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Laser focus on quality, technology & transparency

By Rajiv Raghunath - March 04, 2024

Abhijit Sengupta, CEO of OAP & Jahan Mehta, Director, Selvel One Group unravel the OAP business journey over the last two decades, while highlighting the specialist agency’s unalloyed focus on best business practices, transparency, data & tech application, and team building in an interview with Rajiv Raghunath.

Founded in 2002 by a group of dynamic outdoor advertising professionals and funded by Selvel One Group, OAP emerged with a clear mission: to elevate the standards of outdoor advertising in India. Unlike its counterparts, OAP shunned the notion of 'one size fits all' solutions, opting instead to craft campaigns tailored to clients' unique needs and budgets. Despite the presence of established agencies like Ogilvy, Primesite, and Aaren Initiative around the same time, OAP's operational ethos set it apart. 

While its inception may not have been entirely novel, its independence from established media & advertising networks marked a significant departure from the industry norm. This independence empowered OAP to challenge conventions and prioritise quality in every aspect of its work, earning recognition and respect from clients ranging from major OOH spenders to medium-budget advertisers.

Abhijit Sengupta

It all began when Abhijit Sengupta, having worked some 11 years with six different agencies, sense a certain difference in the outlook of those agencies and his own view of the role of specialist agency. Motivated to find a solution, Abhijit approached Noomi Mehta, MD of Selvel One Group, and expressed the desire to venture into establishing a specialist agency. The decision marked a pivotal moment in his career, as he sought to create an agency tailored to his vision and expertise. Abhijit, who has been the CEO of OAP since its inception, promised Noomi Mehta to set up a firm that does less talking and more doing with the best ethical standards. Noomi then named the venture as Outdoor Advertising Professionals or OAP as it is popularly known. 

Leveraging sensitivity in client engagement

The founders of OAP quickly prioritised establishing and maintaining the highest ethical standards within the organisation, with a particular focus on associates and clients, rather than aiming for revolutionary practices or distinctiveness. Abhijit, while commenting on the evolution of the agency, noted the industry's shift towards emphasising science, measurability, and accountability. 

Despite initially hesitating to be a game changer, OAP made a pioneering move in 2003 by developing its first measurement tool. This step was effective in addressing client concerns regarding transparency, site monitoring, and proper accounting.

Jahan Mehta

Recounting the genesis of the measurement tool, Abhijit said that it was spurred by the implementation of the National GIS policy and digitisation of cartograph maps. Recognising the potential of maps to aid media planners and clients, OAP collaborated with Rakesh Verma's company, which later became MapMyIndia. They provided extensive data, including IRS data, traffic counts, and site data, enabling MapMyIndia to integrate ward boundaries, road networks, site locations, and demographic information. This collaboration led to the creation of a sophisticated tool initially implemented in seven cities, revolutionising media planning with geospatial data.

Commenting on OAP's position in the rapidly evolving technology-driven landscape, Jahan Mehta, Director, Selvel One, says that while media owners may invest in enhancing the physical sites and infrastructure, the complexities of planning and buying advertising space require specialised expertise. He asserts that specialist agencies play a crucial role in identifying the right audience, at the right time and mindset, for effective campaigns. According to him, as technology advances, the importance and scope of the specialists will expand. 

Abhijit also highlighted OAP’s commitment to transparency as a key approach. The agency at the very outset prioritised aligning output and input by avoiding discrepancies in billing and display duration. Additionally, they took a proactive stance by negotiating rates before campaign rollouts to streamline processes and avoid post-campaign negotiations. These practices resonated positively with the media owners who expressed satisfaction with the transparent and refreshing approach.

Building the organisation culture

Abhijit and Jahan highlight the proactive efforts undertaken by OAP to seek expertise from professionals in the European market for training and guidance. Notably, the agency received training from Andrew Arthurton of Portland and enlisted the expertise of two UK market experts. These professionals provided valuable insights into business management, with Annie Rickard standing out among them. This approach of learning from top-notch professionals was favoured over relying solely on insights from specific specialist agencies.

Abhijit emphasised the unique culture of OAP, rooted in leadership values and honesty. He hired individuals based on their ability to contribute positively and instilled a culture of truthfulness, backed by a zero-tolerance policy towards corruption. 

Taking pride in the company culture at OAP, they say that all employees, whether shareholders or not, are considered stakeholders, fostering a sense of ownership and commitment. Recognizing the direct impact of their contributions to the company's success, employees are incentivised with competitive compensation, reinforcing their value to the organisation and cultivating a culture of belonging and dedication. 

OAP created a workplace where individuals could stay, grow, learn, and find satisfaction in their work, thus fostering a sense of loyalty among employees. This commitment is reflected in the impressive tenure of the senior management team, averaging 12 to 15 years, and mid-level professionals, averaging 7 to 8 years, showcasing the organisation's ability to retain talent. Additionally, the positive feedback from former employees further reinforces OAP's reputation as a desirable workplace.

There also happens to be a shift in OAP's hiring strategy, according to Abhijit, by moving away from primarily recruiting from the OOH industry to seeking candidates from diverse backgrounds. The agency now prioritises technologically proficient individuals with a willingness to learn and adapt. Candidates demonstrating these qualities, irrespective of prior industry experience, are considered for employment.

Integrating ad-tech into the equation

Jahan believes that to sustain in the industry, it is necessary to give great importance to continuous learning and global collaboration. He expressed confidence in OAP's capacity for innovation in media planning, envisioning projects on a global scale, such as planning for iconic locations like Times Square. With extensive data and analytical capabilities, he asserted OAP's ability to deliver cutting-edge solutions to advertisers. He feels that as long as individuals remain eager to learn, skilled professionals will adeptly execute advanced technologies like anamorphic or CGI.

At OAP, there's a strategic shift towards distinguishing traditional digital media from digital OOH advertising by transitioning to Functional CPM (FCPM). This metric goes beyond measuring foot traffic to evaluate the quality of engagement, focusing on "engrams" or the impression of the advertisement on viewers' minds. OAP is collaborating with institutions like IIM and MDI for a pilot programme to assess OOH advertising effectiveness, considering factors like time, place, and environment. This recognises the varying human behaviour throughout the day and the diverse settings where OOH ads are encountered, from roadside billboards to transit hubs like metros and airports.

Business growth

Powered by strong leadership and deep focus on technology and best business practices, OAP has maintained an impressive business growth as seen in the north-bound revenue growth which is illustrated in the table given here.

Source: OAP

Source: OAP

The journey ahead

The OAP visionaries laid specific emphasis on collaboration over competition within the industry and suggest a potential for increased financial gains and overall growth through mutual support and knowledge-sharing among peers. 

The agency today stands as a beacon of excellence in media and advertising industry, driven by a steadfast commitment to innovation, client satisfaction, and industry leadership. With a comprehensive suite of services and a forward-thinking approach to emerging trends, they continue to redefine standards and set new benchmarks within the industry. Their unwavering dedication to quality, coupled with a passion for exceeding client expectations, positions them as a trusted partner for businesses seeking to thrive in an ever-evolving market landscape. As they look to the future, OAP remains poised to chart new territories, embrace emerging technologies, and deliver unparalleled value to their clients, employees and stakeholders.

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