Madan Bahal, Co-Founder and Managing Director,
Adfactors PR and Co-Vice Chair, PROI Worldwide for the Asia-Pacific region, turns
60 on January 29, 2016.
Sixtieth birthday or Shashti Poorti has phenomenal significance in Hinduism as it is
considered a turning point in a one’s life as one can devote more time to spirituality,
having fulfilled one’s material obligations.
In Madan’s case, however, Shashti Poorti has to be
redefined both in letter and in spirit as at 60, while others decide to hang up
one’s boots, the Guru of Indian PR plans to devote more time to his global
pursuits, now that Adfactors PR is the largest PR consultancy in
India in revenue terms. Even spirituality has to be redefined to fit his scheme
of things. Work, laced with values revolving around stakeholder welfare, is how
he looks at spirituality. Why else wouldn’t he work for tobacco and liquor
companies/ groups? Why else would he talk about the clout of even the youngest PR
executive disseminating press releases nationally at the click of a button –
the unarticulated dictum is that, in PR too, editorial gatekeeping is paramount?
This is his idea of prayer, worship. Humility and humbleness are the other
elements of his spirituality.
Regardless of whether the times are good or
bad, the serial entrepreneur has been continuing his goal-oriented
never-say-die efforts, working virtually non-stop, except
when he is on a holiday, for 34 years.
Let us look at the reasons the leadership team of
The Holmes Report – Paul Holmes, its Founder and CEO, and Arun Sudhaman, its President and
Editor-in-Chief who have known global PR leaders like the back of their palms –
chose to feature Madan in a list of 16 people from the marketing communications
and PR worlds who are poised to make waves in 2016. That too, alongside giants
of the global PR industry including Charles Watson, Chairman, Teneo Holdings
International, Guillaume Herbette, CEO, MSLGroup, Jack Martin, Global Chairman and CEO,
Hill+Knowlton Strategies, Jennifer Palmieri, Director of Communications, 2016 Hilary Clinton Presidential
Campaign, John Saunders, President and CEO,
FleishmanHillard among others. He is the only Indian on the list -- only two
other Asians are in the list – Jessica Lee, Director of Corporate Communications,
Netflix and Joy Tan,
President of Global Media and Communications, Huawei.
is a testament to his inspiring 34-year journey – full of hard work,
integrity, commitment to people, and – more than anything – a relentless
pursuit for excellence,” said Rajesh Chaturvedi, Co-Founder and Chairman,
Adfactors PR which provides services to about 280 retained clients, including
some of the largest Indian and multinational corporations and financial
institutions. The consultancy has an 18-office network in India besides
presence in Dubai, Sri Lanka and Singapore.
“Over the past 30 years, Madan Bahal has built
Adfactors into India’s largest PR firm, and one of the 100
largest in the world,” according to The
Holmes Report. “But Bahal’s aspirations are unlikely to stop there, as he
gears up for further expansion in 2016. Bahal wants Adfactors to play beyond
India, and is eyeing markets in the Middle East, Africa and Southeast Asia.
Such a move would make his firm an anomaly among Indian PR firms, and place it
next to BlueFocus as one of the few Asian PR brands with credible international
aspirations. Amid all this, of course, Bahal must defend his position on home
turf, where a slew of big account wins and campaign awards have established
Adfactors as an operation that is as much about quality as quantity. And, of
course, the question of succession hangs over all these calculations — will
Bahal look to sell his firm, or are other options in the offing?
Yes, there are challenges on multiple fronts,
particularly those related to the much-talked-about talent crunch (PR and communications stood sixth in LinkedIn’s 25 most in-demand skills) and the changes in the media landscape with the focus
slowly and steadily shifting to digital, if ad revenues are any indication (according
to GroupM, digital advertising in India will see
the highest growth of 47.5% in 2016 to Rs. 7,300
crore). But Madan is well-equipped to make all-out efforts to turn every
challenge into an opportunity, as he has demonstrated with his enterprises -- and
for his clients.
Also, on occasions, particularly in a crisis,
when clients are able to experience the adverse impact of a crisis but are unable
to decipher the causes, a seasoned communications guru like Madan has been playing
an awe-inspiring role. For, PR is one of the most challenging professions
calling for mastery over multiple skill sets including business knowledge,
communications experience and expertise, indepth understanding of the micro and
macro situations, research skills, strategy, expertise in utilizing tools,
breadth and depth of relationships, etc – and Madan has been showcasing his command
over all these, rather unwittingly, with his brief, profound PR prescriptions,
after hearing out all concerned fully.
Few are perhaps aware of his rare gifts, as he manages
to cloak them in an unassailable shield of modesty. He has an uncanny knack for
seeing issues in complete perspective with a rare grasp for the most difficult
of concepts. He zeroes in on core issues quickly, and comes up with razor-sharp
strategy.... But then, while quite a few others tend to fall in love with his
recommendations, Madan detaches himself from the situation quickly and
persuades all concerned to let the teams invest a little time in research,
where he himself again tends to play a lead role. Armed with research findings,
Madan does not hesitate to rewrite presentations done by the teams completely.
“Converting a lengthy communication brief into
a terse business problem to be solved: this same unorthodox yet doggedly
focussed strategy helped Madan give birth to multiple entrepreneurial ventures:
Adfactors Public Relations, today India’s largest public relations consultancy
by revenue; chlorophyll, India’s first end-to-end brand consultancy and
Economic Research India, India’s premier research company tracking capital
expenditure and socio-economic indicators,” wrote The Holmes Report some time back.
What is more, he still has the energy,
enthusiasm levels of a 16-year-old when it comes to pursuing any goal,
regardless whether it is entrepreneurship or communications assignments. He
still reads extensively, on diverse subjects including management, PR,
branding, finance, etc. A stellar quality that deserves mention is that he
remains calm and composed at all times, even when facing the worst crisis, whether
at a personal level or at the client’s end, enabling him to focus all his energy
on the problem at hand and its timely resolution.
Another note-worthy ability is sizing up people
in just a few minutes, and assigning them responsibilities, aligned with their skill
sets. Building and leading teams with complementary skill sets is another
strength. Equally important is talent retention, and Adfactors PR is considered
one of the best employers in the communications industry – there are several professionals
in Adfactors, who have been associated with the brand for over three decades
(exceptions like me, who had moved on, are very few). He also makes genuine
efforts to upgrade the skills of his teams, adopting different carrot-and-stick
strategies including a mother eagle-like tactic of dropping the eaglet off her
back at high altitude in order to inculcate flying.
Madan rarely hesitates to speak his mind, even
in a client situation. In one meeting, when a client went on and on about PR strategies
after seeking a meeting with the PR Guru for important consultations, Madan
remarked mischievously, “Why don’t you start your own PR consultancy?!”
And so it is not difficult to fathom why The Holmes Report is betting on Madan as
one of the 16 people from the marketing communications and PR worlds who are
poised to make waves in 2016.