MARYLOU ANDREW: Why did you decide to launch an outdoor media monitoring (OMM) tool?
RAFI ABIDI: Every story has a beginning, a middle and an end and an OOH media campaign is no different. It starts with media planning, followed by the execution and finally the financial settlement. We focus on the middle part of that story because things do not always go as planned there. Based on the past one year, the data we have collected suggests that a decent sized OOH campaign reports discrepancies to the tune of about 17 to 20% in a month. By decent sized campaigns, I mean 50 plus displays and a spend of between Rs 30 and 50 million. An exposure loss of 17 to 20% comes to a significant amount and this is what large advertisers face every month.
MLA: How does the monitoring process work?
RA: Our clients share their media plans with us and these are uploaded to a web portal which is connected to a mobile app that our field officers carry on their Android phones. Our field officers visit the locations of the outdoor displays, take a photo and then upload the files. Both mobile and web apps are GIS supported and, to make the process tamper proof, the app is designed in a way that one can only upload pictures from the location itself. Every single photo has a date, GPS coordinates and a time stamp, so you know when the picture was taken, when it was uploaded and where.
MLA: How is this information delivered to your clients?
RA: Our system generates a report which does not require human intervention. The moment there is an issue on any display, notifications are sent to the client by the system along with the reference picture, the nature of the issue reported and the vendor’s name. Clients then decide what to do next; they either deduct money at the end of the campaign and we will provide a comprehensive audit report with details regarding which site had what kind of discrepancy and for how long; or vendor performance can be enhanced by asking them to resolve the issue immediately.
MLA: What is the financial benefit to your clients?
RA: Our clients pay between one and one and a half percent of their total outdoor media budget for monitoring on a daily basis and we end up saving them between 16 to 19%. Clients should not be paying for something they are not getting. OOH is an expensive medium, by which I mean that because there are no ratings; clients don’t really know what they are getting out of it. A billboard at a prime location can cost Rs 1.5 million a month, which is an expensive purchase because they are spending Rs 50,000 a day. If anything goes wrong for a day they end up losing that money. The first day of a campaign is when things go wrong the most. Clients pay for that day but not all the displays go up and they end up losing a lot of eyeballs. We encourage clients to pay for what they are getting, like they do for other media. If there is a glitch in the broadcast medium, there is a monitoring agency right there to report it and the client doesn’t pay for that commercial. This facility did not exist in Pakistan for OOH and that is what we are focusing on.
The data we have collected suggests that a decent sized OOH campaign reports discrepancies to the tune of about 17 to 20% a month.
MLA: How many cities do you cover and who are your major clients?
RA: We started in 10 cities, currently we are at 15. From March onwards we will be expanding to 25 cities with permanent staff, and we hope in future to cover approximately 48 cities. We are working with China Mobile, PTCL, P&G and Unilever. Local clients include Rado and Sana Safinaz. Introducing something new is always challenging and traction building is relatively difficult, especially in an unstructured environment such as OOH. But we are pretty satisfied with what we have achieved so far.
MLA: You have recently ventured into a partnership with Ipsos. How does this fit into your long term plans?
RA: Industries such as OOH, retail, education and agriculture generate loads of static data which needs to be physically collected, analysed and distributed to their respective audiences. OAA is a technologically driven data logistics company committed to making data digitally available. We began with OOH because of my own experience in this medium, but we will be graduating to retail. The first year was a test case with three objectives; to test the effectiveness of this product, gain traction and build alliances. When it comes to building alliances, we had two on the list for year one. The first was to have a global partner who sees the potential for growth and with whom we can work, and in this regard Ipsos was our choice, because not only are they the third largest research company in the world, they are the largest in media research in this region. They have a presence in 87 countries and since January 2015 we have the option to replicate this model in other markets and countries.
MLA: Where do you plan to replicate the model?
RA: Basically in the developing countries – Latin America, North Africa, Sub Saharan Africa and South East Asia. We plan to replicate the products and services in at least two markets in 2015.
MLA: You mentioned a second partnership.
RA: Yes; although we are not a dot com, technology plays a vital role in our business because we upload and distribute data on a real time basis and therefore a sound technology partner was needed. Previously the development aspect was done in-house, but moving forward with Ipsos on board and plans to develop outside Pakistan, we needed to focus on business development and we brought Creative Chaos on board as our technology partner.
MLA: What are your future plans for OAA?
RA: We are focusing on vertical and horizontal growth. Product development remains a top priority. However, when it comes to growth, gaining client traction is important and Ipsos will be working on that. Extending our reach to 50 cities in Pakistan and going to a minimum of two markets outside Pakistan is one objective. The other is diversification and we will be introducing measurable Adex reporting from April hopefully. Right now we just monitor client displays but with Adex reporting we will be monitoring every single display on a weekly basis and then filtering the data collected based on the share of voice, industry wise, client wise and product wise. Then of course we will be venturing into retail and that is likely to happen at the end of the second quarter of 2015.