After Pune, Lokmat eyes Mumbai, Kolhapur

20 Mar,2018

 

The Indian Readership Survey findings released earlier this year saw numerouno Marathi daily Lokmat gain leadership in Pune, a market that leading daily Sakal has always dominated.  Editorial and Joint Managing Director, Lokmat Media Group Rishi Darda has been leading the Lokmat all-new offensive on its leadership position. Excerpts from an interview:

 

So where’s the bubbly, or should we say bhakarwadi?

Bhakarwadis are on their way (smiles). Finally, what we’ve been announcing and talking about to everybody last three years that we have been the largest newspaper now in Pune hascome true. Obviously, there is a lot of excitement and celebrations planned through the whole year.

And what would you say were the reasons for your performance in the Pune market?

Primarily first, any announcement that any publisher makes has to be on the whole number as such. I think what we have recently seen is that people have been slicing each and every data and whatever is in their interest is being shown. Lokmat would come out as numerouno in each and every of those positions. We are No. 1 in Pune and We are No. 1 in Maharashtra in every sector. The Pune-specific success has been with two-three inputs. One of course has been editorial team which believes in ‘PatrikaritaParmodharma’ that is genuinely followed.

PatrakaritaParmodharma?

Yes, that’s been the motto from the very beginning. I think there was some kind of fatigue amongst readers. It was not the best product. Being the No. 1 for such a long time. I think readers were looking for something a lot more than that.

You are obviously referring to Sakal?

Yes. I think Lokmat came up with an editorial team which believed in courageous and unbiased journalism and that’s there to see. One was the product. The second part was creating the right perception in the market. This is how we started our journey of reinventing Lokmat. And we believed that our products were stronger than the perception in the market. And over the last three years that’s where our energies have gone into. I think every 10 days or 15 days there would be some other activation directly contacting or engaging with the reader. Small events, big events. IPs. Getting a lot of opinion-makers to the city. That’s been the case throughout. I think that’s helped us with the perception in the market.

Are you saying it’s critical to have ground level engagement with readers to ensure that you boost circulation?

I am talking about two different things. Soin circulation, readership would be mainly a part of your distribution. First, to get the product out there. We are in anindustry where distribution is key. As soon as the distribution problem was solved, I think we needed to look at our perception. The ground engagement helped us build the perception at the top of the mind when you have had a leader for about 70 -75 years. The difficult part is to make sure that even if you are getting the product that thereis an affinity towards the product. I think that’s where we worked on awareness from sampling to reading maybe once a week to reading twice a week to becoming the first newspaper in the day to be read.

Pune is known to be a very city rooted in traditions where it’s tough to change habits of people.

Our objective has always been to provide the right news and right insights to readers. Our challengehas never been the product. Our challenge was always the distribution. How do you make sure that your product reaches out to people and that is a concern with every publisher has. I think that if a lot of them came up with the right product, if the person starts reading my product he would fall in love with it. We achieved this through a smart way of marketing which was continuously breaking stories. There was a time when we had issues with distribution hence we created our own distribution channel.

I think that was the starting point. I think for the first time in history in India we picked up cobblers, beggars just about anyone.  We created a team of about 3000 people who went around the city to go and start distributing the newspapers. So that was the starting point where people started getting the newspapers.

The perception of Lokmatwas that it is popular paper in lower socio-economic classes.

Right

How did you effect that change given you have fairly healthy numbers in the higher SEC or NCCS classs albeit a little lesser than Sakal in Pune.

In general, the problem has been of perception. So you get a brand from the US and when it launches in India, it will be always looked at as an International brand. Similarly, when a newspaper from Mumbai launches in Pune or Aurangabad or Nagpur, it’s always looked as a Mumbai newspaper that has come to Aurangabad or Nashik or any other place. When a newspaper from Pune launches in Aurangabad or Nasik or Jalgaon, it’s a Pune newspaper that is launched over there. So our numbers never said that. It was always in our mind that one is always from a rural part of Maharashtra. At that point, 15 years back, the same status was never given to a place like Aurangabad or Nagpur. There was a newspaper from the backward areas from Marathwada and VIdharba which was coming into Pune and Mumbai and that’s why the perception. If you look at our IRS numbers or the NRS at that time, Sec A and Sec B have always been strong for us. But like I mentioned in Mumbai and Pune to change that perception all the efforts have gone in creating ground events so to create a direct connect with readers.

Over the last few years, the kind of IPs that we have created like the Maharashtrian of the Year determine in trying to get opinion-makers involved from every sector of the society. This helped in creating brand image of being in a higher category.

Now the next step is to sustain the same leadership in the next IRS whenever it comes out and of course look at areas.

I think the challenges is going to be more for the competitors because we are not going to be stopping here. Our next challenge is going to be Mumbai. The total readership of Lokmat is the largest in Mumbai also. LokmatSamacharis the No 1 in Nagpur. Kolhapur was another place and we are pretty sure in the next two surveys you will see that we come out as the No 1 in Kolhapur. So those are going to be the focus areas in the next few years.

So the next frontier for Lokmat is Kolhapur and Mumbai?

Yes, that’s right. In Mumbai also. I think what’s happened is there has been a lifestyle change. There has been a shift in the Maharashtrian community that has moved from Mumbai to Thane. So if you look at only Thane numbers I am very sure that in Thane district, Lokmat is No1 already. It is the Mumbai city where the number of Maharashtra Times and Loksatta would come out as No 1 and No 2 but already the areas which are highly dominated by the new Maharashtrian communities is already reading Lokmat.

Sakal has been advertising about supremacy in ABC ratings. Why haven’t you participated in he ABC?

We have made a written complaint to ABC about the numbers that are being mentioned by Sakal are not correct. They should be looking into it. Also, from the planner’s point of view, people look at IRS. So that’s why our focus has been IRS.

Mumbai is a tough market in terms of perception and numbers.

The challenge is the acquisition cost per customer which is very high in Mumbai compared to any other market when I reach out to, say, a hundred people. In Mumbai when you reach out to people, the percentage of the Maharashtrian community itself is smaller and then the conversion rate is still further down. That’s why the acquisition cost per consumer is very high and that’s something that we have been working on. But the first battle for us has been where people were not aware in a huge population where Lokmat was not known in Mumbai.  We have overcome that in the last few years by continuously engaging with them on-ground. Creating a lot of strong IPs. That has helped us to top-of- mind for readers. As soon as we are able to get into their houses, I am sure that we will see the Lokmat numbers going up quickly.

Leadership in readership is one good benchmark of how one is doing. The other is revenues. How’s that doing for Lokmat?

Regional markets are growing steadily. I understand there have been challenges with the English newspaper markets. But we want to see a huge spike and that’s going to be the new challenge that will be put up to the sales team. How do we make use of the leadership in the Pune market? We have been the largest newspaper in Maharashtra without being [leaders] in Pune. And Pune market is about 70% of the total Maharashtra market [outside of Mumbai]. How do I bridge that gap and grow in Pune is what the challenge is for us? That’s what our sales teams are going to go after.

One last question. We have seen that giventhe fact that the English leadership has lost out bit to digital. Given that Maharashtra is fairly digital savvy, do you anticipate any challengeson that score if readership would move to digital. How are you addressing that?

Sure. I think a person moves to digital for two reasons. Oneis cost and the other isconvenience. In the newspaper industry, the cost has always been low. I think the cost of raddi would be more thanthe price that we are paying for some papers. The second is convenience. I have always joked that if you keep your main door open of the house then the person can come to your bedroom and give you the newspaper. In places like Mumbai where the travel times are high, given the  convenience people have started moving to digital. If you are in a crowded trainit’s difficult to read the newspaper. But that’s not something that we are seeing other markets. Also, the literacy rate in a place like Maharashtra is growing fast. Thatis something that would help move to newspaper reading.

 

 

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