Interview with Gaggan Bhalla, GM-ME & North Africa, AMRB and Saima Qamar, CE, Oasis Insights.
MARYLOU ANDREW: Why did Kantar decide to come to Pakistan at this time and acquire a stake in Oasis?
GAGGAN BHALLA: This has been on the cards for a few years and we started discussions in 2006. At the time, for various reasons we could not take it to fruition but in the last 18 months, the situation here was such that we could take the discussion forward. It is also part of a concerted effort by Kantar to set up a presence in the region.
In India there is a fairly strong Kantar presence. In Sri Lanka there was a company managed by IMRB called LMRB (Lanka Market Research Bureau) but it was not a majority Kantar owned company so we have acquired a stake there. Kantar is very strong in the Middle East as well.
So Pakistan was the obvious next choice. Additionally, Kantar’s parent company, WPP is becoming very active in Pakistan; they have recently acquired a stake in a digital agency here [Converge Technologies] so there is a focus on developing markets.
MLA: What changes will Oasis and its clients see as a result of this buyout?
SAIMA QAMAR: Clients are looking for a higher level of value addition; a lot of MNCs have global alliances so their principals are looking for specific types of research so Kantar’s presence here streamlines that process a lot. Kantar came in, talked to clients, took their perspective and then took a very informed decision about entering this market, so there’s a lot of excitement at Oasis and among our clients.
MLA: Which Kantar clients do you hope to draw in as a result of this development?
SQ: We have been working very closely with Milward Brown and AMRB as a Kantar company since 2004 so we are already servicing some major Kantar clients like Unilever and BAT. However, there are other clients such as Kraft Foods who we are not working with, but are now making a major investment in Pakistan.
GB: When Oasis was not part of the group, their involvement with clients was at an operational level, so they were responsible for the field work while the analysis and the report would be prepared by an entity outside the country. We hope to now ensure that more of the services are provided by Oasis locally and for that we will need to train the staff to deliver the insights that were coming from off-site locations.
#### “The onus is on Pakistani companies to invest more in research to bring the industry up to international standards”
MLA: Does this mean you will be hiring more people locally?
SQ: In the long term we will hire more people. Oasis is already Pakistan’s second largest research company and we are almost the largest in terms of customised research. We have a very large network of field officers, the largest field network with 10 offices across Pakistan and we do seven to eight million interviews in any given year. What we are hoping to do is change the local market research industry’s ‘field and tab’ branding. We want to provide more value addition. With that kind of background and with Kantar’s muscle, we hope to change how people view us.
MLA: Gaggan, what are your impressions of the market research field in Pakistan?
GB: From a growth point of view, the industry has been showing 10% YoY growth for the last four to five years which is not bad compared to what has been happening in the rest of the world. Even 2011, which was a good year for the global research industry saw only 5.4% growth internationally in absolute terms and about 2.8% when adjusted for inflation. The real issue, however, is the quality of work being done here; this is an area where the industry needs to grow and that is a function of many things. Firstly, how attractive is market research as a career? Are there specialised university courses? Unless you have people coming out of university with this learning, it is unlikely they will choose market research as a career. So we need to build that infrastructure. Secondly, while both India and Pakistan are low cost markets for research, the per capita spend on research is nearly double in India because a lot of MNCs see the Subcontinent as a culturally contiguous zone, and therefore most of the innovative research testing is done in the largest market in the region, which happens to be India, and is then rolled out in the other markets. Thus the onus is on Pakistani companies to invest more in research to bring the industry up to international standards. I am happy to note that a lot of our clients here are doing that – for example, Engro Foods, National Foods, Shan Foods. The third factor is how the industry positions itself to clients and future employees and here an industry association would be very useful.
MLA: TNS (part of the Kantar Group) also has an affiliation with Aftab Associates in Pakistan. Why have multiple research agencies in one market?
GB: The entire WPP philosophy is of multiple brands operating in the same space whether it is advertising or market research. This is similar to other markets where Kantar Group companies compete with one another; it is competition, although at some times collaborations may also take place. The only point of difference is that Aftab has an affiliation with TNS whereas Kantar; now has majority ownership in Oasis.
MLA: What are your predictions for the market research industry in Pakistan?
SQ: We will see an increase in the use of digital technology. The pressure on meeting timelines will increase. Traditionally, any good sized market research requires six to eight weeks, now clients want it done in two to three weeks.
GB: Most of the big international market research players are already present in some shape or form in Pakistan today and we know that many more are in the process of coming in. There will be more competition and that means that the size of the pie will also grow. In terms of technology, sometimes it is good to be lagging behind because you then skip a few stages in the evolution. In the West, markets went from a face-to-face interviewing methodology to CATI, CAPI, CAWI and now stuff is happening on mobiles. Pakistan is still on the face-to-face stage but it is possible for the country to jump a few stages right to the mobile stage, especially once you have 3G; we have seen this happen in other markets as well.
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