By ABHINN SHRESHTHA
There is a totally amplifiable scope for OOH in India, says Mauricio Sabogal, Global CEO of Kinetic Worldwide, as he looks forward to working once again with Suresh Balakrishna, recently appointed CEO of Kinetic India, Middle East and South Asia
The year 2015 was widely considered as a recovery year for the OOH sector and the industry will now look to build on its gains to make 2016 even more successful. Kinetic Worldwide, the WPP agency that engages brands to connect with people’s lifestyles and environments when away from home, is also looking to further cement its position in India. Last year ended on a somewhat sour note for the company with the resignation of CEO Amit Sarkar, but Mauricio Sabogal, Global CEO of Kinetic Worldwide, who recently visited India, is intent on putting all that behind and concentrating on the way forward. His big bet is Suresh Balakrishna, the recently appointed CEO of Kinetic (India, Middle East and South Asia).
Says Sabogal, “We have had a fantastic year… 2015 was a great year for Kinetic, especially in India. Obviously, we had a loss in terms of the previous management but we have an excellent professional in Suresh coming up. We needed to find someone to lead the future of Kinetic and there was no better person than Suresh. He is very well reputed with deep knowledge in out of home.”
Kinetic has always seen India as one of its top markets. One example that Sabogal gives of India’s contribution is the new corporate logo and identity, which, he informed us, were designed by the Kinetic India team. In 2014, David Payne, CEO of Developing Markets and King Lai, CEO, APAC, Kinetic Worldwide both ranked India among the top 5 markets for the company. So how much has the situation changed in the intervening year? Not much, says Sabogal, as India continues to be in the top 5. “In the past two years, the high potential of the market has probably necessitated investment of more talent and more resources in the country. This is probably the only difference in order to capitalize on the high potential. Of course, if you see the top 5 and the top 3, there is a huge difference. So, it is going to be difficult for India to reach that level in terms of size. UK is a big, big market for us, as is China. But if you look at it in terms of number of people involved, then India is probably the second largest market for us,” he adds. The main message Kinetic wants to send across to advertisers, says Sabogal, is that there is a totally amplifiable scope for OOH, which can be leveraged.
“If the industry commits to creating strong capabilities by using technology, content and data, we are going to be in a very good place because we will be able to capitalize on the money flowing from traditional media to digital media by occupying the central position. There is a huge responsibility on Kinetic, as the leader, to drive the industry in this direction and to become a trend-setter,” he adds. Agreeing that 2016 is also expected to be a good year for India, Sabogal says that one of the key projects that Kinetic is looking to implement in the country is to become the first company to provide interaction between static billboards and smartphones. To do this, Kinetic has partnered with a Dutch technology company. “This is a huge progress in terms of technology and how OOH is gaining more relevance. In fact, I believe that in the near future, OOH will belong at the centre of the media planning, at least for some specific categories. In most of the categories, the shoppers are on the move. If you consider OOH as targeting of people on the move, then the opportunity is huge. This is what we are trying to execute this year,” he explains.
Other significant projects that Kinetic wants to introduce to India in 2016 include its global CSR initiative, Kinetic Futures, a programmatic platform for OOH and the creation of a social media amplification unit worldwide to link OOH with social media. Sabogal is obviously looking at Balakrishna to spearhead Kinetic’s drive for growth in India. The two of them have worked together earlier at BPN under the IPG MediaBrands umbrella and hope to forge another fruitful partnership at Kinetic.
With Kinetic having close to 26% market-share in India, Balakrishna feels that aggressive topline growths would be one of the business objectives for him along with pushing for further growth of the overall OOH market. “One challenge you always face is how to make something that is successful even better and more successful. I think it is more challenging to do this than to take over a brand that is not doing well and making it successful. My challenge is how to take this to the next level. I think to do this, India will have to dovetail into many of the things that the global markets are doing. Some of these things we can do in India tomorrow, while some might require 6-8 months for us to get ready, but it is a process of evolution. As a leader in this field, it is our duty to do this. We have to drive this category and the industry in the direction we want it to move,” Balakrishna says.
Talking specifically of the earlier example of making static posters interactive, Balakrishna says India as a country is ready for something like this because of the penetration of smartphones. “But there are other things, like programmatic buying, which we are testing in the US right now, which might take some more time to come to India. The point is that there is already a lot of work being done in the global arena on these fronts and so it is a question of when do we want to roll these out in India. All these concepts will be unique and Kinetic will be the first one to bring them to India,” he observes.
According to Sabogal, Kinetic’s team in India has already started meetings to bring in a partner to install cellphone antennas behind billboards. Plans are also afoot to partner with media vendors and carriers to offer this service, while access to social media data has also been planned. “The use of telephone data would depend on the local negotiations we have with the telephone operators, so this might take a little more time. The other thing needed, and I think Suresh is the right person for it, is to integrate the industry and have a common conversation. For instance, the more databases you produce, the less credibility you have. So you have to agree to use one database together. Technical methodologies and implementation should be common. The big issue is that there is no agreement between partners, vendors, agencies and advertisers to use one single methodology. We have enough data,” he explains.
Further stressing the need for single measurement methodology, Balakrishna cites the example of work done by the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC). He says BARC has been successful because they managed to get the advertiser, agency and broadcaster together. “We also need to work in that direction. Having said this, an established organization like BARC took two years to set up. I suppose we will also take a couple of years but until then we cannot just be in a black hole,” he admits.
Balakrishna also says that Kinetic would be aggressively bidding for all marketing contracts related to travel whenever they come up. In fact, Kinetic has very specific plans for its travel division, which has always had a strong presence, revolving around data and content. For example, Sabogal informs us that Kinetic is looking to bring its APEX database to India, which is used to understand how the gates at every single airport around the world are used by different passengers.
Considering the fragmented nature of India’s OOH sector, Sabogal says that Kinetic will have a huge role to play to ensure that the industry moves to a standardized measurement system, which will help to plan and buy efficiently. “I have a big issue with methodologies everywhere because the problem is that the industry does not necessarily agree to adopt one methodology. We have too many methodologies and none of them are perfect. There is no perfect method but we have to adopt and agree with the media planners, media owners, advertisers and adopt one single currency,” he states. So what does Kinetic feel about the future of OOH advertising and is the growing influence of the digital medium a cause for worry for traditional mediums? “I think it depends upon the interpretation. Today, if you ask the same question to television players, some will say TV is decreasing, some will say it is increasing. It depends on what they consider Television. TV is not any more the traditional broadcasted channel. You can now watch it on different platforms and access it through Internet. The same thing has happened to OOH. If you talk about static billboards, then perhaps the revenue is decreasing. If you think about digital billboards, then the share is increasing. If you talk about social media support, then the scope is huge. If you say that the billboard can interact with the mobile and if you can bring part of the mobile measurement through the OOH scope, then this is big business. As I said, we can create an ecosystem where traditional OOH is at the centre. But if you talk about the old-fashioned definition of OOH, then perhaps revenue share is decreasing,” says Sabogal.