MG Parameswaran aka Ambi dons two hats —that of the executive director of FCB Ulka Advertising, and of president, Advertising Agencies Association of India. Having witnessed the highs and lows of the advertising and marketing business over two decades, Parameswaran takes time out for an interview with FE BrandWagon’s Anushree Chandran, where he talks about incubating and nurturing talent for the advertising sector and bringing in best practices. He also touches upon greater engagement with the Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) and his plans for the revival of the Indian Readership Survey (IRS). Edited excerpts:
You have been re-elected president of the AAAI. What are some of your key goals?
The AAAI will help agencies equip themselves better. A lot of work will be in the area of human resource development. We aim to create more training inputs for ad agencies. Several large agencies have their own programmes, but not the medium and small sized agencies. We started an offline course on negotiation skills. We are going to have one on leadership skills in October 2015. These are typically held at our training centre.
This year we are also partnering with Omniovore and Rajan Nair and offering an online copywriting course costing Rs 20,000. For those who complete the course, AAAI will make up for 50% of the cost, by way of a scholarship. The candidate will also be offered a two-month internship at an AAAI affiliated agency. We can work with content partners to curate more such courses. We plan to have a young leaders’ forum—a committee below the age of 35 and they can come up with suggestions and inputs on how the association can play a better role.
The Indian Broadcasting Foundation has repeatedly been trying to reduce the credit period. What has been the progress?
There has been no movement on that. The whole issue is about sorting bills on time. Instead of pushing for fewer number of days (credit period), we need to see how we can speed up the efficiency. We have had significant advances in our relationship with the IBF—compared to what it was five years ago. You need to have an understanding of when the bills come from the media. When does the advertiser pay the agency? There is a process involved. The system has been ironed out with the IBF over a number of years. Just reducing the credit period is not the answer.
We have a dialogue going on with the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) and we want to scale it up to the next level.
We have also started a dialogue with the Indian Outdoor Association and that is progressing well. I think that there is a bigger crisis in print that needs our attention. The Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) ratings system was created with all three stakeholders working in tandem, the IBF, along with the ISA (Indian Society of Advertisers) and the AAAI and it has become a rallying point and a unifying force for the industry. Print needs to be fixed in a similar manner. Right now, everyone is using one-year-old data. If you say that 43% of Indian ad spend is through television, another 40% is through print. What data do you use for buying print today?
The MRUC/RSCI had a fairly big session where all large print publishers were present. We are trying to see if we can partner with them to bring out a more robust IRS. Once that is done, we get into other media such as outdoor, in order to facilitate reliable metrics.
The International Advertising Association of India Chapter (IAA) is starting its own award. How many domestic awards can there be?
I would say: the more, the merrier. The fragmentation has already happened—what difference does it make? Last year, we have had the maximum number of entries. Then again, Goafest is only part of the AAAI agenda. The Goafest Abby continues to be the Oscars of Indian advertising. Everyone who is anyone in the agency business has built his reputation on the basis of the Abby. This property was created by Ad Club nearly 40 years ago. It was taken forward as the Goafest Abby. I think that the Abby will continue in the times to come. We don’t have sleepless nights on account of new awards being instituted. There is a time and place for every kind of award. This award looks interesting because only marketing people will be judging. In a sense, it is really going to be competing with Effie.
In recent days, Amazon has been in the news for its work culture. Is the AAAI advising its members on suitable human resource practices?
I think that the AAAI’s agenda is on developing talent and business practices for the agency. We will certainly share the best practices with our agencies. Beyond that, each agency has to compete in the market, and set up what is right for them. Something may work, something may not. Certain companies in the Silicon Valley have taken to offering unlimited maternity and paternity leave. But they find that no one avails it, because if you are not in office for three months, the guy in the next cubicle is going to get ahead of you. That is just the nature of the business. It is a competitive environment that we are in. We as an association can only share best practices. Beyond that, it is up to each individual and company to figure out what we can do.