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We provide total communication solutions: Nabendu

By M4G Bureau - July 26, 2014

Milestone Brandcom has made a habit of surpassing milestones with consummate ease. The firm's Founder & Managing Director Nabendu Bhattacharyya believes that OOH business is a pure conviction play. Bhattacharyya took the entrepreneurial plunge some five years ago with the firm belief that right ideas, right people, right practices will induce more brands to test the OOH waters. Milestone Brandcom is a testament to his firm belief. Bhattaryya talks about his riveting entrepreneurial journey in conversation with Outdoor Asia. Edited excerpts of the interview:

In less than 5 years Milestone Brandcom has emerged as one of the biggest OOH specialist agencies in the country. Please share with us your growth journey.

Having worked with a large organization, I thought I was done with plain vanilla campaign planning and execution, and moving at a snail's pace in a corporate environment. I was somewhat frustrated with the minimal or total absence of a re-investment plan for the industry, lack of reliable measurement metrics and real-time monitoring systems, absence of medium-specific creative, and so on. Although there were a dozen or more specialist agencies in the market, none of them addressed the issues faced by the industry and none were bold enough to take a stand on any of them.

Being a dreamer, an energetic and passionate professional, I was tired of ignoring these critical issues. So, I got together with a few of my colleagues -- who are now partners in this business - to took the entrepreneurial plunge to set up Milestone Brandcom.

With the right vision, right people, right intent, seed funding from our PE partner and a handful of clients and media partners, we were able to set off on an unforgettable journey. Along the way we have achieved many firsts in this industry.

We hope to continue challenging ourselves and the industry by creating differentiated products and never-seen-before campaigns. We started our journey with just 25 employees in six offices; today we have over 200 people working with us, 42 network offices with 100+ active brands and we offer OOH integrated services in the outdoor, events promotion, retail designing and research, rural consumer communications, etc.

How do you differentiate yourself from competition in the OOH space?

We provide total communication solutions and not just siloed offerings. Our OOH creatives and works are ROI-driven and linked with our Milestone Optimizer. The Optimizer delivers Gross Impressions of any touch point across 10 cities (accounting for 75 per cent coverage of the industry spend) and will soon cover 15 more cities, to deliver the most accountable campaigns to our clients. Real time monitoring in top 200 towns and integrated brand communication solutions are exclusive to Milestone Brandcom.

Furthermore, we provide through-the-line communication solutions through brand activation - both in the urban and rural areas. We deliver value through brand relevant creatives to deliver the Cost per Thousand (CPT) reach and Gross Impression of a plan.
Milestone Brandcom has diversified into several related businesses. Could you please talk about your business diversification strategies and plan. Has every one of your ventures has paid off?

Milestone Brandcom's primary business is Out of Home communication. As we believe in delivering the most comprehensive plans to deliver the best results for our clients, we later expanded to other auxiliary verticals to strengthen our position.
Milestone Lastmile delivers retail design and research solutions in stores and captive environments. Milestone Connect deals with event promotions and experiential marketing, and we have Milestone Outland that deals with rural consumer communication to cater to consumer groups in rural areas.

We recently launched Storyboard Brandcom which is the 2nd OOH division of Milestone Brandcom and the 3rd OOH division of Milestone Media. Lastly, our Canvas Outdoors division caters to building OOH assets

Do you plan to diversify into any other area?

Media industry is rapidly evolving and the opportunities are growing in the sector. We are closely monitoring the developments and see the potential for a digital OOH arm, a social media division and a mobile communication and technology platform.

Milestone Brandcom has often executed highly unconventional OOH campaigns. How do you convince advertising clients to experiment in the OOH space? Is there high risk in experimenting in the OOH space?

We constantly push ourselves and encourage clients/marketers to throw challenges at us and try the untested waters. Our communication and planning are value driven, based on the client's objectives. We push them to share the most detailed brief and request them to involve us in the developmental process from a scratch.

As clients always look for ideas and possibilities within a particular budget that is in sync and relevant to the purpose of their communication, we at Milestone refuse to rest until we have created the best relevant idea and strategy.

As advertising involves a lot of investment, most clients have little appetite for risks but in my 20 years of experience I have noticed that if the idea is big and the team executing it is capable, the possibilities are many.

At Milestone, we believe in going all the way for any campaign and brand. We are not satisfied until we develop an idea that is big enough and relevant to the brand while still serving the purpose of overall communication need. And because of these reasons our clients have always appreciated our efforts and our successful campaigns stand testament to it.
There is an element of risk in all forms of advertising but when you have the kind of experience we do, it becomes easier to minimise the risk as we know what generally works and what doesn't and we are familiar with the consumer mindset.

Have you succeeded in getting business from clients who have not tested OOH advertising? What stops many of brands from entering the OOH fray?

I have had so many experiences in that space during Milestone's journey! McDonalds is one of the biggest examples as they had very miniscule budgets for OOH. They did not believe the OOH spends would be proportionate to their sales. However, with our campaigns and services, McDonalds today is one of the biggest propagators of OOH advertising and is one of biggest spenders in the sector. Fastrack is another such example of a brand that has successfully leveraged our strategic outdoor advertising solutions.

Many MNC brands are reluctant to spend in the Indian outdoor space as there is no common currency for audience measurement. Now with Milestone Optimizer, every client will be able to create the most systematic and precise campaign, ensuring maximum impressions among the target group.

Tell us how you went about building Milestone Optimizer.

As I said earlier, I was frustrated with the industry not having measurement metrics to determine ROI for clients. Many of the brands were not willing to bank on "instincts and gut feeling” while putting their monies on OOH. As industry leaders, we took on the daunting initiative of creating a tool and a measurement system that will benefit agencies and brands alike. In fact, it will change the entire approach towards advertising in India, shifting the focus to disciplined planning.

We invested 18-24 months, captured data viz. IRS-iLAP, TGI, GFK, did the traffic count, tagged 25,000 sites on the map and developed a Visibility Index. The methodology was developed with the help of a few senior media planners from mainline media, and we looked into client feedback. With this tool, now we can compare an OOH plan with that of TV, press and radio in top 10 cities. We will now rapidly expand the coverage of cities in the next phase. We invested in Rs 2 crore for the 1st phase.

Milestone Optimizer provides the kind of accountability that brands demand. It also provides reach and frequency of different modes of advertising through Gross Impression Points (GIP) that can be compared with the more conventional forms of advertising such as print, TV and radio. It allows one to evaluate category benchmarking and market threshold levels of activity giving a whole new dimension to media planning. The client can work out the optimum plan cost, launch plan cost vs. sustenance plan cost and what the Gross Impression of each plan would be.

Milestone Brandcom has also acquire a few assets. Are you planning for major media acquisition? Do you think it is a good strategy for a specialist agency to also own media assets?

We acquired assets in the beginning and kept on hold as during the journey we realised that assets ownership and agency specialist business are two different businesses. One needs to have deep pockets to own assets across all key markets. I do not want to create anything that is average.
Tell us about your team building efforts? Are you able to attract young talent to your organization?

Team building for a startup company is the most difficult task! In my case it was easy as I have always been a people's person and it is in my nature to build a team. I select right people, empower them, give them space and believe in them. Mutual respect is of utmost important for any team to be successful. I am 24x7 approachable, I pay heed to the needs of my team members, their ambition and give them the space to fly. Advertising business is like software business, it is the people who make difference in our business and I can with pride say we have the best people with us and they made me look good.

We consistently looked at building young talent in our organization, be it from business schools such as Amity, MICA, etc., or from various creative schools. We believe we have a good senior talent pool having people with 15+ years' experience in advertising.

Do you have any plans to foray into overseas markets?

As an entrepreneur, sky is the limit and I am constantly looking out for relevant ideas and opportunities. I am restless and ambitious but from my experience, I know that one needs to wait for the right time to make such decisions and I am waiting for the same.

What is your message to young entrepreneurs in the OOH industry?

There is nothing like becoming an entrepreneur! It is not so much for yourself but for society at large as well. India as a country can grow much faster if we could create more and more entrepreneurs; the ecosystem is now ripe for more startups. An entrepreneur's first strength comes from your instinct. Your gut feeling comes from your belief and confidence in yourself - and with that comes the right ideas and opportunities. After undertaking my entrepreneurial journey in the OOH space, my mind has opened up so much that I see opportunities everywhere.

So, if you want to become an entrepreneur, don't think too much -- take the plunge!

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