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Media audit becomes a two-horse race in India

BestMediaInfo talks to the longest playing media audit firm in India and the newest entrant to find out if the media audit process is creating enough excitement in the market

Ananya Saha | Delhi | February 20, 2012

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There has always been a distinct need from advertisers for a ‘critical friend’ who can help in the media buying and planning process, increase ROI, assess inter- and-intra-media effectiveness by medium, ensure deliverables and present a completely independent, accountable and clear plan. Media audit, thus, becomes a critical support function to the entire business of marketing, advertising, media planning and media review.

“Unfortunately, it has not taken off in India yet,” says Harish Bijoor, CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults. The media audit space in India is still an uncharted territory in India, and there aren't too many players in this space.”

Spatial Access, headed by Meenaskshi Madhvani, is India’s first media audit firm and was launched about a decade ago. The agency has been growing steadily and recently restructured its operations to take care of its additional business over the years. In 2011, Spatial Access restructured its operations under different strategic business units.

Last year also marked the entry of London-based EMM International to India to offer its services of measuring media effectiveness for national as well as international brands. The global media auditing firm is operating out of India in a JV with Indraksh Media and Management Services.

Nikhil Rangnekar, CEO, SA 1, a unit of Spatial Access, highlights how the landscape of media auditing has changed over the years. “The biggest shift that has happened in the marketplace is that the two key stakeholders – clients as well as media agencies are far more receptive when it comes to audits. From being anti-audit to being indifferent, clients as well as agencies have accepted audit as an important function in improving media efficiencies. There are clients who approach us directly and there are agencies that recommend media audits to their clients to validate their own performance.”

“While we have come a long way, there are still a few agencies who oppose media audits under some pretext or the other but the real reason could be that they have a lot to hide from clients that would come out in the open in an audit,” adds Rangnekar.

The clients that Spatial Access audits constitute 40-45 per cent of the Indian media market.

India is seen as a large and complex media marketplace that is some way “behind the curve” of media accountability and all the benefits it can bring to advertisers. According to Stephan White, Chairman, EMM International, the country has a poor reputation regarding corruption in business, and the Indian media industry needs to recognise this and ensure that levels of transparency in media dealings improve. “Most international advertisers have very high standards for transparency in media and they will demand that these standards are implemented in every market, and particularly in India,” he says.

He adds, “The percentage of Indian media industry that is currently audited stands at 10-15 per cent at most”

It seems that not enough advertisers in India are aware of the wide range of tangible cost savings and improved media buying results that can be achieved through media auditing programmes. To tap the market, EMM has engaged with hundreds of local and international advertisers in India with a piece of research that encouraged their involvement. The research had the objective of widening the knowledge base amongst Indian advertisers about greater media accountability, informs White.

Challenges

“The biggest challenge has been getting some of the largest advertisers in India on board but over the years we have managed to convert quite a few. The second challenge is hiring and retaining good talent where again we have been quite successful and not fallen the agency way, which has seen the quality of talent deteriorating over the years,” points out Rangnekar of Spatial Access SA 1.

EMM, being a global player, faced three challenges on the Indian turf. White says, “The market for media auditing in India is very small when compared to total media expenditure here. Secondly, too many agencies are fearful that a media audit brings trouble to their business. While smart agencies doing a good job for their clients have nothing to fear from a media audit, we are there to highlight how ‘good’ their performance is and help to address any problems on cost/quality that may have occurred.”

Even as advertisers need to be educated about the need and pros of media audit, the market is at a stage where it will only expand rapidly in the years to come.

An evolving market

Spatial Access boasts of being way ahead of other markets. In the quality of work, they are definitely on a par with international markets, Rangnekar believes. And Spatial Access is gearing up to expand its global footprint. “Being a monopoly, our market share currently stands at close to 100 per cent and our focus is on increasing the pie rather than play a market share game,” he adds.

Is there a market for more audit firms in India? “I think in any industry where one player has a monopoly, there will always be room for new entrants. While we have converted a lot of clients, there are still clients out there who haven’t experienced the benefits of a media audit and a new entrant can possibly get new business. But the differentiators mentioned above act as a fairly strong barrier for the new players to make much of a headway,” says Rangnekar.

EMM India’s strategy to increase market share in the category in India is to offer the combination of best advice, tools and people to service Indian clients at a competitive price.

“Our business strategy is to develop tools specifically for the Indian market that, in addition to bringing international ‘best media practice’ in general to India, also brings internal media process improvements to Indian advertisers,” says White.

Spatial Access is banking on its being a pioneer in media audit in India; a large base of clients resulting in a robust pool of data to benchmark buying rates; proprietary tools; quality and spread of services and quality of talent. EMM comes to India with 19 years of international media auditing expertise.

“During this time we operated media auditing in India with Spatial Access as our partner, but they are now our rival. We think the combination of international (western) media auditing expertise, plus a powerful local media partner (Indraksh) is the right combination for us in India. We respect the financial auditors and consultancies who dabble in media auditing but we have significantly more experience and ‘firepower’ in the specific media auditing techniques that are required,” concludes White.

As the unsaid war between the new entrant and the current market leader heats up, it will be interesting to see how the media auditing market pans out in India.

Ananya@BestMediaInfo.com

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