Bobby Sista felicitated with the AAAI Lifetime Achievement Award 2015

Bobby Sista who has been conferred the AAAI Lifetime Achievement Award 2015 has given a stellar contribution to the growth and development of various Industry bodies in India. The felicitation is a celebration of an individual contribution in the Advertising industry.

Bobby Sista who has been a part of the advertising industry for almost half a century is one of the pioneers of the Indian Advertising. He took over Sista in 1970 bringing to become one of the top firms which were competing with JWT, O&M, Lintas and other larger agencies. Some of the top brands that were bought into limelight by Sista were – NYCIL, VIP Luggage, Aristocrat Luggage, HOT SHOT and many more.

He has also been associated with firms like Reader’s Digest, Suhrid-Geigy and is currently the executive trustee of Population First. He is known for his professional integrity and devotion to ethical business practices in advertising. He has been committed to give back to society in so many different ways right through the last two decades.

Excerpts from Mr. Bobby Sista’s speech –
I am greatly honoured to receive this prestigious award and am privileged to receive it in the presence of such a distinguished audience.

All of you know it all, have done it all. There is nothing that I have done which you are not already deeply immersed into – neither the learning nor the experiences. I left advertising more than 15 years ago. You are still very much a part of today’s scenario and are aware of what the future looks like.

So I crave your indulgence, I will confine myself to my personal experiences and hope I don’t bore you too much.

At the outset, let me say that I have been very lucky, both in my personal life and my professional career. I am also lucky to have a large number of friends and acquaintances and no enemies – rather no one who had a reason to dislike me. And am I singularly blessed or what? To have over 40 of my ex-sista’s colleagues present here coming from different parts of the world. Obviously there has been a Guardian Angel watching over me.

I was lucky to have the opportunity of working in four different areas and levels of Advertising and Marketing viz As an apprentice in Sista’s under my father straight after college, Marketing of a consumer product – Tinopal which I launched while in Sista’s, Marketing of a magazine – Reader’s Digest. And finally, taking over Sista’s as Managing Director in 1970.

I would like to mention two proud moments – one while still in Sista’s and one during my five year stint with Suhrid-Geigy. A very talented artist in Sista’s had created a series of ads for a Textile Journal. The Chairman of Geigy in Switzerland wrote to Mr. Uebersax, my boss at Suhrid-Geigy that these were the best advertisements for Tinopal of all the countries Tinopal operated in.

The other was Dr. Vikram Sarabhai telling me that Mr. Prakash Tandon, then Chairman of Hindustan Lever praising our distribution. He couldn’t understand how Tinopal (by then it was marketed in 1 gm sachets) was available at every panwala where even Hindustan Lever products could not be found. This was because, as I said earlier, the advertising drove distribution.

The six and half years I spent in Sista’s  before joining Suhrid-Geigy, were quite eventful and brought to the fore my enthusiasm and skills in organizing extra-curricular activities in my personal life and professional career.

The Advertising Club, Bombay (then known as the Advertising Luncheon Club) was launched in August 1954. I along with Mr Soli Talyarkhan was one of the Founders and served as Honorary Secretary for four years.

In March 1965, I joined Reader’s Digest as the First Marketing Manager for India. I spent two months in the London Office being inducted into the nuances and intricacies of Direct Marketing of a Magazine.

The position of MD of Sista’s fell vacant in early 1970. I had to choose between  remaining in the Digest to eventually become number one in India or taking over Sista’s immediately as MD.I had no hesitation in getting back to my first love-Advertising and that too the challenge of re-building  an agency  that had dropped to number 27. Within three years I took it to number 10.Here again I was very lucky. My wife Sheila and Jean Durante had both left Chaitra. Sheila joined me as Director of Finance and she persuaded Jean to come on board. During Jean’s tenure in Sista’s she was easily one of the top creative Directors in the country. From the time I took over in 1970, 1 was clear in my mind that Sista’s would be known for and compete on the quality of our creative output.  All the executives knew that creative would not be over ruled by the executives or even by the client.

I did not have an MBA Degree. I had neither training nor experience of running an agency. Common Sense was my only qualification and personality and people skills my assets. I was lucky with the team I was able to build up and the roster of clients we had acquired as we went along. We had four branches- Bangalore, Delhi, Madras and Calcutta. I was lucky with my branch Managers who were all competent, committed and successful. As a small agency we were competing with JWT, Bensons (now O&M) Lintas and other larger agencies. Where we scored was in the consistent quality of our creative output. We built many brands –NYCIL, Lakshmi Vishnu 100%, Terene  Sarees ,S Kumars, VIP Luggage, HMT Watches, Aristocrat Luggage, HOT SHOT and many more

Again the period 1970 to 1998 when I headed Sista’s was a happy period. Of course, there were worries- financial and otherwise, frustrations, many mistakes I made, but on the whole it provided a lot of satisfaction and sense of achievement. In 1998 I sold the advertising business to Saatchi & Saatchi. We had staff strength of 370 between the Head Office and four branches. I quit because my heart was into social communications and I wanted to explore the opportunities in the development sector.

Prior to this I had setup a PR Division and tied up with a global consortium of PR Consultants named WORLDCOM PR. I named the division, Sista’s –WorldCom. They had a wonderful program called World Young Business Achiever. I ran the India Young Business Achiever Program for seven years. The IYBA went abroad to compete with Achievers from nearly twenty countries. 

I particularly took up this program because I always held a strong belief that India was a country of Entrepreneurs in all fields of activity- from Farming to Manufacturing to Business. It is thanks to our Entrepreneurial spirit and talent that India became the 10th Largest Industrialized Country in just twenty years since Independence.

Although the IYBA program was doing well, I was still not happy as I had not yet got into Social Communication. I explored a gamut of issues and finally zeroed in on “Population”. That is how Population First came to be registered as a Trust in March 2002. It was launched at a very high profile and largely attended Press Conference. Mr. Keshub Mahindra, Mr Ratan Tata, Mr Jamshed Irani, Mrs Rajashri Birla, Shekhar Gupta were present. These and other distinguished Business Leaders later formed our Board of Trustees.

Another great piece of luck was to have found Dr. A L Sharada in 2003 and have her join Population First as CEO.  It was thanks to Sharada that our activities gathered momentum.

I am happy to see a shift in the media – print, electronic and films as well as in advertising, with more positive portrayals of women and the gender equations. Each time my team shows me a gender sensitive ad I feel we have contributed to it in some small measure somewhere. The fact that Dr. Sharada’s gender scoring of ads in Campaign is being accepted by the ad fraternity shows the openness of the industry to new ideas and perspectives. I feel proud to be a part of such a vibrant and live industry.
Before I bring my speech to an end, I wish to make one request to the who’s who of advertising and marketing leaders gathered here. Please institute an Abby for gender sensitivity in advertising. It has to be an Industry award. While I understand that gender sensitivity should be an integral part of any good communication including advertising, rewarding those who are using their creative space to redefine the gender roles and stereotypes would in the long run institutionalize it as a core value of the industry. Is that not what we want – An India where men and women have equal opportunities and rights and share a space that is free of discrimination and violence?


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