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.