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Harrish M Bhatia

COO | 30 Nov 2009

The first challenge I see for the Indian radio industry is the music royalty issue, if you get this sorted out, a lot will happen automatically. At the end of the day, I feel that I work 50 per cent for my company and another 50 per cent for the music company. The first thing we need to do is to fight together and remain united.

Harrish M Bhatia is the Chief Operating Officer of Synergy Media Entertainment Ltd (SMEL), the radio network of Dainik Bhaskar Group operating under the brand name My FM. Bhatia is an old hand at Bhaskar Group. He has to his credit the launch of Divya Bhaskar in Gujarat in 2003 and Dainik Bhaskar in Jaipur. Since 2005, he had been in Mumbai as Vice President - Sales and Marketing for South and West. During his tenure at Mumbai, the business showed tremendous growth.

Prior to joining Bhaskar, Bhatia had served as National Product Head at Korean multinational LG Electronics in India. He has extensive experience in setting up new projects and turning around operations and was responsible for the launch of door cooling refrigerators in India from the LG brand, which is one of the biggest successes in the Indian market.

He had also worked very closely with the JVC-Victor Company of Japan from 1986 to 1993 for the launch of their products in the Indian market. Prior to that, he has worked with brands like Onida and Aristocrat Luggage. He is credited with spearheading the Rural Penetration Campaign for Onida. He also spearheaded the launch of Onida’s modern retail format.

An agile, versatile and multi-tasking individual, Bhatia has excellent leadership, man management and communication skills with high energy.

In conversation with exchange4media’s Robin Thomas, Bhatia speaks at length about My FM’s progress during the slowdown, the innovations effected, and the road ahead in 2010.

Q. The year 2009 saw My FM break even. What lead to this breakeven?

We have already achieved breakeven despite the so-called ‘slowdown effects’. This breakeven was very important for us and we take a lot of pride in achieving it, however, achieving breakeven was not by default, but by design. Somewhere during this slowdown process, we realised that the key to success is not creating a fear psychosis in the current team, but rather introducing a few initiatives in HR practices so that employees are motivated and they go out of their way to perform better. Hence, we have done a lot of initiatives in HR at My FM during these times. We did not rationalise manpower during these times as we believe that every good organisation should be efficient on its own without waiting for a downturn to optimise its resources. Efficient management is what we look for round the clock, irrespective of the market scenario. During the economic slowdown, we did a lot of innovation – product strategy, communication strategy, sales strategy and so on. Had the music royalty issue been resolved, we would have had done much better.

Q. Please elaborate on these innovations in various categories.

Product Strategy: We were constantly in touch with the consumer and wanted to understand their expectations from radio and how we could provide them better services. In the last 12 months we have done three researches – a one-to-one process from choice of music to liking of RJ and we modified according to requirements of each market as every market is different.

Communication Strategy: We worked a lot on mind leadership, all customer touch points and ensured that My FM is a top of the mind brand and is seen as one of the most aspirational and premium brands within the targeted TG. We also knew that it would be difficult to survive focusing on those limited sects of clients in radio, hence we focused on new clients. As to how we got new clients, we had a very clear understanding about how a client has performed in Bhaskar over a period of time. We studied the three-year data, we studied the consistency of the client, the seasonality of the client and then we approached them accordingly and told them what radio could do for them.

While there was slowdown in the rest of India, I don’t think there was any slowdown for us. In fact, we achieved 47 per cent growth to achieve this breakeven, which was possible only by getting those new clients on board.

Q. What are some of the strategic innovations that you plan around My FM?

The innovation is basically about our sales strategy – bringing new clients on the move. The innovation is about mind leadership strategy, where the customer should be excited about every touchpoint that we have. I don’t think any radio player can undertake the research that we have done, and based on the feedback received, we have changed our communication strategy. We have launched a new campaign in collaboration with Mudra that talks about strengthening the ‘Jiyo Di Se’ promise further, which says ‘Dimaag to Dimaag hain - Suno dil ki, jiyo dil se’. This apart, we have also done innovations in HR practices, which are huge and which motivate employees at work everyday.

Q. Who are these new clients that you’ve got on board?

Education is the biggest category that we have got on board. We have also got a lot of success with electronic clients, automobile clients and also a lot of retailers, who had never advertised earlier.

Q. What is the road ahead for My FM in the year 2010?

What we are waiting for is the Government to open up Phase III of licensing for FM radio. We aim to be present in all the metro markets and further expand our network in such a way that if one takes us in a particular state, then he takes us completely. We will complete the network wherever we were left out in the previous phase, so we may focus on Maharashtra, Karnataka, Gujarat and so on.

Q. Does FM radio still need evangelising?

Yes, evangelising must continue, because FM radio is still getting settled, many of my stations will complete two years next year. We are fighting against industries that are more than a decade old in the country, so we too need to continue evangslising this medium for the next several years.

Q. Do you see the digital medium as a competition or a medium that radio/ My FM can adapt to?

While the digital medium may be fastest in terms of revenues, but in terms of penetration, radio has far higher penetration than any other medium. Most parts of India are still facing power shortage, some don’t even get electricity, and despite these shortages, radio can reach these parts of the country. However, I do not see the digital medium as a competition to FM radio, at least in the next five years’ time, unless these challenges are sorted out. In fact, we will outgrow them as the third phase of licensing will come into play and we will be the fastest growing medium, not only in terms of reach, but in terms of revenue as well.

Q. What are the challenges that you see for FM radio that need to be sorted out?

The first challenge I see for the Indian radio industry is the music royalty issue, if you get this sorted out, a lot will happen automatically. At the end of the day, I feel that I work 50 per cent for my company and another 50 per cent for the music company. The first thing we need to do is to fight together and remain united.

Q. On a lighter note, what time do you begin and end your day?

Well, as an employee I begin my day by 10.00 am and end my day by 8.30 pm, but as COO of My FM, I think I work round the clock.

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