C. V. L. Srinivas joined Group M in early 2013 and took on the role of Group M CEO South Asia. His previous position at Group M was CEO Asia-Pacific for Maxus, which is one of the four agencies brands of Group M. In his current position Srinivas oversees the four agency brands of Group M Mind Share, Maxus, MEC and Mediacom across the four South Asia markets comprising of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Currently Srinivas and his team are focusing on getting the entire network of Group M agencies future focused whilst driving a strong digital culture within the network.
In an interview with the Daily FT, Srinivas noted: “The future for brands is embedded with digital and like in all other businesses digital is disrupting the business of advertising and media planning. The entire South Asian region has a strong leadership position and as Group M we are really focusing on doing things today which will keep us leaders in the future as well. One of the things we strongly believe in is that the rules of the game have changed very dramatically. What made you a leader in the past may not necessarily keep you in that position going forward. Again, this is largely because of the disruption that is being created by digital. To stay future focused and to stay relevant in the future we believe that we should strive with the strong digital culture which is growing.”
Following are excerpts:
- Trying to equip planners to do multi-screen planning to optimise a media plan
- Type of targeting you can do on mobile cannot be done with any other media
- Group M looking at scaling up Xaxis audience planning platform in Sri Lanka
By Sarah Hannan
Q: From 2015 onwards will mobile still remain as the way forward? As of late media agencies have had to deal with multi-screen and multi-platforms to reach the target audience. How does Group M plan to cater to these market segments?
A: What we are seeing today is a convergence of various screens; be it mobile, television, other mobile/palmtop devices such as iPads so on and so forth. We are also witnessing mobile consumption happening simultaneously across screens or we are seeing people toggle between a television screen and a second screen on their palm which could be a mobile or an iPad.
What we have seen from other markets is that neither TV or print nor any of these media are going to die. We have seen data from more mature markets which reflect that TV continues to thrive in the digital era. In countries like India print still continues to do extremely well. Even today there seems to be a lot of readership, specially the language newspapers are doing really well and in terms of ad spends, they are growing in healthy double digits. It is not a question of digital or mobile sounding the death knell to any one media. But it is more a question of the entire media budget getting re-allocated or re-distributed between digital and non-digital platforms.
This is where it gets interesting, because when you talk about digital platforms; if you have a TV which is a smart TV or if you have a digitised way of distributing cable programs to TV as against an analogue way that too can be classified as digital media. Broad trend is more and more budgets will be allocated to digital platforms, be it TV, mobile or any other platform which gets on to digital. Less money will get allocated to analogue platforms because it is only natural that more and more platforms will become digital going forward. As a media agency we are doing a couple of things; the tools, the research we use for media strategy and media planning today are very different from the tools we used a few years ago.
For example, we are trying to equip our planners to do multi-screen planning to optimise a media plan across two or three different screens. In the early days we used to first finish a TV plan and only then think about digital, whereas today it is being done simultaneously. Similarly on the media owner’s side there are a lot of media owners who play own media across print/digital or TV/digital or some of them have print, TV and digital. So we are ready to get bundled media deals across different platforms from the media buying side as well. There are quite a lot of changes taking place from the media buying as well as the media planning side to be able to ride on all the new trends.
Q: Will digital marketing in South Asia match up to an equal level to digital marketing campaigns that are taking place in other parts of the world at present? What are the challenges?
A: It will definitely catch up with other economies but it will probably take a while. If I am to share some numbers, in the more mature markets digital today is anywhere between 25%-35% of the total ad spend. In the emerging markets digital as total ad spend is still small and is between 5%-15%, so that is the difference between some of the emerging markets and mature markets. What is going to change this rapidly is the advent of mobile. Smartphone penetration is increasing pretty rapidly in emerging markets like Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh and this is going to help us leapfrog many of the more advanced markets. Sooner or later we will see more spends coming to mobile.
Of course there are challenges which advertisers face; the experience you get on a mobile phone cannot be compared to the experience you get on a larger screen. However, there are more benefits when it comes to mobile; the type of targeting that you can do on mobile cannot be done with any other media, because it is a much more personalised kind of a message. There are challenges and there are opportunities and it is only a matter of time before we see advertising funds shift towards digital platforms and also mobile. At some stage markets in South Asia will catch up with some of the more developed economies.
Q: Is there a likelihood that the traditional job roles will be redefined in media agencies and the whole of the advertising sector?
A: We are seeing a lot of change already and a lot more will take place in the coming years; today we employ a lot more data analysts than in the past, because there is a wealth of data that gets generated when you run campaigns today across multiple sources; especially if you run a digital marketing campaign, there is a lot of data, so we need a lot more people to analyse data. We are also employing a lot for creative and content people. Again when it comes to digital media a lot of our clients expect us to give them a full solution which combines creative part as well as the media part. Therefore we need to have people who can think creatively and may be even help create content.
For example, last year in India we launched a unit named Mashup under Group M. This unit creates digital content for clients. It has helped us to a great extent when creating digital media, especially videos, used as trailers prior to the launch of a product. The digital content was used to promote the brand before it went to mainline media and helped to create a buzz around the brand in a highly targeted manner to make notice of the brand. So the profile of the media agency is definitely changing.
Q: Your thoughts on predicted trends and future job roles in the digital media sector?
A: Technology is obviously going to be the backbone of the future agency and as WPP and Group M we are investing a lot in technology. We have in fact invested in a technology platform known as Xaxis, which is I would say the only one of its kind in the world so far. It is an audience planning platform and we are looking at scaling up Xaxis in Sri Lanka and introducing a few new features which are completely technology-led. Ultimately it is going to bring a lot more efficiencies to our clients.
That is one example of how seriously we take technology. It is going to be a combination of investing and acquiring technology on platforms that exist elsewhere and of course having things created within. Technology can today affect many areas of our business; not only on the media planning and the buying side, but also in terms of running the basic operation of a media agency. Today we have a lot more automation than we had in the earlier days but it is a long way to go in some of the emerging markets in terms of automation. That is another area that technology can bring in a lot of efficiencies in our business.
Q: How long will it take for traditional media to evolve towards into total digital solutions?
A: It all depends on the customers you are targeting and the age profile of the consumers. I asked a recent batch of 25 interns at their orientation program how many of them read the newspaper that morning. Not a single hand went up. Then I asked how many of them watched the news on TV last night and a few hands went up. Then we got in to a casual chat and we figured that all of them had looked up some site or the other or some app or the other, Twitter or Facebook, to figure out what was going on in the world a few minutes before the session started that day. So they were on top of all the news and developments, except nobody had read it in a conventional newspaper.
That tells us that this generation of the youth and young executives today depends on digital platforms for news or may be infotainment and so on. As this generation grows a little older, then you have the next generation, it is only going to increase. But there would still be certain target groups which even today rely on reading a newspaper in the morning or watching the 9 p.m. news, because it has become part of their daily schedule. So to an extent it depends on the target audience you have for your brand or service. Eventually what is going to happen is news or entertainment brands as long as the brands are credible and as long as the brands stand for something and provide quality content they can take different forms or formats. But they have to adapt to different forms and formats or else they would end up losing their consumer base.