How I Got here… Sunita Rajan of CNN

In our feature exploring career trajectories, the senior vice president for advertising sales in Asia Pacific reminisces about her journey from print to broadcast, challenging the status quo and how she almost became a basketball player


I studied economics and political science at St. Xavier’s College in Mumbai, India, and went on to complete my Master’s degree in economics at the University of Mumbai. Even though I studied business and economics, my passion in high school as well as in college was really for basketball, strange as it may sound. At some point, I really thought I was going to become a professional basketball player. This didn’t happen, although I still follow the game quite actively.

My journey into media back then was quite by chance. I had a mentor, a close family friend, who helped me discover that I had the skill set and aptitude to pursue something other than basketball. This person was very keen to teach me the fundamentals of media sales.

My start

Back in 1985 when I first started out, the media sales industry was very much led by the print medium. I started off my career as a media concessionaire with TIME Magazine. The job really was to represent the brand and to engage with clients in and around Mumbai.

It was very much a journey of learning and understanding what it takes to represent a brand, and what it means to be able to articulate the benefits of advertising in a very prestigious medium. It was less about space selling. It was much more about consultative advice-related sales. I then went on to work for Star Television, News Television (India) and BBC Worldwide (Singapore) before joining CNN international Commercial in 2015.


I think that you always need to have a sense of curiosity, regardless of the journey or area of specialisation you’re pursuing. Having this sense of curiosity is probably the reason why I’ve been so passionate and interested in the media, particularly when it comes to the news.

The media sales industry is very much about listening, but you also need to have a passion for information. That is something that’s stayed with me even today, whether it’s in reading about what’s going on in the news, or in the broader area of the whole media landscape. That level of curiosity is what makes a difference when you are in front of clients, when you are talking to marketers and when you are representing a brand at leadership forums. It’s about challenging the status quo, but it’s also about pushing the boundaries. 

Highs and lows

One of the highs for me is getting to work with such dynamic teams in different countries. I’ve had this privilege my entire career and now at this stage, I am happy to be a mentor to those who are entering this industry.

As for lows, of course there are lots of challenges that we need to overcome and they exist in every industry or career. For me, personally I feel I always have an uphill battle against ‘time’, there is so much more I would like to accomplish each day but the hours just run out too fast. I wish there were 26 hours in a day.


Understanding your customer: To identify sales potential and techniques, it is important to give time and attention to knowing your customers, identifying customer groups and retaining your existing customers.
Fine Balance: You need to create a balance so that you can protect your pre-existing businesses and still have the appetite to pursue new areas. This comes from an aptitude for testing and learning, but you have to test and learn fast and fail fast and move on again in order to explore more areas of opportunity.

Personal Engagement: When it comes to sales, the one thing that does not change is the need for face-to-face interactions. This has always been important for me and the brands that I’ve represented. Especially in Asia where there are many different cultures, it’s very important to understand the nuances of doing business and the cultural sensitivities. The best way to do this is to engage with your customers in person. No matter how much automation, technology or artificial intelligence you have, the one thing that you cannot replace is personal interaction.


Don’t underestimate your client’s knowledge about the industry

Don’t miss out on the latest industry trends

Don’t overpromise and underdeliver

It is a team effort – don’t make it about I, me, myself a strong team and a healthy work environment is a must for a successful team and organisation.


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