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OOH Interviews

Satish Singh

COO | 15 Jun 2005

“I think a reasonable figure for the industry currently is Rs 1,000 crore annually. Let us not forget that there are so many things that we cannot measure in outdoors, unlike traditional media. The growth rate is at 20 per cent year-on-year.”

Laqshya Media, a Mumbai-based independent outdoor media player, has grown into an enviable outdoor planning and media buying agency with billings of over Rs 45 crore in 2004-05. It has now announced plan to create specialised divisions for Media planning and buying, media ownership business, events and promotions, and retail solutions. In conversation with Gokul Krishnamurthy of exchange4media, Satish Singh, COO, Laqshya Media, talks about the company’s performance over the years.

Q. Tell us something about your association with Laqshya. How did it all begin?

In 1999, I was in Mid-Day. A friend of mine had Laqshya Media running. The infrastructure was in place and he’d done a few campaigns too. We came together and I guess we are, what you might call, first generation entrepreneurs. We started off about the same time as Landscape. We felt that there was a need for planning and monitoring in the outdoor media. These were the two elements that we brought to the table.

Q. What are the tools you employ? You are said to be working on an indigenous planning tool too.

Over the years, we did a lot of research – demographically segmenting cities, classifying profiles, etc. We also looked at what has been done in India and abroad. On the basis of that, we’ve arrived at a decent solution, which is robust enough to meet the requirements of clients comprehensively. Besides the traffic counts and eyeballs, it enables us to be accountable and measurable with our work, detailing reach and frequency. The tool we’re developing now is a proprietary tool. This will be complete in the sense that it can even be used by planners in the same way that planning tools are used for conventional media.

Q. How’s the growth of the industry?

I think a reasonable figure for the industry currently is Rs 1,000 crore annually. Let us not forget that there are so many things that we cannot measure in outdoors, unlike traditional media. The growth rate is at 20 per cent year-on-year.

Another important thing is that there has not been so much inflation in outdoors as there has been in print or television. In print, for example, the inflation, I think has been about 500 per cent in the last 3 to 5 years. In outdoors this has been only about 100 per cent in the same period. So, we have more eyeballs, more purchasing power, but at a lesser incremental cost.

Q. Can you compare the outdoor industry in India and abroad?

The sheer number of media owners and the variation in sizes of outdoor media options here mean that the European models and tools cannot be replicated in India. In Europe there is standardisation and there are 4 to 5 sizes. These are all monitored electronically.

Q. How much can you innovate in OOH?

The kind of innovations that are available are plenty. To start with, there needs to be innovation in execution. Creative scheduling can be an innovation in itself. We keep doing a lot of work that can be termed as innovation, but I think what is more important is that innovation has to be subtle enough to blend in with the brand communication. Otherwise it takes away from the brand. The work may succeed in getting the innovation noticed, but not the brand.

Primarily, the innovations are in being dynamic rather than static, and in terms of size – you take up two spaces adjacent to each other and make them one, and it’s an ‘innovation’. But things are changing. Now, we have creatives being developed by agencies specifically for outdoors. That’s a good sign. It offers more scope for creativity in the medium.

Q. What’s your take on the blackout of hoardings in evenings in Mumbai?

What is happening in Mumbai is a populist measure. The outdoor industry has become a soft target. The entire exercise of blacking out hoardings is not going to help. The billboards are still visible. After 10 pm, there is no stopping the number of hours hoardings are lit. The laws governing the OOH media are outdated. If media owners are involved in the regulation process, it will result in much more synergy and benefit all involved including the government.

Also, the laws are not uniform across the country. Uniform laws will be progressive. They will help in expanding the medium through higher transparency. In Mumbai, maybe better methods can be worked out. Why can’t we light every alternate streetlight for instance, to save power?

Q. Any restrictions on the use of technology that you feel are a hurdle for the industry?

The best examples of the use of technology in outdoors are Times Square in New York and Piccadilly in London. There are huge screens, and things are larger-than-life. It has become a near ‘cult’ situation. In Mumbai, blinking neons are not allowed. LED screens are not freely allowed. If the government starts speaking to the industry and understands the benefits, it will give additional revenue to the government.

Q. How does an agency advise a client when everything is so subjective?

The quality of sites is very subjective. In the same client’s office, not all may agree on the ranking of sites in order of quality. It’s more of a gut feel than anything else. We as agencies try to look at all the basic factors when we come up with the visibility ratings. Otherwise, we are all like the blind men around the elephant.

Q. How important is the cost factor? Is it the deciding factor?

Regardless of however good your understanding of the media, planning and other factors, it all boils down to costs. Cost becomes the basic decision making measure. It is unfortunate. The operations and planning skills of an agency are taken for granted. The same goes for execution. More than anything else, it is the trust built over a period of time, which ensures that the business stays with the agency.

Q. You’ve come up with some new divisions. Which will be the big arms of Laqshya?

We believe OMI will be the largest revenue generator, perhaps along with Laqshya Outdoors. It really depends on how the market goes. Synergy will be more to address the needs of existing clients, unless of course an opportunity presents itself. We are not going to go out of our way to solicit business in that area. Most of the work in his area is anyways adaptation of work from other locations. For the events division, we are looking at someone to head the business. We have been handling prestigious events like the Dubai Civil Aviation Event, corporate events, product launches and many more for sometime now. We will be looking at this as a separate division seriously once we find the person to head operations.

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