VIEWS AND INTERVIEWS
Talking to Ashok Sankethi - an AIRDA business partner
This time, we talk to Ashok Sankethi, an MR veteran who set up Kaybase in 2005. He has spent 16 years in the MR industry and has served as the country head of Nielsen in Sri Lanka. Ashok graduated in Physics from the University of Madras and did his PG in management from IIM Bangalore in 1989. IIT Madras recently invited him to join their doctoral committee panel with the specific brief of working closely with PhD scholars and help research become industry relevant.
We talk to Ashok at a time when his company has been ranked 21, out of a focus group of India's top 100 MR agencies.
Q: What is the significance of the new rating that you have secured?
A: It’s a good index of what our clients think and feel about us – this nationwide survey was addressed to the clients of MR agencies for detailed feedback. That apart, the PR value of something like this can be good – it will hopefully elevate us towards higher profile studies, normally assigned to the Big Ten.
Q: What is your consulting profile and how does AIRDA come in?
A: Kaybase is a research-oriented consulting firm based in Chennai and we take on research, brand building and HR consulting assignments. For AIRDA, we maintain a dossier on the vacation ownership and timeshare industry and carry out studies to assess the economic contribution made by the industry to specific states and districts.
Q: How has the company gained ground in a short span of 5 years?
A: We gained a lot of ground from 2005 to 2007, and suddenly went into accelerated expansion. This may not have been the best thing to do and we took some body blows in the process. Post that, we focused on a consolidation plan for the Chennai and Bangalore markets. The last 18 months have been positive and we have added on several big-name clients and interesting assignments.
We have also been fortunate that client retention has been high over the years, resulting in periodic referrals on new business. Simple logic: happy clients spread the good word for us.
Q: Where will the next five years take you?
A: Five years is an interesting time span. In addition to Mumbai and South India, we hope to make a strong presence in Sri Lanka. We are also looking at the SME segment in terms of consolidation and expansion – we find working with SMEs extremely rewarding and satisfying.
Q: What are the significant Kaybase milestones over these years?
A: One big milestone was achieved in 2008, when we landed our first consulting contract – the client was an NGO. We have subsequently focused on brand building and HR consulting for B2B players and have a decent track record of delivering results.
Another milestone was over 2009 and 2010, when we attracted key clients in each of those years – Reliance Telecom, Tata Tea, Onida and CavinKare.
Q: What is the background of your people resource?
A: Kaybase has been extremely successful in attracting bright youngsters who are keen on research as a career. Currently, we maintain a small well-knit team of researchers and the members of this team are all MBAs. We also have a trusted network of vendors who have been working with us for some years now, ensuring consistency and reliability.
What we want to do now is attract young marketing professionals and business managers who will front-end marketing activities and move business frontiers.
Q: Can you list some of the clients/ industry verticals you are working with?
A: Tata Tea, Reliance Telecom, CavinKare, MARG in real estate; Everonn in education; Coromandel Fertlizers in agribusiness; Chola MS in financial services; Lucas and Gates in auto components. And of course AIRDA, in the vacation ownership industry.
Q: What would you say of AIRDA as a client, and as a key representative of the industry?
A: AIRDA has allowed us to work on what we call our “flagship assignment”. Whenever we bid for a complex project, the fact that we have done economic value assessments for AIRDA, puts us in a different league. It also serves to establish our credentials as research-based consultants.
AIRDA are good clients to work with and their professional approach is an indication of how they have managed to stand for fairness and neutrality within an operating structure that is supported by some of the largest players in the industry.