How rel­e­vant are Pak­istan’s media plan­ners?

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Media plan­ners and ad­ver­tis­ers have to keep up with chang­ing media con­sumer habits in or­der to re­main rel­e­vant.

The way peo­ple con­sume media is chang­ing sig­nif­i­cantly. As Amin Ram­mal writes in How dig­i­tal is af­fect­ing ad spend, “We are al­most chan­nel-ag­nos­tic in the way we con­sume media” read­ing news online, watch­ing video on mo­bile phones, etc. Along with changes in con­sump­tion or per­haps as a re­sult of them, media is un­der­go­ing a trans­for­ma­tion as pro­duc­ers and ed­i­tors fo­cus on qual­ity con­tent to get their share of eye­balls, while media mar­ket­ing teams try to come up with in­no­va­tions to at­tract advertising. And yet, each medium comes with its own set of is­sues in Pak­istan.

Tele­vi­sion, which en­joys the lion’s share of advertiser bud­gets and is the best re­searched in terms of ef­fec­tive­ness, is sat­u­rated and clut­tered. Dig­i­tal and mo­bile are the most talked about medi­ums, but there is still a great deal of un­cer­tainty about reach and ef­fec­tive­ness. OOH and brand ac­ti­va­tion are grow­ing at a rapid pace but there is no way to mea­sure ef­fi­ciency. Ra­dio and print suf­fer due to lack of re­search. Lastly, cin­ema is fi­nally be­ing re­vived with a sig­nif­i­cant in­flux of good lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional con­tent but the mar­ket­ing ROI de­rived from this medium re­mains a ques­tion mark.

Of the many con­clu­sions that can be drawn from the above sce­nario, two are most ob­vi­ous. Firstly, that in a new and chang­ing media en­vi­ron­ment, clients are con­cerned about how to get the most out of lim­ited bud­gets while reach­ing the max­i­mum num­ber of con­sumers; se­condly, this process is com­pli­cated be­cause with the ex­cep­tion of TV (and to some ex­tent, dig­i­tal), no other media has the sta­tis­tics to sup­port ef­fi­ciency of media spend. As a re­sult, as Umair Saeed, GM and Head of Strat­egy and In­te­gra­tion, Blitz, puts it, in 2015 Pak­istan’s media plan­ning and buy­ing in­dus­try is a “per­cep­tion based one.”

While per­cep­tion and in­tu­ition are im­por­tant in­gre­di­ents in media plan­ning and per­haps the only al­ter­na­tives in the ab­sence of hard core re­search, soar­ing media costs and in­creas­ing clut­ter means that “the ma­jor clients are very KPI driven and it is be­com­ing tough to de­liver as ev­ery­one wants pre­mium po­si­tion­ing” (Raza Syed, Busi­ness Di­rec­tor, Cor­po­rate Busi­ness, GroupM);

Ac­cord­ing to one in­dus­try in­sider “client spend­ing pat­terns are chang­ing so that it is im­pos­si­ble to pre­dict what will hap­pen next year.”

As a re­sult, as ad­ver­tis­ers and their media agen­cies come un­der pres­sure to stretch lim­ited bud­gets on in­creas­ingly ex­pen­sive media, ex­tract more ef­fi­ciency from ev­ery advertising rupee and pro­vide greater trans­parency in how ef­fec­tively their money is be­ing spent, there is a need to re­think media plan­ning roles and pro­cesses. There is some ev­i­dence to sug­gest this is al­ready hap­pen­ing.

The media is evolv­ing

The media en­vi­ron­ment that plan­ners op­er­ate in has changed a great deal and it is im­por­tant to ex­am­ine de­vel­op­ments here be­fore look­ing at the media plan­ning process. TV re­mains the medium of choice for many ad­ver­tis­ers but ev­ery­thing from chan­nels to con­tent to rat­ings has evolved. How­ever, the large in­flux of ad­ver­tis­ers (both es­tab­lished ad­ver­tis­ers as well as lo­cal com­pa­nies which are be­gin­ning to see the value of advertising) has cre­ated de­mand and sup­ply gaps, re­sult­ing in ex­or­bi­tant spot rates and high CPRP (cost per rat­ing point).

Not only has advertising on TV be­come more ex­pen­sive, there are only about 10 to 15 chan­nels that have the au­di­ence num­bers to sup­port the reach that ad­ver­tis­ers are try­ing to achieve. There­fore, these top ‘de­liv­ery chan­nels’ in ad­di­tion to be­ing ex­pen­sive are also clut­tered with advertising. Change, how­ever, is in the air; the im­prove­ments in the peo­ple me­ters sys­tem as a re­sult of Me­di­a­logic’s part­ner­ship with Kan­tar are shak­ing up the mar­ket so that as Syed says, “A lot of chan­nels that didn’t per­form in 2014 are now giv­ing num­bers [rat­ings] and the mo­nop­oly

of the top 10 to 12 chan­nels is be­ing bro­ken.”

Dig­i­tal has also evolved and Saeed adds, “We have seen client de­mands go from ‘we want likes and fans’ to ‘we want en­gage­ment’ and we have gone from CPC or CPM to CPDA (cost per de­sired ac­tion) which can be any­thing from view­ing a video to com­ment­ing on a post.”

Fur­ther­more, as think­ing about dig­i­tal evolves and more agen­cies and ad­ver­tis­ers be­gin to see it as a medium where peo­ple share ex­pe­ri­ences from the phys­i­cal world, they have started to cre­ate brand ac­ti­va­tion ex­pe­ri­ences with the ex­press pur­pose of be­ing shared on so­cial media. Thus brand ac­ti­va­tion and dig­i­tal now have strong links with one another and ad­ver­tis­ers are in a sense us­ing ac­ti­va­tion to cre­ate con­tent for dig­i­tal medi­ums.

An­war strongly be­lieves that one of the rea­sons why dig­i­tal is grow­ing is be­cause it gives ad­ver­tis­ers “the power to con­trol con­tent.”

OOH is grow­ing de­spite hav­ing no rat­ings sys­tem (the Pak­istan Ad­ver­tis­ers So­ci­ety ini­ti­ated work on a rat­ings sys­tem for OOH in 2014 but it has yet to be launched) with plenty of in­no­va­tion such as am­bi­ent media, dig­i­tal sig­nage, mov­ing bill­boards, etc. How­ever, most plan­ners at­tribute the growth of OOH to the fact that it has good vis­i­bil­ity and is a cheaper al­ter­na­tive to TV. While out­door track­ing com­pa­nies pro­vide more trans­parency, there is still no mea­sure of ef­fec­tive­ness for OOH.

Print, strug­gling to re­main rel­e­vant with a younger tar­get au­di­ence, is also un­able to pro­vide ad­ver­tis­ers with ob­jec­tive read­er­ship fig­ures and many media plan­ners be­lieve that chang­ing read­ing habits cou­pled with lack of re­search will even­tu­ally spell its doom. How­ever, Saeed be­lieves that print “still has a bet­ter ROI than OOH be­cause at least I know how many peo­ple I am reach­ing.”

Although ra­dio is not tracked and of­fers no mea­sure of ef­fec­tive­ness, it does rea­son­ably well be­cause tar­iffs are cheap and ra­dio sta­tions are gen­er­ally very ac­com­mo­dat­ing of ad­ver­tis­ers, whether it in­volves do­ing free voiceovers, road shows, etc. Nev­er­the­less, ra­dio needs a ma­jor over­haul in terms of con­tent in or­der to be­come more rel­e­vant to its au­di­ence.

How­ever brands are ap­proach­ing cin­ema with care as most cine­plexes still cater to the top SECs and there is, once again, no mea­sure of ef­fec­tive­ness for cin­ema advertising.

The plan­ning process is slowly chang­ing

As media un­der­goes evo­lu­tion­ary shifts, media plan­ning is also chang­ing, al­beit slowly. On a pos­i­tive note, media clut­ter is forc­ing plan­ners to do things dif­fer­ently.

Ac­cord­ing to Saeed, “The plan­ning process used to be about ef­fi­cien­cies, now this is just one part of it. What will dif­fer­en­ti­ate you is in­no­va­tion and cre­ativ­ity. For about 10 years, cre­ativ­ity and brand strat­egy took a back seat while num­bers drove the media plan. How­ever, to­day, it is not only about num­bers but about the rel­e­vance of the pro­gram­ming you in­vest in.”

An­war con­firms this view; in his opin­ion ma­jor ad­ver­tis­ers do not want to be seen on ev­ery medium, rather they are more in­ter­ested in con­tent and con­text in their media plan­ning.

This is not to say that num­bers are not im­por­tant. In fact, media plan­ners say that they ap­pre­ci­ate the new Kan­tar rat­ings sys­tem be­cause it gives more solid data and eas­ier ac­cess to that data, thereby en­abling them to make bet­ter de­ci­sions for TV. Yet, while reach and GRP are im­por­tant, what clients are re­ally in­ter­ested in is cre­ativ­ity and media in­no­va­tion (whether in the form of branded con­tent or con­tent in­te­gra­tion) to stand out and get more mileage. Although this is not nec­es­sar­ily the case across the board; for ex­am­ple, one in­dus­try source says, “The first pri­or­ity is to get the reach and GRPs I need month on month; in­no­va­tion is a sec­ondary fac­tor when you have achieved your bases.”

Ad­di­tion­ally, higher TV advertising rates as well as ad drop­pages that re­sult from clut­ter have led to more fo­cused and shorter cam­paigns (a month-long cam­paign is more likely to be con­densed into two weeks) and the chan­nel mix in media plans has be­come more ef­fi­cient, so that even if ad­ver­tis­ers have the money to spend on 10 chan­nels, they know they will be bet­ter off spend­ing it on four to get bet­ter vis­i­bil­ity. Even­tu­ally, this will help to re­duce clut­ter, but this has yet to hap­pen.

On the down­side how­ever, plan­ners say they are run­ning out of ideas in terms of what to do on TV. Syed ex­plains that, “there is only so much you can do and then your reach be­comes stag­nant and ev­ery ex­tra GRP from that point on is more ex­pen­sive.”

In this sce­nario, both clients and plan­ners are ea­ger to ex­plore other medi­ums “but it be­comes dif­fi­cult to con­vince clients be­cause you have noth­ing con­crete to show for these medi­ums. All you have is a re­search study that was done six months ago but there is no on-go­ing mea­sure­ment or mon­i­tor­ing process,” adds Syed.

This is where solid re­search

would make a world of dif­fer­ence. In its ab­sence how­ever, per­cep­tion and in­tu­ition based plan­ning come into force and the medi­ums that have top of mind with plan­ners and ad­ver­tis­ers (dig­i­tal, OOH, brand ac­ti­va­tion and cin­ema to some ex­tent) tend to get the bud­gets, while print and ra­dio, which are be­lieved to suf­fer from low read­er­ship and lack­lus­tre con­tent re­spec­tively, are left out in the cold; how­ever, as Saeed points out, “there is no re­search to sup­port these as­sump­tions.”

Re­search on media other than TV has been a ma­jor bone of con­tention be­tween media own­ers and plan­ners and their clients for many years with each party con­vinced that the oth­ers should take the ini­tia­tive. In this re­spect, it is im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that the peo­ple me­ters pro­ject only came to fruition when TV chan­nels, media plan­ners and ad­ver­tis­ers came to­gether on a com­mon plat­form and the same is likely to be true for other media re­search.

The role of the media plan­ner is be­com­ing more com­plex

Ac­cord­ing to one in­dus­try source, the role of the media plan­ner is be­com­ing sim­pler and yet more com­plex. She ex­plains the di­chotomy, “In some ways it is sim­pler be­cause your base level fac­tors, such as TV plan­ning are on auto pi­lot, but then you also need to in­no­vate in terms of branded con­tent or dig­i­tal. So it is more of a big­ger pic­ture out­look and in some ways a lit­tle more chal­leng­ing be­cause it means step­ping into ar­eas where no one has gone be­fore.”

This state­ment, although rev­e­la­tory of the fact that plan­ners some­times tend to ap­proach TV with a less than cre­ative mind­set, is also im­por­tant as it shows how the plan­ner’s role now in­volves look­ing at media more holis­ti­cally.

Saeed sums it up nicely when he says that media plan­ning “used to fo­cus on de­liv­er­ing num­bers, now it fo­cuses on im­pact and that is part de­liv­ery, part cre­ativ­ity, part bet­ter media buy­ing and part bet­ter re­search.”

Another rea­son why the media plan­ner’s role is chang­ing is be­cause the ap­point­ment of media man­agers on the client’s side is now an in­creas­ingly com­mon oc­cur­rence. Be­cause media man­agers are gen­er­ally for­mer media plan­ners they un­der­stand the science be­hind plan­ning and are able to ed­u­cate the brand team which makes the plan­ner’s job sim­pler. Hav­ing a media man­ager also adds an ex­tra layer of ac­count­abil­ity be­cause he or she is re­spon­si­ble for check­ing whether a spot or an ad ran, while fo­cus­ing on ef­fi­ciency and get­ting a good re­turn on media in­vest­ments.

A media man­ager can also be a chal­lenge for the media plan­ner be­cause most media plan­ners in Pak­istan have usu­ally worked at ei­ther GroupM (a buy­ing led agency) or Star­com (a plan­ning led agency) at some point in their ca­reers and their work styles re­flects the ori­en­ta­tion of those two com­pa­nies. As a re­sult, if you have a for­mer Star­com media man­ager work­ing with GroupM as the media agency, it can make life more dif­fi­cult for the plan­ner be­cause the work styles clash. How­ever, by and large the ap­point­ment of media man­agers is a pos­i­tive de­vel­op­ment.

Media plan­ners (in plan­ning led agen­cies) are also ex­pected to in­ter­act with clients, ed­u­cate them and dis­arm them if nec­es­sary, mak­ing it a highly stress­ful role. Saeed says this is like ask­ing a con­cept writer to be an ac­count man­ager. There­fore some agen­cies are now em­ploy­ing sep­a­rate ac­count man­agers to help ease the plan­ner’s bur­den.

The more things change...

De­spite the changes, many prob­lems re­main. TV is the most pop­u­lar medium not only be­cause it has a rat­ings sys­tem but also be­cause it is the norm and ad­ver­tis­ers and plan­ners pre­fer to fol­low the tried and tested. Even within TV advertising, the is­sue of the same ads be­ing re­peated mul­ti­ple times dur­ing an ad break or the same pro­gramme re­mains, and plan­ners un­abashedly ad­mit to do­ing this be­cause it gets them re­sults. While they may get the GRPs they want, is it re­ally ef­fec­tive plan­ning when au­di­ences walk away dur­ing the ad break? Saeed re­mem­bers a mem­ber of a team from Google vis­it­ing Pak­istan a few months ago, com­ment­ing that, “if you take even a frac­tion of your ad spend and use it on dig­i­tal or any medium, other than TV, it will get you much bet­ter ROI.”

Although ad­ver­tis­ers are in­ter­ested in dig­i­tal and the medium is grow­ing (it grew 89% in 2013-14 ac­cord­ing to the Aurora Fact File), the over­all in­vest­ment at Rs 2.02 bil­lion is very small com­pared to the

Rs 31.53 bil­lion that TV gar­nered in 2013-14. De­spite the ab­sence of regularly up­dated de­mo­graphic data on in­ter­net us­age, ini­tia­tives on dig­i­tal are im­mensely mea­sur­able and this is why, ac­cord­ing to media plan­ners, their clients are in­ter­ested in dig­i­tal and so­cial media and even mo­bile. While this is cer­tainly the case, what is also true is that many ad­ver­tis­ers in­vest in dig­i­tal for the sake of do­ing so and be­cause ev­ery­one else is do­ing it too, with­out a clear sense of ob­jec­tives, re­sult­ing in the many hap­haz­ard and clumsy at­tempts at vi­ral­ity we of­ten wit­ness on so­cial media.

Re­search and rat­ings for OOH, print and ra­dio are a big is­sue and what is sur­pris­ing is that de­spite pres­sure from clients to pro­vide non-TV so­lu­tions and plan­ning that is backed by data, media buy­ing houses (with the ex­cep­tion of Star­com’s U&A study and GroupM’s 3D re­search) have failed to in­vest in stud­ies to as­cer­tain how peo­ple con­sume media, de­spite the fact that the global brands these media com­pa­nies are as­so­ci­ated with spend mil­lions ev­ery year to get to know their au­di­ence bet­ter. It is not only the lack of re­search that poses a prob­lem; some media plan­ners say that the pro­pri­etary plan­ning tools avail­able to media buy­ing houses through their in­ter­na­tional af­fil­i­a­tions are not used as part of the plan­ning process and are used in client pre­sen­ta­tions only.

Liv­ing in a silo mind­set also ham­pers the media plan­ning process and cross media in­te­gra­tion of cam­paigns is still rare and mainly done by a few of the ma­jor ad­ver­tis­ers. Oth­er­wise, it is rare for all the stake­hold­ers and agen­cies to sit at the same ta­ble to dis­cuss cam­paigns or cam­paign ob­jec­tives. In-store advertising, for ex­am­ple, is still not part of the media agency’s do­main and is han­dled di­rectly by the client with other agen­cies and ven­dors. The same is of­ten the case in terms of brand ac­ti­va­tion. There­fore there is a need to de­fine media more holis­ti­cally when it comes to plan­ning.

Fi­nally, while media plan­ning roles and pro­cesses are un­der­go­ing a shift, there is a need to quicken the pace of that change in or­der to take ad­van­tage of the many media op­tions and tech­nolo­gies avail­able to ad­ver­tis­ers to reach out to their au­di­ences. At the risk of rep­e­ti­tion, the way peo­ple con­sume media is chang­ing sig­nif­i­cantly. Plan­ners and ad­ver­tis­ers have to change with them in or­der to re­main rel­e­vant.

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