Shoeb K Zainuddin
Ranjana Singh came to Indonesia nearly 20 years ago to work in the country’s nascent media advertising industry. She has not only helped changed mindsets but she has also influenced the way the industry has grown over the past two decades.
Three years ago at a regional media conference, Ranjana Singh was chatting with some colleagues on the issue of reputation. The technical advisor of GroupM Indonesia was concerned with building and protecting the reputations of the company’s numerous clients.
That discussion led to GroupM hosting a glittering event in Jakarta in December last year to honor some of the largest and most innovative media organizations in the country. Media companies in Indonesia are used to handing out awards but not receiving them, so this was a first for many.
To mark its 25th anniversary in Indonesia, GroupM Indonesia announced the winners of its first ever Media Awards at a gala dinner. Some of the country’s most prominent media owners and executives including Chairul Tanjung of TV7, Soetikno Soedarjo from MRA Group and Svida Alisjahbana from the Femina Group were in attendance.
It was a challenge getting everyone in the same room,” says Ranjana. “The awards are long overdue and it’s a credit to all our clients that all the senior people came.”
GroupM is not just another advertising company. It is the world’s largest advertising media company in terms of billings, handling some 32% of the world’s total media billings. Headquartered in New York, it has 17,000 employees and 400 global offices in 81 countries.
GroupM was formed in 2003 by WPP Group to serve as a parent company of WPP’s media agencies, which include Maxus, MEC, MediaCom, Mindshare, Xaxis, Outrider and others. GroupM Indonesia in 2010 booked billings of $660 million in a market that grew by about 23% that year.
Ranjana herself is a pioneer of Indonesia’s fast-growing advertising and media industry. She first arrived in the country from her native India in 1993 as the general manager of JWT, another giant advertising company. She was then tasked to lead Mindshare, which was created by the merger of the media divisions of Ogilvy and JWT and was the country’s first independent media planning company in 1999. In 2005, she established GroupM, where she now oversees 11 agencies.
We now have four media companies under GroupM,” she notes. “When I first came to Indonesia, the television industry had just gone private and it was growing fast. By 2003, we had 10 terrestrial TV stations and today a lot of science, logic and rationale has come into it.”
Today, her clients rely on market data to make decisions on where to advertise, which is why consumer research is now a vital part of the business. “The industry has moved very quickly and changed tremendously but we still struggle with talent.”
GroupM controls a large chunk of Indonesia’s fast-growing ad spending market. According to a Nielsen survey, ad spending in the third quarter of 2011 reached its highest level with more than $2 billion spent, a 24% increase over the previous quarter.
Television ads recorded the highest growth with 25%, followed by newspapers with 22%, while magazine advertisement spending remained stable at 7%. Indonesia’s total advertising spend in 2011 was estimated at $7 billion.
When she worked with JWT in the mid 1990s, TVCs (television commercials) were all the rage. Companies spent a fortune on their commercials and advertising agencies employed their most creative minds in this area.
But 15 years on, both the mindset and the industry have changed significantly. While the TVC is still important, it is no longer the king. “The mindset of clients has changed,” says Ranjana. “Companies like Unilever have shifted from focusing on creating a TVC to focusing on where they want to be in terms of positioning. That has pushed media high up on the eco-system.”
So relationships with media organizations are now vital as well as having market information on who is watching what.
There is now too much clatter so some clients are moving away from TVC,” she adds. “Given the media choices today, any client who starts with a TVC has lost the plot. Understanding how media works is now crucial.”
The fast-changing media landscape means that media agencies and advertising companies are totally dependent on each other. “I see us as having two partners so we have to do well by our clients as well as the media we work with. We are all successful because of each other.”
Having worked all her life in advertising and a considerable amount of time in Indonesia, Ranjana is well placed to read the trends that are redefining the country. Indonesians, she says, are positive and optimistic about their future and are proud of their country.
The media, she notes, is too skeptical and too biased which is why Indonesia is such a huge market for social media. “Given the history of this country, ordinary people do not trust official media, which is why Facebook and BlackBerrys are so popular,” she says.
“If the media is too biased, people will see it as viewers are not stupid,” she notes. “If you go too far, people will stop listening to you.”
The veteran advertising professional also extols mainstream media to start looking at the country more positively. There is much going right for Indonesia at the moment but this is not reflected in the media, which is heavily focused on corruption and bureaucratic red tape.
She points to the recently concluded Southeast Asian Games as an example of how hope and positivism generated widespread national pride. GroupM played a central role in the message by creating the Ayo Kita Bisa (come on, we can) message and TVC by working with Unilever. The whole project was completed in four weeks, a record for such a national-scale campaign.
We set a target of reaching two million Indonesians but before the SEA Games ended, more than 18 million viewers had seen the video clip and responded positively,” she says. “The whole idea came from Mindshare and we worked with a number of media organizations to broadcast it. That is why this is an exciting industry.”
This is only one example of how the advertising industry, the media and the private sector can team up to make a positive difference. As Ranjana notes, every Indonesian wants to do the right thing and will support a good cause. “What we need to do is give them a rallying cry.” GA