Was this the same office? The gleaming blue-tinted glass façade, the bright, spacious and well-designed layout inside was in stark contrast to its earlier location in a residential-looking commercial near Mumbai's noisy Khar railway station in the middle of a bustling vegetable market. And on the way in you had to jump out of the way of honking rickshaws and over cows lying supine.
A new generation is taking over the functioning of India's family-run out-of-home (OOH) businesses. And the heirs are bursting with ideas on how to take their companies forward. Prodded by stiff competition from highly professional corporates such as Times OOH, Laqshya, Clear Channel or JCDecaux, it became imperative that they got their act together.
SelvelOne, Pioneer Publicity, Alakh Advertising and Global Advertisers were old-style, old-world OOH businesses set up by an entrepreneurial first generation, in some cases more than half a century ago.
The OOH business in India has been, for years, plagued with issues like lack of transparency, legal aspects, lack of proper measurement tools and more. A chat with OOH media owners a decade ago would have led to a discussion on these factors. Family-run businesses, especially, were not known for being market savvy in terms of research or technology. The veil of secrecy that clothed a family-run business' internal operations was hardly ever breached.
All that is changing. Among other things, the younger lot is looking at better marketing, R&D, new-age clients and getting previous generations to embrace technology and the power of digital.
Outdoor industry veteran and chairman and managing director of Kolkata-based SelvelOne, Noomi Mehta has two additional hands that he is quite proud of. Daughter Sanaya (33) and son Jahan (29) joined the business when they were quite young. Sanaya, who joined work when 18, has also had a short stint as a trainee in ad agency Grey in Kolkata, attended a summer course on entrepreneurship at the London Business School and has a Master's degree. Jahan's motivation was different. Back then, the current secretary of the Football Players Association of India wanted to participate in an inter-corporate soccer tournament in Kolkata but his father told him that if he wanted to play he would have to work with him. Jahan was at the workshop the next morning supervising the installation of a site.
Point of view
I think the main benefit that the new generation brings is a change in image from that of 'vendors' to 'solution providers'. They understand the importance of increased transparency and are willing to implement standard operating processes across key operating areas," says Ashish Pherwani, associate director, Advisory Services and OOH segment champion, Ernst & Young.
At Global Advertisers, it is the third wave at work. A change in logo design and a new six-storey MNC-like office are some of the physical changes. Starting off a sweet shop, MM Mithaiwala (in 1946), little did Manmohan Gupta know that when he encouraged his sons to publicise the store using outdoor as a key medium, it would lead them to set up Global Advertisers in 1996.
His sons, Rajeev and Sanjeev, set up the outdoor advertising company to promote MM Mithaiwala mainly and - realising the potential - went forward to offer their services to brands and agencies. Today, the company has over 500 hoarding sites in Mumbai, besides a multitude of other formats across states through alliances. It is slowly expanding its own presence to the other three metros and has acquired enviable sites like a 600ft x 8ft site at the domestic airport in Mumbai.
"OOH players are making efforts in forward integration, by engaging more with clients by providing value-added services like media planning and consultancy," says D R Dogra, managing director and CEO, Credit and Analysis & Research (CARE), a Mumbai-based agency that offers credit rating and grading services across sectors. And it is the younger generation that is leading that change.
That is what Global Advertisers too has done. Besides creating special packages for new clients and different sectors, the younger Guptas also acquired new properties and introduced third eye-view or monitoring services for clients. Sanjeev has no hesitation in giving credit where it is due. "The new blood thinks fast, cracks deals faster and executes the fastest," he says.
Global Advertisers has created a separate department for digital marketing, events and PR and started using social networking websites to establish two-way communication with the end user. According to Sanjeev, their client portfolio grew by 40 per cent annually after the new generation came on board.
Change, and more change
A third generation face puts the technology factor in perspective. Delhi-based Pioneer Publicity's youngest entrant Gaurav Vasudeva says that while his uncles Mukesh, Rajesh and Naresh didn't take to the computer revolution, things changed with the entry of the BlackBerry. The younger generation coaxed at least two out of the three elders into using smartphones. "All business transactions operate via email these days and we felt it was necessary for them to adopt this to stay in touch with clients," he says.
While he knew he would join the business, Gaurav (29) got himself some out-of-family-business experience by going for a short internship at Ogilvy and a short course in marketing from Birmingham University before joining in 2003. His cousins, Pankaj, Deepak and Dinesh, joined soon after graduation. Says Gaurav with a touch of modesty, "It's the entire team that helps make Pioneer what it is. We are a close-knit family."
Women are playing a bigger, visible role in the OOH business. Apart from Sanaya and her mother Prochy ("Mom plays a quiet and efficient role in the day-to-day running of the business, not many people realise it but it's always her signature on the cheque," son Jahan points out) of SelvelOne, there is Alakh Advertising's Abha Gulati and her daughters-in-law, Geetika and Neeta.
Geetika (37) and Neeta (40) - who joined in 2001 and 2002 respectively - deal with clients and agencies on a day-to-day basis. While Geetika completed her MBA after coming on-board and Neeta joined without any additional degrees. They agree that learning on-the-job is the best teacher.
A new office space and a swankier-looking logo it was for the 33-year-old Delhi-based Roshan Publicity as starters. Next, it launched RoshanSpace, a separate unit to provide OOH consultancy services. When it was set up by Abdul Kader Shaikh, Pioneer was just a mediator between owners of OOH media and advertising and communication cells. Says Mukesh Manik, man-in-charge, Encyclomedia Networks - who considers himself in-between generations, "The youngsters are looking to leave behind old ways. More importantly, they're trying to change the industry and make it cleaner than it has been over the years." According to Dogra of CARE, the younger lot is also coming up with smarter moves. Having once burnt their fingers by bidding sky-high for tendered properties, they are more open to revenue-sharing agreements, with minimum guarantee clauses attached. And are the two - or three - generations working together?
Hand in glove
The new operating structure is a mix of old-age wisdom and new-age marketing solutions and innovative ideas," says Noomi. He adds that his role is restricted to policy making and large investments. "Incidentally, neither of my children heads the professional team. They report to the managing director who though not a family member, has been with us for over 40 years and is perhaps identified with the company as closely as the owners themselves," says Noomi.
The younger generation is more aggressive and likes taking risks while the older takes it slow, understanding the challenges. Says Abha, "I learn from my daughters-in-law and they in turn learn from me." Adds daughter-in-law Neeta, "We have learnt all the basics of the business from her."
Flexibility, agility and speed are the new mantras for all corporate houses. New segments will grab the imagination and change the way the Rs. 2,000-crore OOH industry does business. There is a growing sense of confidence in the new generation. Now it is a matter of pressing forward. The family businesses are out to prove that they are up there with the slick professional set-ups who are their competition.