Satrajit Sen

'The way media is researched is obsolete': BPN's Sabogal

In 2012, after consolidating Lodestar UM and Lintas Media Group (LMG), IPG Mediabrands, the media holding company of the group, had announced the launch of its third agency, BPN (Brand Programming Network) worldwide, including India. afaqs! spoke to Mauricio Sabogal, global CEO of the agency and Suresh Balakrishna, the Indian CEO, on the journey so far and how BPN intends to stand out.

'The way media is researched is obsolete': BPN's Sabogal
'The way media is researched is obsolete': BPN's Sabogal
Q. Why a third agency under the IPG umbrella in India?

Sabogal: I would like to call ourselves a new agency rather than the third agency. We are a bit different. We believe that media is not a rocket science and we look at it from an innovations point of view. Media is no longer about the traditional vehicles: it has become a touch point for the consumer and we ensure the best use of such touch points for our clients' ROI.

Another reason behind our launching a new agency globally was that last year, IPG Mediabrands got US$15 billion worth of business without making a single pitch. We realised that there is potential for another brand. Proof: we have won important accounts and right now are pitching for the entire Emirates business. The industry is growing but the options within media agencies are not necessarily growing at the same pace. Hence, there is a huge opportunity.

Balakrishna: Even in India, if an auto company calls for a pitch, only BPN can pitch from our group because Initiative already handles Maruti and Lodestar UM handles Tata Group. And look at the number of auto manufacturers present in the country!

In terms of billing, we are already at about Rs 900 crore in India.

Q. A media agency is a media agency, right? What's different?

Sabogal: The reason I want to be called a new agency is because of the way we look at media. Firstly, the research that companies like Nielsen do on media is totally obsolete. This is the social media era and we are working with Facebook and Twitter in order to become relevant for the market by including these data points. Moreover, in the social scenario, we look at studying the influencer rather than the consumer, because the influencer can give you the geographical push that your message needs on these platforms.

Besides, there is a difference in the way we analyse budgets. Since media is a variety of touch points these days, brands run a risk of investing in some non-efficient media. That is why we promote the Pay for Performance approach which is like being the partner of the brand rather than a provider. If the brand succeeds, we gain more money and if it fails, we also lose. That is how we are different.

Balakrishna: We are focusing a lot on creativity. As you know, all these years we did not ever participate in an award ceremony. But now we feel that recognition from industry peers is very important and a cupboard full of awards does really help in getting them believe in your creative offerings.

Q. How important is India for BPN?

Sabogal: Very. We are looking at India in two ways: one, of course as a market that is growing big and two, as a talent resource country. For instance, in our network, the guy who runs all the digital part in Asia is from India, the guy who runs analytics in our entire group is from here. So we are looking at India as a high source of talent.

Q. How different is India vis-à-vis developed markets?

Sabogal: In terms of the media industry, I think the advantage in India is the media's and that it allows you to experiment in different, new ways which are not possible in some other markets. For example, in the US, it is not easy to try out new techniques as the media culture there is very rigid. That is the reason we see fantastic creativity from India in festivals like Cannes.

Balakrishna: Indian agencies are fixers by nature. We will start working on a pitch two days before the process starts, and then we will do a great job of it. In other parts of the world, agencies start working two-three months before the process begins. There is a cultural difference in how we approach work but otherwise, the basics of business remain the same.

Q. Do media agencies tend to specialise by product category?

Balakrishna: It happens by default more than by design. Once an agency becomes an expert in one particular consumer sector, it tends to get more business from sectors where consumers have a similar profile. For example, BPN has Bajaj Auto targeting men in the age group18 to 30 years from SEC A and B and similarly, we service Union Bank, Samsonite and Amul Macho, which target almost the same segment of consumers.

Q. Since Shashi Sinha took over from Lynn De Souza, how has the management change affected BPN, considering these are early days?

Balakrishna: Top management changes do have an impact on a company and it would be foolish to say that Lynn leaving us didn't have any impact. But then there was Shashi coming in and the transition had been very good. The advantage that Shashi brought to the table was that eight years ago he has overseen the merger of Lodestar and UM and he had the experience of leading two big agencies together.

Q. India was part of BPN's first launch phase. Outline your expansion plans.

Sabogal: We started with 13 countries last year and today we have offices in 27 countries. The goal is to reach 31 countries by the end of the year and expand in key markets and countries.

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