"The year 2002 saw the emergence of three or four strong media groups" : Initiative Media president Ashish Bhasin - 2002 Review

Media maven Ashish Bhasin is a man on the move! Literally, as the scholarly looking jet-setting Bhasin is constantly thinking of new ways to innovate; exploring new possibilities in improving research; and creating additional revenue streams.

He is also a man in the news. Recently, he hit the headlines when he was handed over the responsibility of media and advertising powerhouse, the Lowe group’s integrated communications businesses (which include Lowe Personal, Linterland, Lintertainment, LinOpinion, Advent, dCell and Aaren Initiative).

He is slated to vacate his post as head of Initiative Media India, which he has steered successfully to the top of media sweepstakes over the past few years. In fact, a news report late last year had said that IM India was expected to notch up more than Rs 10,000 million in billings in 2002. And Bhasin was confident enough to state in that report that IM India would grow at double the market rate in the following year, 2003.

Bhasin has impeccable credentials: he schooled in Mumbai in Campion and Cathedral School. He went on to do his B.Sc. (Hons) in biochem and zoology from St. Xavier's College, Mumbai and then got his grounding in marketing through an MMS (Marketing) from Sydenham Institute, Mumbai.

Bhasin is married with a 10-year-old naughty son and a two year old daughter. He loves reading, travelling on leisure (not business) and playing billiards.

Bhasin spoke to's Ashwin Kotian about the highlights of the year 2002 and his take on the future of media in advertising. Excerpts -



As far as media planning/buying was concerned, what was the most significant trend witnessed in 2002?

A lot of consolidation happened in media as well as amongst the ad/media agencies. The year in review saw the emergence of three or four strong bouquets of TV channels; similarly the media scene also witnessed the emergence of a few strong players who garnered the bulk of media spends.

The second most important trend was the increase in the proportion of below-the-line media (rural marketing, direct mail, public relations, merchandising, shopboards) vis-?-vis traditional media such as TV and print. This segment grew at a faster pace and was also responsible for growing the media pie.

In terms of categories, I feel that healthcare, insurance and telecom sectors contributed substantially to ad spends. These sectors will drive advertising in the near future, too.



 "As far as IM is concerned, we had a stupendous success ratio with new business pitches - with a total of 26 AOR businesses"  



How did IM fare in 2002?

As far as IM is concerned, we had a stupendous success ratio with new business pitches - with a total of 26 AOR (agency of record) businesses. IM is currently the highest ranked media specialist agency in the country in terms of actual number of AOR businesses. In fact, IM posted a 600-700 per cent growth over that of the total media market's growth. I would say that 2002 was the best year in recent times for IM.

More importantly, we retained all existing businesses inspite of the fact that the clients held annual reviews. We won the mandate despite the presence of big names in the media business who participated in the pitches.

Amongst all the global offices within the Lowe network, IM India also bagged the Most Outstanding Unit award. This is the ultimate testimony to our excellent performance.

Unlike the other players, we have a decentralised system of operations and we have managed to bag large AORs in each of the Indian cities. For instance, IM Kolkata exhibited tremendous growth and garnered 80 per cent of the organized media buys/spends - ITC, Eveready and Amul garments.

In Delhi we have LG Electronics and Maruti Udyog. In Chennai we have Reynolds, TTK Sara Lee, MRF and the local business of Coca Cola. In Bangalore, we have Brittannia and managed to get the planning AOR business for Titan. This is the first of its kind and unique in itself. In Mumbai, we have Bajaj Auto, IDEA Cellular, Siemens, Aptech, HSBC, ICICI Prudential Life Insurance and Zydus Cadila.

We also have associate offices in Pune, Hyderabad and Ahmedabad. Linterland has expanded to 40 offices throughout the country. IM's Linterland, our rural marketing unit, has a team of more than 8500 people in different parts of the country. We receive feedback from these sources regularly and a knowledge bank has been formed. There are plans to increase the network to 15,000 people by the end of 2003. Our clients such as Britannia, HLL, Kirloskar Oil Engines, UNICEF, Ministry of Health amongst others have benefited tremendously.



What were the new tools and techniques that are being used today by IM?

Generally speaking, there is a lacuna in India due to an over emphasis and obsession with quantitative rather than qualitative research. There is no effort to measure below-the-line activities and outdoor media.

In 2002, Initiative Media and BBC World have concluded a study on consumers' attitudes towards advertising and its relevance to media. The study is the first of its kind in the country, claim the two companies. Christened Initiative Media - BBC World AdWatch 2002, this research helps to understand the synergies that arise while considering Brand Communication (Advertising) in conjunction with the Media selection. We aim to conduct the study at regular intervals from this year onwards.

IM has now set up a Centre for Media Excellence (CME), to be headed by Partha Ghosh and Dinesh Kithany. The centre will conduct other studies of this nature and to provide meaningful media research to its clients. IM India's Centre of Excellence is rated as the best one in the world within the Lowe network. There is a two-way relationship between the Indian arms and the global arms wherein information flow is routed in and out.

In the year 2002, we actually had trainers from abroad coming to India and spending time with our planners and buyers. They used global research and adapted local data in order to come up with customized media planning tools. Normally, we take the basic data (from TAM or any other source) and improve upon them. Globally, IM optimizers and media solutions are supposed to be the best and empower planners to get the best results amongst a million options.

The company has also recently launched a suite of the world's latest media software like IMprove, IMphase, IMRadar and several others. IM Radar studies the reactions of consumers to different points of contact such as an airport trolley or milk packet. IM Matrix is the only tool of its kind which enables multimedia planning and goes beyond the traditional approach which is TV based.

Aaren Initiative, the prominent and professional outdoor unit in the country, also conducted its research to enable advertisers to get an understanding of the outdoor medium.

Our other divisions such as Media Futures (which has clients such as ETC channel), Digital Initiative and Lintertainment (which explores all forms of entertainment and their impact on consumers) also have proprietary research.

It is noticed that new forms of media are always over-hyped and everyone seems to be overawed. But research must attempt to separate the reality from the hype. This is exactly what we attempt to do.



"Innovations are not gimmicks; our interpretation of innovations is very different"   



Tell us something about different innovations used by IM in 2002?

Innovations are not gimmicks; our interpretation of innovations is very different. We have developed a module wherein we involve clients in the process of examining the kind of innovations required for a long lasting impact.

For instance, we have a small workshop wherein the client is asked to define the attributes of his brand in a single powerpoint slide. Various people from IM, client servicing teams, creative agency teams and people who have worked on the brand in the past are involved in a 24-hour workshop. The process of ideation commences from this preliminary step and is further refined by our knowledge bank which has backdated studies. Several elements are incorporated into the process of innovations.

Some of the successful innovations done by us include: Third Empire Brittania 50:50; KBC Brittania 50:50 and Indya times taking the front page of The Times of India for the first time in the 166 year history of the newspaper.



 "I also feel that DD (Doordarshan) is the star - undervalued and underestimated - but never fully exploited. In fact, if its full potential is realised, it will become twice as large as the current number No 1 channel."  



How has the client-media specialist agency relationship changed in 2002? How have media specialists changed client mindsets and aligned them to the current scenario of deploying specialists?

Earlier, media used to be viewed as a backend operation. Currently, a media specialist requires specific skills which include management skills; client servicing skills, brand and account management skills.

In fact, the responsibilities of a media specialist in an AOR kind of a relationship have increased manifold. Little wonder that media agencies have started sourcing their resources from top management institutions in the country.

Of course, this has resulted in the expansion of revenue streams for media specialist agencies in terms of fees for strategic inputs and counseling.



What do you feel about viewership ratings and the controversies therein?

There is a lot of improvement needed in the existing system and I am sure that the rating agencies have initiated the process of evolution. The process has to be revamped in order to benefit clients and agencies. The ratings agencies are currently preoccupied with TV and print. However, these cover only 40-45 per cent of the total marketing spends.

This proves that there is no authenticated research to study the patterns in the remaining major chunk. In fact, half the spends are unmeasured! This is alarming and a cause for concern! There is a clear-cut lacuna in terms of going beyond what is easily available.



"I firmly believe that the localised channels will propel growth and rise in ad spends"   



How did the mainstream TV channels fare in 2002?

In 2002, Star continued its dominance and Sony made some gains. I am afraid that Zee tried many things but didn't end up with much success. In the South, there was consolidation and the major players emerged stronger. I firmly believe that the localised channels will propel growth and will propel the growth in the ad spends (which is slowing down).

Localised programming is the new emerging trend. In a country which has 15 plus languages and numerous dialects, I foresee a tremendous opportunity in launch small localized channels catering to specific viewers. Such endeavours will also garner a substantial chunk of the ad pie and encourage advertisers to increase their monies.

I also feel that DD (Doordarshan) is the star - undervalued and underestimated - but never fully exploited. In fact, if its full potential is realised, it will become twice as large as the current number no channel. It suffers as far as professional marketing is concerned. One day, I am sure that DD's stakes will shoot up like never before.

Few niche channels will survive but the ones which do will manage to rake in revenues.



What will happen post conditional access system (CAS)?

No one has a clear picture of what is in store post 14 July 2003. But one thing will become clear. The hyper-inflated claims of certain channels will be exposed. Planners will get a clear understanding of ground realities. I am sure that the existing measurement systems will have to be recalibrated and restructured.

As far as the consumer is concerned, I am sure that there will be a huge resistance to adoption. Consumers crib about paying Rs 5,000 for a TV set and will resist paying Rs 2,500-3,000 for a set-top box.



What is your final take on the cricket World Cup?

World Cup cricket is the catalyst which will result in a surge in ad spends in February and March - a total of Rs 10 billion. The total TV pie is around Rs 4.25 billion; for print it should around Rs 2.5 billion and a major chunk would be the below-the-line activities.

During this World Cup, the licensing and merchandising opportunities also increased substantially and advertisers jumped into the fray in a big way.

Both DD and MAX have managed to reach their targets.

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