''India shining' was not a political campaign; it was a Government of India campaign' : Nirvik Singh - Grey Worldwide chairman south asia

The man behind the path breaking 'India Shining' campaign. A man who went on to be the youngest managing director of one of the top 10 advertising agencies in India. An individual of very few but intelligent words, extremely unpretentious and matter of fact, Singh is the backbone of Grey Worldwide (South Asia). His long term goal intact, the man is a visionary with a deep understanding of the media business.

Singh offered some of those insights in a free wheeling conversation with's Sonali Krishna.

How was 2003 for Grey?

2003 was a very good year for us. We picked up a lot of new business. We got some of our specialist businesses to start growing. On the creative side, we managed to pick up awards in most of the functions across the country. In 2003, we won the Samsung business; we launched the Hyundai Terracan, Medimix, which is a very big ayurvedic brand in the south. We consolidated some business with Parle by winning the melody account where we relaunched Melody and our interactive division started working with British Airways, Citi Bank. But more than that, we ended up hiring a lot of fresh creative talent in 2003.

I believe your long term goal was to move the agency from being 'an advertising agency' to becoming 'a communications company'. How far have you reached in the realization of this goal?

Some of our specialist businesses are stronger than some of our other businesses. So our media business which is Mediacom is very strong. In 2003, they won the Bridgestone business; they started working with NDTV for media planning. They won the ING and Modi lottery business as well.

We also saw a lot of growth in our interactive business, where we became an outsource point for Grey internationally, plus we did a lot of work with the Government of India on their tourism campaigns. Our PR company (GCI) as well picked up in 2003. So yes, in some areas we grew fairly satisfactorily. And more importantly, a lot of our clients started using a lot of our other services such as interactive, PR, media. The other space that did very well was our exhibitions and retail management business called Grey Exhibit.

Where I think we didn't make too much headway was on event management and sales promotion, where we didn't do too much activity. So, by the end of 2004, we feel that it is better to acquire companies in that space rather than set up shop separately. So, this year we will go down that path further by doing some acquisitions in that space.

Correct me if I am wrong but I believe your primary reason to extend your advertising agency to a communications company was to cash in on the rest of the media services so that your clients don't avail of it somewhere else.


Has that been achieved to an extent?

Let's take Britannia for instance; we were only an advertising agency for them. We are currently doing advertising for them, GCI does their public relations, and the interactive division does some of their interactive work for them. So yes, we have made inroads into a lot of our clients, wherein we have started to replace some of their other communication partners. Have we achieved it in totality? No, this is going to take some time. We are in the right direction. How quickly is the function of how ambitious we are, if we want to speed up the process by acquiring something. As I said, in the sales promotion space, the event management space, we are probably going to acquire companies in that space. I am very pleased with our PR business. In the last eight to nine months, we've serviced ten or 12 clients, some Grey and some non-Grey clients. We will also being doing work for UNICEF.

How is your second agency doing?

G3, our second agency was opened six months ago in Delhi. Unlike a lot of other places where new agencies are visiting cards and nothing else. We are actually in another office, separate premises, separate staff and in the last six months we have won a very big piece of business called the Haier, which has just been launched in Mumbai. Haier is the world's second largest consumer appliance business. We have also been appointed by DLF to handle some projects. We also handle some of the park hotel business and then three months ago we also opened G3 in Chennai. So, by the end of 2004, I think G3 will probably be a three city operation because we also open G3 in Mumbai.

Tell me about the Grey processes that set you apart from the rest of the industry.

Grey historically has been one of the most process led agencies in the world. People don't know but the word psychographics was actually developed by Grey globally. Again a little known fact, the world's first global campaign was released by Gray way back in 1964 and it was for Revlon if I am not mistaken. And it was the same campaign that was released in five or six countries simultaneously.

What also sets us apart is that we have something called 'Grey cells' within the agency. Every year we are committed to doing two very large scale researches which we fund ourselves. December we released what we called 'Eves dropping' wherein we went and listened to 4,000 young women across the country talk about their aspirations, their futures, their goals and so on. And we are in the process of doing two more big studies this year.

So, in that sense, our processes are fairly different. We have different tools; we have a full fledged HRD department. We have an ongoing system of training called the 'Grey Academy' which is run by Grey internally. So, yes we have a lot of interesting processes in place.

"People don't know but the word psychographics was actually developed by Grey globally"

Could you tell me about the break up in terms of revenue generation from advertising and non advertising business? Which sections earns the larger portion of the pie in terms of bottom-line?

Well, as of now 80 per cent advertising and 20 per cent non-advertising and I would ideally like to see this figure become 50:50.

How would you describe your client profile and how many clients is Grey India currently dealing with?

I guess we have about 80 - 85 clients as of now. Our client profile is interesting because we have a mix of some of the largest FMCG companies in the country like Britannia, ITC as well as large durable companies like Samsung, and also a very large automobile client Hyundai. We also have what I call small and medium size clients as well. I don't think we're saying that we'll chase only big clients, but what's interesting is that three four years back we were not considered capable by the big clients of handling their business. And if you went back into the history of this agency, I think five years back our largest client was a 10 crore client (Rs 100 million). I think today we have at least three clients who spend more than 30 to 40 crores. So, I think that essentially the big shift that's taken place in the client profile as such.

Who are Grey's exclusive clients and how much of the business that you generate out of India is globally aligned?

In our case only 4 to 5 per cent of our total Indian operations are globally aligned. But in terms of exclusivity, very few big clients today have only one agency. If you look at a Samsung or a Hyundai or a Kinetic or any of the big spenders that are with us, all of them have two agencies. Very few of them actually have one. So, I'm sure we are exclusive as an agency when it comes to medium sized companies.

Why only 4 - 5 per cent?

Well, because my international clients have either not spent or have re-looked at their Indian operations. But the fact of the matter is Grey's big clients globally are P&G and we handle Pantene for them in India. Unfortunately, a lot of the other brands we handle for P&G globally haven't come into India. We handle British American Tobacco globally, they don't exist in India. We handle GSK globally, but we don't handle all their business in India. Because Horlicks has had a 65-year-old relationship with HTA and they believe that, that depository of knowledge cannot be replicated and therefore they have chosen to continue with JWT. But, beyond that there's no other global client of Grey's that has come to India. So, in the top ten, we have the lowest aligned business, hence we have to go and get business every morning. (Laughs)

What do you have to say about the disintermediation of advertising and the emergence of independent media?

Unbundling in our business has been there for a while, and while my prediction is that every other thing will get bundled back, but media will continue to remain unbundled. And when I say everything will get bundled back I mean, five six years ago, it was fashionable to go to a separate PR company, a separate direct marketing company, a separate event management company. So, with clients cutting down their marketing team size, people realise that traditional media is not the only means of meeting the consumer.

I think people are going back and saying lets go back to the people who understand our brand better. And thereby an agency that offers 360 degrees communication will benefit, and hence I see a lot of bundling back taking place. But, when it comes to media, I think it will continue to be a stand alone business. I think we are currently going through an evolution where everything as of now is volume driven. Once this whole madness with volume settles down, I think people will take a more scientific approach to what's happening in media planning or other ways of doing things, and then media in India will undergo a change because unfortunately the only researched media we have is television and print. Outdoor is an unresearched media, point of purchase is unresearched.

New technology will throw up different ways of targeting consumers which is through mobile phones and maybe others and unfortunately there is no data. And as when that data starts coming out, we'll see the Indian media go through some changes.

"Unbundling in our business has been there for a while, and while my prediction is that every other thing will get bundled back, but media will continue to remain unbundled"

No questionnaire can be complete to you without the mention of the 'India shining' campaign. Was the genesis of the campaign initially for the promotion of investment and an extension to market tourism in India or was it always conceptualized as BJP's political campaign?

I'm so glad you asked me this question, because the genesis of 'India shining' is the fact that Redifussion DY&R was doing a campaign for the government of India, where the client was the finance ministry and their brief was to talk about the reforms that had taken place in the Indian economy and thereby the opportunities that will present themselves to the public at large. Redifussion's campaign unfortunately was never noticed by people and if it was it did not become a talking point. If I remember correctly it had some rainbow. Then 11 agencies were called in to make a presentation to the finance minister. Our concept of 'India Shining' was chosen and the brief was very clear. It was to project what the Government of India has done in terms of economic reforms and thereby the opportunities that exist for the people at large.

The bills were paid by the Government of India; the amount of money sanctioned is nowhere close to the humungous figures that were being thrown around and the fact of the matter is that in Parliament, the Government of India approved 100 crores for the promotion of a 'Brand India' fund. It has nothing do with the BJP. So, why people have mistaken 'India shining' for BJP, I have no idea.

So are you telling me that the India shining campaign has nothing to do with the BJP?

My brief came from the GoI and the finance minister.

So then how did the sway take place?

I have no idea. I think the sway took place, because the opposition at that point, which was the Congress, felt that the Government was using Government money to talk about all the good things that they have done. And mind you, the Government in power was not the BJP but the NDA.

But the opposition decided that this was something that they were doing as an election strategy, so that's how it started getting political overtones. Everybody in my agency is extremely proud of 'India Shining'. I think we did a damn good job, for the brief that was generated. The words 'India shining' are still in people's minds. It has nothing to do with elections. And I think we are foolish to believe that in a country where there are crores and crores of illiterate people that an advertising campaign can make or break a Government.

So, if this campaign was not an election driven strategy, then what essentially was the point of the whole campaign?

I think internationally, many governments have many campaigns where the government of Singapore talks to Singaporeans about how well they've done or the government of America talks to Americans.

So why was it timed so strategically?

I don't think it was done strategically at all. I think the issue is that it got political overtones because of the timing. But people have forgotten that the genesis of this campaign was not 'India Shining' in October or November. The genesis of this campaign was in August or September on a campaign done by Rediffusion.

But if 'India shining' say broke in August, then would you say timing, I don't think so.

A lot of people say that the 'India shining' campaign was path breaking work in political advertising. Was this you debut in political advertising? How was it conceived?

'India shining' is not a political campaign; 'India Shining' is a GoI campaign. A GoI campaign that talks about economic reforms is not a political campaign. It was a feel good campaign meant for I presume the urban class at large and was not, I repeat, political. Have we done political campaigns in the past? Yes, we have. We have done Congress campaigns in the past. We have done BJP campaigns in the past; we've done campaigns for a lot of political parties in the past.

How did you think of this whole campaign, i.e. how did you think of something like 'India shining - feel good factor'?

Well, I think, from the brief that was given to us, we seemed to arrive at the fact that it seemed that all the macro economic indicators were all performing way above average. It seemed that all the indices had come together after really long, and it seemed like people were on a roll. And we felt that nothing captured that feeling better than a phrase called 'India shining.' The feel good factor came from the politicians when they used the term to describe how the average man was feeling. If somebody then chooses to describe 'India shining' as a feel good factor. So be it.

And people talk about 'India shining.' Which campaign do you last remember which generated so much controversy, that generated such diverse views. At the end of the day I run an advertising agency and our job is to do advertising and a communications campaign. Did people notice the communication? The answer is yes.

"The advertising industry is not growing faster than 5-6 per cent. The only growth is the function of media inflation as there is no real category that has opened up"

Other than politics, cricket is our national obsession. And as far as cricket properties go, 2004 looks like being the mother of all years. There was India-Australia to begin the year, India-Pakistan in March, there is Asia Cup happening now in August, Champions Trophy preceded by Natwest warm-up in September, and Australia comes in October for a test series and finally South Africa in November. In ad rupee or dollar terms, what is your assessment as to how much cricket will carve out in fiscal year 2004 - 2005 (print and TV).

Not more than 10 to 15 per cent. Simply because while we see so much of cricket, we forget how expensive cricket is and how only a handful of clients and advertisers can afford those rates currently. In every tournament, there are only those five or six or seven names and therefore while we see a lot of cricket, while we see a lot of things happening, I think on a big tournament the advertising revenue will be about 200 crores on the ICC cup. Five such tournaments would mean 1,000 crores on television and take another 500 crores on print. We are 12,000 crore industry, so come to 10 per cent. Because at the end of the day with each passing year, the rates for India-Pakistan are the highest they have ever been. There all only that many advertisers who can afford those slots. As it is not only about the reach but also the opportunity to see and the frequency. Now although cricket gives you the reach at huge rates, it may not give you the frequency. So, yes while there is a lot of cricket, I don't think it will cover more the 15 per cent of the whole gamut.

Specific to television, how much will this take away from the other channels?

Whatever it is doing, it is taking away from other channels, because the fact of the matter is that the advertising industry is not growing faster than 5-6 per cent. The only growth is the function of media inflation as there is no real category that has opened up. Five years back, telecom opened up, international liquor companies came in and insurance came in. There's nothing new that's come after that, so there's nothing really adding to the advertising kitty. The kitty is the same; the media inflation makes it look like slightly larger than it is. And again there is a lot of consolidation taking place. Twenty mobile phone companies have become six which means their budget have become that much less or have combined.

I think these 6 or 7 big cricket advertisers anyhow commit 40-50 per cent of their budget on cricket. Here where there are five tournaments, maybe they'll cover little more. So, whatever impact happens will be at the cost of the other channels.

On a lighter note, why are advertising professionals typecast as whacko's?

That's whats interesting about the profession, the typecast. They typecast us as people who have earings, ponytails, scruffy looking, wild and whacky, hanging around with these lovely models and you know coming up with these bizarre ideas. I'm still waiting to lead that life. I've been in this business for 15 years and nothing of the sort has happened. (Laughs)

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