In 1998, Ogilvy announced the formation of a new division of Ogilvy Rural as their specialised agency to deal with all the rural initiatives of HUL, on a national basis. Within a couple of weeks, Madison announced its tie-up with Anugrah in Chennai forming the joint venture Anugrah Madison as the rural division of Madison Communication Group. Though there were any number of vendors and small regional outfits providing support services to clients requiring help in handling their rural initiatives, it was the first time that two big advertising agency groups had announced the formation of rural divisions, realising the huge potential available for such initiatives. Since then a number of agencies have started offering rural marketing support services either as a separate vertical or even as a part of their regular agency set up.
Leading FMCG giants like HUL have a dedicated rural vertical with dedicated staff and specific targets for rural sales with separate budgets for rural promotion. There must be sound reasons for their decision to appoint an agency specialised in rural marketing. Obviously, they must have found that it made better business sense to have a rural specialist agency to advise and help them implement highly localised communication programmes and promotional efforts for different brands. This would ensure that their brand messages reached the right audience among the heterogeneous masses spread across the hinterland of the country.
It is advisable for marketers planning to go rural to have an agency specialised in rural marketing. Such specialist agencies are expected to bring the following skills and knowledge base:
– The understanding of the mindsets of rural customers in different regions of the country.
– Knowledge of local terrain, beliefs, traditions and customs.
– Knowledge of availability of traditional and non-traditional media.
– Knowledge about reliable associates in every region; whose services they can command, even at a short notice.
– Provide clients with a single point authority to deal with all rural issues and providing them with the guarantee of a recognised and reliable organisation which is totally accountable for the rural campaigns anywhere in the country. This can save the valuable time and efforts of clients who otherwise would have had to chase hundreds of vendors across the country.
It has been noticed that clients look for assistance of rural marketing specialists when they are faced with three kinds of situations:
– When they want a local outfit (vendor) to implement a rural promotional programme they have planned in a specific region, with collaterals to be supplied by them to the agency.
– When they want the help of an agency to implement rural programmes across the country, where the basic creative ideas are provided by the client but adaptations to suit the local markets are to be produced by the rural specialist agency.
– When they are looking for the services of an agency that can provide the complete rural strategy from research to implementation, in selected regions or across the country. This might involve developing region specific ‘creatives’.
Whatever may be the reasons for selecting a rural marketing specialist agency, marketers should look for the following criteria before choosing an agency:
– The profile of the agency and its experience in dealing with rural markets.
– Their areas of specialisation – are they capable of evolving a comprehensive strategy or are they specialists in certain specific areas only?
– The infrastructure of the organisation – does the agency have full time employees with years of experience and passion for rural marketing or is it dependent primarily on freelancers?
– Does it have a creative team which can think and communicate in local languages?
– Does it have regional offices with knowledge of regional requirements?
It would be wise to verify beforehand with clients who have used the resources of such agencies. Very often, rural specialist agencies are confronted by MNC clients, who tell them that while they are welcome to come up with ideas for below-the-line (BTL) activities, they are not allowed to go anywhere near the ‘creatives’ for mass media – as this is the prerogative of their creative agency which is tightly controlled by the headquarters abroad. This makes such rural specialist agencies feel like soldiers asked to fight a battle with hands tied behind their backs.
It is also important to note that no single agency in the country has the infrastructure required to conduct a national campaign using their own resources.
While planning can be centralised, implementation will have to be done by regional associates. It will be useful to get a list of associates used by these national agencies and to check their credentials.
Do not equate vendors owning a couple of vans and masquerading as rural experts with rural specialists. A genuine rural specialist agency will have an infrastructure and the necessary experience to help in building equity for brands in rural India.
Another important point to remember is that rural marketing is a highly regional subject. And your regional teams are specialists in their respective regions. Involve them from the word go to ensure ownership of the campaign, by the region and also get their valuable insights and inputs in the development of the campaign and its implementation. We have come across several instances where a grand rural plan is worked out by a brand team sitting in the headquarters and when the regional team is approached at the last minute for the implementation of the plan, there is dissonance – the regional team starts picking holes in the plans developed by the headquarters team.
(Extracts from the book ‘Don’t Flirt with Rural marketing’ by RV Rajan, published by Productivity and Quality Publishing, Chennai. The next issue will feature Step- 8 – Developing a focused communication strategy.)
Author: RV Rajan, Former Chairman, Anugrah Madison Advertising