There is nothing called failing, only a bad or good day: Neena Dasgupta

On today's 'Beating All Odds', Neena Dasgupta, CEO & Director of Zirca Digital Solutions, and CEO of AIDEM Ventures speaks with Naziya Alvi Rahman, Editor of e4m

e4m by Naziya Alvi Rahman
Updated: May 20, 2020 9:37 AM
Beating All Odds with Neena Dasgupta. CEO & Director, Zirca Digital Solutions

COVID-19 has thrown many challenges at us. It's been eight weeks since we went into a complete lockdown. In these circumstances, we are all banking on leaders, who despite so many odds and challenges, are standing tall and ensuring the business stays on track. 

In today's edition of 'Beating All Odds' we speak to Neena Dasgupta, CEO & Director of Zirca Digital Solutions, and CEO of AIDEM Ventures.

You work with several smaller networks and regional channels since broadcasters have been badly affected by this crisis and AdEx has dropped almost 70-80%, what are you advising your clients right now?

We handle about 13 channels now, a lot of them in South and East clusters; more regional channels. It's extremely interesting because the performance of television has improved, especially for news and GECs. People are constrained at home and spending a lot of time watching TV. Every salesperson looks for these numbers and at the same time, this rise in numbers is coinciding with an absolute drop in advertising by brands. We have started integrating packages, so I'm bringing in conversations about broadcast and digital bundled in together – will you start experiencing on television end your experience on digital? Or will start experiencing on digital and end your experience on broadcast? The integration is adding engagement now to a television conversation. We are also working on packages that are actually targetted at the people viewing that channel outside of India. So we are making more efficient use of non-prime time-bands and bringing in more revenue.

Innovation has been around packaging and programming, significantly my advice has been to package under specific heads because old has become new, so, for example, packaging under famous old heroes, or under strong female roles, or packaging music together, because you cannot create new content, so we are creating packaging. We are also speaking to some partners to bring gaming on, if possible. So we have been doing different things.

The good part is we have started seeing an uptick in revenue and the exciting part is, when we emerge out of the lockdown and come to better times, I'm assuming that the revenue growth will grow significantly with the new initiatives. So that's how we are managing our broadcast, even our digital partners, it's all about innovation and evolution. So for our digital partners, we are doing all innovations, we are actually mixing display, reach, video, programmatic, native etc, and we are focussed on business outcome packages. So for our digital partners, innovation is the keyword.

You also have clients from the hospitality, travel and automobile sectors, we've seen a complete shutdown in these sectors. What kind of recovery plans are you making for them?

These are partners that come to us basis the solutions we provide for them. The recovery for tourism is going to be slow and it will be in varying stages emerging from lockdown.

The first thing that will happen is building trust with a brand. Travel will reduce out of fear more than anything else and also out of a sense of reducing unnecessary spending, and it is at this time that brands will need to build trust and assure people how safe it is to travel. At the same time, state tourism boards or our own government – The Ministry of Tourism – will have to move faster because a significant amount of income for states and the country comes from tourism. Once the government itself starts to build confidence and rebuild the opportunity, the travel and hospitality industry will start to see an uptick and benefit. I don't believe it'll be something will happen in the short-term, I think it'll take around 12-18 months to recover, some business pivoting will happen, they will have to get into new ideas and I'm waiting to see what those could be.

Which are the other sectors you have noticed that are doing better or have a lot of opportunities right now? What kind of advice are you giving to those partners?

We work across partners and across brands, for the Economist I've worked with corporates and with the government a lot, they are trying to address global audiences. You have to understand the impact for many; many companies are stable, they are largely stable because their consumption and the need of the business continue to exist. For many industries the gap is just the lockdown and the time period, so we are going behind stable industries, those that are waiting for the lockdown to end so that they could get back to the same realm of business. It could be manufacturing, or instruments and tools that are being exported.

While OTT is interesting, one will have to wait and watch what will happen with the movement with OTT; there is a spike now but one has to see where it plateaus and settles down. So although we work with OTT, our advice to them is to get into something more steady and increase reach; it's about saying how do you start making sure your reach is far easier for your campaign than just a pure ad.

There are sectors like government and IT that will very quickly transform because digital transformation is required right now, so the opportunity, whether it's in Europe, the US, or in Asia-Pacific, the opportunity of Indian clients is significant today. So that's another sector we're working on very closely. Our formats which we believe will succeed and work are very research-heavy and very content-heavy. The other format which will work significantly is the social – social media platforms, now formats of stories, how you're going to take stories, how stories can be taken to publisher sites, so it would no longer be Instagram, it would, become a mode of communication, for example, there would be a TV channel on Instagram. So those are the innovations we're working on.

What are the challenges you think the industry is facing right now and what solutions do you suggest?

I think we need to rescale our sales team significantly. I think one thing that hasn't changed much is, selling skills haven't evolved. There's a massive gap in the industry and that shows in the way media is getting traded today; it is extremely commoditised. There is no value benefit analysis that is being discussed today. I firmly feel we need to rescale ourselves as far as sale goes, as far as engaging prospects go.

By this I mean we'll have to move from a format of just giving a solution because you have that as a product, to actually shifting your view to saying what is the brand want to do, how does the brand's consumer think, who is the brand's consumer, or what does the consumer want, what is their pattern for media consumption, what is it I have and how we can help together. I think we don't really go down to the level of understanding the brand's need in relation to the consumer. Media does so much more; collectively it gives so much more to the brand and it gives so much to consumers, and I think we need to put the value on the consumer, the value of the brand in relation to the consumer and the value of the media. It needs to be unified, training needs to happen based on that – how do you upskill to start talking more solutions, how to use secondary research to do sales. Commoditised sale will continue, but it wouldn't take you far. We are talking to a lot of publishers and we're telling them we'll help them to reskill as well.

We also need to start using a lot of offline research which understands the consumer personas and mindsets. There is significant merit in offline research. So these are two things in which I totally believe and in my journey in the past 2 decades, these two are the ones that stand out to me.

I, of course, think we all need to learn from the youth of today. The methods of working have changed, as we are seeing now.

Working for home is challenging and new for many of us. What are some of the day-to-day you are facing as a professional?

I think we are filling in too much of our time with calls and there is very little time for thought. Decisions are not being made as fast as they used to be. Some parts are good, you save a lot of time by not being stuck on the road, but I am still trying to figure out if this is good or bad because we are filling in a lot of space. Productivity is by default impacted, the output is impacted given the current scenario, but I would guess that for some it has gone up and for some, it has gone down. For our research team productivity has gone through the roof, for the product team also it has improved. But not for our marketing and sales team. We're not used to sitting at home, so there productivity by default reduce due to firstly market conditions and secondly your own frustration. And we are constantly trying to keep our people motivated.

So how are you keeping your team motivated at this time?

We do it in bits and pieces. My executive management team and I talk every evening and that's the safe place where we share our frustrations and it's a very friendly chat. That's how we take care of each other at the top level. For the rest of the team, we have created these zones of safety with gaming. There are groups and each day every group has to spend a certain amount of time on an activity that is being planned for the week. We've brought people from across 18 cities together. We're now thinking about how to get external people who are posting games into our office. We also have activities around music. Next week we have someone doing origami for children, so every day, every group is spending about one hour on different activities. And twice a week we have about 2 hours of gaming, something on cinema or art. We also just talk to our teams and we tell them this is how it is for now, but it's not going to be like this forever.

What advice would you give at this time to those who are just starting out in the industry?

It's very easy to get disheartened. If you do get disheartened, live with that emotion for a very short while, but get out of it because it's not going to serve any purpose. It's never easy to be a start-up and run your own business, but it is that much more satisfying. Connect to the satisfaction and less to being demotivated. Also, connect with the people who have been in the space and make a group because these are people who could probably advise and will not judge you because they have gone through the same phase themselves. There is nothing called failing, there is only a bad or good day. The third thing is, become a member of a body. At this time a body will give much support. That's where you can ask for help and support. The community gets in and helps you, so don't hesitate to ask for help. And at this point, focus on your business not only your own success or failure. It is about the success of the business and what you and your team members need to do to succeed, so act on that.

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