‘The right message to the right person in a nano second’ – Mindshare’s Ashutosh Srivastava on 10 ways media has changed in a decade

Ashutosh SrivastavaAshutosh Srivastava recently celebrated his tenth year at Mindshare, the largest media agency brand in Asia Pacific, based in Singapore. He joined the GroupM agency as India MD in 2002.

In this interview with Mumbrella Asia’s editor Robin Hicks, Mindshare’s chairman and CEO for AMEA, Russia and emerging markets highlights 10 of the top trends that have shaped the media landscape over the last decade, including the polarising power of media in the age of Trump and Modi, the growing influence of China, and the fall in trust between clients and agencies.

1. Media and the polarisation of opinion

Perhaps the biggest change is the impact of media. In a very short space of time, we’ve seen social media shape people’s lives dramatically. Platforms have enabled people to connect freely and easily, leading to political movements and revolutions, to people sharing stuff with their friends.

The new face of India

For him or against him?

We always used to say media is influential in shaping society. But it used to act in a slow invisible way over a long period of time. But now you see how quickly the world gets polarised by media, as opinions can be shared so quickly. You’re either for Trump or against him. There is no middle ground. In India, you’re either for the BJP or against it. These views have always been there, but they didn’t have such powerful platforms on which to express themselves.

2. The pervasive smartphone

Old HTC phone

Mobile 1.0

When I arrived in Singapore in 2006, I had an HTC phone with a tiny screen and a small stick you jabbed at the screen. Now everyone is walking around with a mobile device, whether they live in Myanmar or Singapore. Beyond connectivity, mobile devices give marketers a personalised, localised approach to their trade. And it’s all happened within a decade. Before I arrived in Singapore, nobody used to talk about mobile marketing. Today, people are now talking about building a proper ecosystem to ensure the right messages are going to right devices at the right time.

3. Technology and the disappearing line

Technology allows you to track people across devices and follow them along the consumer journey. In the old world, you’d hire a media agency, give them a budget, and they’d plan and buy media for you. They’d operate in the world of paid media, and the metric set would be awareness. That has now changed completely, and it’s very difficult to draw a line. Given the steady stream of data that keeps coming at brands, you can follow the entire journey, from making people aware, to making an actual purchase. The role of media and media agencies has changed completely. It’s no longer just about managing brand, but about managing demand as well.

4. Searchable, social and shoppable

10 years ago, media had become searchable. There was Google. If you wanted to buy something, you could on eBay and Amazon. It had started to become sociable, with the likes of Facebook and Friendster, but on a smaller scale. Now it’s everywhere, and media is truly social and searchable. But it is also shoppable. The end to end consumer experience has arrived, and brands like Xiaomi and Oppo have excelled at exploiting it.

5. Data

Traditionally, a research agency would do the analysis. But now, as people are online doing just about everything, you can tell so much from what a consumer is doing and thinking just by looking at their internet activity. A brand can make itself far more useful and make the consumer journey easier. You no longer have to shoot a campaign, run it for two months and see what happens. You can change it as consumer behaviour changes.

6. Automation

Today, media is shifting from being just biddable to managing it in a programmatic way. There is a lot to be learned, and it’s a market in transition. But now we’re moving from biddable to automation to having a set of rules to change in real time what we bid. That is where programmatic comes in. People are still throwing out advertising to masses of people without properly targeting, and that’s why people have ad blockers. But if you’d read the data signals right, you can deliver a message at the right time to the right device in a nano second.

7. Who works in media?

At the entry level, there’s been a sea change in the diversity of people entering the business. But the shift has not been as big as I’d like to see. There’s always a lag between what currently exists and where the possibilities are for media agencies. But media is attracting people from different fields. We recently hired a guy who’s an actuary from the insurance industry. His skill set is in managing risk, which is also required for media investment.

Media coursesChanges in the education system, for instance here in Singapore, where media can be studied at university have also meant a rise in the profile media. So it’s become a self fulfilling prophecy. The more young people share their experiences of the business in social media, the more people understand what this business is all about.

8. The competitive set

The competitive set has broadened hugely as media agencies are no longer just about buying inventory. It used to be what you knew would hold true for the next 10 years. These days, it’s more like 10 days.

Media is in a state of flux, and the big consulting firms now advise clients on their relationships and how to manage change. Media technology companies are entering the market too, some with mysterious business models, and they clash with media agencies in offering targeting services.

Then, there are the likes of Google, Facebook and WeChat in China, which have a deep knowledge of consumer data and control a large portion of the advertising market. The one thing that gives us an advantage is that each of these is a single platform, and no users uses just one across their entire consumer journey. There is is always a role for who can cut across all of these walled gardens, as well as navigate them well.

9. The rise of China

China is now a hotbed of innovation and new ideas. That applies to everything, from platforms to business models, and in some ways Chinese media companies are ahead of Facebook and Google. The same goes for the marketing sector. Maybe it’s not packaged and presented as well as in the US, but the quality of thinking is on a par. And now we’re seeing pockets of innovation coming through from Vietnam and Indonesia.

10. The erosion of trust between client and agency

One thing I find bizarre is the concept of pitching. You have a two-hour time slot to present, some back checks will be done on credibility and financials, then you’ll be chosen for a basic service. That is fine for a commoditised business.

And this has led to the rise of auditors who build their business by broadening the level of distrust between client and agency. They ask questions such as, are you sure about what you’re getting? Are you really equipped with the latest knowledge to ensure you get the right agency? You could make mistakes that cost you millions of dollars. They fuel paranoia.

At the same time, the people who negotiate on behalf of clients also have applied classic commodity procurement techniques. In the last five years, media agencies have changed a lot, and there is a lot of value clients can get out of media agencies that they don’t currently. But the focus has still been on price of media and price of service, and clients have missed out on the real opportunity. This is perpetrated by the way pitching is done, and by the auditors themselves.

We are the practitioners, we are the specialists. Consultants have not seen the sea changes we have gone through apart from reading about them or watching presentations. And slowly things are getting out of sync. Auditors don’t have the working knowledge of what can be done with a media agency. And some media agencies are faster than others at this time of change, so in that sense the business is not commoditised.

There are clear differentiators now. But auditors are not up to date. Because of data and the tools and techniques we have, we are in a much better position than in any time in history to attribute cause and effect. Frankly, our business model is at a point where, over the next few years, we will move to a more outcome-based approach. And you don’t procure outcome-based service providers based on cost of input and cost of media inventory.

Too many people slip back into the comfort zone of saying, what rate are you buying at, and is that the cheapest in the market? And that keeps dragging the industry back. Auditors play the same role, and that slows the industry down and there is less experimentation than required.

For the life of me, after so many years in this industry, I can’t figure out how someone can make a choice in two hours of a pitch presentation about why this is the right partner to work with. As a marketer, I would talk to three or four agencies, work on projects with them and see how it worked out over time to see if I would need to consolidate those relationships. Pitches are no more than a fashion show.

What has also damaged trust is clients turning to agencies and demanding that the media price is guaranteed. If they find out that some of media was claimed and not delivered, the next step is that clients demand that the outcome is guaranteed. The moment you ask the agency to guarantee the price, you are no longer treating them like an agency. If they don’t own the inventory, how can they guarantee the price?

We operate on your behalf, and I become the principal. If I am the principal, then what does it matter to you on what terms I operate with the media owner, and at what price I buy? If I bought it at a higher price and had to give it to you at the same price, my business would take a hit.

That is a model that gets perpetrated through procurement and auditors, because they don’t seem to have any other way of benchmarking or making sure that something will be delivered.

For a procurement person, if they’re buying commodity services there’s no right or wrong. You can go on Amazon and you can buy from a 100 different suppliers. Amazon charges a commission from both buyer and seller, it’s a two-side platform like eBay. No one asks them, how much commission did you charge the seller of a baseball cap through your platform? That’s the business model. It’s a commodity business. Low margin, high volume.

If procurement people and auditors want to drive media in the commodity business direction, they have live with the rules of that business. But if they want to hire an agency as a consultant to work with them and look after their interests, then don’t treat them as a principal where the value they are getting is 20 times what you are paying them and expect them to survive.


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