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Interview: Nabendu Bhattacharya, MD & Founder, Milestone Brandcom

“We don’t live in the glory of the past. We believe in creating big every day, and have a fresh start every morning… Milestone Optimizer will soon be able to deliver a media-neutral plan for brands”

Sarmistha Neogy | Mumbai | July 2, 2014

Nabendu Bhattacharya Nabendu Bhattacharya

Nabendu Bhattacharyya spent almost a decade with OgilvyAction before deciding to quit and become an entrepreneur. The former President of OgilvyAction got rolling in October 2009 when he officially announced the launch of Milestone Brandcom, with the help of private equity investors, and headquartered in Mumbai with a pan-India presence. For Bhattacharya it has been a successful journey ever since, as Milestone Brandcom has grown into one of the largest OOH companies in the country. Recently, the agency launched the Milestone Optimizer in order to overcome the problems of lack of measurement and ROI in the outdoor medium. Bhattacharya talks about his journey and the future of the industry in an interview with Excerpts:

With 18 years of experience in the outdoor industry, you are usually referred as the passionate ‘Out of Home Man’ always on the move to make a difference. Tell us something about your early days in the industry and what made you join this field?

Hailing from Kolkata, I was born and brought up in an atmosphere of art and culture. My late father was a vocalist and both my brothers are from the advertising industry, they are Creative Directors. So advertising was a natural choice because if your family is into it, then you sort of build affinity with the people from that industry. I entered the advertising field as an intern with Ulka, Kolkata, but soon realised that the city offers very little opportunities for me. I was practical enough to soon realise that I can only grow if I move out from Kolkata. Opportunity knocked on my door in the form of Selvel Media, and thus my outdoor journey started from there on.

How did your entrepreneurial journey with Milestone Brandcom happen?

When I was with OgilvyAction, I found that the out of home medium was a very niche and difficult business. I found that people in the advertising industry usually look down upon this medium as it is not glamorous and fancy as theirs. It was so unorganised at that point of time that every day there was some or the other problem, be it with the police, corporation or with insurance.

Also, monitoring and measurement of an outdoor campaign was a challenge, and clients were extremely frustrated. They always wanted to know the outcome of the money being spent on each campaign, but there was no tool to gauge the measurement. There was also this conservative mindset of the creative directors who believed in replicating the same ad on different mediums.

My philosophy was different because for an outdoor medium the environment means a lot. A simple positioning of the logo or any obstruction in front of the ad can make a lot of difference to an outdoor ad. The idea to start something on my own germinated in 2006, and it finally took shape three years later when Milestone Brandcom was born.

Where do you think is the outdoor industry going wrong in India and which areas need to be corrected immediately for better results?

Right now, we don’t have a rule book with guidelines for the out of home industry. We need an ‘industry unified association’, which will come together to write this rule book. Also, owing to the lack of monitoring, marketers are shifting from investing in this medium. India is a very complicated country, with several obstructions from different authorities, like railways, airport, corporation and police, and each one of them is busy justifying that their rules are correct and have to be applied. The only way out from all this mess is, I believe, through consolidation. Sooner or later, it will happen that big international players will come and lobby with the government and will start buying smaller companies to create something standardised like the international market.

How is Milestone Brandcom different from the other outdoor agencies?

We are an entrepreneurial driven business and unlike the other big agencies, we don’t live in the glory of the past. We believe in creating big every day, and have a fresh start every morning. Unlike big companies where decision making is very slow, at Milestone there are no processes to go through. An idea doesn’t have to run past different departments and get killed in the process of hierarchy and office politics. The best part is that all my clients and team members have direct access to me. If I have bagged a business in Kolkata, I personally fly down and meet the client and it acts a morale booster for everyone.

What has been the success mantra of Milestone Brandcom?

When we started Brandcom, we had nothing but huge dreams in our eyes. This is not a regular 9 AM to 5 PM job; it is a very complex and difficult industry. And you need to love and understand this space; it is not meant for everyone. Advertising has two sides – the glamorous and the not so glamorous side. We sit on the other side of glamour, and our passion drives us in everything.

If you have to adopt any trend from the international OOH industry, what would they be and why?

I would like to invest in a big way in technology as it will play a huge role in the coming years. I would like to drive innovation as much as possible for a brand to engage with the consumer. The best part of our business is that we do not have to talk much, our work speaks for us. Currently, 65 per cent of our population is under 35 years and they are extremely digital savvy. While our space is very static, it can be used dynamically to create a multiplier effect to reach people through social media and spread the good work.

How do you think the recently launched Milestone Optimizer will change the face of the outdoor industry?

In the outdoor medium, clients always want to see results, as a result of which they have always considered television, print, digital, radio as reliable options for any kind of promotion. This is because in most of the above mentioned mediums, clients can measure the effectiveness and efficiency, which helps them to take informed decisions. For the OOH space, it all works on gut-feel planning or inaccurate brand tracking measurability. This is where Milestone Optimizer hopes to make a difference through its web-based scientific data which will help marketers, media planners and buyers make superior and cost-effective outreach to consumers. This would save time for marketers, brand managers and media planners/buyers who will have these studies and data analyses in a ready-to-use format. Going forward, Optimizer will cover a total of 35 cities in a two years’ time. We will very soon be able to deliver a media neutral plan for brands.

What are your views on digitisation of OOH? What do you think are its scope in India?

I would definitely like to move towards a situation like digitisation but it is not in our hands. Our RTO refers it as a way of distracting traffic. Till digitisation happens, our aim would be to generate stuff which are very much digitised with the help of television. When LED will come to this space, life will become so much simpler. Digitisation will happen the moment we see the international players entering the Indian market. And who knows, may be with the new stable government, this is the time!

What do you think of the scope of outdoor advertising in Tier II and III cities? Is Milestone Brandcom contributing in that part of the market?

The scope of outdoor advertising in those cities is enormous and it is growing at a very fast pace. There is so much of infrastructural development happening. Two years back, the outdoor medium was mainly occupied with local ads. It has changed now; more than 50 per cent of these ads have been occupied by national brands. Thus, in those cities, the consumption pattern is changing, and they have started looking for brands which are national.

Milestone mainly gets its business from the top four cities – Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore and Kolkata. Our clients are also mainly national and multinational brands and more than 95 per cent of our business comes from them. If any national brand wants to take its campaign to any of the tier II and III cities, we do it, but we personally avoid taking up local clients as there is huge risk involved in that.

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