1- What is communication management and how is it different from conventional MBA?
The difference lies in the choice of curriculum. Both general management and MICA’s communication management are anchored in management. The first principle is that we are creating MBAs whose ultimate purpose is to effectively run businesses and manage resources. The founding fathers of MICA chose communication with great foresight. What they foresaw at that point of time was that in due course of time we’ll be moving from a knowledge society to an ideas society. That people skills would be the most important skills for an organization. To that extent we’re looking at two things. First, influencing your customer or consumer in some manner and second, managing a healthy internal environment between employees, then communication almost becomes a given fact. To that extent, communication management is for the education, training and advocacy of both industry and society.

So though our (MICA’s) moorings have been in advertising and media, over the 14 years we’ve become extremely broad based. We believe that we influence costumers, consumers and people in any manner that requires them to bring about change. We even do training for state government health officers, NGOs, Information and Communication Technology, Public Relations, entertainment, marketing and event management, retail communication, design communication, creative communication, media management, brand management and market research.

So what in effect happens is that if you take the MBA in Marketing, which is a very generalized course, we open that up a little bit. Internationally it started off 10 years ago and is now known as Integrated Marketing.

Traditionally, marketing has been about creating an interface between the company and the outside customer. Integrated marketing says no, turn it around and make your entire business model customer centric and then create that customer centricity within the organization. So whether it’s manufacturing, sourcing, BPO, HR or finance, everybody ought to be veering their businesses towards detailed customer needs. This is emerging now in terms like brand futures and trendspotting.

So as our mission statement says, Communications Management is the practice, management and development of communication to serve the industry and the society.

2- What are the careers that one can follow after MICA’s Post Graduate Programme in Communication Management (PGPCM)?

Exactly the same careers that MBAs in marketing get. We’ve had HLL, Titan, P&G;, Hero Honda and Blowplast. Then among financial services we had ICICI Prudential,
Prudential, Tata AIG and Citifinancial. There are the marketing research companies that have gone into information and data analytics like Evalueserve and Genpact. Our traditional base of advertising agencies is still there. There is media branding, like for example the excellent marketing you’re seeing between Hindustan Times and DNA and Times of India in Mumbai or the war down south between The Hindu and The Deccan Herald.

Besides that, consulting businesses are getting into media verticals and entertainent verticals. Like for example Hindustan Times talks about ‘edutainment’. Advertising agencies like JWT visit the campus.

So quite clearly, these kinds of businesses are looking for specialized MBAs which MICA trains for.

A recently developed area is Brand PR. It is the kind of thing Lifebuoy is doing by bringing in health and hygiene consciousness in rural areas, or what P&G; is doing by merging with Parent Teacher Associations to promote sanitation products, microcredit that Citibank is giving to the earthquake affected in Bhuj. These things are needed to bring about corporate identity. That’s the latest thing in brand management.

As of now, the traditional Marketing MBA is not teaching these skills with the same depth that MICA does. We give a lot of emphasis on culture, language and costumer insights. We have several terms dedicated to these areas.

3- What is most exciting about the careers after MICA?

The most exciting thing is that you are going to be able to influence people all your life, not just products or businesses. You are really a genuine change agent and I think it’s exciting enough. It’s not easy because it can cause a lot of heartburn.

4- How has the MICA Admissions Test (MICAT) changed in recent years?

There have been some changes. After the CAT screening, we found there was a large emphasis on quantitative skills and numerical skills in that exam. Given that we’re a brand and marketing communication school, we should have a test that tests associative skills and creative abilities. Innovative thinking is the key phrase for us.

We then found that as the industry environment developed as I have mentioned in the last question, we realised that we needed more management conceptual skills and more mature students than those who had the natural inclination to just be creative.

Thus the MICAT now balances off the numerical and logic skills from CAT by looking at communications per se, the ability to communicate, present, ideate, innovate and write.

We test psychosocial competencies, because customer sensitivity is important. So it matters what values and attitudes applicants bring along, Awhether they are service oriented, do they have basic leadership skills, are they comfortable with unstructured environments because the change is so rapid these days that you have to move away from the typical IIM type approach. Though I teach Brand Management at IIM Ahmedabad, I have no hesitation in saying that they’re still very 2+2 equals 4, at best 5. But we’re saying, it is sometimes 22. You got to take a whole new look at it.

And we’ve got this feedback from companies as diverse as CavinCare and Titan to Prudential and Genpact. All the senior people who came to recruit on campus had one common feedback for us: they recognized that MICAns were innovative. The interviews which looked at how a candidate addressed issues had superior results than traditional MBAs and were still not in line with second grade MBA schools like MDI or FMS, if you put SP Jain with the IIMs in top ten.

So we suddenly found a middle positioning in the sectoral area of communication like foreign trade or agriculture. This was where we wanted to take the curriculum when we revised it three years ago.

5- So has MICAT become more difficult?

Yes it has become more difficult. We don’t go through a group discussion now, we go through a group based exercise where at the end of the discussion the group has to arrive to an agreed consensus on issues thereby seeing whether people can tolerate alternative points of view or not. Therefore the idea is not who can outspeak whom how often, but much more about if you are listening to the other person and are you assimilating others’ ideas or not. There’s a process we’ve identified to test this.

Earlier it was more about identifying advertising logos but now it’s more about general contemporary economic awareness. There are questions about per capita incomes, or knowledge about international presence of Indian companies. The old logo type questions are still there though.

Then we’ve strengthened the interview panels with more industry participation. The good news was that last year out of the roughly 4,500 applicants screened down by CAT to 1,200, further screened out to 200 by MICAT, these 200 students met every single admission criteria. Our problem was that the AICTE approval was for only 60 seats. So we had to take only 60. We’ve now applied for 120 seats to AICTE.

6- You have gotten some kind of approval too.

They’ve told us informally that we can plan recruitment on that basis.

7-  Are you looking at increasing intake in PGPCM over 120 seats anytime?
Not until we are absolutely certain that we’ll get the same placement record like we did this year. This time it didn’t last even two calendar days. Until I can get each student two job offers, I don’t think we should rush it. I would much rather add skill development programmes like in PR and event management.

8- What is the mix in terms of freshers and experienced students that you prefer at MICA?

In the last two years the share of experienced students has gone from 12 percent to 22 percent and this year a third of the batch will have work experience.

9- Do you plan to make it over 50 percent?

There’s no such conscious effort. The other side of the story is that after two years I have to find the jobs for my students. If you take more people with workex you have to find more laterals and therefore raise the level of the compensation package. Which by the way has gone up substantially this year, it jumped from an average of Rs 3.74 lakh last yr to over 6 lakh CTC this year including international placements.

Some refused international placements because they felt that the kind of work they got in India in data analytics was superior, even though the pay packet was lesser.

10- Across the world the trend is moving towards taking in more work experienced students. Why is it that Indian B-schools still prefer more freshers?

I think we must understand that employment opportunities before postgraduation in India are somewhat limited. It does not provide the kind of financial support that young urbanite lifestyles are demanding. So you have to take an education model that addresses this issue. Whereas in most western countries you do get reasonable employment after undergraduation for 2-3 years before you need to go for an MBA.

In India on the other hand MBA is a passport to employment and not a post employment skill enhancement kind of thing.

And now all b-schools are starting executive programs to address the need of workex applicants.

11- What qualities in a student could be a strict deterrent in his or her joining MICA?
If all you are chasing is money or want to be the CEO of just any company, then MICA is not for you. In terms of personal traits, I’d say the desire to think differently from everybody else shouldn’t hamper achievement of immediate results. You don’t want to become a maverick but you don’t want to have straitjacketed approach in life either.

12- What is exciting about MICA besides the academics?

It’s a great place to chill out at. The kind of people you meet across the cultural spectrum is huge. Unlike the IIMs where 70 percent of the guys are engineers or IITans, MICA has a huge mix. Secondly I think the balance of 50 percent girls and 50 percent boys on campus brings about a personality development that is otherwise very hard to put your hands on.

13- Why did MICA allow XAT and GMAT scores for application this year?
We thought it might be worthwhile to increase the cultural mix in the intake in terms of different capabilities and XLRI is ranked in the top 10 Indian b-schools so there’s no reason why their admission test ought to be any different than CAT. We found that a large number of students who felt they didn’t do too well in CAT later sat for XAT and applied to us using both scores.

14- How do you normalize between the CAT and XAT scores while shortlisting?

We talked to XLRI people, Prof Sharad Sareen in particular who’s been with XLRI for 30 years and is on MICA’s governing council, and we understood that the XAT in its new format is reasonably similar to CAT. There’s little difference in the technique and approach.

We’ve also allowed GMAT because it allows us to take in international and NRI students. The scores we prefer are between 660 and 720.

15- How focused do you find your Communication Management students? Given that it is a non-conventional area, do they usually have an idea of what they are getting into?

It’s a mixed bunch. Because the popular image of MICA is that of a very high end advertising and media school. Once you join the campus you realise that it’s a much more broad based management education. To help the students last year we introduced an information booklet with information on MICA, life post MICA and career opportunities post MICA. This is given to each student taking the MICAT so that he or she is aware of what he or she is getting into. If he feels it is not for him, he can opt out after the MICAT. If he wishes to express some doubts, he can do so during the interview. Our feed back is that the students found that booklet very helpful. It is now sent to every student taking the MICAT so that if he wants he can skip taking the MICAT.

16- Once into the course, how does MICA help students decide as to which stream – advertising, PR, marketing research or brand management – they should go for?

It happens both formally and informally. Formally we have career counseling approaches available through our organizational behaviour faculty and through the Academic Council whose responsibility is to manage the academic outlook of the institute.

Informally we help by getting visiting faculty who come from various sectors of the industry and theough the student placement committee.

Gradually after students come back from their summer training, depending on heir experiences they get a fairly good understanding. For example I may have gone for my summers in an advertising agency, when I may have discovered that I am terribly excited by the way work is done there, by the creative requirements and the timelessness of the job, I don’t mind the stress and the chaos then I say great, and I get into it.

There are others who say I’m not comfortable. They then informally consult their classmates who have interned in other industry sectors.

This is also very gender based. Don’t forget that unlike other b-schools and because of the very nature of the specialization we offer, the gender ratio in MICA is nearly 50-50. In some years the percentage of girls would be more than 50.

Most parents of the girls would prefer their daughters to not be in traveling salesman jobs. Marketing research, advertising and media then become their preferred choices.

The boys who are mostly numerically inclined are wanting to join data analytics profiles like at Evalueserve and Genpact. There is always one hardcore bunch that goes for brand management.

17- What is the percentage of students going into various areas?

Right now it’s roughly 20-25 percent going into brand communications. Then 20 percent more go into advertising. Another 15 percent go into the media. The balance goes into other areas.

18- The salaries in brand communications are perceived as being on the lower side while the job is considered one which requires a lot of passion.

It used to be that but the advertising industry has now thankfully woken up. This year all brand jobs have fetched salaries of Rs 4.5 lakh plus.

19- What is the kind of batch profile you have?

The number of engineers is less but technical graduates are many. You now have new degrees like BCA, BIT or BSc in Computer Science, there are many such people. There are also many BMS students. But strictly the IIT type engineers are more inclined to the IIMs. That’s also because we don’t give the quantitative score in CAT that high a weightage.

Now almost 50-60 percent students are from technical backgrounds and most of them are going into data analytics jobs.

There are also many BPO experienced students, there are some who have had experience in small regional advertising agencies, event and entertainment companies.

20- When you talk of curriculum development in communications sector, how similar are the contexts in India and abroad?

Advertising and media are exactly the same because most of these companies in India are owned by international groups. It’s the same style, models and techniques. Almost all media planning and buying in Dubai, Middle East and South East Asia is done by MICAns. Almost all. We’re the only ones offering these specializations.

In brand management, the essential difference is in the case studies. We don’t have enough international brand cases, so we develop our own brand cases on Coke or Pepsi or Pizza Hut or whatever. But we don’t know how a luxury brand like Tag Heuer is developing in China. I think we need to be aware of that now because they’ve all arrived. There is in Europe a two-year MBA in Luxury Brand Management. Now that we have Italian and other European luxury brands coming in, we need to bring in these areas into our curriculum.

Retail management development is far ahead in Europe and South East Asia than in India. As retail expected to open up in India, there is great curriculum to be developed for this area.

21- There is a great debate growing about the levels of ethics in the Indian media. Since many MICAns join these companies, how does MICA inculcate a sense of ethics into students?

At the end of the day, isn’t ethics about your own values? Which is what we check during MICAT.

At the same time, nobody can run away from the simple fact that you have to be practical during your job delivery. So as long as you are not doing something illegal, you have to exercise a choice as an individual and how your express your professionalism. From my own experience in the industry, India media is by and large within ethical limits.

22- What is the nature of the relationship between MICA and Mudra, the advertising agency?

No relationship at all, except that the Chief Executive and the Executive Director of Mudra are on the Governing Council.

23- But does Mudra recruit more students than other advertising agencies?

Firstly they don’t and secondly we don’t permit them to. There is no preference given to them. In fact most students prefer agencies other than Mudra because even though it’s Mudra, don’t forget that the students prefer to work in multinational companies.

Having said that, Mudra does have a large number of MICAns. They do take in two or three students.

24- Does Mudra own the institute?

No, they don’t. Mr AG Krishnamurthy, the founder of Mudra established a trust for MICA, majority of the trustees of whom are the Ambanis and other academic and industry people.

Since 2001 we are completely autonomous institution and are financially independent.

25- What are the new facilities and additions introduced at MICA?

We have improved the Internet facility by adding a Wi-Fi environment. We have digitized classrooms completely, so now you can download anything real time in the classroom. We have recently got a license to broadcast so we have our own community radio station. We are setting up an Online Education Capability on campus. The hardware is being installed and the first two programmes have already been announced, one is for data analytics and the other is for media management. There’s an international hostel with air-conditioned rooms, kitchens and gymnasiums.

26- Which schools do you see as MICA’s competitors?

On one level we see the IIM Ahmedabad as competitive models. We believe that the quality of education they provide needs to be closely monitored and we’d like to have the same sense of integrity in our institute.

Lately some new institutes have been coming into the advertising and media management sectors. Institutes like the IIMs which have started looking into specialized areas like Healthcare Management or Retail Management are also competitors. Within the MBA fraternity, there is MDI Gurgaon, IMT Gazhiabad and FMS Delhi.

However this might sound a bit difficult for you to digest, but MICA is the only school of its kind in the world. There is no other school which combines MBA with communications. If you go to the USA, there are departments on communications within a university but are distinct from management departments. We teach both at one place.

27- What are MICA’s international linkages?

We are a Fulbright Affiliated Institute so we have Fulbright Scholars coming to teach at MICA. Then we have collaborations in Vietnam, Philippines (University of Asia-Pacific), Florida State University and the University of Texas (Pan-American campus) in the USA, Singapore (Nanyang Technological University), four collaborations the UK and INSEAD, ESEM, ESSEC in France. All of this is listed on our website. The collaborations are about curriculum development, student exchange, faculty exchange and research.

Prof Atul Tandon, or PAT, as he is popularly known, did his BTech from IIT Bombay followed by MBA from IIM Ahmedabad, where he studied in the same batch as the ICICI Bank CMD KV Kamath. He then worked in Hindustan Lever Limited for 16 years, followed by stints in Cadbury’s, Bajaj Electrical.

After 27 years of professional experience, he entered the publishing business which publishes the Wall Street Journal and Construction Weekly in India. Before joining MICA, he did consulting for 5 years while teaching at Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies, Mumbai as a fulltime Marketing Professor. He joined MICA as Director in March, 2001 and is currently in his second tenure.

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