Starcom Mediavest went about its way quietly in 2005, pitching selectively, adding the occasional new business, but constantly focussing on the specialist units it created in various areas of media. By February 2006, the agency is geared up to add two more services, and Ravi Kiran, MD, Starcom (South Asia) informed that much of this had to do with the agency’s decision to offer holistic solutions to their clients – in effect concentrate on organic growth than new businesses.
“To engage today’s attention-challenged customers, you cannot depend only on the established methods of communication. Pure exposure based media planning is already losing currency, tomorrow’s needs are engagement and experience. In order to create brand-consumer experiences that alter the way consumers evaluate our brands in a competitive context, we need to develop multi-disciplinary planning skills as well as strong execution focus,” said Kiran.
This is on the lines of the “vision” the agency had in 2003 that subsequently led to the emergence of units like Starcom IP, StarSight, Relay and Starcom Entertainment, among others.
Until now, much was happening in terms of consolidating these operations, “Now we have strong capability in sports, digital and wireless marketing, ambient marketing, entertainment and embedded marketing. The important thing is, unlike many of our rivals, we are not launching new brands by getting people to double-hat, just so that we have a name to throw into the ring. Each of our units has got dedicated staffing in almost all our offices. StarSight has offices in 12 cities, Relay is now in Delhi, Starcom IP and Starcom Entertainment are in three cities,” pointed out Kiran.
In the wake of this, he gives inkling of the two services slated to launch by mid-February, which comprise small town and rural marketing solutions and marketing services, popularly known as below the line. “Once these two are operational, we will be the single most diversified media network in India, bar none. We are also going to do more aggressive testing and application of P2P (word-of-mouth) marketing and CEM (Cause Enabled Marketing) in 2006,” added Kiran.
Needless to say, Starcom is clear that it wants ‘non-traditional’ media to aptly contribute to its revenues as well. If Kiran’s words are anything to go by, the contribution on this front is on the upswing any way. “Many of our clients now use multiple services we offer, not just the mainstream media. This is the true role of our new service offerings, revenue will be an outcome. In 2005, the first full year of our new services, diversified services contributed nearly 20 per cent to our revenue; that’s very healthy I’d say,” observed Kiran.
What is Starcom’s broad game plan for 2006? “Keeping current clients excited, launching new services and disciplines, and training our people intensively to deliver holistic and through the line recommendations,” replied Kiran.
Elaborating on that, he said, “Continue focusing on helping our current clients deliver engaging connections with their customers. We are source-neutral in our philosophy when it comes to growth – that is we do not make large proclamations on whether we want to grow organically or through acquisition of new clients. What we do know is we do not want to grow ‘at any cost’. Our existing clients are the dearest to us, and we want to keep them excited to work with us, by improving our service delivery to them. That’s priority number one.”
“When it comes to new accounts, we are already selective and we want to continue that strategy. We do not want clients who will turn us into assembly lines or have a retrogressive view of communication,” he further said.
Throwing more light on the agency’s focus on the ‘holistic way’, Kiran explained, “The ‘why’ of holistic approach in communication planning is neither new nor unknown. Our clients’ customers are more attention challenged, more advertising cynical, more technology empowered, and media landscape is more fractured than ever. In future, the complexity will only increase. All of us know that. Question is: what do we do about it? It’s a pity that many agencies have perfectly entrapped themselves in the ‘buy cheaper-shout louder’ mindset. As a result, our business has pretty much lost the high ground it used to hold when it came to communication. This, combined with oneupmanship that has came from specialisation of disciplines, has resulted in narrow recommendations that miss a whole lot of points.”
Not sparing the advertisers also on this count, Kiran added, “Funny thing is, some marketers actually end up encouraging this kind of behaviour and quite often revel in it. But the world’s savviest marketers know that to use our past as an indicator of our future is a road fraught with far reaching dangers. Marketing itself is changing rapidly and so is communication. To us, it’s our clients’ customers who are forcing us to think holistic and to be honest, we don’t have much of a choice any more. To us, holistic thinking is looking at media from the consumer’s view rather than our own. It does change the perspectives.”
As to how the agency will achieve this, Kiran said, “We are training our planners intensively this year, not just through classroom sessions; but mostly through hands-on embedded training in non-mainstream disciplines. They have to also learn how to make recommendations in the absence of perfect information and not underplay the role of judgment. We will also need to create new knowledge in areas, which have traditionally been knowledge-starved.”
The approach the agency intends to take is based on the three legs of planning exposure, Passion Group Marketing, and rapid development of executional capabilities. “When we deliver engaging connections with consumers, it goes beyond creating noise and increasing share of voice. We try to move the way consumers relate to our clients’ brands from ‘I know you’ to ‘I like you’. Our clients can benefit by getting closer to their objectives, a concept we call Return on Objectives, rather than the traditionally glamorised concept of ROI,” said Kiran.