Bipin Pathak, President – Corporate Affairs, MENA, Percept Limited, led the establishment of Percept Advertising in the region in 1998 – Percept’s first overseas venture into the lucrative and booming Dubai market. In less than a decade, today, Percept in the Middle East operates five independent companies that reach out to markets in Africa as well. In his parallel role today, he heads Percept’s newest media business – Media Agency Middle East (MAME). Excerpts of an interview which he recently gave to the media:
How many clients did you start your agency with?
One. We started with the Al Maya Lal Group. But we never started as an in-house agency. The focus was very clear. Our promise to Al Maya Lals was to consolidate their business in 6 months to a one year time. Then start looking out for other new business without sacrificing on the attention and focus required towards their business. Advertising was always our core competency and the intention was to establish and position Percept as a professional agency for all your corporate communication needs.
How long did it take for Percept to become financially independent and profitable?
Just six months. The amount of support we had from the Lals was huge. There was enough business for us and we were cautious enough not to bite off more than we could chew. As a strategy, we stayed as a small team and maintained low costs of operations with high productivity. Starting with a team of three people, we have today grown into a team of 102 people employed across the group in various segments of the advertising agency.
How many divisions has the group established in to?
The intention was always to diversify and provide every aspect of marketing communication solutions with specifically trained professionals. Percept, as a Group, is actually celebrating its 25th year of operations and we run around 20 different companies catering to various aspects of media and communication. Actually we work in three verticals. One is the entertainment vertical where we are into content development be it of feature film, TV programme or even live contents including pageants, corporate functions and sport events.
Second one is media that involves media buying, planning and operations. Media management services is a unique module that we have, offering a 360-degree approach to media management in the Middle East.
The third one is communications (advertising and public relations) where all our ancillary services are included.
How many of these elements are offered by Percept in the region?
We have all the three elements operating and serviced by Percept in the region. In entertainment section we are not into making films but we do provide assistance and support to foreign film makers who wish to shoot and produce films in the region. The T20 last year in Canada was organised and hosted by the Percept and we handled everything including the media exposure.
How has been the response to your media management services?
A lot of publishers and media owners have been looking at Middle East lately with potential for advertising and the phenomenal growth in the field of media has encouraged many players from abroad to come in to the region. Having said that, Middle East is a bit complicated for a multinational to understand and decipher the local intricacies, as the region differs in demographics from the rest of the world. We are bridging this gap between international media players and the local market.
NDTV from New Delhi is one such arrangement and we are involved with them to set up the network, secure advertising for their programmes and even help to procure and commission television software from the local market. We are basically partners with NDTV and in fact with a few more. Our role with Pehla is 360 that include strategy, subscription, bouquet formation and to market all that is a role that Percept is embarking on.
What is the status of NDTV in the region and what is your arrangement with them?
NDTV is close to setting up a full-fledged production house in the region and their production facilities should be operational in the next three months. They have already launched dedicated channels for the region (NDTV Arabia) and hope to produce locally dedicated content for their Asian audience that are seeking software catering to their taste and liking.
We, at Percept, are shouldering all their efforts, be it in setting up the studios, assist in production of TV programmes and even sell advertising space on the channel. At the moment, NDTV only has skeletal staff and the rest is shouldered by Percept. Once the Studio City operation of NDTV is ready, we are expecting a full-fledged team of 35-40 people operating on a regular basis.
Does Percept also contribute in content of NDTV programmes from the region?
We are not a broadcasting company. However, we do have a good understanding of the region and have contacts that can help ease the production process. And NDTV does take our contributions, which are of advisory nature, very seriously and therefore we become their partners in production also.
What about advertising at Percept? How many clients do you have as of now?
We are servicing more than 70 brands and growing steadily in the region. We started with one group but have grown to acquire majority of the business outside that group.
How has the recession hit the media industry and Percept as such?
The industry has not been hit with recession. It’s the real estate industry that is severely hit by the recession and as a result, advertising supporting that industry has fallen. We also had some real estate clients and we are accounting for almost zero revenue from those clients. However, our spill over into Retail, FMCG and other sectors will help us to counter the dip and we are confident of recording a positive growth this year.
Is that possible under the circumstances?
It is very much possible because we are not dependent on one sector like the Real Estate. The retail industry, backed by FMCG is already showing signs of bouncing back and keeping the media industry afloat in these troubled times.
So you have not been affected by the recession?
It may have affected our numbers, but we have not fired or retrenched any one. In good times we had grown to a 102 in staff numbers, and in tough times also we are maintaining the same number of people. We are confident that we will record a positive growth in terms of revenue and clients.