SUMAN VARMA, CMO, Hamdard Laboratories (Medicine Division), who has switched from agency life to the marketing side, talks of innovations at Hamdard in response to the pandemic, her work as part of women’s mentorship forums and why she is optimistic about the future of Unani medicines
What have been the big learnings across your 26-year career, partnering brands and businesses in India as part of the WPP Group’s JWT, Rediffusion Y&R and now Hamdard?
Starting my career in advertising was by chance rather than choice, but the learning experience of 26 years has never made me regret the chance I took. Agency life taught me that talent is nothing without the right environment – great talent wilts and suffers minus the right coaching and right inspiration. Truly inspirational ideas can make the impossible happen. It is important to spend time understanding a client’s business; to listen to them and work with them. Working with big-shot clients as well as small and mid-sized clients, I learnt that no business is small or big if it gives you an opportunity to showcase your talent.
I was associated with Hamdard from 2006 to 2017 as an agency representative. I have always been passionate about these brands; so when I got an opportunity to work with them again, I took it up. Here, I would like to share an interesting story from my agency life. We were working on a film with a tight budget and a short deadline and the client had put a clause in the agreement that if they did not like the first cut, then they wouldn’t even pay half the amount. All team members were demoralized with such an illogical demand, but the film’s script was fantastic and we knew it would work. Somehow, we convinced the client to go ahead with it and within two days, we made the film that won the Dadasaheb Phalke Award that year.
COVID-19 has created a big demand for immunity-booster products. How has Hamdard responded to it? Can you talk of innovations at the brand/category level during the pandemic?
Hamdard is very popular for its range of immunity-boosters. During the COVID-19 outbreak, we strengthened some of our formulations by way of effective single ingredients like Gilo, Ashwagandha, Zafra, Jamun and Kalonji powder to treat the immunity barrier. We launched Ayush Joshanda powder in sachets for easy consumption, which received a great response. Many of our time-tested traditional medicines were in demand to deal with issues of respiratory health and debility. We launched immunity booster and respiratory health kits comprising our popular products like Joshanda, Sualin, Joshina, Khamira Marwareed. We saw a strong rise in demand for organic-labelled products linked to boosting immunity.
How do you assess industry sentiments for the Unani medicines category in India, and what is your vision for it?
The Ayush Ministry, along with other industry bodies, is elevating the consumer perception towards alternative preventive healthcare systems such as Unani medicine, Ayurveda, Sidha and Homeopathy. Unani medicine, originated by Greek physicians, has been proven to be effective in the treatment of chronic ailments of skin, blood, digestion, pain, and also in the vigour and vitality space. The herbal formulation medicines have no side effects.
Tell us about your work as an active member of mentoring programmes like Cherie Blair Mentorship programme for Women Entrepreneurs and W4.
I have opened myself to different and new experiences. As an alumni mentor of the Cherie Blaire Mentorship Programme, I get to work with women entrepreneurs from across the world. I recently completed a year-long programme with my mentee in Vietnam where she was setting up an insurance service. I assisted her in brand-building, marketing plan, advertising and website development. She taught me about the product and service. The best thing about such mentorship programmes is that you end up learning so much from each other and build long-lasting relationships. I am now about to start my second innings with a Malaysian business entrepreneur. With W4, I had two mentees at Kilimanjaro village in Africa. Unfortunately, the programme had to shut down in October because of the pandemic. So, I am now connected with the Caribbean Women Programme, which is even more exciting.
What is one strong belief that guides you as an individual?
I strongly believe in Maya Angelou’s saying: “Hope and Fear cannot occupy the same space. Invite one to stay.” Over the past year, we’ve certainly experienced our fair share of chaos, despair and disillusionment. But we should draw on hope that comes from within our deepest selves. Even on our darkest days, we should remember that life will unfold just the way the Universe intended it.