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"The remarks of WPP Media executives on the IRS must be disregarded!" : MRUC technical committee member Amit Ray on the Indian Readership Survey 2002

Amit Ray ko gussa kyon aata hai (what makes him angry)? In his capacity as a member of the Media Research User's Council (MRUC) technical committee, Ray made a presentation on the topline findings of IRS 2002 on 29 April 2003 and the survey results were made public on the same day. But then, some people from the ad, media industry went ahead and debunked IRS findings.

The comments of one such critic, WPP marketing communications South Asia CEO Andre Nair's comments (read interview on www.indiantelevision.com) on the recently released Indian Readership Survey (IRS) 2002 have stirred a hornet's nest - at least amongst IRS loyalists whose tribe seems to be growing and outnumbering the NRS loyalists.

Since Ray doesn't want the controversy to rear its ugly head once again as it had in the past; and had attained nothing apart from hurting the industry. Ray spoke to indiantelevision.com's Ashwin Kotian to forward his case rebutting the points raised by Nair. Ray's reason for this was simple: he felt that the comments of the head of India's largest media independent were unwarranted, uncalled for and unnecessary. Excerpts:

 

   

Why did you feel the need to clarify?

First of all, I must clarify that I'm speaking in my personal capacity - as a professional who has made a huge effort voluntarily. Many professionals including myself, decided to contribute time, energy, inputs and effort due to genuine concern rather than any other consideration. You can check the books of MRUC and you will find that not a single penny has been paid to any of us.

Others who are not involved in such a humungous process cannot be insensitive. After all, people involved with MRUC and IRS hold respectable positions in top advertising agencies, marketing companies, publishing houses and broadcasting companies in the country.

 

 

What do you have to say about Nair's statements on IRS and MRUC?

I want to start off by saying that WPP Media (and other critics) doesn't subscribe to the Indian Readership Survey (IRS). People there don't understand the functioning of the MRUC council; and therefore all their remarks on the IRS should be disregarded.

I must say that "bungling" is a harsh and wrong word - coming from the head of the largest media independent in the country. Let me put things in the right perspective.

In the handout that we had given to the media and assembled audiences at the Indian Readership Survey 2002 (IRS) presentation, it was wrongly mentioned that Hindustan Times (instead of Hindustan) was the ninth largest daily (urban + rural) above The Times of India (TOI) which was tenth placed. In the course of my presentation, I clearly pointed out the error which was nothing but a clerical error. A clerical error cannot be described as "bungling" - calling it so is childish and immature!

The Times of India group, the largest English daily in the country carried a report about the same issue. Why should the TOI group give so much importance to the IRS if it wasn't up to the mark? Most people believe that the No.1's are always correct - why is WPP Media not accepting the same in this case too?

It is pertinent to mention that the MRUC council sent an official letter the same night, to the Hindustan Times group and others who attended the function, clarifying the issue. People who are not privy to the functioning of the MRUC should check with The Hindustan Times group whether it has received the letter. Additionally it was personally clarified to many of the attendees, including The Hindustan Times' top level representatives, immediately after the conference was over.

Also, I fail to understand why the so-called "inability to answer or evade certain questions at the results presentation" should be referred to as "bungling" - Leo Burnett's Arvind Sharma came on to the stage and clearly stated that the MRUC team was ready to take on any questions. It is a different matter altogether that no one asked any questions. Perhaps, our presentations were so clear and lucid that people didn't have any questions.

 

 

Is WPP Media's decision to avoid subscribing to the IRS logical?

Since it doesn't subscribe to the IRS, WPP Media executives are not well equipped to make any remarks or criticise the IRS.

As far as the WPP group is concerned, two of its agencies Hindustan Thompson Associates and Contract were the only two agencies that never subscribed to the IRS and they are the only two agencies along with Ulka who raised their voice for NRS while the whole world chose IRS.

But WPP's Ogilvy and Mather (O&M) used to subscribe to IRS till 2001. But, the agency stopped subscribing the moment the consolidation of all the WPP owned media agencies happened. Now, it is WPP Media that decides everything for the subsidiary media units.

I must add that even today there are planners and buyers in WPP Media who swear by the IRS. It is relevant to mention that V Balasubramanium, who, at present, is in a senior position in WPP Media's ATG group, used to be actively involved (when he was in O&M - an agency with complete media neutrality) with the IRS. He surrendered his responsibilities after the formation of WPP Media and the consolidation thereafter.

 

 

Do WPP Media clients subscribe to IRS?

In reality, there may be more WPP clients who use IRS than those who don't.

Anyone who relies on authentic and valuable research information for scientific market/media planning patronises the IRS. Any association with an advertising agency or media agency is incidental. And WPP clients are no exception!! All the IRS subscribers, through their professionals derive immense insights to guide their marketing/media decision areas. Else, why would they year-on-year continuously subscribe to IRS products?

According to WPP's comment, HLL's usage of IRS is 'an irony'.

HLL surely uses IRS and it is an open secret. They even take active part in the study. In fact, Sunder Rajan did serve on the technical committee.



I am really confused … is HLL, WPP group's single largest client, using IRS only to help WPP executives to deliver juicy one liners to media?

 

 

What role has the MRUC played in streamlining Media Research and making things better for media professionals like you?

Earlier (1983 to early 1990s), media research used to be conducted in India in a haphazard way. Actually, I must add that it used to happen whenever the market research agency decided to conduct research. No one could force them to conduct research.

MRUC council has regularised the process and ensured that the process is continuous. Then, NRS followed blindly simply because the industry response to IRS was overwhelming. MRUC continues to act as a neutral body catering to the needs of interested parties who value authentic, accurate, economical and "truly continuous" research products.

 

 

 "I would say that NRS is completely dictated by the research agencies. As far as MRUC is concerned, the research agency's role is to provide the best of research and the scope of data is decided by the competent people of the MRUC committee"

 

 

What role does the research agency play in the IRS study as far as MRUC is concerned? How is the approach different from that of the NRS?

Everyone agrees that IRS methodology is far far far more superior because it gives utmost importance to the needs of the users. In the case of NRS, the needs of the research agencies used to be given more importance.

I would say that NRS is completely dictated by the research agencies. As far as MRUC is concerned, the research agency's role is to provide the best of research and the scope of the data is decided by the competent people of the MRUC committee. Here the technical team determines the methodology and the parameters of the study.

Here the research agency is an important partner that is guided by the technical committee. MRUC controls every aspect of the research.

During the last NRS study release presentation (I don't remember when it was because it seems like a long long time away), it was announced that NRS technical committee met thrice during the course of the exercise. This is laughable because the MRUC technical committee meets so often - that three days would be the time period that the committee doesn't meet!.

After I finished my IRS 2002 presentation, I walked down and met one of the icons of the media research industry - Katy Merchant - who was sitting in the audience. She complimented me and said that the MRUC technical committee was doing some excellent work. Coming from someone who used to be the driver of NRS, this is a great compliment and self-explanatory.

 

 

Is it true that you attended the NRS technical committee meeting once?

Some time back, Dr. Ravi Moorthy and I were approached and asked to be a part of the NRS technical committee. Ravi declined but I agreed because I am open to providing my knowledge and expertise to any exercise that would help the industry. However, I realised that the objective of the meeting was merely to try and figure out a way of catching up with IRS. Since I was a part of the IRS committee in any case, I lost interest.

 

 

How is the IRS software different from that of the NRS?

The IRS software is indigenously made taking into account the feedback of the end user - the media planner. It is not foreign software heaped onto the Indian market. The advantage of such software is that alterations and corrections can be done at a local level to suit the planners needs. In that sense, this software is truly a flexible one and adaptable to customised Indian Market needs.

 

 

"Respected groups like WPP, instead of criticising from outside, should come forward and pave the way for a single study that will go far beyond capturing just the readership and will become the ultimate business tool for all it's users … be it publishers, agencies or advertisers"

 

 

Is the IRS/NRS divide too rigid?

At present, IRS has got 103 subscribers as compared to 40 of NRS (by Nair's own admission). In the list are 35 ad agencies; 31 advertisers; 31 publication/publication group and six broadcasters.



Publications which are the main beneficiaries of a readership study has to pay "inclusion" fee to be part of NRS. Otherwise either NRS would not include them in the research; or will include them while withholding the result. As far as IRS is concerned, we include all publications and channels in the field work and report them on merit and not on "payment". There are instances when publications that don't buy IRS (The Hindu group and Anand Bazar Patrika group) have been included in the research and the data is released. And I am sure they must be using the results of IRS as advised by their ad agencies.

However, an honest answer to your question on the 'divide' is NO.

Respected groups like WPP instead of criticising from outside should come forward and pave the way for a single study that will go far beyond capturing just the readership and will become the ultimate business tool for all it's users … be it publishers, agencies or advertisers. I am an individual and I am sure there are many like us who would want readership research in India to be one and the best in the world.

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