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Plan B Media looking to up its stakes in Singapore to expand in region

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"We saw a very strong opportunity for brands to get better conversion for products BNK48 endorsed," says Mr Luechaikajohnpan (left). "Singapore has always been something we want to put into our portfolio," says Mr Lojanagosin (right).

Singapore

PLAN B Media is looking to expand its operations in Singapore as part of efforts to expand its presence in the region.

"When you talk with analysts or investors, they probably like Vietnam more than Singapore as it promises more growth. And Singapore is very restricted, you can't expand that aggressively. You can't just build signs and ask for government concession," said founder and CEO Palin Lojanagosin when he was in town last week.

Plan B already has partners in multiple Asean countries, including the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Laos.

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But Singapore holds a certain allure for the CEO who, together with his siblings, spent a number of years in Singapore's education system.

"Singapore has always been something we want to put into our portfolio," he shared.

The Thailand-based company, which has its roots in out-of-home media, continues to put its faith in this advertising space despite competition from streaming platforms and social media which result in an increasing number of commuters travelling with their heads buried in their mobile devices.

"I get asked a lot: 'How are you going to fight with online? How are you going to fight with Facebook and social media?' But they service different purposes. How do you leverage them and educate your client to use them together and achieve optimum results? That is the challenge," said Mr Lojanagosin.

"Out-of-home media is never going to be the top, core medium that can command 60-70 per cent of your spending. But it's always going to be there because there's nothing you can replace it with."

Part of this confidence stems from the company's efforts to think out of the box, a result of its origins.

"We didn't have a parent company that owns infrastructure. So we try much harder, going after concessions, maintaining inventories, and finding more assets to accumulate," said Mr Lojanagosin.

The company knew it had to offer something more - there was a limit to how much they could back their pitches financially - so they were forced to think laterally often, and early.

For government-related projects, this has involved thinking of "social benefits" such as putting Wi-Fi on public buses and ETA signs on expressways.

Plan B is also behind the world's largest digital out-of-home display, which flanks the CentralWorld shopping complex in Bangkok, Thailand.

"It's about putting on a show. It's about innovation and making a place more exciting and lively. And that's where the creative comes in," he said.

Another turning point came for the company in 2015 after it listed. It alone controlled about one quarter of the market. Together with VGI Global Media, the two largest operators dominated about 60 per cent of the market, according to Mr Lojanagosin.

VGI is a Thailand-listed online-to-offline services provider (O2O) and the largest out-of-home media platform in Thailand. It acquired an 18.59 per cent stake in Plan B earlier this year. Both players enjoy over 70 per cent market share of Thailand's out-of-home advertising industry which is worth 12 billion baht (S$518.1 million).

But back in 2015, Plan B was feeling boxed in by its definition as an out-of-home media operator.

"You get trapped by going after concessions and beating existing operators. That's not healthy because you just end up paying more rent. And even if you are the winner, the pie is only so big. So we repositioned ourselves to become a communications channel provider," explained Mr Lojanagosin.

In 2016, Plan B started a new sports marketing business group and won the bid to act as the agency for the Football Association of Thailand and Thai Premier League.

In 2018, it acquired a 35 per cent stake in the BNK48 office which manages Thai idol group BNK48. That same year, BNK48 was selected as the official Thailand national football team supporters.

Plan B's managing director Pinijsorn Luechaikajohnpan said: "They enabled us to go multi-platform. The girls already had a lot of followers on Instagram and Facebook; what is really strong about BNK is their loyalty."

According to Mr Luechaikajohnpan, BNK48 enjoys engagement levels of over 30 per cent on social media, compared with the industry-average of 5 per cent.

This, combined with Plan B's own out-of-home network, ensured a consistent message wherever customers encountered them.

Added Mr Luechaikajohnpan: "We saw a very strong opportunity for brands to get better conversion for products BNK48 endorsed. This is a very similar model to what we do with football: strong content, out-of-home to promote awareness, and online."

Plan B is keen to continue working the sports angle, an opportunity it says is "under-penetrated, especially in South-east Asia".

"A lot of brands want to do sports but the challenge in SEA is we don't have a global player so it's a lot more difficult to do individual endorsements," said Mr Luechaikajohnpan.

"That's why we need to do more in the ecosystem to create storylines about athletes. What's the story behind their journey? How do we get fans to be more involved from the beginning of the journey, rather than, when someone wins a gold, then the whole country is interested."

For the latest quarter ended March 2019, the company posted a net profit of 154.07 million baht on revenue of 1.21 billion baht.

Engagement marketing - which encompasses BNK48 and sports management - saw its operating profit for the period jump to 199 million baht for the three-month period, from 19 million baht a year ago.

It tails the advertising media segment - comprising advertising media production, advertising space and air time rental services - which came in at 215 million baht compared with 252 million baht a year ago.