Picture this. You've built an amazing product that solves a big problem. But very few people know about it. What are your options for getting the word out there?
Social media, talking to friends and family? What do you do if you want to advertise in a newspaper?
These questions inspired Sharad Lunia, who has spent his entire career in advertising and related fields, to launch releaseMyAd. After completing his graduation in marketing from University of Pennsylvania – The Wharton School, Sharad worked for ad agency Saatchi & Saatchi in New York and then joined Microsoft in their digital advertising solutions group where he stayed for over two years. He returned to his home-city of Kolkata and launched releaseMyAd on Valentine’s Day in 2009.
An online advertising platform, releaseMyad assists businesses and individuals to easily advertise on any mass media platform, like newspapers, radio, in-Cinema or magazines.
The objective to launch on Valentine's Day was to enable people to wish their ‘Valentine’ by means of a newspaper ad.
"We were initially very apprehensive about whether or not we would receive any Valentine’s Day newspaper messages,” says Sharad, 31. He and his team, however, decided to run a 14-day promotion on Facebook. They bagged 12 customers by the end of that initial campaign. “I still remember the wave of euphoria that ran through the office when the first client paid up. Though the profits were minuscule, we went and spent it all on a small celebratory get together at Pizza Hut," recalls Sharad.
releaseMyad offers an inventory of over 212 newspapers, 27 radio stations, 19 multiplex chains, and all leading magazine. He does not offer digital media inventory, as he believes it is best that advertisers place such ads. Also, traditional media continues to be much bigger than digital. Advertising revenue in India in 2014 was Rs 414 billion and print and television together accounted for 80 per cent of this, according to a report by KPMG.
releaseMyad offers a marketplace that allows users to complete the entire process of placing an ad on their own. For instance, a user wants to place a property ad, all he has to do is choose the newspaper, pick property as the category for placing the ad, pick the editions he wants the ad to appear in and then make the payment.
Currently, the platform caters to individuals and statutory bodies by enabling ad booking for notices, tenders, property, matrimony and other details. The company works on a commission model.
The idea of releaseMyAd has evolved over time. Sharad says the initial idea was to leverage his experience in advertising at Microsoft to create a completely tech-based online ad platform to serve advertisers at scale for offline media.
This gradually paved the way to services for small businesses and young startups, who face an utter lack of access to reliable advertising agencies and unbiased media recommendations given their limited budgets. It caters to small and medium enterprises to help them reach out to target groups through various multi-media companies.
Citing an example, Sharad says, online ethnic marketplace Craftsvilla had initially used the platform to carry out media buying worth Rs 1 lakh.
Pratik Shah, CMO of Craftsvilla, says they used realeaseMyad in their initial years and found the team to be very helpful and effective.
"We realised that the cost benefits we managed to provide to them through our marketplace model could also be extended to others," adds Sharad. They have since worked with other funded startups, including Peppertap, Swiggy, Housejoy, ZipGo, Doormint, TaskBob and LocalOye.
The team also tries to keep rates low by floating the ad enquiry across multiple publishers and advertising representatives throughout. They also monitor historic pricing of ads across clients, to negotiate better prices with the publishers in the advertiser’s interest.
"Unlike local agencies, our business dealings are not relationship driven. We offer greater transparency and clarity in pricing. Our business is not what you call ‘push-based’, where recommendation made by agencies are a function of the ‘commission earned’," adds Sharad.
However, the task of aggregating different media options in the initial years wasn't an easy task. As most media owners were used to the traditional advertising model, convincing them of the effectiveness of an online portal as a viable acquisition medium was difficult. Also, convincing the advertisers to use an online platform instead of personally meeting a media representative and discussing an ad campaign was quite a task.
Sharad says building the right interface and creating a tech-based system helped win over the doubters.
Sharad claims to have serviced around 2.19 lakh advertisers till date. He says the firm’s annual turnover in FY 2015 was Rs 32 crores and is on track to cross the Rs 80 crore turnover mark this fiscal. The company is profitable. Bootstrapped so far, Sharad says he will look at risk capital to expand to new verticals.
The firm recently opened a Bengaluru office. "The intention is to ensure a tangible presence in every corner of the country. In time, we plan to open several regional offices," says Sharad.