Customer centricity is key to consistency in engagement: Harrish Bhatia

My FM, the FM radio venture of DB Corp, recently completed 10 years in Ahmedabad. The station has become the fastest growing company in the radio space in Tier 2 and 3 markets in terms of financials, focusing hugely on the local markets and the retail community. 

My FM marked the completion of a decade with a high-profile activation in Ahmedabad – Jalsavaad. A series of cultural and musical programmes were organised as part of Jalsavaad, which included a play, ‘Dear Father’, starring actor Paresh Rawal, folk songs by Kirtidhan Gadhvi, Hasya Kavi Sammmelan with poets Dr Kumar Vishwas and Dr Rahat Indori, among others. There was also a painting competition – Rangrez – organised on the theme of Swachch Bharat. 

An OOH activation was also carried out at the Ahmedabad airport from April 6 to 9, 2017, wherein gift hampers like chocolate boxes and bottles of flavoured water were placed on the luggage conveyor belts even as passengers waited to collect their luggage. The gift hampers had customised messages from My FM thanking the people for their love over the decade.

To spread the happiness, My FM took the music not just on air but also to societies and corporate offices so that people could have music of their choice at the place of their choice as part of the Dawat-e-Music activation. Meanwhile, to address local issues such as traffic problems, the radio player carried out a campaign called Radio Dikhta Hai. 

“Jalsavaad is our way of thanking our listeners. We were very clear that we have to give back to the people for the love and affection that they have showered on us,” said Harrish M Bhatia, CEO, My FM

Speaking further to Adgully Harrish M Bhatia spoke at length about the growth of the FM radio industry in India, the road ahead for My FM, focusing on Tier 2 and 3 markets and much more. Excerpts:  

How has the 10-year journey for My FM been in Ahmedabad?
The 10-year journey in Ahmedabad has been very encouraging and rewarding. We have been able to expand the category called radio because as an organisation we have focused a lot on the retail markets, which has helped us bring radio in the focus of retailers. So whatever activities we do, we keep these markets in mind. 

How has FM radio as a mass media evolved over the years? Where does radio stand today vis-à-vis mediums like TV and online streaming services?
My though is clear that despite so much of influx of digital music and entertainment options, radio is one medium which has stood the test of time. People spend the highest time on radio – almost 1-2 hours – which is more than what they spend on social media. That itself speaks volumes on the focus that this medium is getting. The involvement of people in small towns is high as such towns are deprived of celebrities, unlike the metro markets. So RJs become celebrities over here and garner a huge fan following. There is exchange of ideas and thoughts and one to one communication and friendship that is developed between the listeners and the RJ. Powerful people like Narendra Modi and Barrack Obama have reached out to people though radio programmes like ‘Mann ki Baat’. Both have enough money at their disposal to do any kind of advertisement, but they chose radio as they understand the reach of the radio – radio reaches the core population where no other medium reaches.

What are the challenges in monetising such a hugely fragmented media market?
There aren’t too many challenges. Retailers understand the importance of radio. There are many clients who are spending more on radio than any other medium. They are the ones who have tasted the power of radio and how it has helped them build their brand and has been a bridge to popularise a campaign. Retailers cannot afford too many ads in newspapers. They have understood the value of the combo of print and radio ads, where the response received is 3-4 times more. Radio has the opportunity to influence people till they have reached the retailer outlet. Radio is also called the last point medium. Several big brands like Pepsi, Coke, Google, Colors and HUL have been utilising radio effectively. 

FM radio is expanding its reach in the smaller cities. What kind of potential do you see here?
We are the only company in smaller cities, so you can see the potential. The results speak volumes. We are the fastest growing company in the radio space in Tier 2 and 3 markets. We are also the most profitable company. The financials speak for themselves.

Radio channels are taking the route of localised and niche content and music. How is My FM exploring such content and creating differentiation for itself?
When it comes to content that we have vis-à-vis that of our competition, our RJs are not talking about anything that is not relevant. We believe in customer centricity. Whatever content we are doing we are checking with our listeners, whether it is relevant to them or not. For our morning shows, we talk about what is happening in the city. In our afternoon shows, we talk to women listeners, students, shopkeepers, etc., and air content that is relevant to them. Evening shows are more about creating a relaxed atmosphere, so the focus is on Bollywood music to entertain people who are returning home from office. Late evening shows are about inspirational and motivational stories – here, ‘Zindagi Express’ is the most popular show. Each content and time band is connected with the audience that is consuming at that point of time which is very relevant.

What is the key to maintaining consistency in engaging and refreshing content?

Key to maintaining consistency in engagement is customer centricity. It is not a one-time job. It’s a consistent process where you have to always keep asking listeners what kind of things they are looking for. Many times the listeners are able to express and many times you have to anticipate what they are not able to convey. You have to understand from the rejections what they don’t want to hear.

What’s your take on Radio Jockeys being considered as the face of the channel?
People come to radio not just for good music, but also an RJ who can entertain as well. A jockey who can entertain, inform and keep the engagement levels high is always welcome. But you have to become somebody who can enhance the value of radio. That’s very important for an RJ. 

What about the talent factor in radio?
In the new towns that we are entering, we are giving opportunity to new talent. Ten years back when we were launching our stations, there wasn’t too much talent available. Hence, we trained people, groomed them and we were able to develop new talent. That’s how the industry will grow. As you become older in the industry, it is your job to educate and train more people. So, at a lot of places we are taking new talent and training them. We are capable of training the talent in-house. 

How are marketers exploiting FM radio as a medium to promote their brands?
While there are top rung companies like Google, Airtel, Colors and HUL that are using radio very well, there are also some traditional industries where people are still not sure how to use the medium. So, it’s our job as a radio industry to educate them. Now, realising the potential, a lot of traditional companies are also coming on radio, especially automobile and electronic companies, which were not there 2-3 years back. But in the last 2-3 years, they have been gradually adopting radio as one of the mediums to convey their message. So, I would say it is a process. Whenever something new comes in, not all people come in initially. There are people who are innovators who come initially and then there are followers. So, traditional companies and industries have been the followers. Till the time they hear it from other people, they probably won’t come. It’s a process in every industry, I would say. 

Keeping the target audience in mind, is local advertising slowly taking over the national advertisements?
We are always looking at local advertising more than national advertisements.

With the recent hike in the advertising rate, how as it affected the funding from marketers. Has there been a shift in the ad spends?
It is too early to comment on whether there has been a shift as we have just announced the hike. I am sure people/ marketers/ agencies understand that at the end of day, it is the listeners because of which they come to radio. If I don’t increase the rate, then I’ll be compromising the listener experience, which means I’ll be compromising the response to the marketers’ ads. This means that I have to ensure that my engagement levels are high by keeping the listeners’ interests at the top, which will, in turn, help me to keep the advertisers’ interests at the top. 

What is the scenario for FM radio post the recent Phase 3 auctions? What are the gaps/ expectations/ aids that need to be fulfilled by the government for the infrastructure?
This is a continuous process as Phase 3 auctions are not complete yet. We had part 2 of the Phase 3 auctions and there more phases yet to be covered so that Phase 3 is totally completed. With that, whatever challenges that are pending with the government will also settle down. So I am hopeful that the government will be very active and supportive. They are already working at it. And these will be addressed shortly.


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