Alokananda Chakraborty

Chitralekha makes its mark

A look at how Chitralekha picked up the “The Media Marketer of the Year” award (for the year 2001) at the Emvies this year

Last week, the Mumbai-based Chitralekha group won "The Media Marketer of the Year" Award (for the year 2001) at the EMVIE Awards 2002. The award was for best media marketing across all media, and all over the country. Among the others nominated for the award were the television channel, MTV, and the newspaper group, Dainik Bhaskar.

The award was based on the major media marketing innovations that the Chitralekha Group had carried out over the last one year. In April 2001, Chitralekha Marathi went in for an alliance with the Marathi daily Deshdoot, which led to a doubling of the former's circulation. In September, the Group launched its first women's magazine in Gujarati - Priyadarshini - for which the group achieved a circulation figure of 2,70,000 copies from Day One, thereby making it India's No 3 women's magazine, and the No 1 in Gujarati by a huge margin. The feat was achieved by the simple expedient of bundling the new product with the Group's flagship publication Chitralekha Gujarati, that sells 2,70,000 copies per week.

"Such innovations meant that the publication was able to dramatically increase circulation, without spending additional amounts," says a senior media planner, who was close to the decision making process. Adds Bharat Kapadia, managing editor and associate publisher, Chitralekha Group, "The year 2001 was a tough year by any standards. The economy was down, there was a decline in ad spends, and then, the earthquake hit in January 2001. There was no use crying over spilt milk. So we went in for radical innovations."

The Mumbai-based Chitralekha Group's unique alliance with the Maharashtra-centric Deshdoot Group of publications, proved a winner for both the partners. While it allowed the latter to increase its price twice from Rs 2.50 to Rs 3.50 and then to Rs 4.50, it pushed Chitralekha Marathi's weekly sales to 2,13,000 copies, up from the 1,03,000 pre-tie-up.

Deshdoot's combined circulation of nearly one-lakh copies (with five editions) reached two lakh. In percentage terms, Deshdoot increased its circulation by 50 per cent, and Chitralekha by 100 per cent in the state of Maharashtra in a span of five weeks.

One of the key questions that the alliance addressed was cost. Chitralekha capitalised on the 40 per cent discount off the cover price that the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) allowed, so that worked out to Rs 4.20. Deshdoot stopped its Sunday supplement, which critics say was the least popular section of the newspaper, saving on production costs, while at the same time going for a price rise. Sales went up too.

The alliance also propelled greater reach for both publications. Chitralekha was able to move out of its strongholds of western Maharashtra, Mumbai, Pune and Kolhapur and gain a much-needed foothold in the western parts of the state. Deshdoot, which was the No 3 Marathi newspaper in Nashik, became number one.

So, are similar alliances the way forward for the newspaper industry? Unlikely, say media planners. "There are two things that should be addressed before such alliances are forged - the need to have no conflict of interest at all, and the enormous egos of publishers. There are too many overlapping interests. And, even if the two have little conflict of interest, in several cases, the egos of publishers mean that they do not see eye to eye," is how one senior media planner puts it.

Another factor for the success of the alliance was the unique nature of the Maharashtra newspaper market. Fragmented between seven publications - Lokasata, Lokmat, Garkavi, Sakal, Deshdoot, Maharashtra Times, and Chitralekha Marathi - the market offers a unique opportunity to forge alliances that do not cut across vital interests, as the papers are so localised. In most other states, one or the other group zealously guards its turf.

Thus, in the present alliance, Chitralekha Marathi, which had a strong presence in the west, did not have any direct conflict of interest with Deshdoot that had a presence in the north. While apprehensions were expressed regarding advertising revenue, company figures claim that advertisement went up by 52 per cent after the alliance took place. "The alliance enabled us to offer an almost daily-like reach in Maharashtra," says Raja Gupta, general manager, Chitralekha Group.

On the other hand, for the Priyadarshani launch, the Group did benefit from the fact that it came out with a product that the market needed. Priyadarshani was aimed at women who are trendy in terms of fashion, but traditional when it comes to approach to life - an important class in what is still a conservative country. Ironically, besides the English women's magazine market, represented by the blatantly "in your face sexuality" of Cosmopolitan, and the archaic conservatism of Women's Era, there is hardly any publication that catered to the growing Gujarati speaking conservative women - who are yet unaccustomed to the new freedom after liberalisation.

Among women's magazines, there is Vanitha, a Malayalam fortnightly from the Malayala Manorama Group that is India's No 1 women's magazine as per the last ABC figures. Like the other publications of the Malayala Manorama Group, such an impressive position is a reflection of the fact that the small state of Kerala - with about 1 per cent of the total land area of India, and 3.44 per cent of its population - is 100 per cent literate. Ironically, Hindi monthly Grihshobha is the No 2 women's magazine in the country, though a majority of Indians speak Hindi, and Vanitha has a Hindi edition.

Priyadarshani thus filled in a gap that was yawningly empty in the Gujarati market. © 2002 agencyfaqs!

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