Sunday, May 04, 2008

The Pat Pong Principles of Media Management

(Reading my last blog, a friendly critic – obviously nauseated by the ranting about pigs and sausages – suggested that, I write on issues that are close to my heart rather than straight from the gut. So here comes one from somewhere high above-the-belt…)

“You can try leaving the media, but – once bitten – the bug of media never (completely) lets you go “ – a veteran colleague had wisely warned before I quit to make - what I consider to be - a monumental move from ‘paper to concrete’, quite literally!! So I was far from unhappy – if truth were told – when I was invited to take a course on the “Business of Print” at MICA earlier this year. Despite some mild protestations (such as, I am no longer a media person and not an expert on the subject) and a couple of coy postponements later – I went to Ahmedabad one Sunday in mid-march, when the mercury had already begun to soar in Gujrat. I surprised at my own stamina in accomplishing a marathon feat of delivering 5 lectures in a row on a single-day much to the dismay of the second semester class, who after that - I was quite sure – would not venture anywhere near the print media.

But there’s no denying that media fascinates me. It is the chimerical character of media, (rather than AL Capone’s irresistible canine charm, as many suspect) which seduced me into joining ABP in the first place. So what is it now? Is it an unsatisfied craving for something that I tasted but couldn’t have for good – like an affair that fizzled out? Is it an old love whom I haven’t been able to forget and will keep returning to her from time to time? – probably not. Do I miss the people I worked with ? – most definitely not the majority of those I met at my last port of call. But, yet - I suspect – media would always remain for me like a flame with whom one has parted ways – but haven’t been able to get over completely – still wanting keep in touch and know what’s happening in her life – albeit from a distance - and sometimes wondering how it would have been if we had stayed together.

Perhaps, I always realized this at a sub-conscious level but wasn’t prepared to admit it upfront. So, when some friends suggested - I start a blog on media, I resisted the idea. For one I didn’t wish to remain to stuck in the past. I felt - once having decided to call it quits one must move on. Second, in any case, I find there are far too many media-blogs floating with every self-styled media pundit putting up their 2 bits into cyber-space. Media types are known for a healthy narcissism and I didn’t wish to contribute to that clutter. Yet I find myself returning occasionally to some old watering holes for a little draught of the world that I left behind.

So a couple of weeks back when a common friend called to say that Peter McCann (an Aussie, former Washing Machine marketer who had fallen into the "whirlpool" of Delhi media but was wise enough to quickly extricate) was coming to town and has suggested that some of us get together for a drink – I welcomed the idea at the prospect of indulging in some innocuous 'V-Man' bashing. Peter recently gave up his consulting assignment and changed track to join one of the largest condom marketing companies in the world ( ‘KS’ is their brand in India ) as the Marketing Head for Asia. This gave him a unique perspective - literally from ‘down under’ - about the goings-on at a 17th storey establishment somewhere in the vicinity of a “circus” in central Delhi, now a "chowk" renamed after a late Prime Minister of India.

When a motley crowd of four get together with a Marketing guru around what else would they talk about - but Marketing ? So, over bottles of Fosters going down like circulation into the Mahim creek – we chatted on how the Bangkok School of Media Management teaches delivering value to the advertisers. It seems that, according to the 'Pat Pong Principle of Stickiness' maximum ‘consumer connect’ is achieved when the readership of a newspaper slowly begins to creep up to match its circulation to reach the dream number of 'one reader per copy' ( which shows 100 % involvement - the reader feels so attached and possessive about his paper, he refuses to part with it even to a member of his own family for all the filial love in this world). There is a further ‘media-multiplier effect’ if the bulk of those readers can be co-opted - thru’ focused micro-marketing - from affluent areas, such as the one across the rail tracks to the east of Mahim. (Apparently, the problem arises only when one tries to 'feverishly' apply these canons of readership to listenership) .

We also talked about ‘blue-ocean strategy’ – of how to rescue a sinking oil tanker by launching a fleet of submarines - bank rolled by PE investors ( So after the 'sub-prime' crisis what - the newspaper 'sub-marine' crisis ? Remember you read it here, first) !! Analysed a live ‘case-study’ of an ultimate positioning master-coup – achieved by changing the entire 'paradigm' for a financial daily and marketing it not for its news content but its soft-columns and life-style section ( to be enjoyed like after dinner thin mint chocolates, while unwinding in a plush cognac lounge ) thus hoping to garner the maximum female audience for a Business Journal ( users of BVLGARI - pronounced as "Bavalgari" by some). Any advertisers' dream, but just that it simply doesn't 'ad' up to revenues. Discussed, brilliant "out of the box" marketing innovations such a model for ensuring newspaper customer loyalty by giving house-wives a lifetime's supply of "tupperware" and bed-sheets. And, we finally concluded that, to continuously delight its consumers - a newspaper must not only inform, educate and entertain but also enlighten its readers – leaving them asking for laburnums in Karolbagh.

Last week in Delhi, my very stimulating breakfast chat with an erudite economic editor, over steaming tumblers of strong Coorg coffee at Sarvanah Bhavan, was about the discovery of a Farm House index for the new Moguls of Indian Journalism. In the evening, at the IIC bar, of course, the subjects get heavier as the smoke gets thicker and we imbibe more of that familiar amber liquid. The venerable octogenarian holds forth on the shock and horror that the fraternity had felt some years back, at discovering that a known nymphomaniac had started demanding money for favours granted. And how, things came round a full-circle, as if by a stroke of poetic justice, when the same old lady was outraged at being denied free and unrestricted 'coverage' rights for the new 20:20 flick-shows. At this point, to distract him, a mischievous young compatriot chipped in to ask, if in his opinion a low pallu to bare midriff ratio worked as well for the sports pages of a national daily as it undoubtedly did for the sunday supplement (and he was not referring to cheer leaders here ). After a while, the discussions veered to the hot topic of the day - whether it's Jojo-ba oil that is making the edit-page Uncle’s bald pate shine so radiantly of late or is it something he got from (his) DNA but no one noticed ? We shall soon know.

Hearing an account of all this – a lady friend explodes, "you so and so… it’s not the media you love but you are simply titillated by our gossip, sleaze and bitching". Then, after a few moments of silent reflection, she lets out a candid admission: "but, that’s what media is all about and you are just like one of us".

"So, Welcome back to the club", she adds with an understanding smile !!