Percept in the News

Our industry doesn't need brokers
9 December, 2008

It's been almost a year since Manish Porwal took over as chief executive officer of Percept Talent Management (PTM), part of Percept Limited - a strategic holding company that promotes, owns and manages a spectrum of entertainment, media and communications companies. But the sailing hasn't been exactly smooth for Porwal, given the slowdown that has gripped industry. He talks to Alokananda Chakraborty of FE about PTM's efforts to beat the heat.

Please tell us what the PTM-Hansa association is all about.
The PTM-Hansa association is about two leaders in their respective industries coming together to create symbiotic knowledge, and therefore growth. In any industry, it's a leader's job to grow the market, provide it with future ammunition and that's exactly what we are doing.
This formidable team and its commitment to the project—right at the top levels—will give the industry a tool that may become a currency to evaluate celebrity power in the country. It is going to be the world's richest, deepest and widest database to evaluate star power
Celebrity management is a highly skilled job demanding a range of disciplines from training and business management to strong interpersonal skills. Alongside you have to manage the news media as well as the expectations of fans and supporters. 

How do you reconcile the interest of the celebrity with the expectations of the consumers and the objective of the celebrity manager?
To be honest, the work in its current avatar is not rocket science. It is tedious but not as complicated as some of the other marketing/communication work. Currently, it is over-dependant on relationships with celebrities and the ability to 'broker' them to brands. It lacks processes, systems and therefore formal knowledge. That, however, is set to change completely. No longer is a client ready to accept just a close relationship and the ability to get a star to the negotiation table as a good reason to accept you as a middleman. Similarly, celebs are no longer looking at money and brand name as the only reason to lend their names. They are asking questions that need real answers What the industry needs is a true matchmaker and not brokers representing one of the two sides. 

PTM has been re-designed to cater to this need. We have a team of brand custodians who come from marketing services, media or advertising background, and understand brands and their needs. On the other side are talent custodians, who understand relationships and talent as a brand. For brands, we enhance opportunities and for talent, we identify, groom, represent and manage their work. We offer talent-led, but talent-neutral solutions. 
Allow me to explain - Typically, celeb management agencies are expected to come in when a client has already felt the need of having a celeb endorser. They execute the deal on behalf of their two clients. We often go upfront, before the marketing strategy is created. We ask the client for their marketing or communication challenges and then offer talent-led solutions. This allows a real marriage between the celebrity interest, the client call and the consumer expectation. We benefit when all our key consumers do.

So, how does one choose icons? And how does one map talent for the entertainment industry?
Choosing icons in the pre-CelebTrack (the study launched by PTM and Hansa) days has been a simple process. A brand looks at a collection of celebs and then eliminates stars on the basis of their popularity, brand fit, affordability and availability—but all based on perception or anecdotal information.

CelebTrack will now allow brands to access star power in their target audiences and markets not just based on talent popularity, but on their power of persuasion, their media presence (qualitative and quantitative) and mapping brand attributes by celeb attributes. With the Track covering over 10,800 respondents all over India, and using modern gadgets, the process of selection will be scientific and numeric.

How can research help in successful brand associations? Is there a way of rating star power in Bollywood?
That is exactly what the research intends doing. The idea is to make investment in stars safer and taking cognizance of what the target audience perceives. The research allows a brand to follow several steps to arrive at who their favourite celeb should be:
- Take a cut off of all stars representing a minimum popularity among the target audience and markets;
- Match scores of selected stars on the old/established parameter and eliminate some of them;
- Select few stars frm the rest basis a high score on the new attribute
- Match against possible costs and create a cost-efficiency index to finally compare and choose.
- There are several such methods that can be used by brands, which have different goals.

Do celebrity endorsements really make a difference? In these days of cost cutting and budget constraints how do you maximize (return on investment) ROI on celebrity deals?
In 2001, only 25% of all ad-dollars were spent on ads featuring celebrities. The figure today is up to 60%-plus. There must be something celebs must be doing to brands for them to favour them. Industries like FMCGs, durables, electronics, cellular, automobiles, real estate—such categories would include companies like Coke, Pepsi, LG, Samsung, HUL, PandG, Airtel, Hero Honda, Idea, Titan, Maruti, Hyundai, DLF—and many others have successfully harnessed celeb power for brand growth over long periods.

There are brands like Hutch that have largely made it big without too much celeb power but that does not tell if they could have done better using a celebrity. I would like to believe that celebrities enhance brand appeal and, everything else being equal and if used well, they are tools that make the job better and easier.

These are tough days for the business and it is natural for brands to cut corners on celebrity deals. It may seem bookish for me to remind brands that most marketing inputs are critically required only in times of need. They could do better ROI out of celeb deals on three counts—better selection, better negotiation and better usage.

What are the risks involved?
Well, two kinds. Performance risk and image risk. Performance risk means the risk that a brand carries when a star fails to give back to the brand what it has been brought in for—recall, recognition, image, value, sales... The other risk is that of imagery. Imagine a financial brand that involves a celeb who is later caught for fraud or taxation-related issues. Or a sportsman who is taken as a fitness brand endorser and is found doing drugs.

The negative image of the celebrity is likely to rub off to the brand immediately. Essentially, in a small way or large, the fortunes of the brand for a short to mid period get linked to the fortunes of the star. There are also times when a star may take away attention frm the brand and may be attributed to a competitor and that brings in the 'vampire risk'; but that's rare.

Since there are so few 'celebrities' around, how do you convince an advertiser who is looking for a celebrity to take on a celebrity we have seen several times over?
In the selection/elimination criteria, popularity and image match are normally far more important than over-exposure of stars unless it becomes over-bearingly suffocating. A few brands started saying no to some over-exposed celebs just as a hygiene issue a few years back. Again, some brands tactically enjoy being in the august company of other brands that have the same endorser; but that is more a justification than a reason for selection.

Is using celebrities to front government campaigns the best way to help cut crime and boost their prospects during election times?
Government/PSU or CSR campaigns often expect you to change behaviour and lifestyle and are not just about nibbling market shares. They require huge trust and affinity with the people or the cause. Stars do have such affinity with their fans and often know that it adds back to their popularity quotient. That makes forging the alliance better and cheaper. It helps bringing the required change and the recall is often felt for years.

How do you see the future shaping up? What are the conditions you think should improve for celebrity management to be taken seriously in India?
The future is a little more about processes and a little less about relationships. The future is a little more about knowledge and a little less about experiential learning. We need to introduce an element of consultancy in our work. A doctor is taken far more seriously than a chemist and is paid better too. He does not make his remuneration part of the medicine he prescribes; he takes a fee. A chemist earns his revenue as a part of the medicine cost.

Celeb management needs to move frm being akin to a chemist who neither gets much respect or money, to being like a doctor. We need to be consultants to our clients on the two sides. For that, we need formal knowledge, accountability and measurement.