If there is one session that will be remembered by delegates at this year’s AdAsia, it will be today’s last sitting on ‘Beyond Print: Lessons from Genghis Khan’. It began with Leslie Fong, Executive VP-Marketing Division of Singapore Press Holdings (SPH), proclaiming, “SPH will have to diversify beyond print (Straits Times) even though there is no challenger and we are firmly ensconced in the market.”
His rationale: Those who build fortresses and stay put in its protection, ultimately lose. Those who move on to conquer new territories, win. This is what one has learnt from a great military strategist like Genghis Khan. So, Straits Times, which currently has a 50 per cent share of this consumerist society’s ad spend, must protect its fortress but also look ahead and take positions for the future which looks beyond print.
Bhaskar Das, Executive President, Bennett, Coleman & Co Ltd (BCCL), literally sprang up from his seat – one was left wondering why he got a round of applause even before he spoke anything – and emphatically proclaimed, “Who said newspapers are in danger? They are not.”
His next fusillade: “It is time we stopped thinking of newspapers in the physical sense. It is part of an information process. We have to look at newspapers as something that provides the right platform for advertisers, in other words, we have to co-create a product that suits them. Print has nothing to fear.”
Moderator Christopher Graves, President, Ogilvy PR Worldwide, Asia Pacific, tried valiantly to steer the discussion to the potential threat from new media and online products, but Das simply upped the rhetoric with more esoteric marketing jargon and arguments. And why not – after all he heads the revenue-earning machine of India’s biggest media money-spinner, The Times of India Group.
With further applause – don’t ask me why because I am not too sure of that myself; is it because he had already made a fashion style statement of sorts – Das knew he had made his point. He went for a final push, “Today, the reader’s attention span is split among multiple options. So, instead of worrying about the future of print, we have to think of offering solutions to advertisers. Start seeing the newspaper as part of a communication process and we have to tailor the future newspaper differently.”
Graves made one more attempt to take things back to Leslie Fong and Genghis Khan. But it was too late. Das had taken centrestage – firmly. Graves: “Why will advertisers put their money with print if there are other options?” Das was quick in shooting back: “The advertisements are the end result of this communication process. Let’s worry about our product. We cannot have verticals in a newspaper like children’s section, etc. The whole paper has to change in future to involve children and youth. The problem is not with readers, it is with the managers.”
It was all heady stuff, and the audience loved it. And why not, for Das had introduced a new ‘vertical’ in the convention’s straightjacketed format. This afternoon, he did appear to have taken some learning from Genghis Khan. But Fong seemed more content in staying with Genghis Khan’s broad philosophy: SPH will protect its fortress but also expand into new media. He firmly stayed away from deeper insights.