Making brand the hero with BPN

12 Jun,2012

 

Just when you thought that the media agency space is getting crowded in India comes the news of another agency setting up shop in India. Brand Connections that was present in 12 countries across the globe excluding India and the United States, will now be rechristened Brand Programming Network. In effect this will be the official launch of BPN in India. And simultaneous with the rest of the world. This will make the agency the third such offering from IPG Mediabrands in India. It already has two in the form of (Lodestar) UM and (Lintas) Initiative. BPN will work under the LMG umbrella.

 

Says Lynn de Souza, Chairman and CEO of Lintas Media Group in a communique, “For media agencies thus far, the starting point has always been the advertiser. Consolidation, portfolio management, aggregation etc. are all client focused and to some extent consumer data driven. BPN will focus on the brand. The time has come to turn back several chapters and make the brand the hero of all communication effort, and BPN has developed processes to do just that.”

 

BPN will take on the service mandate of clients like Jyothy-Henkel, Bajaj Auto, Samsonite, and several other clients of LMG to start up with a billing volume of over Rs. 1000 crores, in Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Kolkatta and Cochin.

 

In India the agency will be led by Suresh Balakrishna, who has assumed charge as CEO of the agency. While BPN will be essentially a media agency, it will play the game differently by focusing on the brand. “Everything that we are recommending is going to be from a brand strategy direction,” assures Mr Balakrishna, as he gave MxMIndia a quick peek of what to expect from the agency in India, hours before it was unveiled.

 

In conversation with Pradyuman Maheshwari and Johnson Napier, Mr Balakrishnan delves on how BPN will be different from the others, on the increased emphasis that will be laid on social media and digital and the new initiatives to look forward to from BPN in the coming few months. Excerpts:

 

Is Brand Programming Network old wine in a new bottle?

No, it is not. The usual answer that comes up about a third agency is that it is created due to a conflict of clients, allowing you to take on more of the similar clients. But with BPN, it is a thought-out strategic decision. If you look at India, there is no immediate conflict business (from network agencies) that is being parked in BPN. If you look at Mediabrands, for the last 10 years it has had a network called Brand Connections in other countries. But as markets have developed, especially a market like India, we find that there are enough businesses out here to have a third agency with a different character, a different way of thinking…and of course help handle conflict in the long run. So it’s not a knee-jerk old wine in a new bottle reaction from our end.

 

The reason we ask you this question is that you have reallocated some of your existing businesses here. Does this also mean that Initiative and BPN could be in conflict with each other?

It could be. In our system we can compete for businesses for the same pitch and may the best team win. Therefore we have a Lodestar UM, an Initiative and a BPN; we have three networks here in India and all three can compete for a business if necessary.  We do believe there is enough business out there and why leave some money on the table…

 

What is it about BPN that differentiates it from others?

A few things actually. Firstly, we are turning the clock back as an agency. We are going back a little in time and therefore the name Brand Programming Network. The whole idea is to focus on the brand. Earlier, media used to be in one house there used to be much more brand focus, even the media guys owned the brand. But over a period of time, media has become more professional, accountable, larger, etc but somewhere in the process we believe that brand connect has got lost. Therefore, BPN would be an agency that would focus on the brand; everything that we are recommending is going to be from a brand strategy direction. To give an example, in the last four months we have won over four-five businesses and in almost all the business pitches the client fed back to us saying is this a creative agency presentation or a media agency presentation? So you can imagine the extent to which we are spending time to analyse the brand, looking at brand strategy, looking at TG, etc. We are focusing on that aspect of the business and of course at the end of the day media is just a delivery vehicle.

 

In fact Mr Shashi Sinha even hinted in an interview with us that we need to return to the full-service agency model. Are you in agreement with that statement?

Half-way house, I would say. We are calling ourselves a full-service media agency in the sense that the touchpoints today have become all-pervading. For example, the touchpoint would be you ride on content. But who creates that content? You have an instance where the customer himself creates content in digital and then you have specialists who create content. So content itself has no owners and therefore reaching out to the customer has become that much more complex and you can only do it of you have the fabric of the brand and what it wants to convey.

 

But the same thing could even be said by the creative agency bosses like, say, R Balki of Lowe, etc who feel that creative is alright but we also need to add some media to it. They could also be thinking on those lines…

So what if they think the same, but I think at the end of the day to deliver media, you need a certain size… in fact many media heads today are CFOs; they are not media people. They have a commercial bent of mind and manage money.

 

So are you saying that a media agency can be a full-service agency but a creative agency cannot be a full-service agency…?

In today’s context yes, I believe you can say that.

 

Sorry to be asking you this for for the third time in different ways, but getting back to BPN, in a sense it will be a brand agency…

Yes, and across the world in the 13 other countries that we are present in apart from India, we have a lot of retail businesses and that is another area of growth that BPN is seeing. That seems to be the character of the agency globally – handling a lot of retail clients on a local basis.

 

Will you only handle products and not brands in other sectors?

 There will be no category and geographical limitation. What the agency will bring to the table is brand perspective. In many cases, we have seen that clients do not want a brand perspective from a media agency. They get enough of it from a creative agency and want only the media bit from us. So I may not be the right pick. But being part of an agency like LMG I may bring along a necessary clout; I am big enough to matter and small enough to care. But that is not going to be my reason to be.

 

In fact for BPN, one of the things being discussed is India as the analytics hub for BPN worldwide.

 

Is it likely to happen soon?

Yes, it is going to happen very soon.

 

Wouldn’t analytics have done better as a separate unit like what the other networks offer?

Maybe if it did well it could become a separate agency but to begin with it will be a part of the service that we are offering.

 

Somewhere in your press release you have emphasised on laying adequate stress on social media. Is BPN going to be basically a digital or social media agency?

No. But globally, and in India, I believe that digital and social media has much more mindspace than wallet space. So it really has a long way to go. Having said that, digital is growing very rapidly globally. One of the things that you will hear from us is a tie-up of sorts with a large platform about which you will hear soon.

 

Will social media be the mainstay for BPN…?

Not in India but worldwide, yes.

 

So here you will be doing the traditional stuff plus digital and social…

Absolutely.

 

Could you delve a bit on the team that will drive the function for you in India?

We have Premjeet Sodhi as the COO, Patrick Gomes would be the head in Mumbai, Mahesh Motwani would be head of Kolkata, Vidya Nanda Kumar will be head of Kochi…we have identified a head for Delhi and Hyderabad that we will announce very soon. We have a staff strength of about 70 and about 40 clients till now.

 

Going forward, will BPN and Initiative be sitting together and pitching for a business?

All the existing businesses in Delhi, Bangalore etc will belong to Initiative while Mumbai, Kolkata, Kochi etc will belong to BPN. We will be having separate offices which ever cities both of us are present.

 

Any other plans on the anvil for BPN?

Yes, we would be having a training and consultancy cell for media houses. The other thing will be branded content….

 

Paid news?

No (laughs). AFPs, in-film branding etc.

 

You have always been a print man, do you still have a soft corner for the medium compared to television which is more popular of the two?

Brands of course want television but I think print also works. Ours is the only country where print is still growing.

 

But TV is growing a bit faster.

Yes.

 

What will the the revenue mix of BPN look like in future… if it’s 99 traditional and 1 digital?

Going by your 99-1 yardstick, it will be 80 per cent traditional and 20 per cent from other mediums. Possibly even 75-25.

 

If BPN has business worth Rs 1000 crore, how much will Initiative be?

It would be the same. LMG as a group is Rs 2000 crore.  All the businesses in Delhi and Bengaluru belong to Initiative while Mumbai, Kolkata, Kochi are now part of BPN.

 

In Indian corporates, there is a tendency to guard one’s fiefdom. Did Initiative feel bad you took away some of its businesses?

They haven’t expressed anything as yet.

 

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