Hindustan Times (HT) Media made its first foray at Cannes by hosting Rob Norman, Chief Digital Officer of GroupM, at the International Advertising Association (IAA) cabana on Day 4 of the 63rd Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity on Tuesday.
While Rob Norman spoke of future frontiers of digital in the context of media and advertising, Benoy Roychowdhury, Executive Director of HT Media, found resonance in it with his own organisation’s agenda of digital transformation. It was also a great beginning at a forum where he sees immense potential for more participation.
Edited excerpts from a conversation with Benoy Roychowdhury:
Tell us about HT Media’s first foray into Cannes... What are your expectations from hosting the Rob Norman session?
This is the first year that we have been part of Cannes. And, I think it’s appropriate that we have chosen to host Rob Norman because it coincides with what’s happening in our own organization with the serious investments that we are making in digital transformation. Rob is the foremost guy who can tell us what the future holds. So, it’s a great partnership between IAA, GroupM and us. And it’s a small beginning for HT at Cannes.
Everyone knows HT as a newspaper company; we are one of the oldest in the country. But, we want to tell our story, we want to talk a little bit about our new digital newsroom which is integrated, our new content management system which is state of the art. And the way we are transforming from being a print newspaper company into a fully multimedia digital organization.
So far, Bennett Coleman & Co has been the only print house associated with Cannes. Do we see HT planning a bigger foray and assuming a larger role?
I think it’s too early to talk about that. Mahesh Krishnan and I are here to get an idea of what happens, as none of us have actually been to Cannes earlier. There is a huge Indian delegation, and yes we would like to be involved with the Indian team that comes here. We have to go back, evaluate by what ways and means we can get involved. It is the mecca of advertising and it’s important that our presence is felt here. In what way or form, we will have to see.
What are your personal observations about the Cannes festival, especially India’s participation and performance?
I think the festival is fabulous. See the superb organization, and you are overwhelmed with the choice of content on offer… we don’t know what to pick and what to do. Two of the sessions I heard - one on managing creativity and the other on objectification of women - were absolutely brilliant. The session from Samsung on virtual reality is mind-blowing, because it talks about the birth of a new medium. Everything is cutting edge. Everyone from all over the world and India in particular needs to be here to know what the future is going to look like. Indians have done well in Cannes and they continue to do well, but some of the creative stuff that I saw from some of the other countries is outstanding. I am not a creative expert so I wouldn’t get into comparison, but some of the stuff that I saw was way beyond my imagination. Some South American work is absolutely mind-blowing, as are some campaigns in public service advertising.
It’s a great event and Indian participation, compared to other countries, is still smaller. But as time goes, we are getting stronger. I recently read a report from which says that we are among the top 10 advertising spenders in the world. I think we deserve our place in the sun here in Cannes.
Talking about HT Media, we have seen quite a lot of change of late with Bobby Ghosh coming in as editor, and fresh entrants on the business side too. So, what is the refreshed media brand looking like?
I don’t think there is too much to read into this. Sanjoy Narayan wanted to move on and do some of his own stuff as you are well aware, that’s been widely reported. So, we had to bring in somebody. We brought in Bobby Ghosh primarily because he is a person with a lot of experience in digital. On the business side, we keep making changes - some people move on, we recently lost Nitin Chaudhary from Mumbai. So, refreshing talent is the job of any management. I don’t think you should read it in terms of a very transformational kind of thing. I think the transformational stuff is happening in the newsroom, with the technology and work.
Earlier, journalists used to reach in the afternoon, today we have a 24/7 newsroom - they all come in the morning, they have their first meeting early in the morning and it’s a continuous 24-hour cycle. Those are the areas where the transformation is happening. As for people moving in and out, there isn’t much significance except perhaps for Sandeep Jain, a very senior person who has joined us in strategy, investor relations and procurement. His last job was as head of Perfetti in Asia.
What according to you are the talking points at HT Media right now?
Digital. Digital. Digital. We have been slow on our digital efforts so far, especially on our news sites. So, we have a long way to catch up, but that will not make us hold back, either in terms of talent or in terms of investment, or in terms of restructuring our ways of working.
Giving his observations on the festival, Mahesh Krishnan, Chief Revenue Officer, HT Media Group said, “This is a celebration of creativity. A lot of creative ideas come out; some of the top talent in the world is seen making presentations here. Especially considering the whole digital foray that HT is making, there are a lot of synergies that I find here. There is lot of stuff happening around social media, digital marketing, etc., and with HT trying to make massive strides in those areas, I think there is a lot of scope for us to be seen here and participate, and also take some of the learnings back to India and see how we can adapt that. Also, for our bread and butter print business, there are a lot of innovations and ads that you see here, outstanding creative stuff… the way people disrupt and make the ads far more relevant, clutter-breaking… there is a lot of knowledge for us to pick up. It’s very interesting and exciting.”