‘The Print medium has to re-establish its relevance’
Sanjeev Bhargava, Director, Brand for Times of India and Mirror, considers it his mission to drive greater English readership and believes the brand must continue empowering young people through youth-centric properties
As Director, Brand for The Times of India (TOI) and Mirror, this is Sanjeev Bhargava’s first marketing role in a three-decade long career with various ad agencies. But the industry veteran maintains that he has always been a marketer at heart, ready to offer marketing solutions to several brands in his agency days. In this interview, Bhargava chats with us about his new role, the appointment of JWT as Creative Partner, the Oppo Times Fresh Face property and the need to drive print consumption among young people.
Q] What was the strategy behind the appointment of JWT as Creative Partner, especially as the earlier agency had created some awardwinning, cult advertising campaigns for the brand?
Five years ago, the industry was in a different growth phase. Today the Print medium has to re-establish its relevance and communicate to new consumers about why it is important to read a newspaper. This communication requirement didn’t exist earlier and therefore requires some heavy lifting as far as strategy is concerned. In my estimation, the heavy lifting needs to come from a body of strategic planners, which exists in J. Walter Thompson. TOI has always been known to create iconic communication, whether with J. Walter Thompson or Taproot Dentsu. Sometimes the subjects we deal with are themselves so potent, that I believe the communication gets a slightly unfair advantage. Nevertheless I am hoping for some breakthrough work with the new agency.
Q] How do you see the TOI brand performing over the next five years, especially as Digital keeps gaining ground?
Firstly, I don’t see it as a zero sum game. The internet is a medium of choice. This means that you will read what you choose to read. If you’re looking for a comprehensive curation of news daily, only a newspaper can provide that, thus giving it an edge over every other medium. The product too plays an important role. We have several controls and measurements to assess how we are performing in comparison with competing newspapers. TOI today gives more news per page than any other paper. We understand that people rarely have enough time to read. So how do we package the news such that they can consume it quickly? Infographics, pictures and length of stories – there is a lot that goes into ensuring we create the right product.
Q] In an increasingly dynamic market, how do you define the brand’s target audience?
Quite simply, the young. We are a young country, and if I don’t encourage younger audiences to read the newspaper, I am not doing my job.
Q] How does the Oppo Times Fresh Face property impact Brand TOI?
TOI as a brand not only needs to connect with its readers, but also needs to create an environment of empowerment. Our initiatives like Oppo Times Fresh Face, like many of the other TOI initiatives such as Lead India and Teach India, are about empowering young children. Through the Oppo Times Fresh Face property, we are talking to teenagers, and are giving them a platform to build their self-confidence.
Q] What are some of the things on your priority list right now for the TOI and Mirror brands?
We need to increase English readership and for me, that is a mission. It is not just a marketing plan! India’s greatest economic strength is that we have a really large English speaking population, if not the largest in the world. We need to drive English readership to be more competitive economically. Then we have the younger people. They need to see the value in a newspaper. While the internet is a matter of convenience for them, we need to build newspaper reading as an important, daily ritual.
Q] As a professional, this is your first foray outside the advertising world. What is different now and what learnings will you apply here?
I have always considered myself a marketer even when I was with J. Walter Thompson and FCB Ulka. I’ve always offered marketing solutions to all my clients. The beauty with TOI is that the product itself is malleable. You can create changes to the product so it is in sync with the marketing strategy. There are several elements that work in tandem and all of them have the power to change. Therefore in my mind, it is the best marketing job you can have!