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Regionalisation of news is happening in a big way on TV: Rahul Kansal

News18 Network is out to assert its leadership in the large, growing and highly competitive segment of television news with a mega-campaign, ‘18=1’. Conceptualised by Lowe Lintas, the campaign will run across media platforms, including print, TV, radio and digital. It will focus on the advertisers, brand managers and media planners, thereby communicating the leadership of News18 Network and positioning it as the country’s leading media choice. The campaign also aims to enthuse the Network’s own employees, and has several initiatives that seek to engage the group’s staff across various locations. 

News18 Network today houses brands like CNN-News18, News18 India, News18 Lokmat, and News18 regional channels.

Rahul Kansal, Group Brand Advisor, Network18 Group, has been mentoring the array of brands within the Network and developing innovative properties to strengthen positioning and connect of the group with the consumers. Kansal has been an advertising and marketing professional for 38 years, having worked at agencies like JWT, O&M, and Mudra DDB. He has had a 15-year stint with the Times Group as well. 

In conversation with Adgully, Rahul Kansal sheds more light on the 18=1 campaign, further growth plans for News18 Network, the news genre in India and more. Excerpts: 

What is the genesis of the 18=1 campaign for News18 Network?
After folding all our channels – ETV Network, CNN-IBN and IBN7 – into one common brand, everything became News18. Secondly, we have seen a very rapid growth, especially in our Hindi channel and many of our regional channels. So, it has become really important in the combined news space, hence we wanted to do a leadership campaign. The idea of 18=1 came from the desire to make the campaign more interesting as there are so many people claiming to be No. 1. 

Which agency has worked on the campaign?
This campaign has been conceptualised by Lowe Lintas. They had come up with a couple of options and several lines. One of the lines had this gem of an idea in it. It compared 18 to 1 with some words in between. Then, we encouraged them to edit it down to a simple equation of 18=1. Later, we simplified it and started with the campaign. 

How will this campaign help reiterate News18 Network’s leadership position?
There’s a simple, catchy way to communicate this message. We have done an in-house makeover, so today all our offices are painted in our brand colours. And because there is this humorous side to the campaign as well, there are all kinds of No. 1 becoming 18 and 18 becoming No. 1, just to get people’s imagination and engagement going. For example, the new voting age is 1. We have a lot of interesting puzzles and quizzes where people can quickly do this new math and then come up with the right answer. It’s creating a very high level of engagement. We are getting 15-20 per cent of the staff to whom these mailers go out. The same set of fun contests have been taken to many media agencies as well and their response has been even better. So, there is this fun element that we have tapped to capture the people’s imagination. 

What’s in it for the advertisers and how will they benefit? Also, is there any ad rate hike on the anvil?
No. I don’t think there is one ad rate – in any case, television pricing is quite dynamic. I think what this campaign does do is to present the advertiser with this proposition that from one source you can get a very large part of your media plan. From one source you can reach out to 66.9 crore viewers every month (Source: BARC | TG: 2+ | Market: All India | Period: 27th May 2017 to 25th May 2018) and that’s a very large number. I think this makes it easier for media buyers and clients to strike a deal with the Network and thereby cater to a large part of their target audience. The entire proposition is valuable to the advertisers. 

How is this campaign strategising to steer the group towards brand imagery, profitability and building connect with the audience?
This campaign is surely helping us to shore up our overall stature within the trade, with different clients and the advertisers – that’s the primary audience. Other than them, the important audience is our internal one. That is because the company has gone through many changes – ownership changes, structural changes, new acquisitions, and new assets. So, I think it was important for us to consolidate everything under the single brand name and thereafter, of course, celebrate our own leadership. And from what I have seen, it has received a great response. The industry feedback with the media agencies has been very positive. 

You’ve also spoken about seamless connectivity. Could you elaborate on that?
Seamless is due to everything coming under one single brand. For example, in a market like Uttar Pradesh, they may be watching a News18 India or News18 Uttar Pradesh/ Uttarakhand or the English channel CNN-News18. It all adds up and the same experience is divided amongst three different brands. As for seamless connectivity, all of our channels are thought under one common brand name. 

As an ex-advertising professional, how are you leading this campaign. How are you drawing in your past experience?
I guess somewhere it does come in. From my experience, what I am painfully aware of is the amount of over-claim and over-clutter in communication. So, one of the things that over the years I have come to believe in is that advertising doesn’t really jump out of the page and there is no one formula. We can do it in a long form copy or it can come through short and punchy ones. Either which way, I think the communication needs to cut through the clutter. That’s the only perspective that I brought in and I motivated our agencies more on those lines. 

Any key changes that you have initiated or made in the Network after taking charge in April this year?
I am part of the senior management and just looking at sharpening our brand positioning. Right now it’s just the basic announcement of leadership, but over the next few months, you will see, hopefully, a certain brand character emerge. What are the kinds of brands that we have, what they really mean for the audience, and not just for the advertisers. But obviously what kind of journalism we have. So, there is a lot of thinking happening, given the large network that we have comprising multiple brands. We used to operate under a different management earlier – like ETV had its own team, then the English and the Hindi news channels. We got everybody to agree on a common brand identity and a brand idea – a core set of value and ideals. Those are the kind of things that I am looking at currently. 

Since attrition in this field is quite high, how does the organisation’s restructure address this issue?
Retaining and motivating young and right talent will always remain an important factor. And one of the main objectives of this campaign has been to encourage and engage our own internal audience/ employees. Along with the advertisers, we have tried to create a place for engaging our internal audience as well. 

After 15 years with a news organisation (Times Group), you are at the helm of another news organisation. How do you see the growth of the news business in India?
News as a genre in India is continually increasing. If you were to add on the total amount of readership of news online to the numbers of the readership of newspapers and then to the viewership of news on television, you will find that it’s exploding – and not just in India but around the world as well. In that sense, I think the people are more connected. Politics has come back with a bang. There have been various events which have led to this – our very charismatic PM Modi came on the scene, the 2014 General Elections, back-to-back state assembly elections, social media, topics like polarisation, etc. I think all of these have created a huge appetite for news. 

You had earlier led campaigns like Aman Ki Asha, Teach India, Lead India at Times Group. What are your plans for the News18 Network?
Obviously, I want to do something big here as well. I want to keep the viewers engaged through interesting campaigns here as well. 

The regional market is seeing a huge upswing. Do you intend to tap this market?
We have seen this happening in newspapers and also in television. It’s a very bi-polar phenomenon. While people are concerned about their local issues, they are also very interested in global news. Today, people are more aware and interested in the US President and the North Korean leader. Similarly, people are hyper aware and concerned about their own backyard – like quality of air in their city and so on. Regionalisation of news is happening in a big way on television. Our ETV network was providing that regional perspective and we are strongly committed to making that bigger and bigger in our scheme of things. 

So, any plans to start more channels in this genre?
Nothing at this moment that I can talk about.

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