Although one usually looks up to their bosses, seeing them as role models, emulating them and of course learning from them, in the case of Roda Mehta, it is so much more. Roda was not merely a great leader, she virtually single-handedly redefined the role of media in Indian advertising forever. The media department got transformed from a somewhat tentative backroom operation into a crisp machine gleaming with precision and brimming over with significance. A new sense of scientific exactness pervaded the discipline - the vocabulary changed to include notions of media models, CPT’s, GRP’s, TRP’s and media planning gained new respect within the agency as well as with clients.
Her personal values of extreme accountability and transparency made media a sought after career. An interview with Roda filled everybody with fear, for she would brook no waffling. When I joined Ogilvy in the early 90’s, in the Media department the biggest difference that Roda had managed to make as compared to any other agency was the fact that Media was at par with Creative and Servicing. In other agencies, media was often the ‘bichara’ function- the media bit would be presented in a pitch “if there was time”. In O&M however, that was not the case; “three legs of a stool” was what it was called. The fact that it was practiced religiously was entirely because Roda had helped build a function of such formidable professionalism that it was an agency asset that was looked up to and valued.
Clients suddenly looked at Media differently. I remember a Modi Xerox presentation where Media was presented first, an almost unheard of thing. For a client, Media suddenly became the financial arm which could buy them at one level impact and at another level, huge savings vis-a-vis the past through effective planning and buying. The person who stood tall through this transition and became the face of it was Roda. It is customary for people from an earlier era to believe that their heroes were somehow more iconic and larger-than-life than those who are leaders today, but I seriously doubt if anyone will challenge me when I say that they don’t make them like Roda Mehta anymore. Not by a long shot.