Before he became a model and then entered Bollywood, actor John Abraham was a media planner at Enterprise Nexus, now part of the WPP group, one of the world’s largest marketing communications conglomerates.
Now, Abraham is set to partner WPP and provide the Indian film industry with specialized media buying and planning services, according to people familiar with the development who did not wish to be identified. Abraham was not available for comment but his spokesperson said the actor would not comment on the subject since no official announcement has been made.
A senior executive at GroupM, the WPP company that serves as a parent to media agencies Maxus, MediaCom, Mediaedge:cia, and MindShare, said Abraham’s partnership would be with GroupM’s sports, celebrity management and partnerships division, ESP. The agency signed on to represent Abraham two months ago.
“ESP is exploring a host of options with Abraham which includes leveraging his celebrity status for brands managed by GroupM agencies, on-ground promotional initiatives for various brands, and working with him to explore branding tie-ups in films,” added the executive, who requested that he not be identified.
When contacted, Hiren Pandit, managing partner, ESP, said talks with Abraham were “at a preliminary level” and there was “no announcement to make as yet.” Pandit used to head the media planning team that Abraham was part of at Enterprise-Nexus.
Most large marketing and communications conglomerates operating in India have specialist outfits focused on the film industry. However, the insular nature of Bollywood and other regional film industries often makes it difficult for these agencies to break in. Abraham, a Bollywood A-lister, could open doors.
ESP’s Pandit said the agency is exploring similar partnerships with other professionals in the areas of entertainment and sports.
“Such ventures will be partnerships or alliances; we have no plans to launch joint ventures with anybody as yet,” he added.
The person familiar with the development said Abraham will leverage his connections with the industry biggies to launch the venture.
“The Indian film industry currently has no service provider who understands the needs of a film waiting to be launched,” he added.
Large production houses such as Yash Raj Films and Dharma Productions (run by Karan Johar) either have professionals taking care of such functions or hire specialist agencies to do so. Other production houses have small in-house teams that take care of these. “The domestic advertising industry has little to offer to the film industry in terms of customized services. It treats film projects as yet another client without getting into the skin of the story. Abraham intends to fill this gap,” said the person close to the development.
Abraham’s move from advertising to modelling, and then Bollywood, was serendipitous. When he was at Enterprise-Nexus, he had to face the camera to fill in for a model who didn’t show up.
After a successful campaign for Live-In jeans, he did a series of modelling assignments in Singapore, New York and Hong Kong. And then, he gradually worked his way into Bollywood.
A holder of an MBA degree, Abraham now plans to bring in a scientific thought process to the services that the film industry needs, said the person close to the development. The new venture, however, is not Abraham’s first shot at business. He recently launched his own line of apparel.
Abraham has been in the news after signing a Deepa Mehta-directed Warner Bros film based on the life of US environmental activist Julia Hill. Popular Hollywood actors Rachel Weisz and Dustin Hoffman have also been signed on to appear in the film.
On his website, Abraham says he “wasn’t there long enough to find out if I would have been any good. But for reasons of argument, let’s say I was,” Abraham has said on his website. The new venture with ESP could help answer that question.
(Archna Shuka in New Delhi contributed to this story.)