Companies from sectors like FMCG, consumer durables, telecom, automobile and insurance are invading rural markets, and have consequently increased their rural marketing budgets significantly. Given the growth in rural advertising, Xpanse, the rural marketing arm of Starcom MediaVest Group, is planning to expand its reach to more villages across India. Xpanse Country Head Sandip Bansal reveals his plans in a chat with Seema Sindhu. Edited excerpts:
What are your expansion plans?
We have a national footprint and work across 15 states. Going forward, I have a vision of 800 to 900 people on the payroll (up from 350 at present) and 20,000 people working on a project basis (up from 4,000) across India over the next two or three years. In terms of the number of villages, I hope to reach 150,000 (from 75,000 at present) by 2010.
How do you plan to achieve this number? The gap is huge. From where will you source talent?
We are planning to hire people from only rural areas as they would understand the challenges of the rural market better. We will hire people on our own through Xpanse Explorer which is the first-of-its-kind model by any agency in India. It comprises a brigade of people that we brought together a couple of months ago, which specialises in distribution and merchandising. The brigade rides deep into the hinterlands across India in all four zones on bikes and does direct consumer-contact programmes and product trial programmes for our clients. It has worked for P&G, Eveready, Usha and ITC. It will be starting a project for Marico shortly.
What sort of projects were these?
It is mostly distribution, merchandising and direct selling.
Considering the increase in rural spends, by how much has your billing increased in the last one year?
These have grown manifold. While I cannot give exact numbers, we have been growing at 300 per cent ever since we launched (in 2006). However, I would say that the focus has increased as many clients now have another reason for investment besides size — insulation from global events.
How much billing do you expect in 2009-10?
The year 2009-10 has seen very cautious investments in the first two quarters. However, the last two quarters seem to be compensating that adequately. I expect 2010-11 growth to be better than any of the previous years.
Which sectors spend most in the rural markets?
Apart from Government of India, which spends an unparalleled amount in the rural areas (not only on various schemes and infrastructure but even in communications directly and through NGOs or development agencies), farm products, telecom, education, hosiery, FMCG, cements, tiles and pipes and sheets are the leading spenders.