| 20 Jul 2024
Monica Nayyar Patnaik: 'We came of age in 2010'

Monica Nayyar Patnaik, Founder Promoter of Radio Choklate 104 FM in Odisha and General Secretary of the  Association of Radio Operators for India (AROI), is a management professional with 15 years of experience that includes running a media communication solutions group, managing a top FMCG product,   advertising, copy scripting and ad making, and soft skills training for companies like Infosys, IBM and Metlife. With a degree in Molecular Biology and a post grad in International and Domestic Marketing, she is putting her Creative-Marketing experience to craft Strategy and Vision across the Eastern Media Limited Group including Radio Choklate, where she will spearhead its Phase III expansion initiatives. And, in deference to her first love,  she still owns a reputed independent Ad agency named Reflections in Odisha. Old habits do die hard.

Pavan R Chawla, Director Content & Chief Strategy Officer, IndianTelevision Group, and Editor –, caught up with her.

As Joint MD of Eastern Media Limited, what are your roles and your stated objectives?

My primary role oscillates between checking up on my sales & marketing heads and of unified strategy for the Group. Sambad, the largest read News Paper in Odisha is the flag bearer of EML. Apart from a vigorous innovative circulation drive, my objective for this current year is to bring Sambad to the forefront at the National sphere. As a brand we are a media conglomerate in the eastern part of the country, but that should not stop us from making an impression across India.

Give us a career snapshot with the learning across areas / sectors before you joined your current profile. What key learnings did you bring that help you in your current profile?

Oh, this has turned out to be an interesting journey. I am a post-graduate in Molecular Biology and went on to do an MBA in International and Domestic Marketing from Fore School of Management, Delhi. I've been a Product Manager with Dabur. I have had stints with advertising, scripting and copy writing. However, I believe I have taken up my learning in my formative years when I dabbled in painting, drawing and even handmade cards! I believe I learnt early on in life to start a thing from scratch and end it with creativity and precision. I am a perfectionist, due to which I am usually termed as a workaholic. However, I believe my methodical, efficient, target-oriented, professional approach is a value I will carry on with.

How much of your time and effort goes into Radio Choklate?

I will be spearheading the Phase III expansions and new market acquisitions therein. As a General Secretary of AROI (Association of Radio Operators for India) it's my constant endeavor to bring in the best of national and international trends, technology, innovation and music, of course, to the domain of Radio. Yes, it has to fit in with the local tastes. Apart from it, my role in Radio Choklate 104 FM is now more of strategy and vision.

Radio Choklate has been around since 2007. How has the journey been so far?

It's been more than three-and-a-half years since Radio Choklate began its journey in Odisha, and during this course we have been fairly successful in carving a special niche in the hearts of countless listeners. Back in 2007, we had introduced ourselves as a predominantly local (Oriya) station with a soup?§on of Hindi music. Pit against two national-based stations that identified themselves with mainly Bollywood music, our mantra was an instant crowd-pleaser. The strategy was to focus on music and programs with a local flavor to them, and we still maintain the trend. Only, the scope and sweep of our operation has gotten bigger and better over 2010.

Reaching the No.1 spot has definitely not been a cakewalk but in a time when competition is getting more intense by the day and in all likelihood there will be more stations entering the field in the coming year, the real test for Choklate lies in maintaining and sustaining this position. Constant innovations and a long-term vision and planning are essential to keeping body and soul together in the FM business.

How was 2010 for Radio Choklate?

It's been a very good year. The station has witnessed growth and maturation in the past year in terms of technique, content and marketing. In a nutshell, we can say that it has been a coming-of-age period for us. On the business front, 2010 has been a fine period for Radio Choklate, with the revenue steadily growing at a rate of 30 per cent. There has also been a steady rise in the number of advertisers – both, local and national. Whereas in the initial couple of years local ads dominated and accounted for almost 65 to 70 per cent of the total revenue, at present the national share is a little above 50 per cent  This is a very healthy trend and happily for the medium, the national ad spend is likely to grow more.

You tweaked your content to quite an extent in 2010…

Yes, last year Radio Choklate underwent a sea change in the arena of content. It was a conscious decision by the management after rigorous review and analysis intending to redefine what FM radio has to offer to its listeners. You see, listeners tend to get bored quickly and it can be quite a task to keep them glued to their radio sets especially when other entertainment media is easily available to them. In this case it is very important that we come up with something different time after time and deliver fresh content -- something they won't get to listen to elsewhere. Hence, �novelty and creativity' was the formula we followed when it came to content, which gave us an edge over other players.

Content, on the whole, has been worked on and restyled with more variation and substance. The programs centering on day-to-day topics that are relevant to our listeners have an interactive format and as a result Radio Choklate has been widely accepted in Odisha as a radio station of the people, by the people and for the people.

Please share some details on your content initiatives

In March, Radio Choklate came up with two comical capsules – �Madua Mandali' and �Bai Mana'. These funny quips, which became an instant hit with the masses, were deliberately made to sound buffoonish, farcical and silly to please and entertain the local tastes. We were flooded with telephone calls and letters from eager listeners who couldn't wait for the next dose of humor to be aired.

Narad Muni was another initiative that worked very well for us. Everyone loves a little bit of an argument or debate when it comes to general everyday issues. Keeping this simple logic in mind, the team drew inspiration from �Narad Muni', the popular mythological character known for mischievously creating quarrels and misunderstandings. Our modern-day Mr. Narad randomly lands up at any show and instigates a war of words on topics like Housewives Vs Working Wives, Jeans Vs Dhotis, etcera. The listeners are incorporated into this discussion via phone calls and SMS.

Another interesting element was �Radio Cinema', a Sunday filmy show that packages an entire Hindi or Oriya movie with all the action, masala and music within a span of just one hour. Similarly, Choklate Rangmanch is another such attempt where talent is on display in the form of plays pertaining to special celebrations and occasions. For instance, the heartwarming rendering of �Ekalavya' on Teacher's Day or the educative production on World Aids Day struck the right chord with our audience.

In October last year, we had brand new programming and 24-hour live RJ-ing with programs to suit every segment of the population.

How do you leverage the advantages of being a part of Eastern Media Limited?

Radio Choklate is working very closely with EME – the entertainment division of Eastern Media Limited -- which produces regional / Oriya songs and albums. Music royalty being exorbitant, this was a premeditated move to lend exclusivity to our music as well as cut costs.

How restrictive, do you feel, is the current playing field on Content for FM Radio?

Even though content on FM radio is regulated to a certain extent and private stations do not have the permission to broadcast news (which is changing in Phase III), a lot can still be done to keep the listeners entertained. This year, we saw most stations across networks venturing into unexplored territory and developing superlative content that was fresh, informative and appealing.

Such as…?

I thought reproducing the epic �Ramayana' episode-wise on radio by Fever 104 FM was a brilliant idea. Likewise, certain community radio initiatives in South India were also impressive. Also, association with CSR drives was on the upswing, with stations strongly endorsing multiple causes. More and more channels are consciously engaging in such activities because it is an excellent means to build connect with your audience, strengthen your brand values and drive home a message in a cost-effective manner.

What did you do on the CSR front?

Last year, Radio Choklate, along with its sister concern, Kanak TV, advocated the �World No Tobacco Day' and �World Environment Day' with massive citywide campaigns. Besides, as you know, our channel is affiliated with a media conglomerate, Eastern Media Ltd., which gives immense importance to CSR initiatives, and as a group we have been making numerous efforts in this direction.

The nature of the parsimonious beast that is Radio, demands extreme smartness and stringency with marketing spends. How have you been marketing Radio Choklate?

Our marketing plan was mostly events-based, and that worked. At Radio Choklate, every festival, occasion or special day is perceived as a probable and economically viable event.

Every year Radio Choklate celebrates its anniversary with an event called �Orchestra Mahasangram' -- a contest between melody / orchestra groups in Odisha. In 2010, it extended it to a mega initiative and was conducted in 7 major cities in a span of 12 days. The turnout was huge and the advertisers more than happy! Next season, we plan to organize it on a much grander scale.

In July, Radio Choklate had a high-powered event for Rath Yatra – the Car Festival at Puri – in collaboration with S Tel. Here the sponsors were given space to promote their products and services. The whole affair was exquisitely planned, from programming to promotions, giving both listeners and advertisers something to cheer about. This initiative was a success and July was the highest grossing month of 2010.

Another marketing initiative that can be recorded as a high point of this fiscal year is a year-long association with Vodafone. As a part of this deal, an exclusive game show has been designed where subscribers can participate and win talk time. The response has been overwhelming and has helped broaden our contact with the listeners.

Social initiatives like �Meri Awaaz Suno', a plea by young children about diverse issues to make this world a better place, and �Aame Janata', a platform where the general public can fearlessly voice their opinion, have become extremely popular and have now been developed into properties for clients. The recipe for the property / specialty and strength of our events lies in effective synergy between ATL and BTL activities for promoting the client's product or service. For instance, our promotions for Anmol Sweet and Salt Biscuits in November were much appreciated. The launching of the Tata Nano spot, the Airtel jingle and the station ID of Club FM (Chennai) were also memorable.

Considering RAM doesn't monitor your cities, how happy or otherwise are you with IRS?

I wouldn't say IRS is an infallible and entirely dependable tool to measure radio listenership. However, we are thankful that we have at least some yardstick to measure listenership. RAM would most definitely have been a more detailed and systematic measure of listenership, but one often forgets to consider certain elements when comparing RAM and IRS. First, the affordability factor. The system is quite costly and would require co-operation and investment from all the players. In a market like Odisha that has only three players and the operational cost of running a station is already very high, it does not make great sense to spend a lot on this front. Moreover, at present, RAM exists in only 4 metros,  and being a time-taking procedure, it will be long before tier-II and tier-III stations can avail of this service.

We have been persistently rated as the No.1 station in Odisha by the IRS survey reports for the past 3 years, and that is one of the primary reasons we do not have to struggle much when it comes to grabbing national ad campaigns.

And how do you primarily drive local level sales?

At the local level, it is more importantly word of mouth and the relationship we share with our clients and their recommendations that do the trick.

Of all the problems FM Radio is facing as a medium in India, which is the one problem you would wish away, if you could, and why?

The Music Royalty issue, it seems, just denies taking an exit. For Phase III to work, small regional stations have to be economically sustainable! Music Royalty almost rates hover around 20 to 30% of the revenue of a station. We don't want the Radio to die, do we? A win-win situation has to be carved out.

What are your plans for 2011?

Looking at 2011, our plans include launching of Internet Radio, a massive one-of-a-kind rock event, a large-scale �Save Water' campaign during the summer and focusing on DAVP ads, to list a few priorities. We will concentrate on property building and selling on Radio Choklate, and avoiding clutter of ads by reducing the FCT inventory and undertaking more on-ground activations.

We expect Phase III of FM radio to happen this year, and we shall definitely bid for more licenses in the state as long as the music royalty issue is resolved. The Year, 2011 promises a lot of new and exciting content for Radio Choklate and its listeners. We have infotainment, premier music and a passionate team, so we are high on morale and very confident of making even greater progress this year.