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Shyju Varkey

National Marketing Head, Radio One & | 06 Aug 2012

BTL engagement is something that radio stations have arm-twisted themselves into because of weak on air offering. It’s more of a value addition to make up for what the on-air product lacks – a strong engagement with the listener. We focus on our on air solutions as powerful engagement avenues for advertisers.

Shyju Varkey straddles the dual responsibilities of Station Head of Radio One, Bangalore and National Marketing Head, Radio One. He has been involved in setting up the station in Bangalore as well as in chartering its course over the past six years, which has seen Radio One emerge as a formidable player in Bangalore’s FM landscape. Prior to joining Radio One, Varkey had spent 10 years at Ogilvy Advertising, Bangalore as Brand Steward on accounts as varied as HLL’s Lipton Taaza, Brooke Bond’s Red label, 3 Roses, Bru , Titan’s entire range of watches, Sasken, ITC Infotech, Oyzterbay and Indus League.

In conversation with exchange4media’s Deepa Balasubramanian, Varkey speaks at length about Radio One’s differentiated stance, content strategy, increasing listener engagement and more...

Q. In a market in which radio creations are becoming increasingly popular, where does Radio One stand? How will this position be improved upon?

In every market that we’re present in, we go against the herd. Whether it’s being International in Mumbai and Delhi, or Bollywood in Bangalore and Pune, Retro in Kolkata and 100 per cent Request in Chennai, Radio One has taken a differentiated stance, having a clear profiled audience as its franchise.

Q. Since its introduction, what kind of campaigns has Radio One executed? Please elaborate on some of the most successful ones in the recent past.

Radio One turned international in January this year in Mumbai and Delhi. We ran a campaign asking listeners in these cities to upgrade to an intelligent, involving format, and we have been embraced like parched earth would to the rain.

Pune has put together two fabulous concerts with Kailash Kher and Kunal Ganjawalla in the past three months. These have placed Radio One as the only most 100 per cent Hindi player for educated people in the city.

In Bangalore, we have kicked off an initiative called Music Healers, which seeks to involve youth in engaging senior citizens on a musical platform. The response for this has been sensational.

Q. How many campaigns as percentage of overall include content integration on air?

All our campaigns necessarily need to be strong, content-wise. None of the airy-fairy ones for us. More than just content integration, campaigns that we run invariably solicit involvement from the listener and provide response-led solutions for the advertiser. We do not run campaigns for the sake of plain salience.

Q. How does Radio One ensure that an integrated approach is maintained in promoting both the radio brand and the client’s brand?

Take for instance, Ray Ban. The brand completes 75 years this year. The brief to us was to bring out the legendary status of this iconic brand through programming. We now have a one-hour block everyday dedicated to Ray Ban, celebrating legends in music – the Doors, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Madonna, Queen, The Beatles, etc. 90 legends, spread over three months. This is a simple, but illustrative idea of how we dovetail great programming with brand messaging.

Q. Considering the brand is just three years old, what are the new plans/ strategy for 2012?

We’re five years old. In 2012, we will focus only on distancing ourselves from the herd. Our programming efforts will be geared towards better profiling our audiences by delivering content that is intelligent, involving, and differentiated.

Q. How has the content strategy for Radio One evolved over the years? How much importance does Radio One place on BTL engagement?

It’s fair to say searched high and low for real differentiation over the years and it’s safe to say that we’ve found what we’ve been looking for! We always have been high on speed and innovation. Our differentiated approach in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Pune helped us realise that both listeners and clients do appreciate the ‘away from the herd’ approach, so to speak.

Research that we conducted late last year clearly suggested that both listeners and clients thought that all stations sounded the same. They all sounded dumb, and a huge chunk of intelligent listeners had completely tuned off the medium. The truth about FM radio is that it has degenerated into an undifferentiated space, catering to the lowest common denominator. It reaches all, but engages none.

We just decided to go back to the basics of radio.

BTL engagement is something that radio stations have arm-twisted themselves into because of weak on air offering. It’s more of a value addition to make up for what the on-air product lacks – a strong engagement with the listener. We focus on our on air solutions as powerful engagement avenues for advertisers.

Q. What percentage growth in ad revenues has Radio One witnessed in the last one year? Who have contributed most to this growth?

We have grown exponentially in premium advertising brands and a large chunk of our business is coming from exclusive solutions that we are developing that cater to our well profiled audience. Existing brands have started using us differently in order to get better impact. Today, we reach 8 million English speaking Indians in just two cities – Delhi and Mumbai – which compares with English dailies and is higher than most TV channels, so we are now competing in a different league.

Our pure radio revenue has grown and we have consciously diminished our growth from activation, which is not core business for a radio station. Clients are choosing one station for reach and definitely choose us for efficient targeting and impact. We have a found a strong reason to be in the plan because we can profile the audience into educated, English speaking, online active audiences, which no other radio station can. All our solutions are far more cost effective as compared to any other medium like print or TV. One less print insertion in an English daily and a few weeks of saving from TV is enough to fuel more efficient targeting on Radio One.

Q. What initiatives are you taking to increase listener participation and engagement with your station?

Our daily product is our biggest engagement campaign. Our new stance of taking a differentiated approach is obviously the biggest step in this direction. Our immediate focus will be on tightening this process and increasing our engagement with our listener franchise. Product enhancement is a daily endeavour. We seek daily listener loyalty; not short-lived listener attention using gimmicky, costly spikes.

Q. What are the new trends you are witnessing in radio?

Close on the heels of our changing format came the announcement that another player had gone all-retro in Delhi. It’s early days yet, but we suspect that the era of generic radio is on its last legs. Our focus, therefore, has been on the next generation format radio. In the process, we want to be India’s most differentiated network.

Q. How do you foresee the radio industry five years from now? How do you plan to be unique five years from now?

Hopefully, once Phase III is implemented in December 2012, radio will finally get 8 per cent of the total ad pie. In the immediate future, we see ourselves being unique, being the only player in the market offering a clear-cut, well profiled audience to clients, and an intelligent, involving product for the listener.

We see huge scope in the digital space and are making the right investments to ensure it is profitable from day one and non-speculative.

The other big issue is royalty costs, which are now finally corrected and rationalised, thanks to the Copyright Amendment Act, which will be a step in the right direction for all radio companies.

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