Friday, March 24, 2006

This is my article that was published on a site called afew months back. It relates to my professional angst and may get tiring for the casual reader.

A Profession Does Not Become Redundant, It's Practitioners Do

A churn seems to be the order of the day. Or, should I say times. A few years’ back, media used to be the hand maiden of a number of intellectuals. It still is and, always will be. The credibility of any profession becomes the onus of the practitioners, and it is up to us to ensure that the tangibility of numbers does not give way to the inane exploration of ideas. Or so they say.

We work on databases. The same databases ensure that their anomalies keep us occupied for a good part of the day and, more often than not, of the night too.

There are so many times that the outputs of these softwares and databases have been twisted to assure the way various hypotheses are judged. Clients are happy that we are able to conjure up magic to back the decision they want to take. Agencies are happy because the clients have put their faith in the hands of us outsiders and now, together we partner each other. Tough, but true.

I have only seen this industry for some five years or so, and that too in a sheltered fashion. So, these may seem like the ramblings of a premature cynic, perhaps. Hear me out all the same.

Habit Changing Parameters

The reason for this introspection is an incident that revolves around a colleague of mine when we were studying Media. There was a presentation that we had to make and this friend of mine came up with a unique term, “habit changing GRPs”. Most of the class laughed and we all put it down to some old fashioned “faf”. Now, five years later, the truth in the term comes back to me as what we are missing in this field or, as we bravely put it, this industry of ours.

Isn’t that what most brands that want to break through to a consumer try and achieve – habit changing GRPs. So, just because an enthusiastic schooler married the sacrosanct GRPs to some simple minded English, do we completely dismiss the concept? I say no. And I appeal to all clients to be open to concepts that may not be measurable, but ride on insights. Sometimes, the intent of a campaign should be completely transparent, and what better way to achieve that transparency than understand where the thought is coming from.

As Good As It Gets

I can already see so many eyebrows going up. I can hear the debate. A media plan is only as good as the measurable impact it brings to a campaign. Agreed. But a media plan is also only as good as the objective it defines for itself. And though numbers give adequate proof, the whole premise on which they work is that they are neutral. But are the results we are trying to achieve neutral? They aren’t. And, therefore, we twist these same numbers to identify reality as we know it.

Don’t get me wrong. Nowhere am I saying that numbers do not reflect realities. They do – in bits and pieces. And, if you don’t have numbers, what does one base the deployment of several crores worth of campaign on? This article is not to take away from the reality of numbers, but to ensure that life and strategy goes beyond them. I’m sure there would be no argument in the fact that numbers can be used to prove points, in different ways by different practitioners. So, today we, the media planners, in all our wisdom, decide on the edits of creative films, pass judgement on their creative quotient, and when a campaign fails, smile knowingly in the ‘we always knew it’ way.

What gives us this power? Wasn’t the product a joint endeavour? Therefore, just because our brethren do not have the indulgence of numbers on their side, should their side be negated completely?

Numbers, always numbers. We have proven to the client that in the current scenario of cluttered communication strategies, we’ve done our bit by optimising the plans that have gone out so as to create the most optimum efficiencies. We are safe.

The Situation Is Paramount

While budgets are always limited, imagination isn’t. There are boxes that we operate in. Necessary, as they are the building blocks that our mind builds on. And then, there is the external environment that ensures that we are not contextually myopic. Or are we? It’s amazing how things and concepts taught in the past, when we had more of a child in us, come back to haunt what we are doing now.

I’m a student of Political Science, and I remember that the first class that I was taught in college was on this – Do not be contextually myopic. There is a situation in the event of things that is paramount. Never ever forget that. Then, I went to Communications School, where we were told not to fall into the trap of S3 – Single Sample Syndrome. We understood. And then, we came to work.

The Coming Of Age Of New Communities

I believe it is very easy to get intimidated by the sheer size and variety of the Indian media market. And with the same seriousness, I also believe that we are not getting intimidated enough by various pockets which our consumers have built for themselves. There are communities that function within these pockets. More critical than communities built on region, religion, caste, culture because these new communities cannot be so easily segregated.

The new communities are one of similar economies, more importantly of similar propensity to spend. The things that they own, end up owning them. And that is how we profile these people. Because these are the only parameters that are measurable and we have data on.

However, the situation is always paramount. These same communities have built for themselves an evolved socio-cultural code that may be an extension of their region, caste, religion we so easily take for granted.

Losing The Essence Of Our Community

Fortunately, we operate in India and numbers have never been a problem. So, one knows that carpet bombing will always work. However, in the process we forget the larger responsibility we have towards our profession. We are communications experts. We may choose to divide ourselves into creative, servicing, account planning, media and various other niche outfits to ensure that the branches of this industry that we function in grow in such abundance that the likelihood of the tree being rotten never arises.

The bottom line is that we all strive towards ensuring that the communication cycle is complete. What is the science in carpet bombing, especially in a country like India? Convenience? We really take Douglas Adams seriously when he says “Flying is learning how to throw yourself on the ground, and miss.”

But What Is ‘our’ Community?

Whose problem is it that today cricket rates are spiraling, whereas the output that once used to accrue from it seems to be spinning a new story? Is it not our responsibility as media professionals to help the client make an informed decision? Is it not in our powers as participating members of the advertising industry to launch a decisive movement against the monopoly and increasing murkiness of cricket selling?

We, however, choose to look at this as a passing phase. Billings matter. And, haven’t we made so many presentations in the past justifying the measurability of the impact of a campaign that runs on cricket? So, it should be equally easy to show what happens if cricket itself is not able to garner half the viewership it once used to.

But demand is still high and, therefore, economics throws back at us unbelievable rates. And, the futility of trying to form a cartel like movement in a so-called free market economy.

The client has understood the market with our “technical expertise”. Being on cricket ensures that the ad is seen almost immediately. The fact that huge amount of monies have gone into creating that visibility is not apparent to the audience. Therefore, any stature that you may be trying to achieve through the selection of cricket as a media vehicle is only relevant to the immediacy you are able to create in audiences that are hopefully relevant to you.

As I try to curb my angst, I can already hear someone screaming that this time the sell of the next tournament has a creative size diktat also – only 30 and 10 seconds of airtime can be bought.

So much for the creative making the brand…

Be All That You Can Be

This industry is personal. It’s about people and their attitudes. It’s about making a difference to an entity that is intangible – the brand. The agency, the client, and any other intermediary are incidental and only facilitators. It is about understanding and unleashing the power that we have, to create and disseminate an idea, to ensure that the idea’s time has come.

The distinction between a business and a profession works like a dual-edged sword. Unfortunately, at the moment we seem to be sitting under it rather than brandishing it. We are communication professionals. We indulge ourselves by calling ourselves creative, media, and business development experts. We work not for clients but for the brand. And the sooner we force ourselves to remember that, the more respect we will earn for ourselves.

Therefore, a profession does not become redundant, its practioners do.

We live in an age where most of the time we have for ourselves is spent at work. And, if we are not able to make this work more meaningful, it also reflects on the way our personalities evolve.

The various situations I have elucidated on earlier reflect the need gaps, I feel, exist. Not just in this industry or profession, but in the manner in which we build esteem for our expertise. The overhaul needs to happen within.

Perhaps, the solution lies in rooting ourselves in market realities that go beyond the obvious, going back to an age when ideas reigned supreme and the route to effective branding lay not in the profession of advertising, but in the belief and passion of the practitioner.

Farewell Lover

Through blood soaked moments,
I will return,
To a life I have always led,
But no longer know.
Unsure Of how to adopt it:
That I will Have to.
No matter what.
I will surrender
My dishonest soul,
Hold on To my willful heart…
make a life out of it:
your smile
Comes first
Or your dimples