The third edition of IAA Conversations was hosted in Mumbai on 18 August 2014. The high profile ‘conversation’ was between WPP CEO Sir Martin Sorrell and Times Now editor-in-chief Arnab Goswami.
It was Sorrell who took on the role of anchor first, asking Goswami about the recent Lok Sabha elections.
Goswami said, “I had two interviews, one with Rahul Gandhi and the other with Narendra Modi. When I interviewed Gandhi, I was trying to get him to loosen up, but wasn’t successful entirely. With Modi, I was one of the last people to get a chance to interview him, but the first English channel to speak with him. I asked him why he decided to talk to me so late, to which he said, ‘My election campaign started with you, and will now end with you’.
The audience was reminded of the Indian cricket team’s forgettable run in England, as Goswami asked Sorrell if he’s been enjoying theaction. Noting that he had been following the games on television, Sorrell made an observation on Dhoni’s captaincy. He said, “In the last Test match, third man scored 137 runs for England, but Dhoni didn’t place a fielder there. I think Dhoni has fixed ideas when he steps onto the field. Although you see him sometimes innovative with some field positions, I don’t see him completely flexible.”
It was not all bad news for the Indian captain as the WPP CEO put his criticism in context, and said, “It’s about situations. Currently MS Dhoni is the topic of discussion and his captaincy is under scrutiny. After the Lord’s Test, it was Alastair Cook who was been spoken about in a similar manner. So, it’s all about situations and how you can face them. If you were interviewing me in 1991, when I was going through a difficult patch, the interview would be very different.”
The duo then got down to more focused discussions on the media industry.
Growth of digital in focus
Goswami referred to a statement made by Sorrell in the past: that ‘anarchy creates new impressions’.
Sorrell explained that the statement was made in the context of new technology; he elaborated on the importance of digital media with some numbers.
“In the USA, the time spent by consumers on print media is six per cent, while marketers spend 20 per cent of their money on the medium. Consumers spend 45 to 46 per cent time on digital media, while marketing spends are close to a similar figure as print. Television sees 45 per cent of the marketing budget, while consumers spend only 38 per cent of their time consuming this media. So, you’re seeing a discontinuity, anarchy or disorientation and there is a change among consumers. In 2000, the internet was a PR-led boom, while today we’re seeing high amount of time being spent on it.”
Next up, was Sorrell’s take on the Indian economy: “Reforms were made in India in the ‘90s. When you are a part of legacies (and India was a part of a legacy), attitude changes are uncomfortable. But, it seems like this government will be an engine for freeing the industry to do better things. India should be in a better position. The country is the fastest growing democracy. If strong leadership is required, maybe that is the key to opening up the market.”
Goswami also quizzed the WPP chief on his love for data. Asked the immortal question on which among the two – art and data – is more important, Sorrell responded that it’s about getting the right balance with both equally important. “There can be a creative media person, a creative financial person and also creative data people. For our businesses to thrive, one must understand the importance of data, but the right balance between intuition and data should be met,” said Sorrell.
The Times Now anchor delved further, on whether one could label content ‘king’ and intuition ‘God’. Refusing to affix the labels, Sorrell said, “There’s a role for both artists and scientists, and the industry needs both.”
A dual TV measurement market?
On the contentious subject of TAM (run by WPP company TAM Media Research), Sorrell was asked whether the existing TV measurement could co-exist with BARC. Sorrell’s response was categorical: “The market will have to decide that. If they are ready to pay for both then good. However, if we look away from India, markets don’t pay for two rating currencies.”
Next up, Sorrell replied to a question from Sam Balsara, chairman and managing director, Madison World, who was in the audience. Balsara asked Sorrell whether he and WPP were making a mistake by investing ‘so much’ in the digital medium in India.
Sorrell answered, “I think it’s a valid point. When you invest so much in one field, you could be ignoring something else. But, I firmly believe that if not now, may be by 2016 or 2018 or maybe by 2020 that the investments will pay off. I’m willing to bet with you that it is inevitable that things will change and digital will be the most important medium soon. The guys who are graduating out of universities now are the first guys who have seen and consumed the internet from the time they were born. I’m confident by 2020 that digital will overtake TV spends in India.”
That met with a nod of disapproval from CVL Srinivas, CEO, GroupM South Asia, but Sorrell stood his ground. He quipped, “Okay, maybe not by 2020, but possibly by 2021, I see that happening. We’re already seeing Google as the biggest media owner in the world, and countries like Norway and Denmark seeing more digital than TV spends.”
The session came to an end with another question from the crowd, one on talent and whether the market was growing faster than the talent and whether that worries Sorrell. He replied in the affirmative. “There is a shortage of talent. The biggest problem in this industry is that when we win a business we steal talent from our competition and not get fresh talent to work on the business,” surmised Sorrell.