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OOH and its changing dimensions - in conversation with Amit Sarkar 

06, October, 2014

Abhinav Mohapatra, New Delhi

Amit Sarkar, COO of Kinetic India (which includes Bates-Wall Street OOH under its fold from January 2014), in a candid interview with Abhinav Mohapatra of reveals his perceptions, directions, focus and challenges of the Indian outdoor industry.

1. Agencies are in the business of being the trusted advisors of clients, how do you help your clients structure and organise a successful OOH campaign?

On a broader perspective, our campaign planning process is quite similar to other mass media channels. We deal with over a hundred client partners across varied business categories; each of their OOH campaign objectives are different and this continues deeper with clients of similar business categories having independent marketing objectives. Hence, expectations are different from campaign to campaign. Once we get a brief, we try to analyse and understand the ‘key take out’ our client partner wants to derive from the campaign.

We run a lot of data sets for planning a campaign to bring together the 'Target Group' and ‘Touch Points of Maximum Exposure’. This is always a format neutral approach and the primary focus is to study a day in a consumer’s life for a specific TG set as well as ‘Location Based’ visibility planning which may give the campaign the desired reach. We have methodologies in our planning system to understand the uniqueness of different cities, locations, consumers and media formats that should be used for a specific campaign.

Further, we also use a budget optimiser to analyse and recommend the optimal spends break up for key cities in an upcoming campaign plan, including media format weightage to be used. Once the campaign plan is finalised, we also work closely with most clients on their OOH creative, suggesting the best suited format, location, consumption pattern and objective that is specific to each campaign. This is an area where we have excelled with time and I am sure a good number of our client partners will vouch for this. Hence, innovative ideas and flawless on ground executions remain key for most successful campaigns.

2. How important is digital OOH advertising in the current environment as compared to traditional formats in the market? And will it become an unavoidable format in the future?

Currently it is negligible, though it is on a high demand curve for most marketers. Digital OOH is unavoidable in near future and the challenge is that the current OOH ecosystem in India does not support the same. All of us surely talk a lot about it, but from an objective point of view, comparing it with evolved markets, one can see the environment based on landscape and consumer trends, which is very different from India.

When one looks at digital OOH in India, it’s still very nascent. For example, 5-7 years back one could see small screens popping up everywhere in office buildings, cafes, retail outlets, but you only find a handful of them today, who have radically downsized and survived. Anything to do with digital per se in OOH environment has to be robust in a ‘place based network’, localised content and customer interface. Their positioning has to be absolutely independent and should not be seen as some ‘remote screen’ at a corner running TVCs.

3. Will you call the industry global, or is it still differentiated on the basis of how campaigns are executed, for example, the American, European or Indian way?

‘Global’ is a referral point of standards and it is only true that evolved economies by far will develop best practices across most business ecosystems in their remit. It’s not really important whether you are perceived ‘Global’ as long as you keep on adapting to best practices or learning from evolved markets and fit them into your current market needs. India is one of the largest growing economies in the globe, hence the important question to ask ourselves is not ‘whether we are global’ but, ‘are we doing the best possible in the current scenario?’ which brings out ‘desired value’ from OOH for your client partners. Our share of pie on the overall media spends still stands at an approximate 5 per cent and has nearly been consistent over the years, while few other new media channels have grown in double digits in the same period.

We have got into a new market ecosystem with mobile revolution, video haul, social commerce and a time when brands are closely turning ‘fans’ into ‘affiliates’. Traditional methods are becoming less effective as consumers are no longer spending time in places where marketers have traditionally had an advantage in reaching them. Hence, to recapture attention, advertisers are forced to navigate a complex media landscape in pursuit of an often distracted and unreceptive consumer. Therefore, location based mobile advertising and placed based media network(mostly digital), which are sensor enabled to change real time temperature, precipitation or wind speed as well as the ability to instantly adapt advertising message, will bring greater relevancy and immediacy to the campaigns.

Adding to this, interactive technologies like touch screens, sensors, etc., will increase engagement and have larger message retention in the consumers’ mind. A lot of us talk about digital OOH and it is a big discussion point in any forum but look, it has a miniscule contribution to our overall OOH universe in India. So, as a first step we need to look at creating place based digital networks, developing the right content and having a robust distribution network in place. The other fundamental point is to understand your specific target consumers’ mindset in a given environment and how their ‘receptive’ quotient will be.

4. Every agency has a culture of claiming to be the number one in the business. How much weight do you think that holds and does it drive business in any way?

I agree that there is quite an amount of perception that supposedly drives the OOH industry, and I am sure that may be common to many other businesses as well. I think clients and concessionaire partners are intelligent enough to understand the ‘rights’ and ‘wrongs’ of such tall claims.

Being only ‘loud’ does not help except if you are driving the business only on the basis of relationships built over years. What helps is if you consistently deliver quality work and yet are not noisy enough, right business partners (clients or concessionaires) will still find you. And it is good to know that everyone claims to be industry leader and almost everyone has annual billing numbers over Rs 400 crore to Rs 500 crore, few even more. Assume if it was true, we would have been an Rs 3,000-4,000 crore OOH industry, unfortunately we are way below that number. Quite a few clients and other business associates have asked me the same question that every agency claims they are number one. I think the best bet would be not to believe at any such ‘self claims’ and take a peek at the P&Ls (profit & loss) of all such organisations, including us. It should be available with the Income Tax Department as all of us file our annual returns.

5. How do you verify the authenticity of turnover often claimed by a host of media agencies? What is Kinetic’s turnover and YOY percentage growth as well as your market share? Would you like to reveal some proof of authenticity?

Have a look at the Income Tax returns filed by the respective agencies closing FY 2013 and you should have a clearer view. We are currently over Rs 400 crore in annual billing for OOH. This does not include experiential, activation, retail and design consultancy.

Talking about growth, FY 12-13 we have grown at 13 per cent and FY 13-14 we have been growing at over 14 per cent. Kinetic in India operates four agency brands under its umbrella – Portland Outdoor, Poster Publicity, Wall Street and Landscapes. Our current market share will be nearly 25 per cent and we are much ahead than any other competitor in India.

6. What in your view makes an OOH campaign work? Is it innovation or having a mass approach or a mix of both?

I think it is a mix of both. Even if you do a great plan, you will do a mix of billboards, street furniture, transit and destinations like airports, malls, etc., and some cut-outs too. I think the courage to experiment is key for agencies and clients together. The shift is to move to location based innovations and have customised approach for each environment needs differently. This will make innovative ideas ‘format neutral’ to a large extent.

We have to be courageous to move out of the ‘Yes Sir/ Ma’am’ remit and learn to collaborate with client partners for exciting ‘new ideas’ to experiment. You may still have the risk of failure, but if you pull it off, the effect multiplies, giving both partners the confidence for the next leg. For example, our ‘For Those Who Do’ campaign with Lenovo for their ThinkPad series involved augmented reality for the first time, which won us the Marketing Campaign of the Year award for Lenovo. The client had the courage to experiment, we had the courage to stand by and say that there might be mistakes but we shall learn and rise to amend them quickly to make things happen.

If you look at the kind of work we do, we have always pushed and experimented. And that is how Kinetic stands out from the clutter. We are focussed to build an organisation where talent at all levels are responsible to the larger vision of Kinetic and the objective is to build the ‘Kinetic Brand’ bigger than ‘People Brands’ who manage the show.

7. From an industry’s point of view, what are some of the challenges that you face? And what is the counter action for the same?

Ethical business practice and compliance seems to be a major issue in the trade. It is also an ecosystem with very less churn of the old brigade and there seems to be a similar network through decades. We need fresh minds to come in, fresh thoughts to flow, fresh initiatives and experiments to be conducted. The trade needs emerging leaderships in a changing ecosystem, which will define our future and not just names bigger than organisations/ brands. At Kinetic we have established a culture towards building an enterprise that is forward thinking, ready to embrace change, strictly compliant, process driven and have a strong second line of talent pool who over a period of time can take larger responsibilities. The larger shift from ‘who runs it’ to ‘how it is run’ is the primary focus.

8. How relevant is IPR in the OOH industry?

People tend to copy ideas which are generic, as long as you have something unique, it is important to safeguard. But how will you do it without a strong industry body that is committed to the right rules of the game. In my view, the only change whether rules for IPR or forming a robust industry body, is that ‘we must change’. It is more about the intent of focussing on the growth of the trade than creating individual group networks or panels with symbiotic limitations. It’s really the time to change mindsets.

9. What, according to you, is the way forward for the industry?

Our offering has to become more robust from the practice point of view and I see the specialist offering getting narrowed, which has led to a price war that has led the business to become largely commoditised. This shadows the value which otherwise can be brought to the table from the brand or product’s perspective, but are mostly lost in commercial negotiations.

We have to put in a lot of good, hard work. At the end of the day no matter how big you think you are, truth is, you are still a very small pie in the overall media ecosystem and that’s a clear challenge for all. The measurability and ROI problem in OOH cannot be driven by any organisation, it has to be an industry mission.

The industry should have a currency that has to be thought through by a larger collaborative body and most importantly, with the right intent. We need to have a long-term vision and there is no right moment than this. Everything around us is changing, from infrastructure to road networks, emerging cities, affluent and educated youth population, disposable incomes, lifestyle patterns, etc. Our media ecosystem is changing with emerging consumption patterns of the new age consumer, so inevitably ‘we need to change’ and so does our offerings. Lastly, all of us should raise the bar to make Out Of Home so exciting that it attracts talent from other industries and this convergence will be a key driver for our growth.

Tags :  Amit Sarkar Kinetic India Lenovo ThinkPad

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