Focussing on bottomlines has become all the more important during the slowdown, or is it? The CEO Panel rounded up the two-day Indian Magazine Congress 2009, where industry honchos discussed at length ‘Is bottomline fixation here to stay. The panel was moderated by Chris Llewellyn, President & CEO, FIPP, and had as it members Ashish Bagga, CEO, India Today Group; Hoshang Billimoria, CEO, Next Gen; Maneck Davar, Proprietor, Spenta Multimedia; Pheroza Billimoria, Managing Director, Business India; R Rajmohan, President & Publisher, Images Group; and Smiti Kanodia, Publisher, Paprika.
The two-day IMC 2009 was held in Delhi on November 5-6. Worldwide Media was the presenting sponsor, while Chitralekha and Cannon were the associate sponsors. exchange4media Group (exchange4media.com, impact and Pitch) was the media partner.
Chris Llewellyn began the discussion with an observation that disproportionate amount of time was spent on focussing on bottomlines, especially during slowdown. He then proceeded to ask the panellists on what they had done to combat the slowdown.
Speaking about the steps taken at Business India, Pheroza Billimoria said, “Countering the slowdown required innovative thinking. We got into a few key events. We didn’t take recourse to downsizing and in fact even hire a senior person. However, when people left, we didn’t replace them with new appointments. We got the present staff to increase their productivity.”
Recounting her experience, Smiti Kanodia candidly admitted, “I regret not planning to combat the recession sooner. But we have learnt on the job, along the way this past one year.”
Hoshang Billimoria said that his staff at Next Gen themselves came forward, suggesting ways to counter the slowdown, even offering to get their salaries cut.
R Rajmohan said, “We had to resort to salary cuts and some other tough measure, but we also launched a new magazine during this period. “
Speaking about the steps taken at Spenta Multimedia, Manech Davar said, “We don’t get any outside finance so we were not affected on that front. But yes, we did suffer some advertising losses due to the downturn. There has been some loss in revenues. But at the same time, Spenta also grew, largely because we diversified into other content and expanded our online offerings and activities.”
On India Today’s experience, Ashish Bagga said, “We are a large and more diversified company. During good times we had seen growth of 28-29 per cent. During slowdown times we have quickly restructured the company, collapsed the organisational structure and resorted to cost rationalisation. The downturn has been an acid test of sorts on all cost heads, but we have looked at the downturn as an opportunity. We launched ‘Harpers Bazar’ in March this year. We have been cautious, yet aggressive.”
When Llewellyn asked him what he regretted not doing during the downturn, Bagga quipped, “I regret not having bought out my rivals.”
Never waste a good recession
Noting the various steps taken by publishers in India to counter the slowdown, Llewellyn said that period had been one of learning and consolidating one’s position. “Never waste a good recession,” he quipped. He then asked the panellists what their marketing activities and spendings had been during the downturn.
Kanodia said, “This last one year we have focused out efforts, prioritised our brand visibility, rationalised expenses. Going forward, we intend to spend more on online.”
Hoshang Billimoria said that hike in cover prices was on the anvil, while Rajmohan said that he would continue with the usual activities.
Pheroza Billimoria said, “We did not spend much on marketing. But we did rally our forces on editorial and marketing sides. We went back to the basics.”
“Our focus moved from subscription to newsstands. We also invested heavily on the retail channel – Media Mart. We also increased our digital focus. So basically it has been regain, build salience, and digital,” Bagga added.
Llewellyn’s next question was “Have you got the cost basis down or is the process still going on?”
Pheroza Billimoria replied, “Cost focus is ongoing, what matters is how you use your experience of the last nine months.”
Davar pointed out, “Publishing is not a business with limitless topside. It is not the money that we make but the money that we save that build bottomlines. You need to hold down your costs and keep them under control.”
He further said, “Too much fixation with bottomlines is also not good. In India, I feel, we panicked a bit and gave a handle to the advertiser. Everything will recover in due time.”
What ahead in 2010?
On the plans for 2010, Kanodia said that it involved evolving their business model, while Davar was raring to go ahead and was bullish about 2010. For Pheroza Billimoria the thrust would be on digital, plus there were a couple of launches also lined up.
An upbeat Bagga said, “It will be more than business as usual. We will catch up on the slack in aggression during the slowdown in 2010-11. In 2010, my business will rock.”