Saturday, November 01, 2008

Leading India corporate hires global communications agency

Another Indian corporate has hired the services of a leading global communications agency.

Bell Pottinger Corporate & Financial has been called in to advise Indian real-estate fund Trikona Trinity Capital, reports PRWeek.

The agency will advise the AIM -listed property fund on corporate public relations and investor relations.

Bell Pottinger will act as lead communications advisor in conjunction with Trikona TC's existing public relations firms in New York and Mumbai.

The account will be led by associate director, Nick Lambert, who said: “Trikona TC has a very successful business model, but it's currently not sufficiently well-known within the investment community either in the UK or internationally. Our job is to change that.”

Trikona TC has a market value of £200m and is a leading investor in the Indian real estate sector.

Ashesh C Shah, head of UK and global head of corporate development at Trikona Capital, said: “We met four firms before selecting Bell Pottinger and were particularly impressed by their commitment to emerging market clients.”

Also see:

TCS Appoints Fleishman Hillard As Global PR Agency

Gujarat CM hires APCO

Look east, Sir Martin Sorrell tells global communications industry

The global communications industry has look east to sustain both their public relations and advertising businesses.

The shift in the balance of economic power to the east is only heightened by what is going on now, says Sir Martin Sorrell, Group Chief Executive Officer of WPP, in interview with The Guardian.

WPP's advertising agency company holdings include the Grey Global Group, Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, Young & Rubicam, and JWT(formerly known as J. Walter Thompson Co.).

WPP's public relations company holdings including Hill & Knowlton, Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide , Burson-Marsteller and Cohn & Wolfe.

“Activity in the west - the US and western Europe - is tightening and will tighten further next year,” says Sir Martin.

“The world is not decoupled, so BRICs – Brazil, Russia, India, China - and "Next 11" - Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, South Korea, Turkey and Vietnam - will tighten too. China and India are growing at 10% and we in the west have been struggling to grow at 2% to 3% and will struggle further.

“The point is, even if the BRICs and Next 11 are coupled and are affected by the terrible events of the past year or so and, in particular, the past four or five weeks, these faster growing markets will remain faster growing. Even if China and India ‘collapse’ to 5% or 6%, or 7% or 8% growth, they will still be growing stronger and faster than we are.

“In this connection, it is interesting to note that the World Bank or IMF still forecast 2% to 3% GNP growth for the world next year, with the US and western Europe flat and the BRICs and Next 11 growing at around 6%.

“These thoughts have been confirmed by visits to Brazil and Argentina earlier this month, where it seems that growth next year, stimulated by agrarian-based economies, may be 3%. It could be that the ripples - or should we say waves - of economic distress have not reached these countries yet.

“However, it does seem as though the faster growing economies will continue to be faster growing - particularly when compared with the west.”

Also see:

Slowdown, PR and corporates: Communications giants’ revenues hold the key?

Public relations giant Hill & Knowlton to start operations in India

Friday, October 31, 2008

Slowdown, PR and corporates: Communications giants’ revenues hold the key?

Global communications giants Publicis Groupe, WPP, and The Interpublic Group (IPG) reported positive third quarter earnings results last week, but they predicted a future softening due to the down economy.

“In this context, we believe our industry will face a difficult end of 2008 and a marked slowdown in 2009,” Maurice Levy, CEO of Publicis, said in the earnings statement.

Publicis, which does not separate PR results, reported $1.39 billion in consolidated revenue for the third quarter ending September 30, a 5.1% revenue growth compared with Q3 2007, using constant exchange rates, reports Tonya Garcia in PRWeek.

WPP reported PR and public affairs revenues totaling about $347.7 million, up 9.3% from the year before. The results came amid reports that CEO Martin Sorrell ordered a hiring freeze across the company's subsidiaries. When asked to elaborate on the freeze, Howard Paster, EVP of WPP's PR and public affairs division, declined to comment.

IPG's Constituency Management Group (CMG) division (which contains the holding company's PR agencies), reported revenues of nearly $290 million for Q3 – an organic increase of 18.3% from the same period last year.

“I think it's fair to say that the PR business has had a terrific nine months and a terrific third quarter,” said Harris Diamond, CEO of WS and CMG. “Having said that, you have the caveat that we are walking into uncertain times.”

Larry Witt, a stock analyst at Morningstar that follows Omnicom, IPG, and WPP, called the results he had seen “surprising”. (Witt spoke with PRWeek before WPP's earnings were announced). He believes geographic diversification could be a variable that determines which companies will be hit hardest.

“We don't think these good results will continue in the next quarter or following quarters,” he said. “WPP is probably the most geographically diversified, with more revenue outside the US. IPG is probably the least diversified.”

In late October, Omnicom Group, which includes Fleishman-Hillard and Ketchum, reported a 1.2% dip in Q3 PR revenues.

Also see:

WPP Warns Of "Very Tough" 2009, 3Q Sales Up

Ketchum Acquires Fifth Largest U.S. Technology PR Firm, Access Communications

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Slowdown: An opportunity for corporate communications?

Many sectors in India will be affected by the slowdown in the global economy, some more than the other.

After Diwali festivities, India Inc is set to show pink slips to 25-30 per cent employees in businesses like IT, aviation, steel, financial services, real estate, cement and construction as part of their cost-cutting measures, industry body Assocham has said.

Ramanujam Sridhar, Chief Executive Officer, Brand-Comm, Bangalore, knows of technology companies that have frozen recruitments over the last few weeks.

“Everyone wants to wait and watch,” says Sridhar in an interview with Divya Trivedi & Sravanthi Challapalli of The Hindu Business Line. “In the real estate sector, it is no longer a seller’s market, and it would have to advertise more. Infrastructure companies are also suffering from the lack of liquidity. My clients are asking if there are other ways to achieve the same advertising and marketing objectives with less money. So now there is greater importance being given to PR. On our part, we are trying to deliver better for the clients - the onus is on PR which becomes more critical now.”

Chandan Nath, President, Mudra Advertising, Ahmedabad, says both above- and below-the-line advertising will have to be used as different categories will be affected differently. “Any category where the consumer can postpone his buying decision will be affected, such as upgrade of consumer durables, automobiles and real estate. While the food industry, over-the-counter products, apparel, telecom and FMCG cannot remain untouched by the meltdown, they will be less affected.”

However, Ambi M. G. Parmeswaran, Executive Director and CEO, Draftfcb+Ulka, says “Some amount of diversion of advertising budgets to tactical and promotional spends may happen, but in a vast, spread-out country such as India, and for mass-marketed brands, there is nothing to beat press and TV. So those media will continue to hog the limelight. In fact, marketers may even shy away from niche media.”

According to him, Indian ad spends are correlated with economic growth and market sentiment, more than anything else. The Sensex has no real effect except for the dampening on the sentiment. “If we expect the economy to grow at over 6.5 per cent next year, there is no reason that why ad spends should not grow by about 9 per cent,” he says.

Sukhpreet Singh, General Manager (Brand Marketing) of consumer durables company Whirlpool of India, says the choice of media (conventional/digital or above-the-line vs below-the-line) could be altered, which would depend on campaign objectives and effectiveness of each media to deliver results.

Fast moving consumer goods companies cannot afford to cut back on marketing right away, says Ramesh Viswanathan, Executive Director of Chennai-based Cavin Kare. “There’s no slowdown in the overall FMCG market. The rate of growth of most categories is continuing and our growth is in line with our past performance. But, there is pressure of escalating costs so there’s lowering of profit. We need to see how sales go in the third and fourth quarters, see how costs progress and take a call by December.”

Viswanathan says advertising and marketing is the last thing an FMCG company would touch; the focus will be on cost engineering and pricing.

As far as the question of retrenching goes, there are mixed responses. Srinivasa says he does not see signs of retrenching in retail and that his company would certainly not do it. Ditto, says Nath of Mudra, adding that the company was looking for copywriters as it plans to expand.

Meanwhile, public relations firm Hanmer MS & L’s Partner and Member (Corporate Leadership Team), Amit Desai says all agencies would have to maintain status quo. His company was looking to redeploy staff and get in more efficient people. “Recruitment at the middle and senior levels will definitely be hit but junior levels need not worry too much,” he said.

Nath of Mudra says corporate communication has been hit hard as, with the withdrawal of IPOs due to dampened market sentiments, all pre-IPO events have been cancelled.

Some agencies, however, see the slowdown as an opportunity. Such as the upcoming 50-employee-strong Saints & Warriors. Arjun Dutta, copywriter with the agency, says this crisis might actually be an opportunity to grow on the back of innovative ideas.

Corporates, communications and gender

“Women's fairness creams is a large product category in India and has from time to time attracted the attention of feminists as being a regressive offering that perpetuates fair skin as an yardstick of beauty, a symptom of our ‘colonial hangover’,” writes Mythili Chandrasekar in AdAge.

“Over the years, the promise of these creams has moved from you can find a husband if you are fair to the idea that a lighter skin tone will get you a job. Progressive ads have shown women having the upper hand in choosing partners, and the jobs they can get have moved from air hostesses (traditionally a ‘modern’ profession according to the large Indian middle class) to cricket commentators, reflecting a more recent male bastion that the Indian woman has stormed! Meanwhile, realizing that a fair (pun unintended!) percentage of users were men, the market has seen the launch of new brands of fairness creams for men, like Unilever's Fair & Handsome.

“Lowe's latest ad for Fair & Lovely, the largest brand in the women's fairness creams category, has moved the needle further. The story revolves around a man who is pushed to extreme measures to get his bulging waistline into shape because of the effect the woman has on him, with the tagline ‘The power of beauty’. Surely, a telling comment on the changing status of women in Indian society. From ‘I'm worried about whether the man will accept me’ to ‘See what an effect I have on the man’.

In this regard, a few thoughts: Do you think there is a significant change in the outlook of people in general in India? Or, is it because of the fact the media industries like advertising, newspapers, corporate communications and public relations are dominated by women? Or, it is because corporates are trying to play to the gallery?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Public relations and euphemisms: Shel Holtz’s advice

At one of the Fortune 500 companies where I directed corporate communications, many years ago, a reorganization consolidated some of the company’s business units. In a game of executive musical chairs, one high-ranking execuricw was left without a job, writes Shel Holtz of Holtz Communication + Technology in his blog.

The press release the company issued used the typical jargon claiming that the poor fellow was leaving the company “to pursue other opportunities.”

Journalists are wise to this kind of euphemism. A night copy editor at one of the dailies covering the company ran the story under the headline, “So long, pal.” The clueless leaders of this company — my bosses — reacted to the headline by insisting that I call the lead business reporter who covered the company and inform him that we weren’t going to deal with him any longer.

The headline may have been snarky, but the “pursuing other opportunities” phrase, along with the lack of any substantive information at all, invited that snarkiness. Of course, the reason companies resort to such vague, non-communicative lingo is that the separation agreement reached with the departing executive insists on it, presumably because they don’t want anybody to learn the truth of the matter. I’ve often wondered how people can rise to such lofty positions in big companies with such thin skins.

This experience leapt to mind as I read a post by PR luminary Jim Horton about a similar announcement from iRobot announcing that its co-founder, Helen Greiner, had resigned as the company’s chairman to be replaced by her fellow co-founder Colin Aigle, who was serving as CEO.

The most Greiner or iRobot have had to say about the reason for the former chairman’s departure is that it was a mutual decision. This, according to the C|Net report, has fueled speculation about what really happened, suggesting that Greiner’s departure was not entirely voluntary. This will come as no surprise to people working in corporate communications who know that, in the absence of authoritative information, second-tier sources and gossip-mongers will rush in to fill the void. Information abhors a vacuum.

As Horton notes, it is the lack of transparency that sparked the rumor. “Wouldn’t it be better just to say that X left because she had a disagreement with the board, or she is tired and wants to move on, or she has another opportunity she wishes to pursue? That, at least, provides a context for stakeholders,” he says, adding, “Silence speaks louder than words.”

The next time an executive leaves your company’s ranks, consider the novel approach of just truthfully telling what happened. It may cause some discomfort, but that’s better than inaccurate speculation affecting perceptions of the organization.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Focus on corporate communications: PR firm Blue Communications bags Maersk Logistics

The AP Moller-Maersk Group is giving increasing importance to public relations in the Asia-Pacific region.

Maersk Logistics has appointed Blue Communications as its PR partner in Asia-Pacific to raise the profile of its business across the region.

The appointment extends Blue’s relationship with the AP Moller-Maersk Group. In July this year, the Group also appointed the agency for its Maersk Line container shipping business.

Both briefs will focus on stakeholder engagement initiatives to enhance each brand’s corporate positioning throughout the region, reports Kenny Lim in Brand Republic.

The public relations agency will work with the logistics firm’s communications team, plus regional and country managers to promote its brand among blue-chip organisations and SMEs in areas such as supply chain management, warehousing and distribution.

Programmes will be tailored according to the maturity of Maersk’s business objectives in key markets such as Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and Australia.

Blue Communications MD Karen Flynn attributed the win to “the level of strategic consultancy and exceptional execution capabilities of our team in Singapore”.

Srikanth Srinivasamadhavan heads Unilever’s Media Services in South Asia

Unilever has appointed Srikanth Srinivasamadhavan as General Manager - Media Services, South Asia. This position was earlier held by Rahul Welde until his elevation to Vice-President – Media, Unilever, AMET (Asia, Africa, Middle East and Turkey) a year back.

Prior to this elevation, Srinivasamadhavan was Category Head, Skin Cleansing, Unilever. In his current role, he would be reporting to Welde. The various media head in South Asia would be reporting to Srinivasamadhavan.

An official communiqué, quoted says, “Srikanth has extensive experience in marketing, most recently as the Category Head - Skin Cleansing. He has great passion for innovation and hands-on experience in driving accountability, measurement and insights. Srikanth joins us at one of the most exciting times for the media function – a challenging economic environment, a rapidly changing media landscape and strong growth momentum for our brands. Apart from aggressive pursuit of media opportunities in South Asia, he will also play an important role as a member of the Home and Personal Care Leadership Team at Unilever India.”