We can create an ecosystem with traditional OOH at the centre: Mauricio Sabogal

2015 was widely considered as a recovery year for the OOH sector and the industry will now look to build on its gains in the year to make 2016 even more successful and Kinetic is also looking to further cement its position in India, a market that it considers firmly in its top 5 regions

We can create an ecosystem with traditional OOH at the centre: Mauricio Sabogal

Mauricio Sabogal , Global CEO of Kinetic Worldwide was in the country for a brief visit and we took the opportunity to  meet  him and Suresh Balakrishnan, the newly appointed  CEO (India, Middle East and South Asia) at Kinetic Worldwide, who took over responsibilities in January 2016.

2015 was widely considered as a recovery year for the OOH sector and the industry will now look to build on its gains in the year to make 2016 even more successful and Kinetic is also looking to further cement its position in India, a market that it considers firmly in its top 5 regions.

Excerpts from the interview :

Mr. Balakrishnan, can you tell us what are the challenges and the opportunities in front of you as you take over the reins at Kinetic India?
Suresh Balakrishnan: One opportunity I see is that I have joined India's largest OOH company. One challenge you always face is how to make something that is successful even better and more successful. I think it is more challenging to do this than to take over a brand that is not doing well and making it successful.

Kinetic has 26 per cent market share in the country in the OOH space. My challenge is now how to take this to the next level. I think to do this India will have to dovetail into many of the things that the global markets are doing. Some of these things we can do in India tomorrow, while some might require 6-8 months for us to get ready but it is a process of evolution.

For example, this whole process of making every static poster interactive is something that we are ready for as a country because of the penetration of smart phones. But there are other things, like programmatic buying, which we are testing in the US right now, which might take some more time to come to India. The point is that there is already a lot of work being done in the global arena on these fronts and so it is a question of when do we want to roll these out in India. All these concepts will be unique and Kinetic will be the first one to bring them to India.

As a leader in this field, it is our duty to do this. We have to drive this category and the industry in the direction we want it to move. For example, we want to make it a more tech savvy industry and only a leader can do this. We want to see more CSR; so these are the things we will be pushing because we want the industry to move in this direction.

We had an opportunity to speak with David Payne (CEO of Developing Markets) and King Lai (CEO, APAC) in November 2014 and they both maintained that India is among the top 5 markets for Kinetic. How much has the situation changed since then?
Mauricio Sabogal: It hasn't changed at all. India still continues to be in the top 5 markets for us. In the past two years, the high potential of the market has probably necessitated investment of more talent and more resources in the country. This is probably the only difference in order to capitalize on the high potential. But India will continue to be in the top 5. Of course, if you see the top 5 and the top 3, there is a huge difference. So, it is going to be difficult for India to reach that level, in terms of size. UK is a big, big market for us as is China. But if you see in terms of number of people involved then India is probably the second largest market for us.

You mentioned that Kinetic has 26 per cent market share in India. Can you tell me what is the business objective for 2016? 
Suresh Balakrishnan: The business objective is to grow the market. As I said, it is the leader's job to drive the industry and so we will work towards growing the market and in the process also increasing our share. Maybe grow by a couple of percentage points but at least grow the market. I am talking about quite aggressive topline growths for the company.

Kinetic's travel division has always been strong. What are the plans for this division in India?
Mauricio Sabogal: India is making big contributions in our system in terms of innovation. Our new corporate identity and logo was designed by the Kinetic India team through our in-house global competition.

One of the other things is the evolution of our travel division, which is very specialized today to target airports. We have a sister company that is creating content and commercializing this in airlines, which we are now integrating too, to create a strong traveler capability. One of the databases we are bringing to India is APEX, which we use globally to understand how the gates in every single airport around the world are used by different passengers.

We are targeting travelers in any medium. The scope is to target travelers, irrespective of the medium they are using. In some markets, we have started partnering with phone companies to understand how travelers move and behave.

Suresh Balakrishnan: We will be bidding very aggressively for all marketing contracts related to travel whenever they come up.

What is the responsibility that a global company like Kinetic has in terms of finding solutions with industry bodies and the OOH ecosystem for problems like lack of measurement, standardization?
Mauricio Sabogal:
We have huge responsibility because being the largest outdoor agency in the world, we need to have the measures in place to plan and to buy in an efficient way.

We have big issue with methodologies everywhere because the problem is that the industry does not necessarily agree to adopt one methodology. We have too many methodologies and none of them are perfect. There is no perfect method but we have to adopt and agree with the media planners, media owners, advertisers and adopt one single currency.

Today, for instance, social media provides tremendous information about not just location but also how people are consuming OOH. So, one of the sources of information is social media. In fact, we are launching a social media score in the US and UK that will give us OOH scores using social media data. Like I also told you, we are partnering with telephone companies to get access to their data.

We also have our own data and we are partnering with technology companies like the Dutch company I mentioned earlier, and a company in North America to capture and use our own data from our billboards.

How long before we see these concepts coming to India?
Mauricio Sabogal:
We have already started meetings to bring in a partner to install cellphones antennas behind billboards. We will partner with media vendors and carriers to offer this service. We have access to social media data from the main social platforms. The use of telephone data would depend on the local negotiations we have with the telephone operators, so this might take a little more time.

The other thing needed, and I think Suresh is the right person for it, is to integrate the industry and have a common conversation. For instance, the more databases you produce the less credibility you have. So you have to agree to use one database together. Technical methodologies and implementation should be common. The big issue is that there is no agreement between partners, vendors, agencies and advertisers to use one single methodology. We have enough data.

Suresh Balakrishnan: We need to have one single currency, like BARC has done with TV. The thing they did was get all three bodies—advertiser, agency and broadcaster together. We need to also work in that direction. Having said this, an established organization like BARC also took 2 years to set up. I suspect we will also take a couple of years but till then we cannot just be in a black hole.

As an established agency we need to have at least surrogate measures to gauge the performance of assets. Parallelly, we can continue to work on evolving the one, single currency.

What are the specific focus areas for India in 2016?
Mauricio Sabogal:
The main message we want to send advertisers is that there is a totally amplifiable scope for OOH and they can take advantage of this. The second thing is to create a company for the next 5 years, in terms of the competition that we are going to see, which is going to be completely different from what we are seeing today. Our future competitor could be sitting in a dorm writing code right now. I don't think the current competitors will also remain future competitors.

Suresh Balakrishnan: In India, the focus will be to improve the product through technology. The second would be to expand the market. How we can sell OOH as a concept to the client? The third would be to work with the industry to make it a more measurable medium.

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