CEO | 07 Jul 2009
There are other challenges, namely the apathy of the civic agencies towards the outdoor media. The reality is that almost all government and civic authorities consider outdoor media as a burden. Despite heavy licensee fees and taxes, outdoor media does not enjoy 100 per cent legality. It is really strange. Something tangible should be done to impress upon the civic agencies to ‘promote’ outdoor and not to ‘control’ it.
Mukesh Gupta has made his mark in a wide array of fields spanning advertising, entertainment, art and culture. He has been instrumental in devising innovative marketing strategies and effective media buying for his clients to enable them to achieve their targets without feeling the pinch of rising advertising tariffs.
Gupta’s career began in 1978 when he founded Rashtriya Advertising. Following a mutual decision to part ways with the family, Gupta started Rashtriya Outdoor Advertising in 1991. He took over the reigns of GraphisAds in 1997 at a time when the company was going through a rough patch with a turnover of Rs 1 crore per annum. Gupta’s pioneering efforts led him to take the 30-year-old agency to great heights.
In conversation with exchange4media’s Pallavi Goorha Kashyup, Gupta shares his views about the outdoor industry in India and his vision for GraphisAds in the times ahead.
Q. When and what made Graphisads enter the Indian outdoor scene?
We entered outdoor advertising in the year 1991 when we got the approval for setting up a 20x10 hoarding over Northern Railway flyover in Paharganj (near the New Delhi Railway Station). We marketed and managed the same well and got profits much more than print media. At that time we were working under the name of Rashtriya Outdoor. In 1997, we changed Rashtriya Outdoor to Graphisads.
Immediately thereafter, we bagged the contract for bus shelters, electric pole kiosks and hoardings at MCD sites and got fabulous response, mostly from direct clients. Soon, we realised that the outdoor business was good if managed well. And we haven’t looked back.
Q. What are the technological advances that the medium is witnessing?
The first technological advance I see is in the get-up of the advertising displays. Earlier, the designs used to be hand-painted by painters atop bamboo structures. Today, the creativity has improved due to the umpteen possibilities that technology has brought into play. In fact, things that were inconceivable a decade ago are common things today. You can erect a campaign in a matter of 24 hours, not just in a city, but all over the country as well. This was not possible before. A pan-India campaign launch on a single day simultaneously is a reality because flexes, vinyls and digital printouts can be taken out directly from computerised designs in a matter of a few hours. The outdoor industry has grown to catch up with the transformations taking place, at least technology wise.
Q. What are the challenges that you are facing here?
There are no challenges as far as adoption of technology goes. In fact, technological advances have enormously helped the industry achieve efficiency. Even the small players are not facing any problems due to the changes that have come because of the introduction of flexes and digital printouts. The hand-painted designs used to be really challenging. Nowadays, designs are made on the computer. Photographs are easily available. So, there are no challenges as far as technology is concerned.
However, there are other challenges, namely the apathy of the civic agencies towards the outdoor media. The reality is that almost all government and civic authorities consider outdoor media as a burden. Despite heavy licensee fees and taxes, outdoor media does not enjoy 100 per cent legality. It is really strange. Something tangible should be done to impress upon the civic agencies to ‘promote’ outdoor and not to ‘control’ it.
Q. The outdoor media has seen the entry of some big players in recent times – News Outdoor, Times Group, and many others. How do you plan to beat the competition?
The question of ‘beating’ the competition doesn’t arise. In fact, the industry needs big players because that would help in drawing the attention of the government to introduce conducive measures for facilitating the growth. So, we welcome the entry of new players as more competition would be better for the industry. We feel there is a lot of room at the top for efficient players.
However, the big players tried to use their unlimited money to bag the contracts at expensive rates and hence, they had kept very high rates for their sites commensurate with their expenses. The advertisers have not patronised this new trend of expensive outdoor media and hence, a few of them have already shut down their business in the country. Some of the MNC players who are still left in the field are facing the heat from more economical players.
We have already overtaken many of them as we are growing at a healthy 20 per cent while they are facing business loss. We are focusing on understanding the government policies and work as per the norms set by the civic authorities. We earnestly believe in providing value for money to our advertisers. We don’t bid very high just to get the contracts. We always evaluate the media at what rate we can sell, only then we take up contracts.
Q. Who are your major clients in India?
In outdoor, we have got some of the big names – namely, Britannia, HDFC, Vodafone, Airtel, Hindustan Times, The Times of India, Star News, Education New Zealand, Fiat India (New Holland Tractors), Steel Authority of India, LIC Housing Finance, LIC of India, State Bank of India, Bank of India, Government of Delhi, and all leading ad agencies, for example, O&M, MOMS, Laqshya, Portland, Aaren Initiative, etc.
Q. How big is the outdoor advertising industry? What is the share of OOH in the total advertising industry?
The outdoor advertising industry in India is worth over Rs 1,500 crore. It is poised to increase to Rs 2,500 crore in 2-3 years’ time. The OOH medium provides a share of nearly 7-8 per cent to the overall advertising industry.
Q. What are the major innovations that you have seen in the outdoor medium in recent times?
A lot of innovations are taking place in the outdoor industry. Innovation is the key to survival and continuous growth, and outdoor is no exception. Recently, in the outdoor campaign for Nimbooz (from 7Up), the agency used a wooden replica of a fruit crusher squeezing juice from lemon. The fabrication was good and the result was fantastic. It was placed on a heavy traffic road close to the Oberoi flyover in Delhi. Similarly, motorised LED displays superimposed on hoarding boards attract the viewers’ attention to a great extent. Samsung has used this very effectively. Similarly, the Bureau of Energy Efficiency, Department of Prohibition, Ministry of Road Transport and others have also used LED displays very well to convey their messages.
Q. How do you compare the Indian outdoor advertising industry with the global market?
The Indian outdoor advertising industry is far behind when compared to international standards. Abroad, huge designer boards are put up in an aesthetic and neat manner. Attractive landscapes are developed near the sites, which add to the looks of the boards. On the other hand, in our country, the boards look jarring as they are put up in a haphazard manner. Standardisation of sizes is a must.
However, of late, there has been a lot of improvement in the approach of the outdoor agencies. The Indian outdoor media can match the global markets if the government forms a proper policy, which is implemented without any partiality. The government, in consultation with the leading civic authorities in various cities, should take initiatives in this regard in favour of the industry and not in favour of any specific player(s).
Q. When we talk about regulation, has this issue been raised strongly enough? Why is the government being so negligent about it?
It’s not that the outdoor industry has not taken up the issue with the government. For example, in Delhi we have formed an association called Delhi Outdoor Advertisers Association and we hold regular meetings and have met the civic authorities several times. We will not like to blame the people in the government entirely for this situation. The government agencies function as per their system. They do not themselves propagate their policies/ messages through outdoor media as much as they do over print media. It is the mindset of the blue-chip advertisers initially towards the outdoor medium. This has changed a lot of late as they depend on outdoor for image creation. Now, it is the apathy of the government agencies. This will also change over a period of time. Anything that involves law enforcement agencies, people in the government do hesitantly unless it is done at the very top level.
Q. What kind of innovations can we look forward to?
From a static medium, we have come to a level where there is movement of visuals and messages. I really cannot predict what kind of innovations we will be seeing in times to come. Mobile vans are extensively used to publicise schemes and for awareness creation in interior areas. One thing I am sure about is that nobody can stop ideas from taking shape.
Q. What are your future plans?
We plan to focus on the Delhi market as there is a lot of room for growth here. We belong to Delhi and we would like to consolidate here. Secondly, we prefer exclusive concessionaires from hitherto untapped markets, but at reasonable rates, as we always will provide value for money sites wherever we are. We plan to focus on better agency-client relationship through regular and proactive interactions and keeping them informed of all positive developments taking place in the industry.
We have plans to further strengthen our marketing and servicing team with more professionals who are well experienced in the industry. We will continuously impress upon policymakers and the authorities to follow uniform policies so that we stand benefited along with the industry.
Q. What was the reason for you to enter the education sector in the OOH space?
The government has opened the higher education sector. A lot of established and new players have taken up management and engineering education almost as the sector for growth and consolidation of their image. Everything is at stake for them, because there are plenty of opportunities. Naturally, if they want to create awareness about their courses, they need to advertise. In the beginning of launching their courses, the promoters do not have much money to advertise. Outdoor for them is an easy option as it provides handsome returns/ response on their small ad budgets. There are several players – big and small. We are offering special packages to this sector so that new clients can be created for outdoor media. Wait and see. The education vertical will be much bigger than the real estate sector. That is my belief.