We have to hear & draw insights from brand conversations: Debraj Tripathy

Debraj Tripathy, Managing Director, MediaCom India has been in the industry for over two decades – and has been actively involved in bringing and adapting changes in media planning and buying. What adds to his charisma is his keen understanding of digital platform due to his earlier stint at OnMobile Global Ltd.

He speaks to adgully.com on understanding the consumer pulse, engaging with her/him, evolution of media universe and hence media agency, and also what distinguishes MediaCom.

AG: Has the Media boom led to ease in reaching the consumer or has it made him/her more elusive?

DT: Fragmentation which has come along with the boom, obviously, has created far more difficulties in being able to reach out to the targeted consumer. If I have to reach out to a specific segment,one large option just may not work. You can reach the consumers through a media optimization but it has become far more complicated and expensive.

However, on the other side, with the boom or expansion of specific media, for example digital space, certain segments of audience who are very difficult to reach through TV or Print are now easier to reach through digital media.

AG: What is the easiest way to build a consumer connect?

DT: There is no easy way. Had there been an easy and efficient way, everybody would have adopted that by now. You have to work through the grind. With 600 TV channels and an even larger number of big and small print and digital platforms, being able to optimize among them is itself a huge challenge.

AG: The common belief is that with agency consolidation, planning is taking a backseat, and buying is taking precedence. Is that the truth?

DT: Firstly we look into how are agencies getting structured not only in India but around the world. Across the world there are four to six large networks which dominate the market. In India, we had local agencies, which are all getting acquired, with the exception of Madison that is doing extremely well.

So, it is a fact that consolidation in media agency space has happened and it is here to stay. But it has not led to bulk buying or ignoring strategy and planning. It is incorrect thinking. If we have to get an X result for the client, we cannot get it by numbers alone. Role of the agency is to provide best outcome through a mix of efficiency and effectiveness. This optimum efficiency and effectiveness comes by creating an effective strategy, supported by efficient buying.

For example, we have something called 20:20 connections. It helps us optimize the whole system, rather than work on specifically TV, Print or Digital. This entire system is optimized based on rates we have, information we have from the client and multiple data points that we have to be able to get an outcome. So planning and buying now operate in far more seamless and connected manner. You have to balance the two to get the best outcome for the client.

AG: How does India stand in comparison with the rest of the world when it comes to media consumption research?  Is BARC able to fill all the gaps in this direction?

DT: First thing BARC will do is to get TV data in place. Analytics is stage two. All of us have huge confidence that BARC will do a good job. Once BARC data is in place we will speak about analytics, whether it will be them or an outsider.

To add to it, all large analytics houses have actual execution or analytic wings in India. The skills are available, the resources are available and India is an important hub for analytics for the whole world.

AG: What has been the impact of social media on brand communication?

DT: Almost all brands which have understood the importance of that medium know that it is very critical. It is important to be clued in to what people are talking about. If I am not able to influence them when they are speaking about my brand or be able to seamlessly speak with them and address their concerns or be able to address comments that are there, or be able to have a specific interaction with the consumers, I am in trouble. 

The growth that we see in the brands’ social media presence, whether owned, earned or bought, is only because brands are confident that it works.  Everybody is keen to consume content on social media. In my view, it is the best way to disseminate content that the brand wants to speak about.

Equally important is that somebody has to hear and be able to draw insights from these brand conversations.

We call ourselves content plus connections agency. We begin with understanding the importance of content. Content can be anything - something that we have created, social media conversations or client’s advertising. Everything is content. It is our job to make sure that this content is distributed effectively and efficiently. That is what content plus connections mean.  You can either get this done through print, digital or social media or through a multimedia strategy.

AG: What is your view on the print industry?

DT: Print industry in India is still very robust compared to anywhere else in the world. When I speak with some of our global counterparts, they are surprised that we still read newspapers. I think the way our country is, and with the literacy levels growing, newspapers would continue to have a presence.

Having said that, problem which English press faces right now is from digital and it would continue to be there. They will have to adapt.

AG: Taking learning from the International market, what do you think the Indian publishers need to do?

DT: Except for a few in India, I don’t think anybody has really adapted or learned how to be able to use the digital media. That is what they need to do. Newspaper owners are scared to put everything on digital platform due to the fear of losing print readership. A mindset change is needed here. You have to first recognize that it is not print, it is the content. You need to find a business model to make money from digital and that is not easy. Until and unless you have unique content to start with, people will not pay for it.

AG: Moving to MediaCom, how has the year been so far?

DT: This year, like the last year, has been great. In the first six months, we have won about eight businesses roughly pegged at 500 crores. There are a few more which we expect to announce in the next few weeks. Our investments in digital and content have helped us grow.

A slightly higher than a third of our overall billings come from digital and rest of the businesses. Our growth from last year to this year, in terms of billings would have been about 38%. We have made significant investments to build expertise in terms of human resources and technology.

So, Jan-June has been good and we expect July – December to be even better.

AG: Can you elaborate a little on 20: 20 connections?

DT: It is based on system thinking. System thinking means that you don’t optimize individual silos. I don’t do optimization on TV, print or for that matter any other media.

I optimize with clear focus on brand objectives. For instance, a client can say that he/she wants to see a 3% growth in sales this year. In such a scenario we would put an all-out effort towards brand objective of 3% increase in sales by optimizing every option that is available to us, paid, owned and earned.  That is what 20:20 connections is. It is a single system that works across the world. It is completely online. Just to give you an example, if tomorrow we shift a planner from here to Russia and a Russian comes over here, they would be able to work seamlessly as the system remains same.

Our global clients come to us for consistency and quality of output that they get across the world. There is no change in thinking and output.

AG: The clients’ mindset has changed over the last five years or so.  How have you geared up for it?

DT: It is not true that the client’s mindset has changed only in the last half decade. It is a continuous change that has happened over the years. Right now it has been highlighted because of the scale and visibility.

Keeping pace with the change, for example, we have started investing quite a lot in data analytics skills in the last few years. We have a specific hub in Singapore where all the analytics happen. We have invested disproportionately high amounts, skills and resources in digital. We also create content for clients. So content, data and digital is where we have really invested in, from2010-11 onwards. In terms of the kind of people we hire, if a person does not understand digital space, we don’t hire. We ensure that all our people actually are trained in digital. Majority of our people can do everything. That’s how we have restructured ourselves.

AG: And the human resources….

DT: We have the lowest attrition rate in the industry. Most of our people have deep knowledge about our clients business as compared to what we would have had. It takes time to build up that knowledge. We make sure everybody in our company works on one of a large market’s clients.



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