Global media trading company Astus Group has set its sights on India, viewing it as a pivotal market for their expansion plans, as per Frances Dickens OBE, Joint-Chairman and Co-Founder of Astus Group.
Moreover, Sparsh Ganguli, India Head of Astus Media, affirmed that the business model they are introducing perfectly aligns with the needs of Indian clients, creating a mutually beneficial scenario for clients, the agency, and Astus Group.
Astus Group recently announced the official launch of its independent office in India.
Paul Jackson, Joint-Chairman and Co-Founder of Astus Group, said, "The basis of what we do is enhance clients' media budgets, allowing them to part pay for their media costs using products or services which could be vehicles, airline tickets, FMCG products, etc. But alongside that, there is no point in them paying for their media budgets if they are getting the wrong media. We work very closely aligned with the media agency to ensure that the client's communication strategy is absolutely paramount. We want to make sure that they can use their products and services but they still get the same media that they were looking to plan and buy anyway.”
“We have been doing this for 20 years now. The opportunity for us in India is that we know that there is a real trading mindset in India but we also know there is contra-trading as well. But sometimes within that model, there might be sacrifices made in the communication strategy in order to use the product. Whereas the USP of Astus is that we want to make sure that clients can use their products and services but they still maintain the integrity of their media plan,” he added.
Dickens said that India is going to be very important to them and it is going to be their third largest market very quickly.
"After the UK, where we have been for 20 years, and Australia, where we have been for 12 years, We are really excited to have managed to hire somebody of Sparsh's calibre, and then to be really growing in this market," she added.
According to Jackson, the whole world knows that India is on a boom so the Astus Group wants to be a part of something everyone wants to be part of.
"I am pretty sure we won't be the only startup coming to India in the next few years. After reading Morgan Stanley's report about the GDP doubling over the next few years and making India the world's third-largest economy, I think we would be silly not to take advantage of that. One of the biggest barriers to entry into any market is the people and fortunately, through the time we have already spent in the market, we have got to know Sparsh Ganguli very well. That's why we are very confident with him spearheading what we are doing," he added.
Ganguli said, "Media trading is something which I was doing for almost six to seven years in GroupM itself. I have been fortunate that I was also working for Astus. So, I have seen the strength of Astus' business model. Now having a situation where we are allowed as an independent company to expand ourselves to various other clients also, I would like to see Astus grow in India in a multi-fold."
While speaking about how Astus Group adds value to brands in terms of optimising their advertising expenses, Jackson said, "There are a lot of different ways and it really depends on the product. We are able to switch our media partners from one supplier to another supplier because they are able to pay in their media space. So, that is when a deal works really well."
"Sometimes, we talk to clients when they have an excess problem of inventories. It could be cancelled orders, new product development, etc. that haven't necessarily worked and it's been rejected by the consumers and therefore they have got a load set in their warehouse. In such situations, we bring in our remarketing specialist who sells that into a secondary market. A lot of the time, we don't have large warehouses and very rarely, we take hold of any actual product. It's very much a paper transaction where the client still holds on to their product, we find the end user for that product and the client sends it directly. Moreover, the client likes that because they have complete control over their product as well."
Speaking about the short-term and long-term objectives set in place for expansion in India, Jackson said that for the short-term objective, they are just starting in India now mid-way and they have got some targets in place that Ganguli has signed off on between now and the end of the year.
"Our client retention has always been way above 90% because we put the work in at the start of the deal to make sure that the client understands what is going to happen with the product. The agency understands how we work together on the media plan. We often start quite small on the first deal. We allow clients to test it out but then what happens is the client comes back and repeats business and normally the volume grows as well. We were very lucky in the first six years of Astus in the UK," he added.
While explaining how Astus Group approaches media buying and planning to ensure maximum efficiency and effectiveness for advertisers, Jackson said that their focus lies in comprehending media buying and planning, which enables them to understand the rationale behind a planner's communication strategy.
"This understanding allows us to provide informed suggestions to our trading partners without making impractical recommendations. For instance, we wouldn't advise someone to shift from TV to outdoor advertising as the two mediums have different strengths and coverage levels. It's crucial to clarify that we are not responsible for the planning and buying aspect. That is the agency's role and they are compensated for it. Our role is to add value on top of the media plan, offering additional insights and contributions to enhance the overall strategy," he added.
Dickens shed light on the valuable insights and lessons Astus Group has gained from working across diverse markets that advertisers in India can learn from.
"Each market is different and we must adapt ourselves. That is why we have such senior local expertise in Sparsh because that is really important. We have also spent 20 years refining our models. We have got a number of sub-models for every client because each deal is bespoke. We make sure that it fits what the client needs and what the agency," she added.
Ganguli said that while Astus comes with 20 years experience of working across countries and categories of brands, India still needs a different treatment and the group has been successful in doing that,
"India is a little different. So, you may learn from different countries but then you need to give a little bit of Indian taste to the work as per Indian clients' needs. We have been successful so far in whatever we have done and the future also looks very promising because the business model we are bringing over here is definitely suiting very well for the Indian clients. It is a win-win situation for both the client and the agency and Astus as well," he added.
Jackson said, "When we engage with a specific client and the agency, there might be initial concerns that we could disrupt their relationship and impact their revenue. However, this isn't the case, as we include a fee for the media agency in our collaboration. While we do have some introductory discussions with the client about products and services, the majority of the work is undertaken by the media agency. They are the ones who collaborate with us and share plans and strategies together. We always ensure an administration fee for the media agency is part of the deal. So, any media agency working with us on a successful deal will see an increase in their revenue for that particular media."
When asked what sets Astus apart from other media trading agencies, he said, "Its accountability sets it apart from others. When we established the company two decades ago, we had previously experienced industry practices that left us dissatisfied, with clients being oversold and under-delivered. To address this, we made accountability a cornerstone of our approach and that is why we have a high level of repeat business. We take the time to ensure the client fully understands the terms and what they can expect from us. Moreover, we don't commit to taking on a client's product unless we are confident in our ability to deliver the media effectively."