Abraham Thomas, fondly known as Abe is truly a leader that needs no introduction. At the helm of Reliance Broadcast Network Limited as their CEO, Abe Thomas leads one of India’s biggest private FM networks, BIG FM.
An ‘Audio Evangelist’, is how Abe describes himself on LinkedIN, and rightly so, he has been at the fore front of evangelizing and evolving BIG FM to an Audio Entertainment Network.
A Freddie Mercury fan, Thomas has led the network with the launch of some very successful initiatives such as BuyAdsOnBigFm dot com and BIG FM’s online radio BRO to name a few.
In this Leaderspeak, Abe speaks to us about the network’s growth during the pandemic, the expectations from the festive season and a lot more.
How has your journey at Big FM been so far? What were your major learnings?
The journey has been extremely fulfilling with exciting transformations and several milestones being met along the way. We are fast evolving from a Radio Network to an Audio Entertainment Network with our content now available across platforms, creating bespoke content for platforms, to creating more consumer touch points through our own as well as multiple partnerships. The response to ‘BRO’ Big Radio Online and Big Café Online are very encouraging. If the last few years were about touch, the next few years are about voice and audio. Consumer tastes are fast evolving from music to talk to podcasts, audio dramas and audio books across genres and formats and our plans to be on the forefront of this trend are very exciting.
I strongly believe that Brands have a responsibility to deliver ‘growth’ for the company as well as to do ‘good’ for society at large. With the new positioning of ‘Dhun Badal Ke toh Dekho’ we have seamlessly achieved both – ‘Brand for growth’ through leadership in listenership, gaining Adex market share in all markets and ‘Brand for good’ by becoming the ‘preferred’ partner for brands and consumers for bringing about change in society. Brand BIG wants to use our trust, credibility and influence to become thought inspirers and create a better world and consumers are whole heartedly embracing the new thought.
Product – People – Process
Our success can be attributed to 3 critical pieces that fell into place smoothly: Product – People – Process. Our Product has gained traction because it consistently delivers on the promise of the brand. Our Processes ensure that the right things get done by the right people at the right time and most importantly Our People and their commitment that has led to our success.
The journey has been full of learnings and especially the last few months have forced us to adapt and change. Embracing technology across functions has also been the need of the hour and at BIG FM, we continue to be agile and resilient by adopting digital led solutions. Through our initiative Big Partnerships, we are exploring synergies with different platforms to offer amplified reach to our advertisers and our content. We have signed up 20+ partnerships where clients can get a potential audience reach of 15 crores.
All in all, an extremely satisfying and fulfilling journey so far and an extremely exciting way ahead.
Rightly said, it’s extremely important to evolve… and your evolution from being a Radio network to an Audio entertainment network has been spot on. Coming to Big FM… tell us how has Big FM performed during the Covid-19 pandemic? And what were some challenges you faced and how did you overcome them?
The unprecedented global crisis surely disrupted lives and businesses across the world. For us at BIG FM, the safety of our employees and communities is of utmost importance. We were the first radio network to introduce a mandatory work-from-home policy across all our 58 stations and we have since evolved to smart working and hot-desking model that is more efficient than before. We can proudly state that our business has been operating seamlessly and efficiently in this new normal.
Staying true to our objective of leading by example and providing authentic information whilst engaging and entertaining our listeners; we developed multiple initiatives & campaigns such as Dilli Ke Dhakad, Dekh Kahi Yeh Fake Toh Nahi, and V the Warriors amongst others to foster positivity and raise awareness while also being a voice of calm and reassurance.
As a network, it has been our constant endeavour to adapt our programming, operations and policies based on current events and trends. With that, we have provided our partners with refined and applicable solutions across our network, leveraging the credibility and empathy which is the bedrock of our content.
Though uncertainty, agility and adaptability of the functions did pose a challenge, we were able to overcome those owing to our highly efficient teams. Being a people first organization, we are constantly working towards the professional and personal upskilling of employees ensuring their wellbeing through various programs we undertake such as Onward & Upward – The Big Morning Show, E-wellness program or various employee pulse surveys to name a few.
Onward & Upward has been an immensely popular talking point all across social media. During the lockdown OTT grew platforms saw great growth. What was the growth seen by Radio and how have you capitalized on the increase in listenership with respect to advertising on Big FM?
The last few months have been a revelation as radio listenership has witnessed a huge surge. A study conducted by AROI had revealed that 82% of the Indian audience tuned into radio during the lockdown and the average daily time spent listening increased by 23%. The recent RAM data also revealed a spike in listenership across segments, with reach and time spent by men and women, Sec A, teens and golden agers noticing a significant growth. The TAM Adex data shows a subsequent growth in advertising targeted towards each segment with various categories such as retail auto, cosmetics, financial services, restaurant, food products, E-com media amongst many others. It also states that ad volumes on radio has spiked by 434% during Jun-Aug ’20 in the 4 metros as compared to the previous quarter. In other cities, the rise stands at more than 5 times.
There is a 70% recovery in business volume this quarter and categories like BFSI, FMCG, Automobile, Pharma and Healthcare amongst others have been the first ones to get active. Our emerging markets are leading the way in this recovery apart from major cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai and Ahmedabad as the un-lockdown has restarted economic activity. Radio with its high local-mass reach and playing a key role in calming, assuring and engaging their audiences, advertisers are exploring numerous opportunities to synergise their messages on radio.
What is your expectation from the festive season? Do you see an uptick in the ad spends? Also, tell us about how BuyAdsOnBigFm dot com has been for the network?
The festive season will certainly be a mood changer and bring in the much-needed respite. Being deprived for a long period of time, consumers are expected to indulge in pent up shopping and revenge buying. The festive period of September to December is also called as the 5th Quarter where close to 40% – 45% of annual business occurs. Diwali being the biggest festival will aid in shopping and bulk buying. Add to that, we are looking forward to new launches and huge offers from brands to capitalise on the consumer’s mood change. Categories like BFSI, Automobile, FMCG, Consumer Non-Durables and E-commerce are expected to drive the bounce-back. A good monsoon will also drive consumption in emerging markets, where radio scores high with its mass local reach. We are cautiously optimistic on business in the coming month.
The launch of Buyadsonbigfm.com as a one-stop destination for the long tail of advertisers to create solutions, create packages, buy spots, and make payments has been another winner for us. In the current contactless world, it has helped keep our clients and sales team safe while ensuring the economy moves ahead swiftly. It simplifies and makes the process of playing ads on radio more accessible and available to advertisers at the mere click of a button. The platform is a bigger boon for local advertisers who can easily run campaigns through ‘contactless’ ad insertions.
Tell us about your new initiative BRO? How has the response been from the advertisers and consumers both?
The launch of BRO has been an important milestone in our journey towards evolving into a platform agnostic audio entertainment company. It’s curated with entertaining content that is fresh, relatable and thought provoking, which will inspire the youth to bring a positive change in the society. With BRO, we intend to provide an immersive audio experience through podcast content coupled with music.
The response, so far, has been encouraging. While the consumers get the chance to savour the best of entertainment with meaningful and relatable content that is inspiring and encouraging, on the other hand, advertisers who keep searching for mediums to connect with the young adults get the perfect platform to engage with them in a much effective manner. BRO is available on various regional websites as well and our RJs promote the content on their social media platforms too. This further adds to the overall growth for the brand.
On the personal front, Who was your first or most significant mentor or teacher in the professional space that you are in?
I have been fortunate to have worked under some of the most brilliant bosses and mentors; and the learnings from each of them have played a crucial role in crafting me to be the professional I am today. I have shaped my work ethic and leadership style on their teachings. From inclusiveness and ownership to thinking out-of-the-box and creating a great product to building brilliant brands and creating the right work culture, they have had a role to play in all aspects.
What quest, mission, or purpose, if you will, drives you every day?
On the work front, what drives me every day is my passion to position ourselves for a future from a place that is true to our roots but offers the opportunity to adapt and meet the changing needs of the consumers. I also strongly believe we position ourselves to be battle ready to take on challenges such as the market conditions and competition.
On a personal level, early acceptance of the new normal helped me adapt to the new way of living and working fully aware that the virus is lurking behind. This period is not the time for getting everything you want, it’s the time to appreciate what you have. The opportunities that this period is throwing up bode well for the future.
According to you, what are the biggest challenges that are faced by the radio industry? And what should the industry as a whole do to overcome them?
The key challenge which the radio industry faces is Evangelisation of the medium. Radio has been re-imagined in the minds of the consumer, shattering many myths and misconceptions. It is extremely encouraging to note that advertisers are slowly beginning to take advantage of this re-imagined medium.
How do you foster and encourage innovation across your teams at Big FM?
One of the challenges of a remote working hot-desking model is recreating the environment that physical spaces offer for creative brainstorming. At Big FM, we encourage Learning and Development through multiple forums like The Big Morning Show, and encourage risk taking and minimise the fear of failure. We have always supported our teams to try out new ideas whilst encouraging an innate ability to identify trends. Also, the zeal and willingness to listen to the consumers keenly and then use them as a source of inspiration across all our innovations. Having a strong committed workforce has enabled us to achieve our goals and drive our mission. They are definitely the strength of our company.