If the conversation in the last couple of years leading to the 2019 election in Delhi revolved mostly around slowing down of business and a chorus – Modi ne Dhandha band kara diya, then the new song on everyone’s lips is – its over 70 days since Modi 2.0, what is the government doing? Auto Sales are down, manufacturing is down, every sector is bleeding, and economy is headed south, rapidly at that.
While his Finance Minister, Nirmala Seetharaman has been copping a lot of criticism, he himself is being derided with comments like – we are being given lollipops like Triple Talaq, Fast-tracking of Mandir issue and the abrogation of Article 370 & 35A. Lollipops don’t fill hungry tummies, they are saying and saying loudly.
And in this environment where businesses are struggling, layoffs and scaled down targets are the order of the day, one of the businesses facing the heat most directly is advertising. Across the world, in fact, the first casualty in such an environment is always advertising and this recent period is no exception. The slowing down isn’t just reflecting in loss of business from the private sector, the government spending too has came down drastically. One may argue that this is a government that has just assumed power, its only been a little over a month since the budget came out and hence the government ministries, departments and public sector companies may not have received their allocations. But there are other aspects to this story.
The fact is that post 2014 the government has dramatically changed the manner in which it spends its money on communication. That has had its own impact with a large number of advertising agencies that depended largely on government business seeing their billings drop as a result of the government reducing ad spends, moving tenders and similar ads to websites and portals. This moving of tenders and notices to digital platforms didn’t just affect agencies, it also dug a big hole in revenues for newspapers. Of course, the government hasn’t only gone digital as if it’s the “in thing”, the new think tanks want their advertising creators and executors to think different, think innovative, use new media or employ conventional media in a new way.
Private sector brands had woken up to this truth a few years ago and many had moved their budgets to BTL and other non-ATL avenues. Agencies that weren’t geared up to offer services beyond ATL suffered big loss of business and some even had to reduce workforce.
So, what does the future look like for the advertising business? As Sandiip Kapur, Founder & Managing Director of Promodome Communications puts it: “I am extremely hopeful of future. Yes, there has been a slowdown but I am looking forward to a spurt in business, from private as well as government sector.”
For Sandiip, building up 360-degree capabilities over a period of time and a diverse portfolio of clients, major brands from across the sectors, helped: “We decided that we will not be dependent on either a sector or a discipline for our business. If we have private brands like Maruti, Hindware, CII, IEEMA, JW Marriott etc as our clients, we also have PSU majors like GAIL, Indian Oil, NBCC, POWERGRID etc on our client roster. Plus, government clients like Delhi Police, Himachal Tourism among others. In addition, a big chunk of our business in recent times has come from events and activation, as well as digital media. And it is these strengths that will help us stay ahead as business begins to get better. I am sure that most agencies, specially mid-size agencies like ours will grow rapidly.”
He added: “Digital is the new tool in town and people speak of it as the panacea for all ills. They say – TV has long eclipsed print and now digital is eating them up both. But those who think like this are only displaying their ignorance. Millions of Indians continue to spend time in front of their TV sets and print readership has gone up because if people aren’t buying a physical copy, they are reading the papers on line.”
Further, Sandiip says: “The task of each media has been getting redefined. For example, if print media was indeed dead, why would Amazon print four pages of ads, with the front page jacket, every time it has a sale? Why do the city supplements carry two or three sections of as many as 40 pages starting day one of Navaratras and go on like this till Diwali? How is it that top programs on GECs still command rates of Rs & 3-4 lakhs for every ten second spot? If Digital indeed had killed these two media, then how is that we are still witnessing these things?”
The trick, as per Sandiip, is to stay ahead of the curve. Think different, think innovatively, and use the same media to engage consumers in a fresh manner. He cites the example of how some ministries are using story telling on radio to promote schemes and programs.
One of the possible areas that Sandiip is eyeing with eagerness is the new breed of Indian entrepreneur that’s been coming up since the last couple of decades or so. These entrepreneurs, Sandiip says, understand the power of advertising and also have a good understanding of communication and media. Hence, this could be the growth engine, as per him.
Meanwhile, the hot topic across business, media and agency circles is: Q1 has been a disaster, and nobody knows what Q2 & Q3 will bring. Most people believe that from a highly negative situation in Q1, there can’t be a sharp and total turnaround in Q2, and are thus looking at Q3 to achieve some semblance of stability and sanity in business. Good times, well, don’t know.
What then, for media and agency business? Sandiip says: I request the Government, especially PM and FM to work towards energizing the economy. Otherwise, not only will existing businesses find the going tough, a lot of people thinking of start-up ventures may give up on their plans. Plus ad agencies that had created special cells for government businesses may have to lay off people and that wouldn’t be a happy situation.
Well, the final verdict is still not out, lets wait and watch as to where this one goes and which way the cookie crumbles.