Media companies look beyond the obvious

By Dhaleta Surender Kumar and Chhavi Tyagi , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Media
Last updated : July 15, 2009
Media companies aren't content with just selling ad space. They are creating on-ground events to create new contact points for advertisers with their audience

The purpose of media is to report events. Over the last few years, however, media companies in India seem as engrossed in creating events as in covering them. A number of shifting trends in the media business have persuaded these companies - ranging from publishers in print to radio to TV and even online - to interact with consumers on the ground through events of varying kinds.

Under one umbrella

There are two factors at work here. Factor one, even as media consumption is growing, consumer attention is spreading itself thin across a wider range of media. This means that most media brands - especially in print and TV - have a lower share of consumer interest each year. On-ground events are an absorbing means of creating a new point of interest and interaction.

Factor two, and this is more important, throwing in on-ground into the media offering is likely to increase the client's spend with the publisher. In that sense, this is no different from offering another medium as an option to the advertiser. Besides, the share of below-the-line (BTL) in marketers' spends is increasing and publishers would like to dip their hand into that torrent of funds. Clients are also beginning to feel restless and unhappy with vanilla advertising. Going the on-ground route serves twin objectives for media companies - it keeps their audience as well as their advertisers happy.

According to Manajit Ghoshal, CEO, Mid-Day Infomedia, "Clients are coming to us and saying: 'Forget about your rate card and full page ads. We have a budget of, say, Rs 50 lakh. You tell us what can you do for us with that?' We say that we'll give you this much space in print, we will put you on radio and create some contests for you. They are looking for a comprehensive solution."

For publishers, this translates into conducting brand activation and venturing into experiential marketing for clients. That also means creating periodical event properties, for which the media companies have the Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) and getting advertisers to sponsor them. The events category could be anything - large format shows such as beauty pageants, awards night, sports meets, besides leadership and think-tank conclaves, classic BTL, exhibitions, and of course, CSR (corporate social responsibility) activities. The last includes events like The Times of India's Lead India and Teach India movements.

The single thread that holds all these categories together? "We are looking at live entertainment," is the common refrain of media honchos. Even brand activation and experiential marketing are about keeping the consumer engaged while weaving the brand into the entertainment. Media companies are new to the live entertainment game and organising events is at a nascent stage, so the monies are fairly thin. Of course the extra revenue doesn't hurt, but the whole idea is to hit the consumer at multiple touch points.

Sujata Bhatt, national marketing head, Radio Mirchi 98.3 FM explains that when brands go to a traditional events agency, the marketers generally spend money separately to get footfalls to the venue. "While this is very expensive, the bigger challenge," she says, "is to create synergies between the on-ground elements and the on-air campaign. Thus clients spend more money and effort to create solutions, which are sometimes not cohesive. When the same media company does both, there is better integration of these factors. It is much easier for a media company to editorially adopt an event if it is organising it." In radio, it is common for radio jockeys to keep harping on an event the channel is associated with.

Whose property?

Speaking broadly, IPR-owned properties are more attractive for those media owners who want to extend the power of their own brand (it also helps keep the brand top-of-mind in readership surveys). Events involving brand activation and experiential marketing are the chosen route when the publisher wants to add an extra platform to attract an advertiser.

A taste of just how specialised this is getting is evident from the structure of Bennett, Coleman & Company (BCCL), publisher of The Times of India (TOI). Believe it or not, BCCL has four divisions to manage the stuff on the ground. While 360 Experience is specifically for client activation, Red Cell and Grey Cell try to find on-ground synergy with the mother brand, TOI. Mirchi Activation, as the name suggests, is aligned with the group's FM radio brand, Radio Mirchi.

Many of the larger media groups have dedicated activation divisions (Click to see the list of all the media houses' activation divisions). Network18 manages its experiential marketing services through E18. The Jagran Group's Jagran Solutions concentrates on finding solutions for clients. Like BCCL, Reliance Big Entertainment has multiple divisions such as BIG Live (for live entertainment), BIG Reach (this is client-led) and BIG Events (a specialised event management company). HT Events was created a year ago by HT Media to focus on "creating IPRs that will grow in size and scale over time". Some examples are the HT Leadership Summit, Mint-HT Luxury Conference and Miss India Worldwide. HT Events aims to have about 20 IPRs by the end of this year. Other media groups like Outlook and India Today too host regular conclaves. Down South, Malayala Manorama has a separate division, Junction K, created specifically for "integrated media solutions" for clients.

Online companies too find it a great option, whether they are doing the events for themselves or for a client. Zapak, for instance, has properties such as India Gaming Challenge, India Gaming Summit, India Gaming Expo and Super Gamer.

One of the early online media companies that has been offering end-to-end brand solutions to marketers is Hungama, which came into being in 1999. In 2002, it launched Hungama Events & Promotions, to focus on activation solutions for brands both on-gound and on the digital and the mobile platforms. Some of the clients that Hungama boasts of include Unilever, Coca-Cola, Nokia, Videocon and ICICI Prudential.

Not alone in the race

While separate activation divisions floated by media groups do compete with traditional events/experiential agencies, it is these agencies which provide the last link of the activation chain for media firms which don't have a separate setup to manage events. In those cases, the ideation is done by the media company's brand team and an events agency is called in to execute the show.

Ghoshal says, "We do not see event agencies as our competition. In fact, they form a crucial part of the industry's ecosystem with their efficient execution abilities. We compete with other media houses for an idea that will appeal to the client. First the client looks for the best idea and then sits down at the table."

But yes, traditional agencies have indeed lost some of the largest media companies as their clients. E18, for example, will now be taking over the execution of all the in-house events of Network18 as it completes its existing contracts with agencies. Farhad Wadia, CEO, E18, affirms, "Now, though we don't pitch, we still have to treat them (in-house media brands) as separate clients to give them the best solution. It makes sense for the company to keep the money within the group. Though there is no policy, there is an understanding that in troubled times it makes no sense for the business to go out of the network."

One Up

On the face of it, with media on their side, publishers seem to have an advantage over traditional event management companies. Besides image credibility, they boast of reach as well. For example, Mirchi claims to reach 4.1 crore people across India. Bhatt of Radio Mirchi, says, "Any brand which associates with us for an on-ground event not only gets assured footfalls and the audience's touch and feel but also could get huge on-air equity, through RJ mentions."

MTV is another media brand that owns several properties such as the MTV Music Awards, Lycra MTV Style Awards, MTV Grind and MTV Roadies. These events not only provide programming software to the channel but multiple touchpoints to the audience and sponsors alike. Says Aditya Swamy, senior vice-president, marketing, MTV India, "The first touchpoint is the internet where registrations happen. We have a vibrant digital community which is commenting and blogging about the events. Post registration, the events go on-ground in multiple cities and then finally go on-air."

The events are both ideated and executed by Viacom Brand Solutions, the activation arm of Viacom, the parent company of MTV. The job of the traditional agencies, according to Swamy "has been limited to setting up the stage, putting up barricades and managing the security". In fact, as the channel has its own production team, even the stage design is done in-house. That's true for most of the media houses. Likewise, Zee Business has two big properties - Hunt for India's Smart Investor and Emerging Business Forum - which not only are large-scale ground activities but also make good use of the channel's on-air platform.

Another example is Jagran Group's annual property, Punjab da No 1, which has been replicated in Bihar and Jharkhand as well. The event, conducted in association with Idea Mobile aims to award local achievers such as the best teacher, the best politician, the best lawyer, the best officer and so on. The winners were chosen through SMS voting to a short code. The Punjab event, last year, got about three crore SMSes.

A single SMS costs anything between Rs 3 and Rs 6, depending on the service provider. Even if the average per SMS is Rs 4, that translates into earnings of around Rs 12 crore, which is shared between the mobile company, Jagran and the government (in form of taxes).

Even event management firms own IPRs. "We have Celebrate Bandra, Indian Ocean Corporate Games, M-Cue and others," says Brian Tellis, chairman, Fountainhead Promotions & Events, adding, "In-house properties bring in more revenue compared to doing client-led solutions but only in the long-run."

But traditional agencies can't argue with the newcomers' clout. Roshan Abbas, managing director, Encompass, an event management company (WPP acquired a majority stake in it last year), concedes, "It is easier for media companies to create their own IPRs as they have the media available to them to amplify the activity. In our case, we'd have to buy the media or go out physically to create an audience for the property."

Event managers are unfazed, though. "The entry of big media houses - as well as big agencies - has lent a 'seriousness' to the platform's perception in the clients' fraternity," explains Tellis. Media companies also like to emphasise their superior understanding of the audience because they routinely delve into readership data. Abbas is unimpressed. "Their understanding of live interaction with the audience is zero. They understand how to run a newspaper and they understand the consumption of a newspaper. But they don't understand the live audience. This audience behaves quite differently."

Abbas points out that media companies can offer only their own platforms, whereas a Wizcraft or an Encompass could go to Hindustan Times or TOI or anyone else. "What works for us is that we are media neutral. Media firms will keep pushing themselves (their brands). A brand manager has to understand that a media-neutral partner is more critical than a media-focussed partner," he adds.

Show me the Money

Is this new business worth all the trouble that media companies go through? Ghoshal of Mid-Day reckons that, speaking for print companies, events would typically contribute only a percentage point or two towards their topline. Radio, on the other hand, seems far better placed to capture the on-ground buzz. Neeraj Chaturvedi, national marketing head, Fever 104 FM, says that his brand "gets about 20 per cent of its revenues from non FCT (fixed time commercials), which includes brand solutions for clients and IPRs." HT Events, according to Anand Bhardwaj, business head - new media initiatives, HT Media, wouldn't do an event with a topline of less than Rs 1 crore. For Malayala Manorama, Junction K brings in roughly about 10 per cent of the group's total revenue.

E18 is targeting a revenue of anything between Rs 40 and Rs 50 crore in 2009. "A fledgling TV channel would struggle to have a topline of Rs 15-20 crore a year and we at E18 are doing roughly the same amount within one year. It's a business which goes hand-in-glove with the existing media business," says Wadia.

Find the suitable platform

Which platform works best when synergising for events on the ground? While TV is a national medium and a suitable platform to provide reach, print and radio can create local and hyper local involvement, in that order. According to Wadia "as TV ad rates are lower, its leveraging ability is much lower than for print. For activation, however, it doesn't matter, which medium you are from as long as your idea is good." The idea being the centrepiece is a common refrain.

The benefit radio has over other mediums is that it can be highly interactive and generate feedback in real-time, as in case of Night Rally, a brand activation done by Fever 104 for Maruti Swift. The on-ground rally also had an on-air component with continuous updates coming to the drivers through the radio providing them clues for their final destination.

The entry of so many media companies into events will probably spur the rest of them to get into the business in some form because they will be afraid of being left behind. The trend is here to stay and is not going to reach a plateau soon. And as the BTL share in the clients' budget keeps growing, companies are going to become more innovative to rope in that share, too.

(We also spoke to Ambika Sharma, national head, Jagran Solutions, Arun Mehra, chief marketing officer, Zapak Digital Entertainment, Praveen Malhotra, senior vice president, sales, Big 92.7 FM, Raktim Das, business head, Zee Business, Siddhartha Roy, chief operating officer, Hungama Digital Media Entertainment, Shashank Chaudhry, vice-president - North & East, 360 Experience, and Verghese Chandy, senior general manager, marketing operations, Malayala Manorama.)

First Published : July 15, 2009

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