Our focus in MENA is PIOs and also people of South Asian descent: Prashant Panday, ENIL, Mirchi

Prashant Panday Mirchi

In conversation with Media Samosa, Prashant Panday, Mirchi, speaks at length about the brand’s move to foray into the Middle East, on MENA marketing strategies, radio marketing trends, and differences in content strategies in the Indian subcontinent and the International markets.

Mirchi recently announced that it is foraying into International markets in an attempt to capture the Middle East- Dubai, Qatar, Bahrain, listenership, specifically targeting PIOs (Person of Indian Origin) amongst others in these regions. As we get into a conversation with Prashant Panday, MD and CEO at ENIL, Radio Mirchi, who will be spearheading the brand in these market, he shares some crucial details around the marketing strategies at these key regions, expansion plans, radio ad spends for brands across sectors, and much more. Here’s a look.

Edited Excerpts

Mirchi forays into international markets with MENA. What does the journey entail? What was the reason behind choosing Dubai, Qatar, and Bahrain as the key markets? 

Mirchi as a brand has always appealed to all PIOs (Person of Indian Origin), no matter where they reside. 

In the past, we used to hear stories of PIOs visiting India and taking back recordings of Mirchi. 

Even today, when we meet Indians or PIOs abroad, the one thing they all demand is that Mirchi is made available in their respective cities. While many Mirchi online stations are accessible to them already, there is a craving for a live station in their city of residence. Given these pull factors for the brand, it is obvious that expanding overseas and targeting PIOs is an enunciated strategy of Mirchi.

Why these three countries? These are big markets for Mirchi. The UAE is a highly developed radio market. Qatar is going to experience a boom with the football World Cup coming in 2022. And Bahrain, though smaller, is a very rich country. 

Also, when you look at launching FM radio stations abroad, you have to consider the availability of frequencies. There is a shortage of frequencies in most countries and brands must also consider the licensing costs of these frequencies. 

We want to launch in Canada, but we are still looking for good frequencies, and until we find them, we cannot launch there. We also have to choose the format in which we want to operate. Do we want to own the whole broadcasting operation, license our brand, or enter into a management contract? Keeping all these factors in mind, we found immediate opportunities in the UAE, Qatar, and Bahrain. We are also interested in Saudi, Oman, and Kuwait, and hoping we will get to enter those countries, maybe, in the future.

What is the content strategy going to be like for Mirchi in these markets- the top content buckets, shows that work for the platform? How will you differentiate the content for the Indian audience and the International one?

Mirchi is a ‘sunshine’ brand. Its slug line has been “Mirchi Sunnewale Always Khush” for a long. We also use ‘It’s Hot’ to describe not just the content but also the attitudinal mindset of our listeners. Our content is always city-specific, and so will it be in the UAE, Qatar, and Bahrain. Our music is peppy and usually contemporary. 

In India, where we target a younger audience, our music is very contemporary, usually spanning the last 3 years. In the MENA region, given the slightly older audiences, we will pick our music from the last 10 years. 

We will also be playing a mix of genres in different dayparts, including classic retro in the night and 1990s music during some other dayparts. In addition to city-specific content and contemporary music, we also offer humor capsules (called “sparklers” in Mirchi lingo), the best possible Bollywood interviews, rewarding contests, listeners engagement with RJs, and so on. 

We will bring the full suite of our content pieces to MENA. Our focus in MENA are PIOs and also people of South Asian descent. 

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What is Mirchi’s marketing media mix will look like for the coming months? How are the Indian and MENA markets different? Please elaborate on the marketing strategy for the MENA market

The one big advantage we have in MENA is that consumers are already craving Mirchi. In the UAE, where we had to exit about 9 months back, there is a deep desire amongst people for Mirchi to re-enter. Just launching there will create all the buzz we want. 

Further, our partners in the UAE are the committed owners who used to run Suno FM. They’ve agreed to rebrand that to Mirchi. They also have a strong marketing plan lined up that includes print ads, digital ads, and contests. 

An important point to note is that in our earlier avatar, we were based in Abu Dhabi, and so the content was made keeping Abu Dhabi in mind. Now we are based in Dubai, and the sensibilities are completely different. 

Dubai is an extremely global city and our content will sound different from what it used to sound earlier. In Bahrain and Qatar, our marketing plans will be more limited, with word-of-mouth, digital and on-ground activations being the mainstay. In India, Mirchi is marketed mostly via its different IPs. For example, the Mirchi Music Awards are viewed by millions of people on TV. All our IPs are put together to give us the marketing muscle.

How do you plan to engage the listeners through social media for outreach and consumer campaigns? How do you calculate ROI for this medium? Will social media play a key role in the MENA market, too?

In today’s world, everything is interconnected. All our Radio Jockeys are big on Social Media. Many of them make videos that are viewed by millions. Many of them host shows and events on-ground and act or appear otherwise in TV shows and movies. 

With such a networked and talented bunch of creative people, we will look at tapping the enormous potential that the digital medium offers us. We will make special content for digital and also recycle the radio content over digital. Remember Mirchi is no longer just radio. It is

  • Radio 
  • Live and 
  • Digital

We will bring all three to the MENA markets.

What is the situation of radio Ad-Spends as people start to embrace normalcy? Which have been the categories in the market, that have the highest advertising spends on Mirchi in India? Do you think any of the Indian brands would be keen to target MENA markets? Please elaborate.

It is known that the pandemic has badly affected most media businesses, including radio. Revenues in India are down by 25-30% compared to pre-pandemic levels. 

Ad volumes have returned since Oct-Dec 2020, but pricing is yet to recover. 

In the UAE also, radio has been badly hit. The UAE is a very well-developed radio market, bigger than even Delhi, which is India’s biggest radio market. The Qatar and Bahrain markets are not yet fully developed radio markets, and so they are not affected as much by the pandemic. 

Recovery in the UAE will take a couple of years, but the growth in Qatar and Bahrain will be rapid from the start. 

Even in India, I believe radio will recover later during FY22, possibly starting from August 2021. The big categories of advertisers in India are

  • Retail including Real Estate, jewellery, education, etc 
  • Auto 
  • FMCG 
  • Consumer Durables 
  • E-commerce/digital 
  • BFSI
  • Media & Entertainment and 
  • Government

As they recover, they will start to spend again. I believe all Indian brands should spend in MENA as they all sell in that geography and it will be our effort to add the three MENA countries to their India media plans.

In the Indian context, what are some of the changes you have seen in the Indian Radio industry in 2021, especially in the last few months? How will the MENA markets be different from India? 

The Indian radio market has grown in listenership since the pandemic broke. 

As per research undertaken by our industry body AROI, radio listenership grew by nearly 25% in the period immediately after the nationwide lockdown was enforced in March 2020. 

We believe that listenership has remained high since then. 

One big change that has been taking place in radio’s listenership is the huge growth in in-car listenership. 

This has been going on for the last 5 years and it’s exciting because car owners are usually rich, in big cities, spend a long time driving. They are also mostly Males. This shift in radio listenership profile will help the industry and is also causing a churn in the advertiser profile. 

We see more male-oriented products today (Real estate, Durables, Auto, BFI, etc) and relatively fewer female categories like FMCG (which still use radio for regional/local marketing). 

Another major shift in the Indian market is that radio is increasingly overlapping with digital formats, both in the way it generates revenues and in the kind of content it provides. The MENA region is extremely wealthy, and everyone drives cars there. So, radio listenership is huge. I think radio by itself is huge in MENA, and after a few years, digital will be added to radio like in India.

As per a recent RAM rating, Mirchi occupied the top spot in terms of listenership in Kolkata. What is your competitor strategy like to remain on the top in India? Any key target regions in the coming months for the brand in the country?

As per IRS, we are leaders in 6 out of the top 8 metros and in 11 out of the top 13 A/A+ category cities.

Our strategy on FM radio is simple where we have great content with the least ads compared to all others. Our RJs are noted personalities in their respective markets and have been with us for years. They, thus, have a strong bond with the listeners. However, we are not number 1 in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Bangalore in Karnataka (but we lead in Hyderabad and other AP markets). We will focus on becoming stronger in these states.

In lieu of the fact that radio still occupies almost 3% of media share as per AdEx, where does Mirchi stand in that context? 

For us, our ‘solutions’ product defines the market. Let me explain the solutions. Most media companies sell plain ad inventory. Most radio companies sell air-time for example. We also sell air-time. However, we prefer to sell solutions. What are the solutions?

Typically, clients face complex market challenges, and those challenges vary market by market. We offer multi-media solutions to those challenges, market-by-market. 

Our solutions include events, social media, videos, the plain-old-telephone system, podcasts, our RJs and external celebrities, and more, in addition to radio. Often, we use TV, print, and out-of-home advertising as part of our solutions, as well. When we use these other media channels, we use them in the ‘hyper-local markets – the cities in which clients face unique marketing challenges. This hyper-local market is way bigger than 3-5%. 

We believe that this market is possibly 20% of the overall media market, an opportunity of around INR 15,000 crores that’s available to us.

How do you intend to leverage RJs for reach and listenership? 

RJs are a key part of the solutions package. Mirchi has some of the most popular RJs in any city in the country. They are key influencers in their cities. Clients want to leverage these RJs because it helps them connect with audiences better. 

The RJs have always been the heart and soul of Mirchi’s content, and they will continue to remain so, even after we expand strongly in digital!

With radio witnessing a platform to see a rise in audio content, do you have any digital distribution channels to make sure the content reaches a wider audience? Podcasts saw a rise, especially during the pandemic. What are the initiatives of the station on that front?

To be honest, we could have done a lot more on podcasts. However, podcasts come with their own set of challenges. Having said that, podcasts are interesting products, and Mirchi will be spending more time, effort, and resources on making podcasts. 

We are also relaunching our web portal and we hope to position ourselves strongly and uniquely in the media and entertainment space. We also have deep respect for the music fraternity, and we will collaborate with them in making quality digital content. 

We do many concerts and will make them a bigger platform. We do TV shows around music and will make those bigger too. It is on the web platform that we hope to see rapid growth along the music/entertainment axis.

2021 being touted as the year of changes and recovery, how do you intend to combat the challenge of measuring listeners/audiences on your platform with a still credible measurement system for the channel?

IRS gives more than adequate data to media planners and buyers. It gives data in most big cities. Radio listenership is very sticky, unlike TV. It doesn’t change week by week or month by month. It is sticky like print readership. So, the quarterly frequency of IRS reports is just perfect. 

Further, we are partners with our clients in getting solutions and results for them. Research beyond a point is unimportant. Creative solutions are more important.

Top 3 Radio advertising trends for 2021

  • More in-car listening, more male, more wealthy, slightly older, and big-city based. 
  • Increased overlap with digital, especially Social and videos. RJs have crossed over from FM to much more
  • Building strong IPs in radio (and other media) is what top radio brands are doing. We have built Mirchi Music Awards, Mirchi Cover Star, and so much more. These are all radio+TV+on-ground IPs.

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Aishwarrya Chakraverty
A storyteller and a narrator by heart, vocalist by genes and a thesaurus-bee. Also, an explorer, traveler, and trekker, Aishwarrya has myriads of interests with love for music and movies. Writing is not just a hobby but her first love with a Facebook page on perspectives, channelizing the passion. Got her research paper published with IGI Global US on music. A maverick by nature and a feminist by choice, to challenge stereotypes.

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