the biggest dis-service the networks did to clients. The new silos became P&L centres for cost control internally but rarely benefitted clients. At Rediffusion we will soon be able to offer creative, coding, community and content all under one roof. We are already doing that for one of our largest clients and we will now expand that Power of One to all clients. 

We now also have unique capabilities no other agency has: our Indian Institute of Human Brands (IIHB) is an unparalleled think tank especially when celebrities are a big part of brand plans. You can expect much more in the knowledge domain from Rediffusion as we surge forward: on thinking and strategy we are happy to take on any consulting company on any day on any brand. That is my promise.

As the conversation tilts towards mental health, a number of agencies have taken measures such as a 4-day working week to reduce the stress and pressure on employees. With pressure on the P & L front, agencies might not be equipped to turn down work. Please share your stance on the situation. 

Both sides of the story are valid. We live in unusual times. Have to take every day one at a time. No formulas exist. 

What does your TDL for 2021 look like - on both Sandeep Goyal & Rediffusion front? 

For Sandeep Goyal : Lose weight.

For Rediffusion : Build muscle.