Kulshreshtha is another agency business veteran, who has spent a significant part of his career at McCann and WPP. And all of it in media.
He was the managing director of Motivator and later India head of Kinetic in WPP. In 2012, he quit GroupM to start out on his own and was a consultant to a media company called Orange Plus Media Solutions that operated under the brand name Xposure. He now runs his own media advisory company called The Consilium.
What is an important skill?
“The most important skill today in the media planning business is Ctrl-C and Ctrl-V,” he says. “Copy and paste. There is no other skill to speak of. Talent is at its worst because business is bad. And business is bad because everyone involved has overplayed their hand.
Talent management in agencies does not exist. Training is at best a lip service ritual. Attrition rates are climbing. Agencies are no longer in the business of brands or marketing but in the business of media. Not a good sign for either the brand, the agency or the media. Everyone loses.”
How do you mean? (That’s me, on the phone.)
“Media planning used to be where the audience, brand, markets were important. One actually ensured effectiveness when you focused on these aspects of the marketing process Which is why it was called media planning,” he says. “Clients overplayed their hand by driving commissions down to unreasonable levels.
They now have this belief that an agency is just a conduit through which they spend. So why even bother to pay or indulge in something called planning? They believe this because agencies screwed up, big time.
“Clients asked them to bend and they crawled. They didn’t make money, they didn’t invest in talent, they didn’t put any skill on the table except saying, I will negotiate the best deal for you. I will get you the best rate. The ability to negotiate, while it can loosely be regarded as a skill, does not often lead to the most effective or efficient results for the brand. The lowest rate is a misnomer today. And perhaps a myth in my opinion.”
Where are we heading?
“We have reached a stage where the media is beginning to say no to rate negotiations. Broadcasters/publishers are tired. I don’t blame them because their rates don’t go up when their ratings/readership goes up. It is nice to have BARC [Broadcast Audience Research Council] ratings, IRS [Indian Readership Survey], etc., but when are these really used? Most of it is oh, this is your reach but at this price? Pricing is not based on data. It is based on size or volume. But never on data,” he says.
“Consequently setting up the right value for the audience that a media delivers is a mirage as of now. What this has done is to drive an industry the size of over Rs 60,000 crore towards the path of commoditization and rapidly so. And to top this off there is little or no transparency in the system.
Lack of bold moves
But the agencies don’t have the balls to tell the clients that this shit won’t fly anymore. That’s because there is always some agency who will do whatever it takes. Money on the side, no problem. A channel that your wife watches, of course, why not. The problem is that this industry could not muster the courage to say no.”
It is a pertinent point. One which must be illustrated with another story.
It goes something like this. Back in the day, one of the largest media buying agencies in the country bagged the account for one of the largest telecom operators. On the back of low rates. Months in, the agency failed to deliver on the rate and had to cough up a hefty penalty, as per the contract.
The agency paid up but recovered the same through incentives it had signed with media companies. No one raised a stink. It sailed through smoothly—all according to contract.