Thursday, February 22, 2007

Controlling the imps!

Am posting this sitting at a very large retail event in Delhi, pretty exasperated at the phenomena we might casually call 'imps'.

We all know how keen a PR professional's instinct needs to be to spot the journalist from a distance - the eye becomes trained by continuous habit and need. Many times, 15 minutes into the scheduled beginning of the press conference or event, the lack of media attendance can cause a small panic attack in PR professionals. So naturally, while one mans the media counter, the PR professional's eye is continuously scouting for the elusive journalist. That constitutes the training by habit part.

Another reason that futher helps develop the 'spotting instinct' is because the PR professional is continuously getting thrown into new situations (like new cities for instance), and made to manage media events in places where they hardly know the media. Here, the hardy professional learns to recognize gestures & demeanor, walking styles, confidence, attire, accoutrements that help identification of the journalist. Over a period of time, this process of journalist 'tagging' becomes second nature to everyone in PR.

But lets move back to where we started. The imps! Imp, short for impersonator of the media, is a strange creature. They dont do stories, they dont do interviews and they dont work for any media. But, they can talk as if they are the media and most of their day goes in doing the rounds collecting invitations for major events in the city. Typically the imps claim to be freelancers (please read as F-R-E-E-L-O-A-D-E-R-S) or from the PIB (Press Information Bureau) and usually will not carry visiting cards. But almost everytime they will all have an official looking identity card that helps them pass off as press. Why do they do it? Well, as freeloaders, imps typically looking for conference freebees and free lunches.

You resist their entry into their event and they will try and create a hue & cry about how the fourth estate represents the voice of the people and by curbing their entry, the the freedom of speech of the nation is being threatened. So, you let go, you give in and you settle for a compromise, in the interests of an uninterrupted event. OK, you say, have your free lunch, but stop making a scene!

But, though the dangers of such allownaces may not be noticed, its almost certainly effect lessens the efficacy of the agency, adds unnecessary cost to the client, and to top it all, the genuine journalists fraternity (the good lot which gets impersonated) feels miffed at this transgression.

What to do about it? Well, my opinon is that it's similar to the software piracy problem. The software product company cannot go hard on the pirated software users, but conitnue to make louder and louder noise about the fact things are getting noticed. Once in a while an example is set, with an objective to send out the message that it wont be tolerated. Another method is to ensure a stricter code in the fraternity, a tag of 'genuine' which the PR agencies and the media should sit together and create to get rid of this menace in the long run.

And also to continue the analogy, like pirated software, the imps are never going to go away completely, but given the time and the right approach, the problem can be minimized for the entire industry.

Monday, February 19, 2007

The business of cricket

The World Cup, cricket’s biggest extravaganza, is just round the corner. Starting any time now, we are going be inundated with ad. campaigns centred around this noble game. From colas to cars, from health drinks to insurance, our cricketers will be seen endorsing a range of products. Every product manufacturer and service provider worth his salt will try to cash in on the exalted status that cricket enjoys in this country. In the weeks leading up to this gala event, our cricketers will be the toast of the nation even as footballers and Grandmasters cry foul. But any voice of dissension will be drowned by the collective hysteria that this game evokes in our countrymen. If our boys manage to do well in the competition, they will be feted and rewarded and be generally fussed over. If they do badly, then a few effigies will be burnt; maybe the coach and a few inconsequential members of the team will be sacked. But come the next cricketing jamboree and everything will be forgotten. And the circle will begin all over again.

I was watching a very interesting debate on a news channel the other night. Two teams representing premier schools in the country were speaking for and against the topic: ‘do cricketers (and the game in general) deserve all the attention and adulation.’ The team that spoke against the topic raised a number of valid points. Cricket is not our national game; hockey is. Then why is so much money and effort spent in promoting cricket while hockey is brutally neglected? Why is it that sportspersons like Dhanraj Pillay and Anju Bobby George do not enjoy the same superstar status as does a Sachin Tendulkar? Why is it that even after winning the biggest honour in the sport on multiple occasions (8 Olympic golds if I am not mistaken), hockey still lacks the kind of infrastructural set-up that’s truly international?

There are other classic arguments which have been forwarded over the years. Only a handful of nations play the game of cricket. By that token, it cannot be called a global sport in the strictest sense. Therefore honours won in cricket cannot really be equated with honours won in hockey or volleyball, which are played in greater strength and are therefore more competitive. Moreover it’s not a fast-paced sport unlike soccer, but is played at a leisurely pace. A test match stretches over five days, with six hours of play every day. That’s a total 30 hours simply for a game to get over. A soccer game gets over in 90 minutes. So if you were to watch an entire four-match test series, it could amount to as much as 120 hours of viewing time. That, some people feel, is a criminal waste of time. When India features in an important cricket match, the turnout in schools, colleges and offices is abysmally low. So there are economic implications as well with losses running up to crores for each day of cricket played.

So what is it about cricket that holds an entire nation enthralled? In one of his essays, eminent sociologist and cricket historian, Mr. Ramachandra Guha, attributes India’s survival as a united and independent democracy to eight different factors. One of these is the game of cricket. That kind of puts the whole argument into perspective. Cricket in India is not just a sport. It has transcended into a higher, more meaningful plane. If one were to read Ramachandra Guha’s ‘A corner of a Foreign Field’, one would appreciate as to how closely cricket has been interwoven with the political the social framework of India right from pre-independence days. Cricket is a sport that the native Indian picked up from the ruling Britisher. In due course, he became so proficient that he was able to beat the Britisher at his own game. It did wonders for his self-confidence and morale.

Cricket also played its part in ridding the Indian society of its prejudices. Mr. Guha, in his book, discusses the case of P. Baloo, a low-caste Hindu with a marked talent for spin bowling. At a time when high-caste Hindus were reluctant share the same table with those from a lower caste, P. Baloo was playing alongside Brahmins and the odd Maharajah. He went on to tour England and earned a reputation as India’s first cricketing star.

The progress of Indian cricket has also been indicative of her emergence as a nation of reckoning. If India’s first test victory on English soil helped her emerge well and truly from the shadows of the Empire, then the series win over the West Indies showed that she was capable of competing at the highest level. The 1983 World Cup triumph announced her arrival to the world. With the game, the Indian cricketer also evolved. He is no longer submissive or subdued. He plays with fire and aggression. The mood in the cricket field adequately reflects the collective mood of a new India – daring, enterprising and raring to go.

So detractors of cricket may say what they want. Cricket will continue to be India’s most popular game. People will continue to follow the game with an aching devotion. And the average Indian will continue to search for deeper meaning in her cricketing triumphs.

Indian blogging to grow 20 times in number

With over Sixty million blogs floating around in the cyberspace, what difference could another blog make? Quite a bit, if you’re to go by what industry analysts say. India, still new to the blogging phenomena, is poised to take off in this sphere too opined some communications expert when spoken to recently.

Blogging is about connecting & sharing with your own sub-cult, a sub-group, something more akin to a Special Interest Group. Subjects as varied as technology, healthcare, personal finance or shopping, or a specific geography, dot the list of the most popular blogs in the world. The influence of blogs in India too is increasing rapidly following closely on the lines of the TIME magazine’s list list of bloggers who are impossible to ignore today.

Management of the internet blog environment with relation to a company’s image has become even more essential because left unmanaged such mass movement blogs can fuel and propel negative perception. Managing the blog ecosystem requires organizations to monitor what is being said and to attempt to present the organization’s point of view in blogs of relevance.

While no studies exist for estimation of Indian blogs, a recent BusinessWeek report puts the number of Chinese blogs at 3 million. Considering the number of active internet users at 25 million, rough estimates put the number of Indian blogs between 100,000 to 150,000. Some rough back-of-the-envelope can help predict that the blog force in India has the potential to multiply 10 to 15 fold in the coming months.

As I overheard from an industry professional recently, “E-initiatives have become a major area of focus of the PR campaigns. PR agencies are hiring professional blogging experts to facilitate the clients needs because blogs give an enormous opportunity to express oneself without restriction”

If you want to be among those who participated in the revolution, jump-on, the wagon is just moving off...

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Healthcare communications set to take off

After the telecom thunder and the retail rush in India, Healthcare seems to be the next biggest bet for everyone. With promises of many billions of Indian Rupees, large diversified conglomerates such as Reliance, Birlas, Tatas are all betting their money in the Indian healthcare delivery space. As has been with other high growth sectors in India that witnessed a rapid meteoric rise, those who don’t jump into the bandwagon quickly are likely to miss the speeding bus completely. Industry experts promise that among other businesses which will ride the crest of this healthcare delivery boom will be the erstwhile non-starter business of healthcare communications.

Many communication giants who were early starters in healthcare communications (having started two to three years ago) in India had to face the embarrassing ignominy of their businesses not taking off despite repeated attempts at survival. Some continue to struggle, but on the whole, it would be safe to say that most have been decimated by being ahead of their time. A few adorn the garb of existing as healthcare communications agencies on the face of it, but beneath the surface their survival instincts have taken the better of them and they are doing all but healthcare communications while waiting for the elusive critical mass of clients.

But today, after the many months of vacillation and intemperate behaviour, the healthcare sector are finally going to go the way of the ‘boom’ sectors. But before entering this field do not forget to read the warning sign which proclaims, “Enter at your own risk. Blink and the race will be over”.

Today’s signs that show the glimpse of a different tomorrow. Lets take a look at the signs - Reuters has projected 2007 to have the highest year-on-year sectoral earnings growth, medical tourism has grown ten-fold from 2000 to have over 1,00,000 (in just 5 years) medical tourists touching the shores of India, private equity funding is finding its way into the healthcare sector, healthcare insurance has also taken off and finally the clincher probably is the coming together of the tipping point ‘influentials’ – the big Indian conglomerates investing big money in healthcare, are making the sector impossible to ignore.

So, the healthcare sector will grow at a frenetic pace - Quod Erat Demonstrandum! Coming to the need for good communications companies in this field and why they will grow is as self-evident as it is when we see the potential of a tree in a good seed; after adding in the factors of the right conditions, right nutrients and a little luck.

This need for specialized communciations in the healthcare field is particularly important in a country with a tropical climate profile as in India. Sadly the climate makes India a breedng ground for diseases. Therefore, as much as we dont want it to happen, there will be many manifestations of many diseases(a few of them which have even been eradicated from the rest of the world!)

Secondly, we live in a country where traditionally we have been taught not to question the medical professional; where a question by the tradional patient may even border on being branded as a taboo. The need for educating the huge and myriad Indian population in many ways will be an imperative difficult to ignore.

Then, the very nature of India’s diversity calls for an effective communications scenario. Last known to have 1652 dialects of which 24 languages are spoken by over a million people, a mosaic made of thousands of cultural nuances that neccesitate an intricate understanding of regional needs before communications can be effective. Also, healthcare is an area of special interest and communicating the needs, dispelling the myths and clearing the misconceptions in this field will assume sigificant proportions.

The barometer signs all indicate towards a high growth in the healthcare communications space, and those who have an advantage of local knowledge, understanding of healthcare and efficacy of implementation, will benefit enormously by riding the current healthcare crest.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Old accounts in new agencies!

You know the maxim of bottles & wines right? I have a theory that says that old wine in any bottle has to taste better. If the taste is not to your liking, chances are that its time to change your drink. Public Relations agencies take pride in old and steady relationships. We do too! But a spate of recent pitches that we were invited to, shock-struck my eyes open. Thrilled as we were to participate in these pitches, we were gloating in the fact that Blue Lotus was making dents into decade old relationships. We were also excited to explore how help change the way PR can be used for these ‘rock-steady’ organizations. Just a few weeks ago, we’ve replaced an agency which had a 13 year old relationship, and another pitch we were invited for where the relationship had soured progressively over the last 10 years!!

During one of our pitches (in the penultimate round) I was while casually conversing with the client on their rationale for change of agency after so many years and I got enlightenment. A moment of truth, a flash before my eyes, and I realized why we all need to change our attitude towards our older clients. The knowledge that existing relationships are far more important than the new ones is ageold wisdom, but how to ensure that such a relationship can be maintained, is not common wisdom for sure. This important gyan that was transmitted to me is summarized in the points below. It can, hopefully, shed a little light into bettering the agency-client relationship.

Periodic reorientation: As the agency-client relationship matures, it is important that both the parties to reorient themselves periodically (preferably annually) to the new realities in the relationship. The onus and the need both rest more on the agency, than with the client. Growth, new focus areas, issues and challenges in the relationship must be discussed threadbare. New needs of the client, new business targets and communications objectives must be set formally before moving forward.
Don’t miss the nuts and bolts: While the agency may have aligned the strategy to the objectives of the client, it is very important that the agency does not forget about the ‘nuts & bolts’ of the implementation. Clients usually only go through the pain of a break-ups when the going with the existing agency becomes really difficult. So the first role of the new agency will be to take care of the run-of-the-mill stuff well.
Care for the client: Once the client-agency relationship begins to mature, knowledge & familiarity of the client may lead to some amount of contempt. This contempt is in often mutual and can leading to souring of the relationship. This basic hygiene factor, must be reinforced regularly by ensuring that the client servicing team knows the value of the client in their portfolio.
Internal reviews: Ensure that the client account not only goes through client reviews, but also goes through critical internal reviews. There has to be a compelling reason why a team would still working on the account after a few years of complacent attitude. Of course, to ensure internal harmony, these reviews must be rigourous and completely without bias.
Regular client feedback: No rocket science this! But, the interpretation of the client’s comments is of extreme import. Someone senior enough must ensure that the client feedback is studied and acted upon. Accolades or brickbats, bouquets or criticisms – swift action on the reaction will be of immense value to the client and to the relationship.

The above points are not only useful in ensuring that a ‘relationship-ennui’ does not set in into longstanding partnership, but they are also useful in finding the ways in how to create strong, lasting and eternal bonds with clients. In my nirvana-like realization state I know one thing for sure, clients who have had a bad flavour (and at times over years) are desperate for a good experience and just a little focus and some amount of care can help create a lifelong relationship.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Rise of the Creative Class

Emerging Trends in Consumer Communication

The fast changing dynamics of the world economy is forcing organizations to fundamentally rethink the manner in which they have been communicating with their constituent communities and decision-makers. It is constantly being proven that conventional communication approaches that are designed to raise public awareness may often have the opposite effects of those intended. This is because they fail to take into account the public's profound resistance to the traditional communication stimuli.
Therefore, organizations are placing more emphasis on developing two-way and more open-ended methods of communication in their public advocacy strategies. This is in preference to the more traditional top-down methods based on elements of audience manipulation or persuasion. Attitudinal, behavioral and social changes are long-term processes. Research into modern communication methods indicate that it is imprudent to regard attitudinal change merely as a shift along a continuum, as it inevitably involves a reordering of individuals' cognitive structures.

To effect, then, any significant alterations in attitudes and values, or to explicitly form them, requires the identification of both cognitive and affective objectives and the examination and exposure of beliefs and prejudices. This cannot be achieved through the mere imparting of information. This implies that the following years will only reinforce the need for innovative approaches, for creativity and agility and communication agencies will be forced to restructure their strategies. Only those agencies that can keep pace with this transformation will succeed in this unforgiving world.

Quite a few agencies in India have shifted from their existing framework and are now focusing on niche areas of operation. It is becoming evident that increasing competition and the pressure to redesign strategies will force the agencies to identify and specify their particular areas of competence more clearly.

It does not come as a surprise, then, that some very prominent companies are revisiting the strategies presented by their communication partners. The clients’ increasing preference for fast-footed, nimble and proactive agencies has shown dramatic change in their approach to communications.

Another interesting aspect of these changes has been the recent phenomenon of hiring prominent marketing professionals by agencies of all sizes even the mid-sized ones. The need to reorient communication strategies to the clients’ business goals has fuelled such shifts. Soumitro Mukherji, an MBA from XLRI with over 18 years marketing and sales experience in giants like Asian Paints, HLL, Sony Entertainment Television, Pepsi and Airtel recently took over as COO of Blue Lotus Communications Consultancy, a mid-sized agency with capitalized billings of approximately Rs. 10 Crores. His move is demonstrative of the changing face of the mid-sized agency which is gearing up to meet the clients’ imperative today. However, since the older agencies are too deeply rooted in traditional thinking, this trend is being witnessed in a mid-sized set up. The time has come that agencies look at the clients’ brand from a marketing perspective and the migration of marketing professionals to agencies is definitely a sign of evolution in the communications industry. There are clear indications that creativity & results will drive the entire communications industry in the ensuing years.

Killing Them Softly…

The Essentials of Managing Ethics in Financial Public Relations

The world has woken up to ethical issues in corporate governance & accounting practices. Corporate heads that were not guillotined were forced hang their heads in retrospective shame. The heads that fell were the victimizers, and the axe that fell, fell too late, and the punishment received, was way too little compared to the suffering, pain and financial losses that the organizations’ stakeholders suffered. Trust of millions of investors was lost overnight.

Ethics in governance is one part of the story, the other link in this dubious chain of deceit is usually the professional services like auditing, legal and public relations which work closely with the organization. Such large scale deceit becomes possible only with the active collaboration of these so-called ‘professional’ services. Hardly professional, really!

The Indian investor has been victim to a lot of companies attempting to make a quick buck in the markets. While caveat emptor – let the buyer beware, is the legal term that organizations to get out of such wrangles, it is necessary to look into how these various scams are done, and to recognize the role of the professional services, especially public relations in creating and sustaining the scams.

Circa 1994. Every Indian remembers the bloody battlefield of the stock markets. While the aftereffects are well embedded in everyone’s memory, few remember how it all began. Upbeat stock stories in the newspapers, stories of millions being made overnight, the oldest stock exchange of the country celebrating the index at an unprecedented high. Stock market pages kept the upward arrow next to almost every stock price quoted indicating the trends. Investors scrambled, dinner conversation revolved around the stock prices, 21 year olds were sitting in front of red-blue flashing computer screens, buying and selling tens of thousands of shares in seconds.

While some companies were actually performing well, many slipped through the back-door and slipped up their shares to unwary investors. Why is the investor so gullible? And is the investor really so gullible?

The method that was used to market the fly-by-night companies to the investors combined the well-used public relations concepts of fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD). Successful FUD pushes to show how you would be the only person who would be left in the race if you did not buy-in into the campaigner’s concept, creates uncertainty about your own analysis & gut-feel and generates doubt about the products or services currently under use. This especially works wonders in a greed-struck stock market, where more often than not, mob-psychology rather than knowledge is the deciding factor.

Usually such scams are orchestrated in connivance with some unscrupulous public relations companies. At other times, the PR companies usually have enough pointers to the possibility of such a scam about to take place. Press conferences are called, headlines blare out the superlative performances of the organization, there is talk of new acquisitions, investor meets happen and stock analysts are shown the factory, the plush office to generate confidence in the investor. The PR agency is rewarded for its great ‘efforts’ by way of a few millions and the investors collective gets duped for a few billions. Case studies of this century in such dubious PR in India would include the CRB scam, MS Shoes, Harshad Mehta & Home Trade fiasco. While these are the few stories which come to light, there are many scams which get away without even getting noticed.

What is the responsibility of the public relations company in such circumstances? The agency must evaluate the client and understand program and take a view that is beyond just the fees that it will generate and take a responsible decision. The PR agency can & must become the watch-dog for the companies, advising them, guiding them and if nothing prevails, then going to the extent of resigning the account for of a larger good. This kind of discussion, though popular conversation in PR cocktail circuits, is still eschewed by the PR intellectuals in more serious forums!

Unless we work as a committed community on the principles that should guide the PR business; and take stringent action against those who use these tools-of-influence to feed their greed, the respectable business of PR will go to the depths of unrecoverable ignominy very soon.

Living in a disruptive age

Indeed, these are wonderful times we live in. I prefer to call this the Disruptive Age - an age where almost anything, anyone (and not to mention, any country) can disrupt even century old concepts, beliefs and businesses. An era where the old gives way to the new with ease, a time when anything is possible!

This era has also seen a resurgence of some old business concepts like public relations which have reinvented themselves and have taken a prominent central stage in all other businesses. Till some years ago, it was rare to find someone who understood public relations, and today while many understand it, not everyone who does uses public relations to do what it is meant to do, viz to build brands. Reputation is the most basic building block of brand image, and public relations is arguably one of the most reliable tools of reputation building, making it indispensable to brand building in the current disruptive era.

For practitioners of PR in India, 2006 will be considered a watershed. It is the year when public relations shifted gear into overdrive and, as a result, also became more visible. Stealing some limelight from their older cousin advertising, PR professionals must surely be smirking with glee in knowledge that their moment has come and it is now their time for a place in the sun.

Those who chose PR as their career are already reaping the benefits of their choice – though the rapid growth of the industry has another effect which is not entirely productive or harmonious with growth; it has created an enormous demand for good quality personnel. This demand-supply gap is stretching servicing new businesses to the limits, and it is no longer unthinkable for a professional in this field to be offered double the salary for a change of jobs. Just about everyone, the placement consultants, the professionals and the PR companies are hearing pleasant music from the ringing of the money tills.

The growth of this sector is also evident from the sudden globalization of the business. Almost every global giant in public relations has already set up shop in India or is actively considering it. In fact, India will be a defining part of the growth strategies of even the big five agencies. Consolidation is another strong indicator. Like the advertising deals in the 80s, there is a fervent race for international PR agencies to consolidate their position in India. Signs of takeovers, mergers and acquisitions are already very visible. I personally know of at least 5 to 6 of India’s high growth agencies (including ourselves) who are evaluating potential alliances. The knocks on the door just don’t seem to stop!

Two questions crop up pretty quick after reading the above. One, where’s this business coming from? And secondly, will this last?

One of the critical and seemingly contradictory factors responsible for this sudden spurt in growth is the fact that due to an increasing tendency of merging differentiations. Brands are feeling the pinch of a lack of a distinctive personality. In a world where the choices are a plenty, every stakeholder is looking for a perfect match to his or her needs. A world full of clones is hardly going to represent choice, or be interesting, fun or productive.

Let us consider it established that brand distinctiveness (as we will call it here), is a core driver for the existence and evolution of a brand. Also consider it established that PR is the most innate driver of this ‘distinctiveness’. If the two are true, what will be the answer to the question – ‘Will this phenomena last?’

There are two parts to this answer. The first part is generic and almost philosophical – one that says that nothing lasts forever. This trend is cyclical and we’re all happy to be riding the wave. But, if you become more specific and ask the question, will this industry outpace others and witness a boom in the next two decades –‘Without doubt’, would be my unhesitating answer.

The reasons – firstly, brand trust is an essential. Without trust in the brand, there will be no brand. Secondly, distinctiveness is as basic to survival and growth of a brand, as air is to breathe, water to quench thirst. Distinctiveness is the unique ‘me’ of a brand and therefore an essential in meeting the increasing demands of the consumer. Added is the fact that customer demands are inversely proportional to customer loyalty. So unless brands have an aura of uniqueness about them, it will be difficult for any consumer to identify with the brand.

If you read the above paragraph again, you’ll see that public relations is the only communications tool that can help achieve both effectively. Building credibility and trust in the organization, brand or individual are innate objectives met by any PR campaign. Creating a distinctive identity is the creative design of the campaign that attaches relevance to the public relations deliverables

The field of public relations is already growing at a hectic pace and we can only expect it to accelerate in the years to come. But, of course, the industry will need to innovate in order to answer the critical demands of accountability, transparency and relevance. PR has become like an essential nutrient for the growth for any company irrespective of industry and it is entirely upto the professionals to ensure that they do everything to maintain the credibility in their industry.

An anonymous quote which aptly summarizes the way the public relations industry is moving can be found in “Yesterday we were learning and still finding our feet; today we run to race the storm, tomorrow we will fly and find the wind beneath our wings.” - Anon

Passion with Purpose

The business of building and maintaining positive public perception rests of fundamental pillars of Passion & Purpose which are fanatically pursued at Blue Lotus. This article attempts to decipher the elements that go into the making of a successful public relations agency.

The power of Passion

Passion is an extraordinarily powerful spring. Without it religion, history, romance, and art are useless. Likewise, Public Relations too becomes completely deflated without the essential ingredient of Passion. It demonstrates avowed belief, everlasting appeal and steadfast loyalty. So why does passion become so much more important in the business of public relations as compared to any other service industry?

To convert others to your way of thinking, being a believer first is essential. It is then that you can take a convincing stand with people of different attitudes, perceptions and sensitivities. It is necessary to have an obsessive faith in your client’s business & philosophy and your own organizational vision to be able to transmit it through written and spoken word such that its effervescence is delivered undiluted.

Whether it is body language of a PR professional sitting across the table, or it is through a written document, or a presentation, it is passion which communicates. Without passion, there is no story to tell!

In a PR agency, passion must become a management mission – an everyday task taken on by the Organizational Head, Team Leaders and Managers – allowing it to spread infectiously throughout the entire organization. Percolating down the agency, passion must show even in the most mundane tasks that the organization does.

The zeal of purpose

“Many people have a wrong idea of what constitutes true happiness. It is not attained through self-gratification, but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.” In a self-made organization, one that emerges from the grassroots, where the milestones for the first few years are just survival, the purpose often gets diluted with time. This usually occurs due to a lack of sound fundamentals, or the lack of attention to the basics.
Starting on the right basics is more than half the battle won. When we started Blue Lotus, we began on four founding principles; firstly, to have complete focus on the client’s business goals and not money that the client was paying. Money would be only a by-product. We believed that if we did our job well, there would be enough and more of the by-product to go around. Secondly, at the starting block itself we decided that Blue Lotus would be co-owned, where each person would share the benefits of growth and the responsibilities commensurately. The next founding principle was that of fomenting creative-friction continuously in our people. We argued that creativity was not the intellectual property of any one person, and unless we encouraged a healthy friction, we would stagnate. The fourth and most sacred belief that we drilled into ourselves was that of maintaining the highest standard of ethics in all our professional transactions.
For an organization to have common purpose, a vision of common destinies is essential. Common purpose is easy to maintain when you are a small organization working out of one office, but as the company grows geographically and numerically, this common organizational purpose very often gets diluted. To ensure that the organizational purpose maintains its purity, it is necessary that enough time be spent with each new inductee, to ingrain them with the organizational principles, beliefs and ethos. Revisiting this purpose frequently is also critical to ensure an unadulterated sense of purpose over decades of organizational life.
In a public relations consultancy, the need for a stringent adherence to its purpose can frequently be the deciding factor in its success. One not only needs to zealously believe in the purpose of your own organization, but also in that of your clients. To align oneself to the vision of client organizations is not an easy task. Perhaps this is where a due-diligence of the clients is a useful tool in ensuring that you do not sign up clients with viewpoints conflicting with yours. The courage to say NO to potential clients without a culture-fit to your own beliefs can help make the organizational purpose stay vibrant and alive despite of the growth or geographical spread.
Passion with Purpose - a winning combination
Even singly, passion and purpose are extremely potent tools to build sound agency basics, but used together – it can make the agency completely unassailable. Firm belief in your organizational vision and using the tenets of Passion and Purpose are only a start point. To make ensure a working model, this vision must percolate from the top and carried forth in every action of the organization.
The advantages of starting from the grassroots cannot be understated. It is like having a blank canvas, lots of paint and your creativity. Let not your passion to colour the canvas use up all the paint and neither let not your purpose to paint, curb your creativity. Using a judicious mix of the two, think as Da Vinci would before he painted the Madonna or Michealangelo would before he changed a block of stone to into a stunningly life-like image of David.

Fueling Enterprise Innovation

Enterprise Innovation, an entrepreneurial skill is an essential ingredient that ensures that the organization is knowledge-based. Innovation emerges from the ability of an organization to canalize the creativity of its people and allowing them to take risks; attempting new strategies, entering new arenas and going into hitherto unexplored territories.

The engines of Passion & Purpose stimulate innovative thinking and can be turbo-fueled by a controlled risk-conducive environment. Such an entrepreneurial spirit creates an enterprise-wide electrifying environment that invites tougher and tougher challenges and one that encourages continuous organizational learning.

Passion, Purpose, Innovation, Entrepreneurial Spirit and Creativity, all stem from a love for anarchy of thought, an organized chaos of the mind and an ability to see beauty that is yet to be articulated. If an enterprise consciously foments the growth you will not only see your agency grow and flourish, but you will see a haloed aura about your organization that attracts people and clients to your business.

The non-business business

Think for a moment! If you were to do a business, be in a profession or a job that you loved, something that was a passion and you considered worth doing; would you ever think early retirement or rush home early from work? ‘Doubtful’ is a certainty, to say the least!

A few years ago, I perchance drifted across a book titled ‘To Sail Beyond the Sunset’ in which Robert Heinlein’s character, Jubal Harshaw, said something that left a lasting impression on me, and ergo, naturally, on the way I look at life. Jubal says “Happiness lies in being privileged to work hard for long hours in doing whatever you think is worth doing. One man may find happiness in supporting a wife and children. And another may find it in robbing banks. Still another may labor mightily for years in pursuing pure research with no discernible results.”
“Note the individual and subjective nature of each case. No two are alike and there is no reason to expect them to be. Each man or woman must find for himself or herself that occupation in which hard work and long hours make him or her happy. Contrariwise, if you are looking for shorter hours and longer vacations and early retirement, you are in the wrong job. Perhaps you need to take up bank robbing. Or geeking in a sideshow. Or even politics.”
So I settled on Public Relations. Not before completing various stints dealing in chemicals, stocks, exporting saddlery (would you believe?), and finally PR. But then, this article is not about me, its about The Non-business Business.

What is it that the profession of PR provided that the myriad of other professions could not? What was I searching for, that was also the search of every Jubal?

I began dealing in chemicals because I was a Chemical Engineer and I thought it came naturally to me. So it did, I understood the technicalities of the subject and also liked it, but it was monotonous, repetitive and required little else than the skill of a door-to-door salesman (not that I think that’s an easy job at all though, only that I was not cut out to ringing doorbells!).

Then, with an attempt to bring back the excitement that was lacking in the first business venture, and because of my interest in Finance, I looked at the ever changing, dynamic and exciting world of stocks.

Enter Stock Broking. The new age, online stock exchanges in India had just started and it required both acumen and understanding to be able to broker deals. Soon the business was grasped and volumes at our counters soared. But equally realization dawned that all you needed to do to be a stock-broker was a good number of contacts, a skill to understand what the market movements meant and to recommend based on your collective understanding, added with a good dose of instinct.

Despite financial success, I had not found the profession I really wanted to pursue. It was then that I then turned to my childhood love for horses. I have always loved the animal and am passionate about everything to do with the stallion. Since becoming a jockey was out of question (The only job where you can be too old and too tall even when you are just 6 ft and 29 years old), I migrated to a city which specialized in making saddlery for horses. For three years my routine would be the same. I would carefully select the leather which would be used for the horse riding equipment, have the embellishments for the saddles designed with care, and have my contractors craft wonderful equipment for riding the even more wonderful horses. Sadly, in all my years with the business, the only time I sat on a saddle was when it was placed on a testing horse (a wooden piece on which we used to fit the saddle). My love for horses was too strong for me to continue something that was so near, and yet so far from the magnificent equine.

So, I was hunting for my dream profession yet again. After one brief stint with a dotcom, I settled onto PR, which is actually the subject of this story. I have been here for the last 6 years and, to say the least, I can easily continue for a few decades more in the same profession. I stay back late nights, come back early morning, think about the clients business even when I am eating, bathing or (perhaps!) sleeping. I love what I do. It excites me, and I seriously think our organization will make a difference to this world and I already am of the firm belief that we are making a significant difference to our clients (otherwise, they would’nt be our clients for 2 years in a row, right?).

The business of PR is about consulting. We consult our clients on their business, how to make it better and how they can make a difference in the world – and, to me that sounds extremely exciting.

When I analyzed my life keeping Jubal’s statement in mind, I saw through what made ones profession completely satisfying. I saw what made one love what one does (or not, as the case may be). And, trust me, I have been through enough professions to know.

In most cases, professions are entered by accident. Almost everyone, other than the lucky few, has suffered (or is suffering!) the ill-advise of friend, uncle or parent. You have a great future as a doctor, engineer, or stockbroker, says a father’s friend, little realizing what your real passion is. Or your life goes to the ruins because a suggestion of someone who knows of your passion for archeology, but little realizes that what kind of life a professional archeologist leads. The instances are too many to even attempt to think about.

So what do you do? How do you find what I found? The job that is not a job; the business that is not a business.

Always keep your eyes & ears open and absorb every thing that comes your way. Everything has a purpose, and when that one big thing that comes your way, it could very well become the purpose for your life. Stay tuned to all channels and become a sponge. Then there are simple rules that help you find your right profession. And from here on, you only stay in the same profession if the answer to every question is a big YES.

20 year rule: Simple questions always have complex answers. Ask yourself whether you want to be in the profession 20 years from now. While many may answer an immediate yes, you probably will have to dig deeper in case you want a more real answer.

12 hour rule: The next step is fairly easy. Ask yourself if you want to do that thing you do; stock broking, astrology or saving rhinos in Africa, every day of your life, 10 to 12 hours each day.

Pride Rule: Do you feel good about what you do? Does what you do make you feel proud? Do the people who matter to you really feel proud about what you do? Would you feel great telling a complete stranger (or your nearest relative!) what you do? You may run a Laundromat or be walking dogs; the question is the same.

Rule of Passion: Can you feel your skin tingle with excitement when you talk of your job/profession? Is your passion for your profession contagious? Imagine a scenario two decades hence and ask if you see yourself having the same spirit and zest for the profession as you do today.

Rule of Good: This is a simple rule that asks, Do you think that good things happen as a consequence of what you do? Is Good a main product or is it a by-product of your business or job? Just to clear up the air a bit, if Good is the main product it is a positive sign and as a by-product means you must start hunting again.

I guess PR and the way Blue Lotus does it, satisfies all the above criteria and more, and the only reason that I know for sure that I have found my final resting place many years before I actually reach there.

Jaago Academia Jaago!


The organized PR industry is just over a dozen years old in India and over these years, PR is slowly evolving to become a critical tool for Indian businesses. Currently valued between Rs. 175 & Rs. 200 crores the industry is estimated to be growing at robust pace of approximately 40-45% p.a.

Estimates show that the top 15 to 20 PR agencies in the country contribute upto 60-70% of the total sector turnover; the balance 35 to 40 odd agencies form the middle segment and the balance 1000 to 1100 odd agencies are one-man shops set up (usually) by ex-journalists/ex-professionals. The total number of professionals working in the PR industry is estimated to be between 10,000 to 11,000; with 25%-30% of them working with the top 20 agencies.

The Indian PR market is burgeoning into a force to reckon with, and the world’s focus on India, and India’s focus on the world will make the communication imperative impossible to ignore.

The real challenge

The biggest issue that faces Blue Lotus, or any other public relations agency that’s on a fast growth track, is a steady flow of talent that can ‘Hit-The-Street-Running’ (HTSR). Unofficial estimates show that the PR industry in India will double by 2010 absorbing about 10,000 to 12,000 professionals. On the supply side, there exist about 30 good-to-average institutes across the country, which offer specialized courses in Public Relations, churning out about 1500 professionals each year.

It is estimated that the demand for talent in this industry will outstrip supply within just a few years; but more significant is the fact that the students who pass out of these courses are just not equipped to be a good fit with the industry. There needs to be a very serious discussion that the academia and the industry need to initiate that will make this talent better suited to the PR industry’s needs and design an academic course that will create real HTSR talent.

HTSR talent should be in a state of readiness to accept the challenges of the organization almost immediately on joining, so as to be able to extract peak productive value from even the new talent. I know it sounds impossible, but if the academia puts its will behind such a project, the curriculum can begin to include the industry’s needs.

Not only must the talent be functionally ready in the theory and practical aspects of communications, but the talent must also have a specialization in their final semesters that allows them to choose their functional area of expertise.

Lets raise the bar a bit further. The talent must also come with existing relationships with the media, where the institution can play a vital role in teaching the students to practically ‘sell’ the story to the media.

Those from the industry who think this would be a good idea, please raise your hands!! There are plenty going up, I can assure you.

The vision for leadership

The blueprint for success for any PR agency on the fast growth track can only be by a continuous creation, acquisition and sharing of knowledge and ensuring that the requisite HTSR talent is acquired and retained is an essential pre-requisite to leadership.

It is imperative, therefore, that the academia engages the industry and gets a more ‘real’ feel of how they can make their students a better fit for the industry. Jaago Academia Jaago!