Arati Rao
Sep 09, 2011

Profile: "We believe we’ve a role in growing the market"

Oona Dhabhar, marketing director of Condé Nast India, talks to Arati Rao on how to add panache in a luxury magazine


There’s quite a bit of research that goes in to the launch of a Conde Nast India title, and for Oona Dhabhar, who’s marketing director, it’s a practice that she’s used to given her background at FMCG goliath Procter & Gamble. Dhabhar spent the first 12 years of her career in a role that gave her experience in marketing, market research and even some amount of sales. “At P&G, the point of research isn’t merely to present results, but they have to be actionable,” she says.

“I worked with the sales organisation on what was an interesting project,” she recalls. “P&G’s objective around 2002-2004 was to expand its distribution from 200,000 stores to 450,000 stores in the top 300 towns. The project required a lot of travel in India, including to little-known places like Mahbubnagar (in Andhra Pradesh) to identify what kind of stores the brand should be in.”
The move to Conde Nast India in 2006 wasn’t planned, but understandably hard to resist. “I wasn’t looking to move to media. I see myself as a hard-core consumer marketing person. When I got the call and they spoke about a brand like Vogue being launched, it sounded interesting,” explains Dhabhar.

On the early days of Conde Nast India, she says, “I was the second employee after Alex Kuruvilla. Both of us used to sit in a small room at the business centre at DBS House. At some level, there’s a sense of achievement because now we’ve more than 130 employees. So we’ve really seen the organisation grow and been involved in its growth.”

Vogue India launched in 2007, GQ India in 2008, Condй Nast Traveller in 2010, and Architectural Digest has been announced for 2012, and the crafting of the Indian edition of each title entails a research process. Dhabhar elaborates: “We start 12-15 months before we launch. Step one is fundamental consumer understanding. We work with a qualitative research agency, define the target audience for them and ask them to go and recruit people. For Vogue, these would be affluent women with an interest in luxury and fashion, for Conde Nast Traveller, affluent consumers who travel two-three times in a year. The agency would hire anywhere between 25-40 men or women across Mumbai and Delhi, and sometimes we extend it to Bengaluru. The entire marketing team and sometimes the editorial team spend abut 2-3 hours with them one-on-one, to understand how they lead their lives, where luxury fits in, where magazines fit into their day, how they use the internet and so on (the brand isn’t revealed to them).”

Those inputs are then shared with the editorial team, based on which the DNA of the editorial strategy of the title is developed. “We then create a dummy issue, get that printed and give it back to the consumers. They aren’t told the title, but some of them do end up guessing right. They’re supposed to read it, cut out what they like, put Post-it for what they like or don’t like, and we go back to them after 2-3 days to get complete feedback, right down to colours, length of stories, and fonts. That feedback goes back to the editorial team and helps them develop the launch issue,” she says. The process continues after the launch as well, as feedback is taken after a few issues from consumers who’ve bought the magazine in the market.

Events have become an important part of the marketing of Conde Nast India, and are tied in with the theme of the issue of the magazine. “For example, for Vogue, August is the Age and Beauty issue and the on-ground event is the Vogue Beauty Awards. September, being one of the big Fashion issues, has an anchor event called Fashion’s Night Out which happens every year on 10 September, at the DLF Emporio Mall in Delhi. It’s probably the largest luxury fashion event in India,” explains Dhabhar. “Similar logic applies to GQ – The June issue is GQ’s Best Dressed List, where again we will create an on ground event around that, and October becomes the Men Of The Year issue and that has another event around it. Because of our leadership position in the luxury magazine space, we also believe we have a role in growing the market by investing in events or brand building, like through our corporate campaign that we released recently that had the tagline ‘The Necessity of Luxury’.”

Dhabhar states that the luxury magazine space is nascent. However, she adds that the Conde Nast group is in a really strong position. “We’re the highest selling and highest printed magazines in our space. For Vogue, we print 50,000 copies, for GQ and Conde Nast Traveller 30,000 copies. We back these numbers up with an audited print run certificate,” she says. “Our ad revenues from a year have been growing between 25-30%. Our ad pages continue to grow, and they come at a significantly higher rate (Vogue has the highest number of ad pages in its space). Almost 80-90% of our advertisers are repeat advertisers with Vogue and there are some who advertise exclusively with Vogue.”

Asked about the magazine industry being bearish, she says, “During one year of the recessionary years, we didn’t grow as much as we would have liked to, but there was no decline. The current situation hasn’t affected us, but one needs to be cautious than pretend to be brave and foolhardy. We have long-term relationships with a few Indian advertisers, like the jewellery brands which invest significantly in Vogue and hopefully will continue to do so.”

Finally, Dhabhar talks about the digital division at Conde Nast – set up in June 2010 – as part of the Group’s constant investment in its titles. “We’re seeing good traction, in terms of websites and apps.All our sites ands apps are free, they’re advertiser-sponsored. But we want to learn and would be open to creating content that is ‘freemium’ or partly paid for,” she says. “In this day and age, one is open to exploring all permutations and combinations. We’re open to the possibility of introducing a title in just the digital space in the future.”

The Highlight

Where do you live: Colaba, Mumbai

How do you relax: By spending time with my daughter, and I walk as often as I possibly can

Always in the fridge: Chocolates (that’s in the bar fridge as well)

Gadgets: I’m not a gadget freak at all, I’m more of outdoors person, so if I have any free time, I just go out for a walk

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