Last year, Publicis Groupe ’s media agency Zenith Optimedia Pvt. Ltd —which handles blue-chip brands such as British Airways, Hyundai, Hewlett-Packard, Nestle, Oberoi, Haier and Ranbaxy—and Starcom MediaVest Group (also a Publicis Groupe media agency) merged their media buying operations to form India Media Exchange (IMX). The media planning businesses continue to remain with the respective agencies.
Zenith Optimedia CEO Ambika Srivastava plans to launch specialized units in India and is targeting new and middle-size businesses. “Everyone’s bullish on India,” Srivastava says in an interview to Mint . Edited excerpts:
How has Zenith Optimedia fared in India in terms of billings, etc.?
I think god is being kind to all of us. The advertising market and the economy in general are growing extremely well. For us, the challenge is to grow three times the rate at which the market is growing. With the merging of the buying units of Zenith Optimedia and Starcom MediaVest, we are the clear No. 2 in the market. The ratio of businesses handled by the two agencies is more than significant.
Ambika Srivastava, CEO, Zenith Optimedia Pvt. Ltd
Zenith has various large clients, who spend more than Rs100 crore every year (on advertising). Our focus is to spread our portfolio, and also include small and medium businesses.
Global businesses tend to realign. At least that is what happened with brand Nokia, which got realigned with GroupM as part of a global pitch. But we were not affected because we picked up Hyundai instead. We started out as a merged company (Zenith+Optimedia) only a few years back. We were lucky to have found founder clients such as Nestle, Hyundai, H-P, etc.
We are going after businesses we can add value to, and are looking for a future in India.
Will the US recession result in multinational firms upping their ad spends in markets such as India?
I would think so, as everyone’s bullish on India. It is happening with our clients H-P and Nestle. These companies are registering a much faster rate of growth here than in other markets.
Broadcasters say they don’t get enough under the cost-per-rating point remuneration model (the media agency/advertiser pays the channel-specified ad rate divided by viewership ratings received by the programme). Your views?
It is not a fair comment. Yes, price points are low as far as some marketers are concerned, and that perhaps needs to get challenged. But it is not the same across the board. Then again, I feel that if certain media agencies have a historical advantage, then why not? If you have been investing in media over a longer period of time, you are bound to have an advantage. But for a new media agency/player coming into this market, media prices are not cheap in this country.
What are Zenith Optimedia’s plans in terms of specialized offerings?
We intend to launch more value-added services and are looking at expanding domain expertise. We use the services of specialist units of Starcom such as Enhance (specialist retail branding), Xpanse (rural marketing) and Starcom Entertainment, etc.
Digital, however, we see as an intrinsic part of the future, and have launched an offering of our own, a full service digital unit Zed Digital.
What are the broad trends in media planning and buying?
In media planning, new media opportunities are emerging as critical. Planners need to make use of this, but make sure that they don’t get too carried away. They need to ensure that the bread is buttered but the jam is not spread too thinly. What each touch point delivers to a brand is critical.
Media agencies need to understand the nuances of brand building. You need to have the right tools. You hear a lot about word-of-mouth, but what generates it? How do you plan for buzz? The traditional model of awareness, desire, action, etc. does not hold, as you are not just looking at the buying action of the consumer but also a long-term relationship with him.
We have conducted interviews (globally and in India) which pinpoint that advocacy (more from family and friends) plays a big part in building a brand. As far as the buying side is concerned, a big challenge is to manage the inflationarypressures of the media market. The second priority is to make sure that media buying is not commoditized.
What is your opinion about media audit companies such as Spatial Access Media Solutions Pvt. Ltd (which monitors efficiencies of media agencies)?
We are very clear that we are open to third-party audits. We also believe that the product and service of audit companies will evolve and improve with time and, to that extent, audit companies should be encouraged. We encourage clients to set clear benchmarks so that everyone is accountable
How has the formation of IMX helped Zenith Optimedia?
As far as our group is concerned, we are conscious that we need to use synergies right, without compromising on client confidentiality. Scale in this context helps. But scale for the sake of scale wouldn’t help, and it was never the intention.
Your views on the plethora of designations in media agencies?
I wouldn’t like to comment on other agencies, but yes, the media industry as a whole has been using titles rather loosely.
That said, titles are not just about personal fulfilment but also recognition among peers. You could have people who get titles but their day-to-day work or responsibilities do not change. Plain titles will not get you the recognition that you want, or respect from peers.
We at Zenith Optimedia believe in monetary and financial rewards but with respect to what they (employees) bring to the table.