"Japan, Korea and India are key destinations for BBC" : Sunita Rajan BBC World's deputy airtime sales director

There was a time when advertisers in India took BBC World, and CNN, as foreign news channels that 'also' beamed into India. But over the years, BBC World (BBC's commercially funded 24-hour international news and information channel) has tried to shrug off the 'foreign' tag through India-specific programming; and sometimes juggling around the timing for popular shows to suit the Indian prime time.

Continuing its series of innovations, BBC World has come up with another marketing strategy that entails creating solutions for clients; and aggressively going out in the Indian market to grab clients. And it's here that BBC World deputy airtime sales director Sunita Rajan has a big role to play.

Based in Singapore, her role extends beyond Asia. And since joining BBC World in 1999, Rajan has played a pivotal role towards the remarkable increase in the number of brands represented on air as well as in revenue from the Asia-Pacific region. In the span of one year, she set up six offices across the Asia-Pacific. She also looks after BBC World's independent sales operations across the region - including arrangements with sales representatives in markets where BBC World does not have its own offices. In addition to these responsibilities, she is responsible for nearly one third of the channel's global revenue targets.

On a day-to-day basis, Rajan manages a staff of 18 with seven sales representatives in the region. She has been a key contributor to the development of the channel's programming and marketing strategy in the Asia-Pacific, especially with bespoke programming for the Indian market.

Rajan's career in media sales began in 1989 as a media concessionaire in weekly news magazines and specialist trade journals. In 1992, she joined Star and was one of the first few in the industry to move from print media to satellite television. She was with Star for eight years as part of the pioneering team that was responsible for driving the business of satellite television with a particular focus on the subcontinent. It may be incidental that she was instrumental in getting Sameer Nair, the current COO of Star India, to the Murdoch company as part of Star Movies, some years ago.

BBC World is owned and operated by the holding company BBC World Ltd. Reaching 267 million homes in over 200 countries and territories worldwide (105 million, 24-hour homes), BBC World launched in its present format in 1995 and is funded by advertising and subscription.

In an interview with in Delhi, Rajan holds forth on BBC World's marketing initiatives and other issues related to television.


Tell us about the new marketing strategies of BBC World? 

The focus is to be aggressive; the idea is to talk to clients and find creative solutions for their needs. BBC World has signed several significant sponsorship agreements in India - covering regular programmes and the short form "vignettes" broadcast between shows. In the past 10-12 weeks, 10 new campaigns have been picked up and new sponsors have been added.

Among the major companies set to advertise on BBC World are Samsung, General Motors, HP, Toyota, Sify Enterprise Solutions, Mitsubishi, Toshiba, Hutch, Singapore Tourism Board and Asahi Glass.

What exactly do you mean by creative solutions for clients? 

The term refers to sitting down with the prospective clients and having a broad look at their needs and the area in which they operate. It also means looking at the type of audience they are attempting to target. Having done this, we see how and where the (prospective) client may fit in with the overall image of BBC World - its products and programmes. There is a need to explore synergies between the client's requirements and the international platform offered by BBC World.

For example, there is this programme called Dream House that is being sponsored by Asahi Glass. The programme is all about homes in India but with a difference -- a 360-degree look at houses. The programme fits in very well with the image that Asahi Glass would associate itself with; and therefore the company signed on.

Another example would be the Woman of Substance one-minute vignettes that we have produced. These vignettes feature people like Arundhati Roy (writer), Aishwarya Rai and Madhuri Dixit (both Bollywood actresses). This show is sponsored by Hindustan Petroleum. The client wanted to broadbase its user base and was leveraging the glamour angle to attract women. The vignettes had a perfect fit with the client's needs. This is what we mean when we talk about creative solutions.

Has Barbara Bradford Taylor sued the BBC yet for using the name of her book? 

Not yet. I haven't heard anything of that sort.

Name other advertisers that BBC World has managed to grab? 

Consumer electronics company Toshiba is backing The Ultimate - a show which highlights premium items such as the 'ultimate' island, space ride, personal aircraft, car, safari and yacht.

Smooth Ride, that showcases luxury cars launched in India in the past two years, will be supported by HP Cruise. Sify Enterprise Solutions will advertise exclusively with BBC World. The company will be associated with the Business Innovations and Firsts vignettes. Business Innovations is a programme that has been produced in London.

As for long-form programming, BBC World's major new quiz series University Challenge is sponsored by Samsung Sound for all the 32 weeks. It is also supported for eight weeks (commencing 21 August) by Singapore Roars - the flagship campaign from the Singapore Tourist Board.

Business Bizarre, a series on unusual Indian businesses, is backed by Samsung Plano, BPCL Speed and Chevrolet Optra.

The entertainment series Talking Movies is supported by Hutch and Toyota, while HP Power is backing the popular motoring programme Top Gear.

Extra Time, a series of sports interviews, is sponsored by Toyota, while Mitsubishi Pajero has signed on with BBC World's weekly travel show Fast Track.

The vignettes Dream HomesWomen of SubstanceThe Ultimate, and Business Innovations can be seen during peak viewing hours in the morning and evening on the channel; while Smooth Ride and Firsts will be commencing on a latter date.

"We have a 360-degree marketing plan to promote BBC World's new quiz show that entails roadshows on Indian campuses"

Does this strategy also mean that BBC customises them for the clients' need? 

Not exactly. The closest we got to customisation was for textiles major and garment manufacturer Raymond. We had a series wherein celebrity women talked about their ideal man; and the qualities that they would like to see in them.

You can say this is in sync with Raymond's line of 'A Complete Man' concept. The programming team comes up with programme concepts whereas the sales and marketing team tries to find the right fit for clients.

What was the rationale behind this strategy? 

It was a deliberate strategy to maintain the focus on client's needs; as compared to getting bogged down in the clutter of news channels, Indian as well as foreign.

Is BBC doing something of this sort for Samsung-sponsored University Challenge? 

Yes, we have a 360-degree marketing plan to promote BBC World's new quiz programme that entails roadshows on Indian campuses.

The University Challenge team recently visited prominent colleges in Mumbai after an enthusiastic response from students in Kolkata and Bangalore. This marketing approach mixes marketing tools such as radio promotions and contests; online promotion on; print advertisements; SMS, on-ground and outdoor campaign; has also received a tremendous response on its SMS and online contests.

As a part of the on-ground initiatives to promote the programme, from 18-22 August, the University Challenge road show visited several prominent colleges in Mumbai like Mithibai, St. Xavier's, Kishinchand Chellaram, HR College, Jai Hind, Sydenham, Ruparel, Ruia, Wilson and NM. The road shows featured lots of questions and instant prizes; and a special contest where two lucky winners out of all the winners of the road shows get an opportunity to interact with Siddhartha Basu over a dinner session. 

But producing vignettes is not a new idea, so how is BBC being different? 

Agreed that producing vignettes is nothing new, but what we don't do is advertorials. Take, for example, a series called Visions, which is sponsored by Nokia. The company wanted to go beyond the line `connecting people'. After getting the brief, BBC came up with the idea of Visions where pathbreaking findings and ideas from the field of technology, music and entertainment are featured without highlighting any particular brand.

A 30-second Nokia spot where a company executive (like the chief designer of the company) speaks after this 60-second, episode on Nokia's visions, regarding things like designs.

"Within the first six months of our new strategy, 50 per cent of the total revenue for the region is coming from advertising. It was 25 per cent last year"

What has been the impact of such strategies on business? 

Pretty good. In the last six months of the present calendar year, advertising revenue has gone up. 

Would you quantify the increase in revenues? 

We don't talk about figures, but what I can say is that with in the first six months, 50 per cent of the total revenue for the region is coming from advertising. It was 25 per cent in the corresponding period last year. Since we still have six months to go, the growth would be healthy. 

What is the difference after BBC took over the marketing and ad sales directly from Star in India? 

I don't believe in comparisons. It makes sense having our own team on ground because this team can focus better on the offerings as compared to a third party.

Does that mean outsourcing of marketing and ad sales activities is not a good business decision? 

I won't say that either, because BBC World functions through agents in many countries, including Australia. But, India is a sophisticated market that needs localised efforts and the challenge is more here. I think, for BBC Japan, Korea and India are key destinations. 

Television is increasing its share of ad spend. Would you say that this increase has been at the expense of the print medium? 

The situation has certainly changed. TV has become a must-carry for most media planners and the audiovisual medium has become an integral part of any media planning. In India, sometimes, it's only-TV theme for clients.

What would you attribute this change to vis-?-vis India? 

India has become a global market and corporates want to target the Indian consumers aggressively. Companies have also realised that the consumption of satellite TV is high in India simply because television is a good medium to carry out the message that they want to communicate.

So, which other areas will you tap in order to maintain the healthy growth rate here? 

We can still do a lot on the financial advertising front. This is certainly one area that hasn't been tapped properly by us in India. Elsewhere, we also carry legitimate and registered surrogate ads (from companies that produce alcoholic products), but we are not doing so in the Indian market. We'll comply with the norms laid down by the Indian Broadcasting Foundation.

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