Wednesday, March 28, 2018

‘Not hype. Not spin. But truth. If public relations is to retain its position as the credible source, we must not…’

A legendary PR guru passed away earlier this week, but his words describing PR ring loud and clear.
Thomas Harris, former President, GolinHarris, now known as Golin, was among the among PRWeek’s 100 Most Influential Public Relations People of the 20th Century. He was 87.
“Truth is what we are all about,” he wrote in his personal message to students in Legacies from Legends edition of the Plank Center, the University of Alabama. “Not hype. Not spin. But truth. If public relations is to retain its position as the credible source, we must not blur the line between information and propaganda, between advocacy and salesmanship. The old description of public relations as ‘the conscience of the corporation’ is more relevant than ever in today’s complex society. The highest calling of PR is to keep our organization on straight paths, to counsel the powers-that-be not just to say the right thing but to do the right thing. In the future, our job will be more vital. We will be often called upon to assume the role of gatekeeper that has traditionally been played by the media. Our greatest value to our organizations, the media and our stakeholders must always be to separate information from misinformation and disinformation, and tell it like it is.”
Harris led a career that stretched decades across the PR and advertising industry, according to a statement quoted in PRWeek. He was the Adjunct Professor in the Master’s programme in Integrated Marketing Communications, Medill School of Journalism, Northwestern University.
He also authored four books including The Marketer's Guide to Public Relations How Today's Top Companies Are Using the New PR to Gain a Competitive Edge "Tom Harris has done more than anyone else to explain how public relations should be an important element in the marketing process. Every marketer should read this book." - Joe Cappo, Vice President/Publisher Advertising Age "Tom Harris might well be consumer marketing management's next folk hero. His book provides a wealth of information that will be useful to consumer marketing executives and public relations professionals alike." - Harold Burson, Chairman Burson Marsteller "Tom Harris illustrates how companies can gain competitive advantages in the vicious marketing climate of the 1990s while reducing costs. This book will be must reading at business schools like Chicago, Stanford, and Harvard." - Robert L. Dilenschneider, President The Dilenschneider Group "It's all here: what to do and what not to do, checklists and case histories, even crisis management and minority marketing. Best of all, it's projected through the experience of a true professional in marketing PR. All you need is this book and a client."
- John O'Toole, President American Association of Advertising Agencies "I just could't stop reading Tom's book. It's right on the money and demonstrates clearly, comprehensively, and scientifically the critical role that public relations plays in marketing consumer products - and shows why it's going to be increasingly important in the future." - Daniel J. Edelman, Chairman and CEO Daniel J. Edelman, Inc.
The Marketer’s Guide to Public Relations: How Today’s Top Companies Are Using the New PR to Gain a Competitive Edge.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Death of a strong advertising appeal?

Projecting the perfect man or woman. That has been one of the strongest appeals used by advertising in clothing and related areas over the years.

Raymond’s The Complete Man campaign, which has been running for over 25 years, has been given a quiet burial by the company. Does that imply that the appeal itself has lost its appeal? Are their greater appeals than perfection (or being complete) when it comes to man-woman relationship?

Independent brand strategy advisor Prabhakar Mundkur looks at the Raymond campaign in his column.

The new Raymond TV features visually impaired Canadian singer and writer Jugpreet Singh Bajwa. He provides “his interpretation of black for the new Black Collection of fabrics”.

“Raymond's latest film has proved to be a complete departure from the previous tone and personality of the brand,” he writes. “Almost like moving from an opera house into a hard rock concert without a transition to adjust to the change.”

On the Raymond campaign, Mundkur quotes Sumit Roy, long-time trainer and innovation consultant, as saying, "The Complete Man worked because women actually chose suiting brands, not men. Apparently, we men can't decide on suits without having a woman at our side. While I am always for long-running campaigns, The Complete Man is now over 25 years old. Do women like ‘sensitive men’ any more…? Times may have changed."


Thursday, March 22, 2018

Marketing: Importance of relevance

“In this new era of digital-based competition and customer control, people are increasingly buying because of a brand’s relevance to their needs in the moment,” write John Zealley, Joshua Bellin and Robert Wollan, who hold top positions with Accenture, in their article Marketers Need to Stop Focusing on Loyalty and Start Thinking About Relevance in Harvard Business Review.
The ‘loyalty era’ of marketing is on the wane, and, consequently, people may not buy the same things just because the right incentives are available.
In order to become a living business, companies should look beyond the traditional four Ps of marketing as this framework targets a ‘static customer archetype’. “The reality is that there is no such archetypical customer,” they argue. “Everyone’s needs vary depending on time and context. And with today’s technologies, companies now have the ability to see and act on these fluctuations in the moment. Customers are increasingly expecting all companies to do just that, both in their marketing efforts and in the experiences they offer.”
‘Relevance’ would increase if companies expand their thinking to include the following five Ps as well: purpose, pride, partnership, protection, and personalization. “These form a simple and comprehensive test of relevance,” they suggest. “The first four extend from the top to the bottom of the psychological hierarchy -- from what (American psychologist Abraham) Maslow called ‘self-actualization’ or fulfilling your full potential, to safety, a more basic need. The fifth, personalization, enables companies to connect with customers around any of these needs.”
“Reinvention does not mean you have to throw away all your previous incentives and strategies, but rather foresee the trend of the market and readjust your metrics of performance and delivery,” writes Steve Olenski (currently a senior creative content strategist at Oracle Responsys) in Forbes.
Steve recommends four ways that help companies maintain marketing relevance. These are: 1. relentless relevance; 2. bold moves and innovation; 3. customer obsession and asking questions; 4. having a vision for one’s brand and authenticity.
“Marketing relevance does not come with a crash course and there is no way to gain expertise in it unless there is continuous self-growth and reinvention and that can only come by gaining an edge in technological advances and keeping communication lines open with consumers,” writes Steve.

Paul Holmes: Morality is not optional

Paul Holmes is a world-renowned authority on public relations and reputation management.

When Paul talks, several of the global PR giants pause to ponder. But his latest column, In Modern PR, Morality Is Not Optional; It's Foundational could shake the giants out of their slumber and complacency. “Good relations between an organization and its stakeholders are built on trust; trust is gained by acting ethically,” he wrote. “So ethical decision-making is good public relations.”

For the uninitiated, Paul is founder and chair of The Holmes Group. He has been writing about public relations for more than 25 years. Paul created the annual Public Relations Agency Report Card and the Creativity in Public Relations Awards. His group’s flagship title, The Holmes Report, covers the public relations business in the Americas, EMEA (Europe, the Middle East and Africa) and the Asia-Pacific region. In 2011, Paul was inducted into the ICCO Hall of Fame.

This is not the first time the publication is focusing on ethics. In October 2017, the Holmes Report published a report, ICCO Summit: Helsinki Declaration Outlines Ethical Principles For  PR. 
Last fortnight, the Holmes Report published a report on global PR trade bodies’ decision to set up an ethics task force following the Bell Pottinger scandal.
Equally forthright is Alex Malouf, Corporate Communications Manager, Procter & Gamble, the Arabian Peninsula, who has worked across the Middle East for 12 years. “Are agencies willing to sacrifice a paying client for whom they’d have to undertake work which is unethical or moral?” Malouf raised the question in his column in the Holmes Report in October 2017. “The pressure to continually show growth is relentless, and it’d take an incredibly brave agency country head to turn around to his or boss and say, ‘I’m sorry, but what we’re being asked to do is unethical’… It’s easy to talk about ethics in Washington and London, but is the same message being applied in Africa and Asia?”

Friday, February 05, 2016

A.G. Krishnamurthy passes away

A.G. Krishnamurthy, Founder, Mudra Communications Limited, passed away in Hyderabad after a brief illness early this morning. He was 73.
“(He left) hundreds of people and families desolate for he had shaped their careers, outlooks and often their characters,” wrote Ramanujam Sridhar, CEO, brand-comm, in The Hindu Business Line… “AGK had the rare ability of translating complex communication problems into single sentences. His solutions were path-breaking. Who can forget the cute girl eyeballing the camera with an ‘I love you Rasna’ or the advertising for an essentially ordinary tagline ‘only Vimal’ that through different executions, season after season, made it a major brand.”
“As founder Chairman and Managing Director of Mudra Communications, he was well known for steering his agency from a Rs. 35 lakh company to a Rs. 7 billion corporation in remarkably short span of 23 years,” according to a report in exchange4media.
“An outsider to the end - Mudra continued to be headquartered out of Ahmedabad in his lifetime - AGK had an original take on life as well as the advertising business,” according to a report in afaqs. “It was his passion that led to the founding of MICA, the institute for strategic marketing and communications, in 1991. Ironically, today is the 25th anniversary of MICA.”
I had the good fortune of working briefly with AGK, and it is rare to find any Mudraite, from whose memory the advertising and branding genius had faded away. He touched every one with his gestures, pioneering work and values.
“I know that it is unfashionable, but I continue to be a representative of old world middle-class values,” he wrote in his book, If You Can Dream (Tata Mcgraw-Hill Education, Rs 325, 2013). “I stand by a few basic principles. They are time-tested beliefs. I believe that: Hard work pays. If you can dream it you can do it. Dedication and determination are the key tools to achieve our goals. Gains made from dishonest and corrupt ways do not last long. Integrity and goodness are the true stepping stones for a good, happy life.”
After reading excerpts from the book, I wrote to him, “Several of the lines in your book would have a deep impact on the minds of all right-thinking people including myself, as they seem to come from the bottom of your heart….”
In my mail, I had also thanked him for the Ganapati idol he had personally gifted me (soon after I joined Mudra) and the Diwali sarees which Mudra used to gift to the wives of its employees. 
He promptly replied, “We had Mudra Reunion in Ahmedabad on the 28th of April, 2013, one day before the launch of my new book.  Some 60 people gathered there from different parts of the country. When each one was requested to say a few words about their experience of Mudra, believe me most men recalled the Diwali saree and how precious the gesture was and how treasured they are even today, many years after the event.  Quite a touching down memory lane experience it was for all of us. It was a good old world charm - The Mudra Experience.”
May his soul rest in peace even as his words and monumental work – not to forget his values -- continue to inspire all of us.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

India PR Guru among most influential global communications leaders

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.
As a professional who has worked closely with Madan in two avatars – first as a senior editor in his dotcoms and then as PR professional – I am delighted Madan is featured in 2016 Trend Forecast: 16 (Global) People To Watch of The Holmes Report – last year he secured a place in The PRWeek Global Power Book 2015. These are much-deserved recognitions for all his past work – and what he is setting out to achieve.
Let us look at the reasons the leadership team of The Holmes ReportPaul 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.
(This) 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.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

PR, management lessons from acclaimed 9-year-old entrepreneur

At the age of nine, Alina Morse of Wolverine Lake, Michigan, is already an acclaimed entrepreneur in the US, winning success and admiration with her innovation. She has invented a line of lollipops promoting healthy teeth for children. Helping her in the invention is her father, Tom Morse, a former consultant to Deloitte for its Consumer Packaged Goods clients.
Her brand, Zollipops, a sugar-free lollipop containing sugar alternatives erythritol, xylitol and stevia, “helps strengthen the enamel”, reports Lauren Abdel-Razzaq in The Detroit News. With a $7,500 investment, Alina sold $70,000 in Zollipops last year.  
Also, there is a lot that business leaders can learn from her. The Chief Executive magazine lists eight basic business lessons from Alina for CEOs and business chiefs. The lessons are: 1. be enthusiastic about your product or company; 2. have a strategy for wowing the media -- especially in this era of viral and digital marketing, it’s crucial for a new company to get a foothold in the news and entertainment media; 3. start the nurture process early; 4. write down or verbally record every idea, no matter how small for potential customers, new products and new businesses; 5. solve a problem or create a need; 6. question the norm; 7. plan your expansion opportunities; 8. think globally. 
That Alina pursues ‘Performance with Purpose’ very seriously has been reinforced by the fact that she has earmarked 10 per cent of her profits for CSR in an area which is relevant to her business: organizing oral hygiene programmes in the neighbourhood schools. 

Beware, Board of Directors! Activist investors’ clout is growing

Activist investors have been storming the Boards of top US listed companies, and bringing about sparkling changes. The developments have phenomenal significance for India – more of that a little later. But first about the developments pertaining to activist investors in the US.
report in The Economist praises the efforts of activist hedge funds in improving governance among listed companies in the US. Such entities acquire “small stakes in firms and act like political campaigners, trying to win other shareholders’ support for their demands: representation on companies’ boards, cost-cutting, spin-offs and returning cash to shareholders”.
“Activists run funds with at least $100 billion of capital, and in 2014 attracted a fifth of all flows into hedge funds,” according to the report. “Last year they launched 344 campaigns against public companies, large and small. In the past five years one company in two in the S&P 500 index of America’s most valuable listed firms has had a big activist fund on its share register, and one in seven has been on the receiving end of an activist attack.”
Among the achievements of activist investors listed by the report are:
·       Trian Fund Management, led by activist Nelson Peltz, secured a Board seat at Bank of New York Mellon in December 2014.
·       The Economist’s analysis of the 50 largest activist positions in America since 2009 has shown rise in profits, capital investment and R&D in many cases.
Ram Charan, Michael Useem and Dennis Carey  list out the following achievements of such activist investors in their article, Your Board Should Be Full of Activists in Harvard Business Review (February 2015):
·       Backed by institutional investors, Starboard Capital ensured the exit of the entire Board of Directors at Darden Restaurants over a spin-off issue in 2014.
·       In 2012, a similar development took place at Canadian Pacific Railway.
Ram Charan is a business advisor to CEOs and corporate Boards, and co-author of the book, Boards That Lead, with Dennis Carey and Michael Useem. Useem is Professor of Management and Director of the Center for Leadership and Change, Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, while Carey is Vice Chairman of Korn/ Ferry International and specializes in the recruitment of CEOs and corporate directors.
In their report, Preparing for Bigger, Bolder Shareholder Activists, Joseph Cyriac, Ruth De Backer and Justin Sanders of McKinsey, write, “Activist investors are getting ever more adventurous. Last year, according to our analysis, the US listed companies that activists targeted had an average market capitalization of $10 billion -- up from $8 billion just a year earlier and less than $2 billion at the end of the last decade. They’ve also been busier, launching an average of 240 campaigns in each of the past three years -- more than double the number a decade ago.” 
The support of traditional investors has been increasing the clout of activist investors. “The backing of the traditionalists like Vanguard Group is often giving activists like Trian — the latter with just 2.7% of DuPont’s shares — the extra clout they need,” write Charan, Useem and Carey. “Vanguard holds more than $3 trillion in assets, making it the equivalent of the world’s fifth largest country in GDP, ahead of France. Along with its heavyweight brethren like Fidelity and Blackrock, it packs enormous punch. Vanguard owns some 5% of most publicly traded companies in the US.”
In their article, How to Outsmart Activist Investors (May 2014),  Bill George, Professor, Management Practice, Harvard Business School and Jay W Lorsh, Professor, Human Relations, Harvard Business School, write, “We remain unconvinced, however, that hedge fund activism is a positive trend for US corporations and the economy; in fact, we find that it reinforces short-termism and excessive attention to financial metrics. But because activists -- and the institutional investors who often follow their lead -- are generating positive returns, there is likely to be more rather than less of it in the future. In the interest of their corporations, CEOs and Boards should be preparing for activist interventions rather than complaining about them.”
They cite examples such as that of Indra Nooyi, Chairperson and CEO, PepsiCo, who managed such activist onslaughts well. With her ‘Performance with Purpose’ strategy, Nooyi had, among other things, introduced a couple ‘good for you’ products in the PepsiCo range.
Before proceeding further on activist investors, it is pertinent to say a few words about a book which delves into the concept of ‘Performance with Purpose’. The book is Jim Stengel’s book, Grow: How Ideals Power Growth and Profit. Maximum growth and high ideals are not incompatible,” says Stengel. “They’re inseparable.”
As for tackling activist investors, George and Jay present several options, which could be considered by managements and Boards.
Joseph, Ruth and Justin of McKinsey identify the weak spots which could trigger an activist attack. 1. under-performance relative to industry peers, rather than absolute declines in performance; 2. large cash balances and recurring restructuring charges; 3. executive compensation; and 4. a gap in consensus earnings. 
Charan, Useem and Carey urge companies to “renew their Boards before an activist changes it”.
The three experts quote Raj Gupta, former CEO, Rohm and Haas, as saying that the Board and top management “should think like an activist”. With an “outside in” view of the company -- rather than an “inside out” view -- directors should pose the same questions that an activist investor would ask, according to Gupta. “Is the company’s portfolio too complex? Is management top-notch? Is the cost structure too high? Has the firm missed an inflection point?” Gupta was also on the Boards of Delphi Automotive, Hewlett-Packard, Tyco and Vanguard. 
The advice is more relevant for India, where 77 of the 155 BSE-200 companies (excluding banking and financial ones) have either reported a decline in their market value since March 2008 or the rise  in market capitalisation has lagged the increase in capital employed in the business, according to a report in Business Standard (February 2014).

“In all, since 2007-08, the 155 BSE-200 companies in the sample have together destroyed over Rs 22 lakh crore of shareholder wealth, or nearly 46 per cent of their combined market value in January 2014. The figure would shoot up by half, to nearly Rs 35 lakh crore, if the figures for IT, pharma and FMCG companies were excluded.”