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2012: Industry unites to avert deadlocks : Arvind Sharma, Chairman of Leo Burnett India Sub-Continent

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As the ancient Chinese proverb goes - May you live in interesting times! 2012 was certainly an interesting year. Worsening economic conditions caused India‘s GDP growth rate to fall dramatically and its credit rating to be downgraded (much has been written about its causes and remedies). The telecom industry survived the impact of an unprecedented cancellation of 122 licenses. Clients approached life with what is euphemistically called ‘cautious optimism‘. In the middle of all this action, there were a number of good campaigns and a number of unorthodox marketing initiatives - Goafest is round the corner and we‘ll celebrate these soon. These included an unlikely one by Arvind Kejriwal. I was amused that his party‘s name came out of a slogan I had written for the 2004 Congress election campaign, ‘Aam Aadmi ko kya Mila?‘

Each one of these topics is worthy of a piece in itself. However, in this piece I am writing about a new perspective. A perspective derived from a very unique situation that my industry colleagues put me in. I was requested to perform three industry level roles - each one of them probably a whole job in itself. The roles were that of the President of Advertising Agencies Association of India (AAAI), Chairman of Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) and a member of Readership Studies Council of India (RSCI).

For the last several years, the broad view that industry bodies have been taking was that they represent special interest groups and they must confront associations and institutions which represent other groups. This philosophy has merits - it is fair and legitimate that all sections of the industry aggressively push their viewpoints and interests. However, demerits of this approach should be equally obvious. If every association is locked into an inflexible position of self interest, you only have deadlocks and ‘cliffs‘. 2012 was a year where my colleagues across associations, took a U-turn on this mindset. We were able to resolve a number of deadlocks that had dogged the industry for years.

Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC), promoters of erstwhile National Readership Survey (NRS), and Media Research Users Council (MRUC), owners of Indian Readership Survey (IRS), not only came together but actually agreed on all the improvements that were required in readership studies. They agreed on major methodological issues. They even agreed on choice of a new research agency to conduct the new IRS.

On the TV measurement front, Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF), Indian Society of Advertisers (ISA) and AAAI actually signed an agreement to create the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC). And surprise surprise! Everyone agreed on the choice of the technical committee chairman! Hopefully, BARC will now move forward and deliver us a new TV audience measurement system in around a year.

A few years ago, an attempt to introduce digitisation under the name of Conditional Access System (CAS) in metros failed miserably. One of the reported reasons for the failure was that under CAS, measurement data is bound to be unstable for some weeks which resulted in unexpected winners. The winners tried to make the most of their weekly bonanzas and the losers retaliated by withdrawing support for CAS. AAAI, IBF and ISA, looking at the big picture, agreed to suspend release of audience measurement data for a few weeks. Of course, the then Minister of Information and Broadcasting, Mrs. Ambika Soni‘s role in making digitisation possible has been recognised across the country. However, the role that the three associations collectively played to ensure successful implementation of this law has been critical.

On regulation of advertising content, similar positive and collaborative dialogues are under way between ASCI and various other institutions.

Various institutions and industry associations do represent interests of various segments of the society and business. However, in 2012, the wisdom that segments cannot improve their lots unless the whole improves, is the wisdom that prevailed. I fervently hope that this will continue to be the industry‘s mindset as we move forward to address many issues that the society at large and the industry face moving ahead.

With some definite signals and many forecasts optimistic of a better year ahead, I eagerly look forward to 2013. I believe that it will not just be an interesting year but a year of growth and progress for all of us. Wishing everyone a happy 2013!

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