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Abhijit Sen Gupta

CEO | 08 Apr 2005

“Outdoor has always provided more scope in terms of application of new technology, innovation and other factors. And it is continuously evolving. Today it is laser shows; tomorrow it will be something else. In the last 4-5 years, we have witnessed a steady growth in outdoor spends by clients across categories.”

Abhijit Sen Gupta, CEO, OAP India, started his career with Selvel Kolkata at a time when there was no media planning agency for outdoor advertising in the country. From there on, he traversed O&M’s outdoor wing, and had a stint at Trikaya Grey. In 1999, he moved to Mumbai to join Prime Site (Mudra’s outdoor agency) when it was going through bad patches. He was one of the key persons to revive Prime Site.

He set up Outdoor Advertising Professionals (OAP) India, the outdoor advertising arm of Rediffusion DYR, in July 2002. OAP India, a partnership between RDYR and Selvel, functions as an independent company and broke even in eight months. In conversation with Gokul Krishnamurthy of exchange4media, Abhijit Sen Gupta shares his views on the Indian outdoor advertising industry. Excerpts:

Q. Rates seem to be the differentiating factor for outdoor agencies. What else does the client look for?

Price is an important factor, but slowly, planning skills are coming into play. Not all agencies have been able to come to terms with this additional set of skills that are being offered. There are many ways to stretch the rupee to work for the client and the rate itself is only a part of it. Things may be very different in a year’s time. Because we buy outdoor media space in bulk, we get good rates. It’s similar to media buying for conventional advertising in that sense. For the clients, our national reach means that they have a helping hand to deal with the huge list of suppliers we handle.

Q. How is outdoor advertising evolving as an industry?

The industry is evolving by the day. There are associations like the MRUC (Media Research Users Council) and the IOAAA (Indian Outdoor Agencies Association), which have taken the onus of building a research and planning tool for the industry.

Q. Tell us more about this new planning tool.

It is a significant development. It is a statistical tool that is based on extensive field research. It takes into account the parameters like travel pattern, traffic volume, and quality of exposure of one side of the road to the other, among other things. A huge database is being worked on to arrive at the final tool.

Q. Will such a tool undermine the role of the outdoor media-planning agency?

Just as the regular media buying agencies have not been replaced in spite of numerous tools to aid in planning, outdoor agencies too will retain their role in planning. The expertise within the agency’s system will be irreplaceable.

Q. How friendly are the government regulations on outdoor advertising?

Too much of ‘friendliness’ is also detrimental. Some amount of regulation is required to control the industry. For example, Mumbai today is an eyesore. If no planned regulation is exercised periodically, one fine day some government might realise that things are out of hand and decide to ban all hoardings. In terms of creative, Mumbai is a far more evolved. You can get away with a higher amount of interesting innovation in print or television but outdoors attract attention when you try something new. The outdoor advertising scene abroad is far more interesting.

Q. What about the numerous ‘vendors’ who ply their spaces?

There is no entry barrier in this industry. That is a problem the industry faces. A shopkeeper can also become a vendor if he has the space. There is a consolidation that is required. This has happened in the European market with evolution and regulation. It is very difficult to state how long this will take in India. I believe the IOAAA can make a difference if we have a set of guidelines to define operations.

Q. What is the most important requisite for people joining the outdoor advertising industry?

For one, they need to be absolutely flexible and elastic to be able to handle the different vendors at different situations. There are extreme situations one faces and resilience will see people through. Secondly, there is no tool as such to help planning. So, one needs to be very innovative to put the clients’ requirements in perspective.

Q. What is OAP’s client portfolio like?

OAP has a varied slate of clients including McDowell’s, ING, Tata Motors, IFFCO Tokyo, PSI, Pepe, Lifestyle, Onida, Maruti, PSI, Tata Pipes, Tata Shakti, RK Marbles, DLF and Shaw Wallace. These are clients we continue to work with nationally. We also handled the Deccan Chronicle IPO, and in some regions, we handle more clients like the Taj Hotels, SKF and Provogue, as also a host of builders.

Q. How has outdoor advertising grown, vis-à-vis print, television or radio?

Outdoor has always provided more scope in terms of application of new technology, innovation and other factors. And it is continuously evolving. Today it is laser shows; tomorrow it will be something else. In the last 4-5 years, we have witnessed a steady growth in outdoor spends by clients across categories.

The evolution of ‘Ambience Media’ is a case in point – be it branding behind auto drivers, or the AIDS campaigns in public toilets, we propose a lot to clients and some of it gets executed. There is resistance but we keep trying.

Q. What would you suggest to grow outdoors as an industry?

Self-regulation will help and it is very necessary today. The responsibility lies with media owners more than with agencies. A consolidation is required.

Q. What’s the growth plan for OAP beyond conventional outdoor advertising?

OAP is diversifying into POP, Merchandising, Retail and other streams that are lying untapped on an organised scale. Many more agencies are foraying into these areas too, and they represent a logical evolution for the industry from the conventional outdoor advertising.

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