New Delhi: To those who worked with her or knew her professionally, she was a “tough cookie”, “steely”, “very demanding” and “absolutely professional”.
Tara Sinha, 88, the “true iron lady of advertising”, as advertising professional Achal Paul called her, passed away Wednesday, leaving behind an enviable legacy.
Over a career that lasted more than 50 years, she was considered a pioneer and thoroughbred professional who handled top multinational and Indian accounts including Coca Cola, Nestle and Gillette.
In 1955, at 23, she helped set up Clarion, one of India’s most prestigious agencies, and became its director, the first woman to be appointed to the position.
“She belongs to the first generation of advertising professionals in India,” said media consultant Chintamani Rao, who has held senior positions at Ogilvy & Mather and McCann WorldGroup.
“She’s up there with the likes of Subhas Ghosal, Subroto Sengupta and R.K. Swamy, although she was much younger.”
In 1985, she became the first woman in India to set up a national advertising agency — the Delhi-based Tara Sinha Associates. “She heralded the original start-up culture in advertising,” said Rohit Chawla, a leading photographer and former advertising professional with experience at Hindustan Thompson Associates and J. Walter Thompson.
Sinha would find a partner in the multinational agency McCann Erickson and opened two subsidiaries, Admar and Result, with offices in Mumbai, Kolkata, Bengaluru and Chennai. After a decade at the helm, Sinha left the agency to McCann Erickson.
‘A team leader with good ideas’
In the seventies and early eighties, she enjoyed a decade-long stint at Coca Cola in India and in the US. It would also be an account she worked on for a long time.
“She will be remembered for her campaigns for Coke and Nestle,” said Ambika Srivastava, partner and co-founder of Music Concerts who has earlier worked with J. Walter Thompson, McCann Erickson and Lintas.
“She knew everything there was to know about advertising and the products she sold,” she added.
Sinha was in clientele servicing and planning but she was primarily a team leader who had good ideas others were supposed to execute. She was known to lash out at clients when she thought it was required.
“No quarter asked for, no quarter given,” said Rao. “She set very high standards.”
That she was a thoroughbred professional, demanding of others, is attested to by those who worked with her. Sujit Sanyal, who served as director, planning and services, at Tara Sinha Associates, said, “She was so truthful to her brand that she could tear up her own agency’s campaign in front of a client, if she thought it was not doing justice to the product.”
“She had vision, experience, direction and product knowledge — she knew the dynamics of the advertising world,” said Achal Paul, who worked with Tara Sinha for six years at Clarion and is now director at Buzz Communications.
In her trademark saree and curly graying hair, Sinha stood out among her peers. “She had an aura, like Indira Gandhi,” said former advertising executive John Mathews who worked with her in the 1980s. “When she walked into the room, everyone stood up, for no reason at all.”
“She would enter the client’s room and simply announce, ‘I am Tara Sinha’, and they were impressed,” added Sanyal.
Her strong, demanding personality, however, did not always make her popular and she was known to be difficult to get along with. “People were scared of her,” said Mathews. “She demanded 100 per cent loyalty,” added Sanyal.
And she had her share of troubles — she left Clarion in the mid-eighties after her services were abruptly terminated. That led her to form Tara Sinha Associates.
The industry body, Advertising Agencies Association of India, threw out her agency for sharing the 15 per cent agency commission with another firm, on a Videocon account. This “infringement” was already a well-established practice abroad and would become an industry norm in India soon thereafter.
She was also ahead of the times when she chose Delhi as the headquarters for Tara Sinha Associates, when Mumbai was the epicenter for advertising. “She anticipated that Delhi would become big,” said Ambika Srivastava.
Sinha would go on to serve as chairperson of the Indian Institute of Mass Communication and member of the advisory council at the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi.