I am Chirag Patnaik, a multi-disciplinary expert with cross-functional expertise in marketing, communications and technology. I headed operations for the Indian National Congress’s Social Media team for three years in the run up and post the Lok Sabha elections. Where I ran both social media and technology operations for it.
Early Life and Education
I was born in Odisha to professional parents and early life of an Army brat which meant frequent transfers and numerous schools. Life was mostly spent in small cantonment towns across India. From a small Hamlet in the Northern Kashmir to the hills of Coonoor. From the deserts of Rajasthan to the lush valleys of Assam. I have lived and travelled across the length and breadth of India.
Cantonment life naturally included sports and my favourite sports included cricket, football, badminton, swimming and squash. I play squash and swim actively till this day.
Army life also meant frequent school changes. With a total of 9 schools and 3 colleges, my education was quite diverse, both in terms of towns I studied in and the type of education I received. I studied in various public, private and convent run schools across India and finally finished high school from Kendriya Vidyalaya in Kota, Rajasthan. College was again across the country, with the first year in Assam and then another journey across to finish the second and third from Nowrosjee Wadia College, Pune. Graduated in Physics with honours he then moved to Delhi to pursue a Post Graduate Diploma in Marketing from The Times School of Marketing. The Times School of Marketing was an in-house training school of The Times of India Group. The graduates of which went on to join the Times Group.
My mother retired as a schoolteacher and my father retired as a Brigadier from the Indian Army in the Artillery regiment and my brother works in Germany.
My career has spanned sales, marketing and product management. The bulk and latter part of my career was focused on Product management. Innovation has been a continuous theme across my career, where I have brought path breaking technology and ideas into the assignments entrusted to me.
I started with the Times of India Group where I joined as a sales executive and then quickly moved into the marketing function where I was the brand manager for the Times of India. As brand manager I launched the Newspaper in Education edition of The Times of India which is currently known as the Student edition. This edition, after launch, quickly grew to account for 10% of the Times of India circulation nationally. The Times, then was the world’s largest circulated English language newspaper.
I then moved into Corporate Strategy, where I worked with both the promoters of the Times Group, Samir and Vineet Jain. I was involved in forward-looking planning for the Times Group. Including capital investments like purchase of printing presses, archival systems, tracking systems, MIS and more tactical affairs like the launch of a new newspaper in a highly competitive environment.
Another notable project I was involved with at the Times was the launch of what was termed as Times Private Treaties. It was the Times Group’s Private Equity where ad space to emerging and established firms was bartered for equity stakes. This served emerging companies precious working capital while allowing them to take their product to market using the Times Group vehicles. Today Times Private Treaties accounts for a significant proportion of sales for the Times Group while also creating long term wealth for the growth.
Internet was my first love, so I asked for and got a transfer to the Internet subsidiary of the Times Group, The Times Internet Limited, known by its flagship brand Indiatimes.com. This was my transition to digital product management. At Indiatimes I led significant changes across the board. One of the first things was implementation of a modern analytics system, transition from pages made in MS word to a modern scripting language, the use of Ajax for more dynamic content.
My other forward-looking projects at Indiatimes included the launch of mobile versions of Times of India and the Economic Times in 2007. This was at a point when mobile internet was at its infancy in India.
Some projects that I handled but didn’t finally survive included Indiatimes Mail and several products aimed at establishing communities.
Post Indiatimes, I worked at the India Today Group, where I launched the entire fleet of offline brands on the Internet. This included IndiaToday.com, BusinessToday.com, AajTak.com, Cosmopolitan India, Women’s Health amongst dozens of others.
Other notable initiatives were the launch of the India Today Group offerings as mobile apps. First in the Nokia ecosystem and then on to other platforms. This was in 2009, possibly, the first Indian media brand to launch apps.
Additional responsibilities included syndication, where the entire India Today photo archive dating back 4 decades was syndicated on a global platform.
I then joined IndiaMART where he was heading marketing. The revenue of IndiaMART grew from approximately Rs 50 Crore to Rs 150 crore in a span of just three years. I professionalised the marketing function, looking at essentials like
My next stint was at Samsung where I was responsible for product bundling with Samsung devices and also conceptualizing new software products for Samsung India.
I also consulted with Outlook India. Where I revamped the digital offerings. A notable launch was India’s first micro-payments system for content. Redesign of several portals. The Travel magazine portal deployed cutting edge suggestion systems that employed click-tracking and recommender systems .
Break to Indian National Congress
After spending 17 years in the corporate sector, I took a break from corporate life to join politics at the invitation of Divya Spandana, a former MP and the chairman of the Social Media team of the Indian National Congress.
I looked at social media operations and technology for the Indian National Congress. I was managing content and technology. This was a period of phenomenal growth of the social media handles of the Indian National Congress and reach of Congress leaders like Rahul Gandhi.
New handles like those for Youtube also experienced hyper growth. Also, launched the website of the Congress President Rahul Gandhi.
I also helped establish a nationwide network of volunteers which numbered in hundreds of thousands and engaged with a network of influencers.
Since political communication is like an iceberg, with more happening underneath than above it. Significant time and energy was spent in establishing unofficial networks that will carry the party’s message to voters all across India. This included hundreds of thousands of whatsapp groups.
I left the Congress in mid-2020 to co-found a startup called Prashnam which seeks to shake up the world of market research. I will write more about Prashnam and my journey there.