Kinetic Worldwide is one of the largest, if not the largest, outdoor media agencies in India. As part of the WPP group, it belongs to an interesting division known as Tenth Avenue, which includes companies that are specialists in creating content for different mediums. We caught up with Kinetic’s top management during a recent India visit. They included King Lai, CEO of Asia Pacific, David Payne, CEO of Developing Markets and Amit Sarkar, COO of Kinetic India. We spoke to them on a wide range of topics including India’s position in Kinetic’s global strategy, the focus areas for Kinetic in the country and how Kinetic looks to leverage its unique offerings and strengths from the India perspective. Excerpts from the interview.
Where does India fit into Kinetic’s overall global strategy?
King Lai: India for us, as for most companies, is not just a large country but also one of our largest markets. India is now one of our top five markets in the world in terms of overall billings and profit to the company.
David Payne: It has been one of the key developing markets and a lot of that is focussed on the big five. The other ones are UK, Germany, China and the US. A lot of our management support, focus and investments will come into India because of this.
What is India’s contribution to the overall revenue?
King Lai: With the consolidation of the Bates Wall Street business with Kinetic in India, it has become a substantial contributor, both in terms of billings and revenues to our overall numbers.
David Payne: Post the consolidation, for us now the potential is to go forward and see how we can achieve significant growth in India. Taking a look at the industry, I can see it is now aligned for us to go out and be a leader and help identify where the market needs to invest and encourage advertisers to gauge opportunities.
Which will be the focus areas for Kinetic in India going forward?
King Lai: First and foremost, it always comes back to the kind of work we do with the clients; that is a critically important fundamental. With the kind of work we have done in the past, we will continue to invest in the right kind of talent that will help us to deliver to our clients. The important area of growth, being leaders in the market, will be to get Kinetic accounts. When others see the kind of work that Amit (Amit Sarkar) and his team have done for the existing clients, it will help us attract new clients. Our YTD new business wins have grown over 80 percent than last year and that is a great achievement for us by all means. Our new client partnerships this year includes Samsung, LIC , UTI MF , Cigna TTK , Diageo , Google , UNICEF , NSDC , Air Arabia , Snapdeal.com
From a corporate standpoint, we will certainly look to find opportunities where we can partner with more companies in the marketplace where we can have the ability to scale and get benefits to clients and, of course, to our profitability.
David Payne: I think we will do by really changing the place that OOH has in the media mix. We are very passionate about OOH; it is our business. The role of OOH in marketing is changing and we will make a strong case to our clients and our partners, that OOH should be at the centre of the media mix and that it is a much broader communication channel now than what people might have traditionally thought and there is much more scope for communicating with the consumer when he is outdoors than just billboards and bus shelters. How do we amplify the communication through social media channels? How do you engage with them on the phone?
So, the way we want to develop our business in all markets is to promote a broader vision and enforce that with a more diverse set of services and operations that we offer to our clients. You will see us being more aggressive about promoting this broader vision. The timing of this depends on the development stage of every market. It is not going to be the same for every country. You have to work with how the local medium is evolving.
What are the challenges you see in India as compared to other geographies?
King Lai: One of the key issues is the fragmentation of the marketplace. The challenge of a very fragmented market or the advantage of consolidation is that you have to focus investments. You have a larger critical mass and you have to focus investments for the development of the medium. What we are seeing consistently around the world is that, when the medium itself improves in terms of quality, it draws more advertisers into the sector and I think the challenge in India right now, because it is a fragmented, is that since the licenses being granted by the municipalities are short-term, it forces the industry to think short-term. So, short-term thinking further compounds the fragmentation. This does not drive investments that bring quality to the medium.
As a leader, we would like to believe that we are helping the marketplace to address these challenges. So the way we can help work with media operators to figure out returns of investments because these returns will be there since our clients are willing to spend advertising dollars behind the medium because the quality is there.
How does the industry work together to make the right investments?
David Payne: I think at a very practical level it is about metrics, the way the inventory looks, it’s quality and regulation about how much inventory is out there and what advertisers are putting there in terms of the status of the inventory. It will be great to see more investment in digital because that is where the world is moving. I am sure it will come to India, but if you do not figure out the first three things, no one is going to invest in digital.
How big a challenge is talent acquisition in the OOH space?
Amit Sarkar: Talent acquisition is a challenge across the globe. It is also because most practice leaders have come from the core business set. In the last one decade, you will see very small number of people coming from different walks of life and from this set, you will see most coming from the media space itself. Very rarely will you get people from different sectors like FMCG, etc. This, in itself, is a challenge. If the OOH industry has to progress in India, we need talent from different fields coming in. We had a talent pool, which had vision, but it was set too low. When you have talent coming from other sectors and walks of life, like BFSI, telecom, etc. you get a fresh perspective.
David Payne: We have got some of the best people in the OOH space, who are knowledgeable and passionate about the future. What we need to do is, complement them with the right skill sets that will drive the exciting vision that we have for our business. We need to train our existing talent to engage with the future and then give them the colleagues alongside who will look at things from a slightly different perspective.
So, particularly what King, Amit and I are trying to do in India is to convey to people what an exciting industry this is to work in and the evidence is there in many of our companies right now, with talent coming in from many different sectors.
Which would be your areas of focus in the coming year?
David Payne: I think these would be in developing the right metrics, data and developing the right skill sets to make use of the data. Also, we will be constantly striving to improve our buying and planning output; our core business and then complimenting that with a vision of the future.
As an industry leader, what responsibility are you taking to drive the required changes in the Indian OOH industry?
Amit Sarkar: The fundamental problem is that the industry body needs to be robust and responsible. I think participation in these bodies needs to be free for all. One thing that we have been talking about is to get client partners involved in the process. We also need to set timelines for when we expect to achieve milestones. We are 100% committed to partner the industry body in taking the right steps & its only true that ‘ as an industry’ we did not evolve much in the last one decade I am optimistic but I do not think it will happen tomorrow but hopefully in the next couple of years we will have something to talk about.