Manish Porwal, executive director, India-west, Starcom, which is among the top media buyers, explains the business to Shubha Madhukar.
Publicis Groupe-owned Starcom MediaVest Group is one of the leading media networks in the world. In India Starcom started its operations in January 2000 as the media-buying arm of ad agency Leo Burnett.
Starcom's clientele includes Heinz India, Sony, World Gold Council, Atlas, Air Deccan, P&G, Indian Oil, Raymond, Zydus Cadilla and AB Corp, among others. Manish Porwal, executive director, India-west, Starcom, explains issues pertaining to media buying. Porwal has spent 10 years in planning, buying, selling and marketing.
An NMIMS graduate, Porwal, a young achiever, has always found it difficult to justify his responsibility vis-à-vis his age and experience. He joined Starcom in 2003 as general manager - investment and new initiatives and has recently taken over the responsibility of Starcom's west zone. His earlier assignments have been with Ulka, Everest, Vijay TV and BBC World.
Some people think media buying agencies buy in bulk and then farm it out to the clients. Is this how you work?
I wonder if that is the perception. Most clients know that media buying agencies don't do that. We buy as and when the clients need. We might buy together to make economic sense, but we don't buy first and then redistribute to our clients. I don't know of any agencies that do it. A few agencies may do it for cricket, where they think many clients would buy anyway. Personally I would not like to venture into such a business. It's like treading a very thin line between being smart and being unethical.
At Starcom, we do not buy and keep. We decide what we need for our clients and then we buy media space or time. In Japan they often do buy bulk and sell onwards. In fact, the biggest agencies there are the biggest media owners. They have a stake in many newspapers and TV channels. We don't do that. That's Japan, that's the way they work. Thankfully it doesn't work here.
How do you ensure each campaign gets its due space in so much clutter and fragmentation on television?
In the old days, if a Cartier had to advertise in India, it would have to take a spot at a huge and phenomenal cost to reach 70 per cent of India, through a Chitrahaar, a Hindi feature film and India Today. Those were the only media available. Next to the Cartier ad you would find the atta (flour) ad, a Lux ad, an Atlas cycle ad and the Sun Microsystem ad. The media plan's reach would be 70 per cent - but how many can buy a Sun Microsystem product? Maybe just 0.001 per cent. How many can buy a Cartier? 0.01 per cent. Why should the advertiser reach so many when most of those numbers are not even relevant?
In media fragments, when you have a choice, to take a channel like a CNBC, BBC, Star News, etc, you are telling the advertiser that there is a choice available and you can decide to put your products in one of these. It is actually an opportunity for most advertisers.
Talking about pitches, what kind of tools do you use?
The tools are integrated with how we work and think. They are not restricted to pitches. We might refer to some of the tools routinely in our normal meetings with clients; but we may make a little more fuss about them when it comes to pitches. But clients are smart. They cannot be misled with display of tools if you are not actually using them. They understand what to take, what to agree with and what to give away.
We have a tool for every process. We use them to gain consumer insights, to understand consumer requirements, to evaluate media, to create value and finally evaluate whether a good job has been done.
There are tools, which are ways of working; there are processes - a standardised amalgamation or aggregation of steps - and there are systems, which are IT, networking or technology driven.
Of late clients are calling for more and more pitches. Why is it happening?
Yes, I agree that clients are calling for more pitches and if you ask me the reason is very simple. It's a simple mismatch between demand and supply, and aggression and ability. Agencies are hard pressed for top lines, still willing to work around their bottom lines, each agency is trying to show the other agency that they are offering better. It's a process of wooing.
It has also increased because clients' demands and expectations have increased. And why not? Media agencies are now much more capable of handling stuff than they were in the past. The only problem is that clients want more for less and many agencies go and promise more for less. It is only later that the client realises the mistake …
Starcom has 16 AoR (agency of record) clients. I am glad to say that we are at the higher end of the spectrum, getting what we ask for, sometimes maybe a little less than what we ask for, and proving that we are doing a good job.
Are external media audit companies a concern for agencies?
Maybe for some agencies; for us they are welcome, as long as it is not a strategy audit, where we do not agree. Or they have to be a part of the strategy building from start. Once the strategy has been agreed with the client nobody has the right to audit it. But we are absolutely on for process audits and financial audits. Makes sense, in fact, it gives us more credibility.
What is so special about Starcom?
Lots of things. The biggest is the core of our way of thinking which we fondly call Passion Group Marketing or PGM. We re-aggregate consumers into groups, which are defined not just by demographics but also according to passions and beliefs. PGM differentiates us from most other agencies.
Another thing that differentiates Starcom completely is the principle of permission marketing. Most other agencies think and start from brand, we think consumer first. We don't believe in terms like bombard, intrude, shock, awe. We believe we need to take permission from the consumer to talk to him or her. The day you have taken the permission, you have entered into their lives, the brand has entered into their lives and then you don't need to talk to shock or awe and you'll still be heard.
What differentiates us is that we are very transparent. We don't do deals first and then tell the clients about it. Very often, the clients are part of our strategic negotiation teams. We do not believe in anything called volume discounts. Each of our papers relevant to the client is voluntarily open for the client for inspection.
We believe that people at Starcom have a very different way of working. They love being here. They believe in the philosophy of people. We believe our business is all about people. If people are happy doing what they are doing, they'll create a much better work output in the same very hours. Wherever you go, you will find we use the concept of people first. We have rules and norms but informality rules this place. There are no superiors and subordinates. Everybody works together and that flows top down and bottom up.
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