EXCLUSIVE | Sanjay Mehta, Mirum India: Empathy, Patience, Resilience

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Sanjay Mehta, Joint CEO — Mirum India, is a respected media expert and digital marketing guru, and was one of the earliest internet entrepreneurs in India, starting his digital journey in 1998 when he co-founded Homeindia.com. Mehta has worked across various facets of the digital agency business including strategy, creative, planning, media and more.

Mehta has been a mentor and evangelist across all areas of marketing, and in this exclusive piece, shares a personal account of how the lockdown impacted him, about how he tackled the ‘turbulences of 2020’, about the three most important themes that powered him and his teams, about  giving back to society and learning from the terrible avalanche of the challenges that began around the Ides of March 2020. And more.

Read on.

As I write this in January 2021, the ides of March 2020, seem like a distant dream. When the pandemic hit us, forced us into a lockdown, and life was never the same since then without a doubt, and needless to say, this period has been the most unusual period, I would dare say, for any living person on this planet! While there have been major economic disasters, wars, isolated disease outbreaks, and other tragedies, never before has there been anything that hit such a large proportion of the global population, as this pandemic has.

As the months progressed from that first day in March when we started the lockdown, and there was the realization that this is no 2-3 weeks short break, and we are not going back to the office anytime soon, there were a lot of challenges to overcome, both at home and at work.

On the personal front, I found myself becoming a part of the 12-15 people leadership team, that set the policies and helped implement them, for the nearly 4000 strong community that I am a part of.

To ensure supplies of essentials, to create SOPs for domestic help and other outside visitors, to create an emergency hold area should a COVID positive case strike and there are no beds available in the hospitals, to form a cell of doctors in the community and create ways to reach them in an emergency. Also, at home, to take adequate precautions for staying safe and healthy, and also for the immediate family, as best as we could.

On the work front, the challenges and our responses have seen a great evolution over these 9-10 months. From an initial concern about protecting the business, protecting revenues, even as clients started pausing budgets, to managing the sudden work-from-home situation for 250-odd team members, to managing costs to stay positive on the bottom line, to coping with team members and their families’ health situations and helping them as much as we could, at least by empathy, and then some more, where we could.

And then slowly digging ourselves out of those holes, one step at a time, to emerge at the end of the year, with little damage in terms of revenues and profits, in terms of having not needed to let any of our team members go, and in fact, having great momentum in the last quarter, to actually look forward to a great 2021, hopefully!

We live in a world driven by targets, numbers, monthly and quarterly reports, and especially in digital media, we live in a world where things move fast. With that comes an anxiety to keep things moving, and if they don’t, there is a sense of frustration. But this pandemic period has made us learn patience: Sanjay Mehta

While all of this has been happening, as I look back now, the few themes that come out strongly, are the following: 

  1. Empathy: whether at home and in the community, whether at Mirum, whether in our entire Wunderman Thompson and WPP network, the one stand-out story was about empathy. It seemed like a natural human instinct of caring for one another surfaced to the core, across the board, and which was so heartening to see.
  2. Patience: We live in a world driven by targets, numbers, monthly and quarterly reports, and especially in digital media, we live in a world where things move fast! With that comes an anxiety to keep things moving, and if they don’t, there is a sense of frustration. But this pandemic period has made us learn patience. Patience to bear with being stuck at home, patience to bear with reduced budgets of clients, patience to slowly dig ourselves out of the hole and bring a semblance of normalcy at work. Yes, this period has made us learn and appreciate the value of patience.
  3. Resilience: when all seems lost, we find a way to claw back and survive and then thrive again. This is true of us as individuals and families combating a possible COVID case at home, or as a community, as a business, or as a nation. March-April was when everyone was thinking in terms of survival mode, with businesses hit, job losses, no work for daily wage earners, etc. Even in our own agency, we were staring at a huge hole in the projected numbers, which looked like it was only going to get a lot bigger. But we have all fought back and fought back well. And that may be due to the inherent spirit of resilience in the human being.

In COVID times, I have also picked up a new hobby of gardening, and in the journey of working with plants, I have seen several looking to nearly die, and then with a little water and sun and TLC, seemingly resurrect themselves to life! Resilience clearly exists in all living forms, not just human beings, I concluded!

The overarching larger realization for me though is that ‘Life is a Journey’. With the extent of grey in my hair, I can claim to have seen a lot of different situations. Many exhilaratingly thrilling, and a few that had me down in the dumps as well. As a pure karmayogi, I have always found my drive and pleasure in doing my karma or in the journey, and the destination is only incidental.

We chase numbers all the time. When you reach a particular number – be it revenues in business or one’s personal bank balance, there is a sense of happiness, but then the next question is ‘what next?’: Sanjay Mehta

We chase numbers all the time. When you reach a particular number, be it revenues in business or one’s personal bank balance – there is a sense of happiness, but then the next question is ‘what next?’. It is the ongoing ups and downs, the daily challenges, and one’s response to those, which really provides ongoing satisfaction. And this last year has driven home this point more than anything else.

Every day was a new experience in 2020. And every day, we were responding differently, reacting to the changes around us, and responding as we best felt fit. And with all that, we are here in January 2021, recalling those times. Having got over the turbulence of 2020. The uncertainty will continue to prevail in 2021 as well.

And if we are not obsessed with questions like ‘when will Covid end?’ (whatever that means!), or ‘when can I take a foreign vacation again?’ or ‘when we will get back to regular office working with everyone?’, but would prefer to take each day as it comes, make the most of it, and enjoy the journey, that will be one way of staying calm, in these times.

I have lost 4 very close friends in the course of these times. Only one of them was a direct victim of COVID. However, the other three may also have had COVID playing a role, in their ultimate demise. When one loses someone close, then there is a lament about not having spent enough quality time with the person. Hence, a part of ‘enjoying the journey’ is also about spending time with loved ones and making the most of everyone being around you.

I maintain a daily journal and one of the things that I write in it daily, is a ‘Daily Affirmation’. And one of the most repeated affirmations that I put there is that “I am happy, healthy, mindful and calm”. In these four words lies the overall focus for me, to live a good life, on this planet!

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