Media's com Funda : Research or Perish

Sticky! One word that best describes MediaCom, one of India's earliest independent media agencies. Its senior management has stayed put with it for around a decade (the startup team still runs the agency) and it has a very low attrition rate of its top brass, who have been with the agency for a minimum of five - six years!

This, in an industry where job-hopping is rampant. More so because of this stability at the top, even clients have found it difficult to sign off from MediaCom. Additionally, its hardnosed approach towards researching everything has seen the agency pocketing an Emvy for the past three years.

The stability called Jasmin Sohrabji

The independent media arm of the Grey Global Group - MediaCom - now falls under the WPP umbrella post the latter's takeover of Grey Global. However, the agency doesn't fall into the WPP's Group M set of agencies as there has been no decision on that as yet.

"We don't work like a MindShare or a Maxus, which are a part of Group M. MediaCom will be a part of Group M as and when they announce it but even then it will operate as a separate entity," says MediaCom South Asia president Jasmin Sohrabji who's been leading the agency since inception in 1996.

As of now, it's only a 'working' decision that MediaCom will be the third agency in the Group M portfolio -- third in most countries and fourth in some because worldwide Group M now has three big agencies - MindShare, Mediaedge:cia and MediaCom. Maxus, on the other hand, doesn't have a presence in all countries.

The Indian operation of MediaCom is jointly headed by Sohrabji and vice-president Harish Shriyan. While Shriyan heads buying for the South Asian region (India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh), Sohrabji spearheads planning. In India, the duo reports to Grey South East Asia president Nirvik Singh and worldwide they report to MediaCom CEO Alexander Schmidt-Vogel.

Johnson & Johnson
SET India
Ruchi Soya
Gujarat Ambuja
Department of Tourism

To go back in time a bit, MediaCom India was spawned out of the erstwhile Trikaya Grey's media department. While in its earlier days, the agency depended almost 90 per cent on captive Grey clients, these days the scene is different.

"As a company we are quite independent on our own. Almost 60 - 65 per cent of our business comes from MediaCom independent clients and about 35 per cent of our billings come from Grey. There has obviously been a growth process in terms of the dependence that we had on Grey for business and for future investment in research and resources."

The agency boasts of billings of Rs 5.4 billion and has been growing at between 15 - 20 per cent year on year. Sohrabji pegs last year's growth at 15 per cent.

"But of course this changes regularly because we handle a lot of government business regularly. So if there is a government campaign which comes up like the India Shining campaign, then the billings will be higher. Currently we are working on the ONCG campaign. When mega businesses come up, then we make that 15 - 20 per cent growth rate," says she.

Sohrabji says the agency is in transition mode. According to her, it has broadbased its client portfolio in order to reduce its dependency on one or two big clients and has also been expanding geographically to reduce its dependency on Mumbai for revenue. "Earlier, we solely depended on one or two big businesses. The biggest growth for MediaCom happened in the last three to four years where we have reduced our dependency on one or two big AORs and have actually got a multiplicity of businesses," Sohrabji says.

Additionally, it has snared business in Delhi, Bangalore and Chennai (which it set up in January 2005). It also has representative offices in Ahmedabad and Kolkata to service Grey clients.

Office strength

Mumbai has Mamta Morvankar as the general manager and head of planning. Three directors - Anil Vora, Girish Vyas and Grace Fernandez - handle different pieces of the businesses in Mumbai. Recently MediaCom decided to invest in outdoor as a separate cell within the company with Vora at the helm.

Delhi, is headed by MediaCom vice president Satyajit Sen and MV Suresh is the media director for buying. Rama Nedungadi is in charge of the Bangalore operations and Chennai has Shiva Shankar in the driver's seat.

All centers service their own businesses and the only common factors are that Sohrabji and Shriyan oversee all the operations and Vora will step in to help whenever a plea for help on the outdoor front is made.

The 'pearl' in the oyster called MediaCom is most definitely the extensive research that is undertaken. "All agencies undertake research, but the fact is that everyone cannot do brilliant research," says a confident Sohrabji.

She is quite lucid about the fact that MediaCom will always position itself as a research-driven agency. The agency has been burning the midnight oil to churn out top of the class television research, which goes beyond ratings. "That is one area where a lot can be done. The year before last we won an Emvies on a research - 'TeleOsmosis'- that we did on light TV viewers. This was the first time in India that anyone looked at light TV viewers. Today any agency that is planning for television, looks at that research," she proudly says.

"Sipping the brew!" The Mediacom team

More so, even competition is aware of their stranglehold as far as research is concerned. Says Madison Media Group CEO Punitha Arumugam, "They are a very strong media agency with great thinking skill. Research is their forte and they also have had the opportunity to work on some great brands."

Lodestar vice president Nandini Dias concurs, "MediaCom has been consistently churning out good research and they think that research is a very important part of an agency. They also understand the difference that it makes to planning and buying. Moreover, its steady leadership gives stability to the organisation. Unlike many agencies, where the media head is actually a business head; MediaCom is one agency where the media head (Jasmin) is actually a media person."

However, another media professional from a rival agency, who did not wish to be named, had this to say, "It is very surprising that they are not doing as well as they can. I believe that the agency is not working as a cohesive whole. They probably have huge strength in one area (research) and nothing to talk home about in other important areas. They aren't looked at as a 'whole' media agency in the industry."

MediaCom participates in every big pitch today and Sohrabji is emphatic about the fact that one has to have something different. "It's fine to have huge amounts of money and therefore set up a whole research laboratory and say we do great research. It's another thing to not have that kind of resources and still make that your focus. It's a huge call for mid-sized agencies, like ours, to take. We're working in a highly competitive environment and if I'm doing research it has to be top of the class," she emphasises.

"Atta Girl Jas!" - Receiving the Tam Media Research Award for Best TV Research at The Emvies 2005

A feather in their cap this year was that MediaCom was the only Indian media agency that was shortlisted in the Best Use of Outdoor category at the Cannes Festival for its ad for Emirates Airlines. Scoring a hat trick a few days back, the agency yet again bagged the Grand Emvies as also the Gold for the Best Media Research Award for Aviva Life Insurance and the Tam Award for the Best TV Research that was done on viewership in households that have a second TV set.

Click here for an insight on the award winning TV research on viewership in households that have a second TV set

"We will add value to your weight!" That's the agency's positioning statement. "Everything that we do in the media is not about making recommendations that increase the brand's reach from 60 per cent to 65 per cent or improve GRPs (gross rating points) from 400 to 450. We make sure that we make the same GRP levels work that much harder. Our planning tools help us achieve that. It's not reach but recall that we promise our clients," Sohrabji asserts.

The agency also lays big wagers on innovations in their presentations to clients (present or prospective). In fact, the last two pitches that they won - Foster's in Mumbai and Wrigley-Joyco in Delhi - were based on the strength of their innovations.

Click here for Sohrabji's tips

Way forward for the agency

MediaCom is gearing up towards providing their clients with total communication as it is one of the biggest challenges that any agency is going to face in the future. "It's just not TV planning. One needs to understand research to address that. Even now as an industry, we haven't been able to make that leap of quantifying and measuring that research. If we want to move towards total communication, then the dependence on TV will go down and the dependence on non traditional media will go up. We still don't have a way of actually measuring and evaluating non traditional media's impact," opines Sohrabji.

Lapping it all! Yet another feather in the cap at the Emvies 2005 for Mediacom

Also, the fact of the matter is that television as a medium is not as engaging as it once was due to high clutter levels. "We need to find other media that engages the audiences and makes them recall our brand. On television, we need to find ways of engaging the audiences. One of the tools that we use constantly is 'TeleAppeal', which helps us identify programmes on TV, which have a higher level of engagement with the audience and therefore a higher recall," she says.

While other media hotshots are moving towards specialised units for direct marketing, sports, outdoor, new media etc, MediaCom doesn't have any of these as of now other than the Investments and Outdoor unit. But that hasn't been given a separate identity. "Going forward, we will be looking at that but I don't want to go into it without any preponderance," Sohrabji says.

Queried as to whether the strength of the agency lay in planning or buying, Sohrabji categorically pointed out, "We look at our strength as a uniform offering. We don't think planning OR buying is our strength. As far as buying is concerned, we are very capable in good buying on our own, we also bring a lot of planning and research insights in our buying and at the same time we are capable of doing innovative buying."

Click here for a peek into the nitty gritties of buying for television

Clients' Speak

J&J senior product manager Ramesh Karra eulogizes, "We are very happy with them as they understand and know our systems and needs even better than we do. The roles of the agency and client are very well defined. We share a unique relationship, which is not cut and dry."

SET India vice president marketing and communication Tushar Shah says, "MediaCom has been one of the best agencies that we've had. They have a depth of knowledge and their talent is deep rooted. The agency has great people at the top who have developed and trained people under them. It has played a key role in all our planning for Sony and Max with strategic and insightful inputs. MediaCom is not a very big agency, but it is a perfect blend of an organization, which is the right size, has the right people and talent. Another important aspect is that Jasmin is hands-on on the job, available, and personally attends all meetings."

Positioning Statement

Sohrabji is clear on the fact that she does not want MediaCom to be seen as agency that provides clients with cutthroat rates. "I want MediaCom to be big, but I don't want it to ever get into playing the volume game. Even on buying, we would like to position ourselves with uniqueness," she states.

"While today, we are doing most of our research in TV, five years down the line we still want to be pegged on the same platform but we want to do it in new media because that's where the future is going to be. At present, we are still a very traditional media offering, so we would like to see ourselves as a more holistic media offering," she avers.

Shall we say Amen to that!!

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