Ashwini GangalPublished: 19 Aug 2014, 12:00 AM
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"India needs to exhaust domestic opportunities before going global": Sir Martin Sorrell

Arnab Goswami of Times Now engaged WPP's Sir Martin Sorrell in an hour-long rendezvous at an event organised by the IAA yesterday. It was insightful, no doubt, but a touch mellow for the attendees' liking.

When Arnab Goswami, editor-in-chief, Times Now and Sir Martin Sorrell, chief executive, WPP, walk onto a stage and settle down to discuss the Indian ad-media industry, one expects fireworks. Especially when Goswami jovially floats a disclaimer right at the outset, that goes, "Sir Martin, we're being set up for this. I hope you know that." But the two delivered a pretty tame session at an event organised by the IAA (India Chapter of the International Advertising Association) at Mumbai yesterday.

"India needs to exhaust domestic opportunities before going global": Sir Martin Sorrell
After a brief discussion on Goswami's recent and very famous interview with Rahul Gandhi - barely a preamble to the content that followed - Sorrell spoke about how the development of new technology has changed the way media is consumed today. He spoke about the discrepancies between the kind of content that agencies and their clients generate, and that which is actually consumed by people.

Then the discussion went towards a few interesting facts and figures: "About 20 per cent of our clients' investment goes into traditional media," Sorrell said, before clarifying that by traditional he meant the kind that involves the felling of trees.

For WPP, back in 2000, only 12 per cent of the business came from fast growth markets, of which India is a part. Today, Sorrell shared, that number is above 30. Also, 14 years back, the internet pie of the media giant's overall business was negligible; today, it is about 36 per cent.

Goswami then swung the chat towards the position of India in the global ad-media industry and the rapid changes therein. "Sir Martin, I know you are a believer; you believe in India," he said, wondering whether India is in fact at the very vortex of all these changes. "Can 'Made in India' go global?" he asked, in the context of the ad-media business.

Yes, thinks Sorrell. "But first," he said, offering a simple pre-requisite to this impending success, "You need to exhaust the opportunities in the domestic market." He also said that in theory, given all the talent and resources it has, India ought to be a better place for the media industry than the US or even Western Europe.

So, why isn't it? Sorrell pointed out that India has been "on the wrong side of history for the past 200 years," but that going forward, the eco-political changes that have already begun to transpire, will serve as the engine for change and development. "If India re-gains its mojo from an economic standpoint, then media companies and the media business will grow too," he reasoned.

In this context, Sorrell predicted that digital communication, particularly mobile, e-commerce and online shopping are high growth areas for India in the days ahead. Like markets such as Russia, China and Brazil, India too leapfrogged from what Sorrell terms "legacy media" to digital media, including the internet and smartphones.

However, Sorrell cautioned that by stressing on digital growth, comes the risk of devaluing or endangering traditional media. "It is churlish to overplay digital," said Sorrell.

Deeper into the conversation, the duo discussed the importance of data in the overall scheme of all things media. "Historically," Sorrell pointed out, "our business has been a craft-based one. But the definition of creativity is far bigger than a few respected people like Piyush," pointing to Ogilvy's creative supremo, Piyush Pandey, who was seated in the front row.

Sorrell argued in favour of a balance between craft and data-driven operations, saying, "There's a road for both, the artist and the scientist. Traditionally our industry has been too focused on the artist. But new media is more scientific and data-driven. And our clients have become too focused on the numbers... on getting to where they need to get to by cutting costs."

David Ogilvy's roots, he reminded the audience, were in market research. "His books did predict the role of one-to-one marketing; he spoke about the importance of quantitative research," he said, "But mistakes occur when you go too far down this road."