Friday, 25 January 2008

Smoking is making the Indian PR Workplace Unhealthy and Unproductive!


This afternoon at lunch, I could not help sporadically eavesdropping into a conversation between two girls sat at lunch, at a table adjacent to mine, in a restaurant in downtown Fort that I tend to frequent for mid-week inspiration. I didn't really intend to but the profanities yelled on the cellphone and the incessant chain smoking made for distraction and so did their loud chatter; of course they were from a PR Firm. As I sat there pretending to eat, mostly I gleaned involuntary knowledge and smoke from the poison duo.

It took me back in time, to a not so distant period of time when I yet smoked, spoke loudly on my cellphone in public, I suspect my language is still peppered with the occasional swearing but I guess being put on a spot so often has made me a little more careful, a wisdom that springs from being toast. Now that I have quit smoking, on my third attempt that is, I realize how offensive smoking can be others in an ambient public environment.

Coming in to work and departing most days, I see young executives, fresh of the pan, with their flash MBAs and shiny diplomas, these ostensibly outstanding people, so sorted in their heads otherwise with ambition written large on their confident faces, strangely gathered in stairways, flicking ash from their cigarettes in these dirty ghettos, soaking in a perverse bond of cheap cigarettes, and an angst borne of real, apparent and sometimes imagined grouses. Across the world, young people and some times not so young people, with their heads screwed on the right way, when measured in all other criteria, seem so strangely out of character as they brave rain, bone numbing wind, searing heat, humidity and other adversity to waste their time in stairwells, street corners and other dives of the corporate underbelly, hooked to that nicotine fix.


It often confounds me on why they just hang around sucking cancer sticks as time ticks and deadlines bomb all around them. It is beyond reason why they are not in any rush to get home to spend time with a loved one or get a life and do whatever it is that PR consultants do beyond running the corporate rat race. This yoyo act of the pilgrimage to and fro from the dive to the desk and back continues till late afternoon at which point in the script the reality of the days' unshakable deliveries starts to become rather stark. This then produces a frenzied nightmare where work gets produced in bum rush fashion; an output that is mostly shoddy and of piss poor quality. The mute look of incomprehension on the faces of most client servicing and account management types (we seem to share this fraternity with other brethren in advertising and market research) when a client yells their tonsils off, is sometimes in my mind directly attributable to smoking and I am not talking about smoking anything beyond tobacco!

I have often wondered in amazement at how information aggregators like Factiva from Dow Jones have used the time saved in research multiplied by cost of executive time to show savings to an organization. In a similar fashion, the cost of an executive smoking multiplied by what he or she bills per hour, wasted in this mindless pursuit, I am sure will produce some pretty damning statistics. Continuing in this direction, I am wondering if Covey ever realised the big impact this activity would have on his quadrant of time management for effective people. He did capture some other low hanging fruit like gossip, trivia, being busy doing nothing, etc.

Although the dangers of tobacco use have been recognized for over half a century, and in an increasing number of countries have resulted in the banning of smoking in enclosed spaces, I want take a minute and talk about the costs to health due to smoking both physical and psychological from nicotine dependence, including its contributing to burn out and general depression. The costs in quitting are also not insignificant.

Smokers who have attempted and failed to quit will agree, will power; by itself is often not sufficient and smoking cessation aids are often needed. Estimated to be worth just $213 million 2006, according to a new report from independent market analyst Datamonitor, the prescription nicotine dependence market is set to grow strongly at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 16% to reach $4.6 billion by 2016. Nicotine dependence continues to represent a serious public health problem. Indeed, smoking is a major contributor to illnesses such as lung cancer, emphysema, heart disease and stroke, and is one of the world’s leading causes of preventable death.

Datamonitor estimates that nicotine dependence affects almost 116 million individuals across the seven major markets (7MM) – France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain, UK and US – in 2007, says Datamonitor central nervous system (CNS) analyst Charlotte Mackey. “Despite the currently high prevalence of nicotine dependence, evidence suggests that only a small proportion of individuals actively seek help from their primary care physician (PCP).” Imagine the statistics, in India, in proportion, if the US and most of Europe account for 116 million people! The adoption of nicotine patches is unheard of in India and I can"t begin to think of anyone consulting their doctor if they wanted to quit. The corresponding costs in healthcare that the smoking pandemic in India will cause in the immediate future makes me shudder!

Traditionally, January is the time of the year a lot of people resolve to quit smoking. I know it can be done as I finally managed to do it an year ago after 2 previous failed attempts, so can you; in the process saving yourself a lot of agony, time, money and health related problems, besides mitigating your colleagues, friends, family and loved ones from passive smoking. I have no doubt that it will also boost your avenues as a more effective and successful PR Professional by far, so quit now while you are ahead!

Thursday, 17 January 2008

Indian Automobile Marketing Gravy Train; Where's PR in The Game?

I am writing this fresh from my trip to the Auto Expo 2007 in New Delhi, and what a trip it turned out to be! New Delhi in all its winter glory, the excitement in the air made it easy to ignore the traffic nightmare and the smog.

The parties, the awards, the models and the car models all made for a very heady trip.

Tempted as I am to offer my opinion about the Nano, all I can proffer is that while it might be great PR for a prototype to get such turgid hype, I'd much rather reserve my comment when hype translates into sales as and when the rubber hits the road, one lakh or not.
What I am not going to do is plug for the automobile manufacturers and their new models as that has been done to death but instead talk about the hype surrounding the automobile industry and the mechanics of its construct.

The key orchestrators of this construct are the usual suspects, yes, the marketing types who practice every well honed trick in the book for eyeballs with their bevy of deep pockets that fund the PR Firms, Advertising Agencies, Event Managers and Celebrities, Models and what have you. They all play their roles in producing the apparition that makes people buy things they don't really need.

The role of PR Firms in influencing the emotional decision that is the trigger for writing that fat cheque by a consumer seems a bit suspect to me, yes even now!

The PR firm toolkit has remained stuck in time with the usual boring repository of junkets, sordid and dry press releases, press conferences where the sole purpose of the PR Firm is to corrall the hapless media. Where they don't get to sit in is at the board table where such nuanced finery as positioning and strategy gets perfected and agreed to.
This also then directly affects the apportioning of the windfall of budgets that the Automobile marketing is suddenly turning into a gravy train making several vendors really rich. The lions share has gone to advertising and event management agencies, round one to advertising, will PR ever get there? To be fair the show saw some pretty global standards in production values, professionalism and exhibition design. The show gets bigger every year and the participant list includes most global Automobile manufacturers which till recently ignored the Delhi Auto Show.

The Auto journalist who was up until now a largely ignored breed of animal suddenly finds a rush of demand for their tribe with the ferocious proliferation of automobile programming and content in print, online as well as television. This in turn has raised egos, not to mention salaries and designations all around. After being on the pasture so long, who can grudge them their riches? Their open contempt for all people in PR firms sometimes mimics that of page 3 and celebrity hacks but the mutual greed facilitates an uneasy truce given to sporadic bouts of grief and blind rage on both sides. Marriages made in hell but marriages all right.

Having said that, the Automobile media have played to the gallery too, and one rarely sees an inconvenient story. This crony game is bad for the consumer at the end of the day as it allows for the machinations of the marketeer to succeed regardless of the quality of their product and the veracity of their claims. There are no rules for accepting largesse or junkets and the results are all around us to see in print, TV and online.

From a time when the Autocarindia magazine constituted automobile journalism and a couple of other old fogey aristocratic pretenders, the names of whom I dare not take, today's Automobile journalism space somewhat resembles the Telecom spectrum rush!

There is a rush of magazines some with foreign labels, from a couple of television shows the canvas has exploded with every channel now offering mandatory Auto programming. This has gone one step further with the hype of live Auto Industry Awards: CNBC AutoCar, NDTV Car& Bike, Overdive, Business Standard Motoring, everyone and their mum now has an award. While the awards have been there for sometime but their use to buttress claims in full page advertisements are something new to this game. The dawn of the age of automobile consumerism has finally hit India.

So back to my point on what PR Firms are not doing to get their place on the gravy train. Garbage in; garbage out is a favourite saying and someone, somewhere needs to make an effort to learn more about the Automobile domain, schlep with the domain experts and make that investment of time, money and effort so that they can make sense of what is going on around them. Taking the time to research a brief is what the advertising boys have done right and now they are tasting that sweet billing. If you do your math right, a quick comparison between a full page advertisement or a 30 second commercial on prime time TV to what a PR Firm will average as a retainer billing for a month, the writing is on the wall. Right now domain expertise in PR Firms is confined to reeling off relationships with key Automobile media!

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

Top 5 Predictions for Indian PR Firms in 2008

These are heady days. As India moves forward with a constant surge, it’s pretty much never say never; be it the stock markets; the string of acquisitions hitherto thought of as impossible. Clearly it is a time for innovation led consolidation.

The PR business as a microcosm of Industry and it too has had its share of innovation led consolidation too, and among the other notables have been a string of acquisitions, the latest being of Hanmer by Publicis. Things in general have been good with the entry of several brands as well as value corrections in revenues for most major firms or networks for existing business.

2007 was a year of slow tectonic change, 2008 promises to have far greater velocity and the trends point to some trends that would go down as big shifts in my opinion:

A Holistic Brand Experience Inclusive of Web 2.0 & Social Media Properties

Social Media in India has been a long time in the coming and 2008 will see a greater adoption of the social media and the whole web 2.0 space not just by PR Firms but also its use in a integrated marketing tool kit, using a combination of online PR / Advertising, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for a holistic brand experience that will use both traditional media as well as new media. What does this mean? Simply that, just like we have had domain specialists with financial, investor relations, issue based and other specialist skills, in a similar fashion, online and social media skills will become more mainstream as must-have necessities and not as isolated asks. You can look at the Le Web 3 conference online to look at the plethora of applications and paradigms in Social Media evolution so far.

Larger Offering Differentiation

Vanilla Media Relations serves as the mainstay for the PR business but over the year it has steadily devalued both in terms of revenue as well as in its effectiveness to be the answer to different communications problems. This commoditization has led to a desire for offering differentiation to go up the value chain in terms of dealing with complexities as well as higher paid quality work. Investor Relations, Government Relations, Corporate Affairs, Corporate Social Responsibility, Employer Branding are all different offerings that will find higher definition and better honing as practices.

2008 to be the year of Telecom & Auto

As India moves towards hectic telecom consolidation and the spectrum war gobbles up space in the media, this will mean an increase in specialisation by PR Firms. Similarly the small car explosion that is going to hit us in 2008 only will means higher levels of specialisation in Automotive Industry as a domain. The stakes are large and so are the budgets. Retail on the other hand has simmered, petered out and then simmered again, so the jury is still out on that front.

IT and IT Services to Stay Prominent

This space will continue to bring in good results and PR promises to be a tool of choice much more than traditional media. The BPO and IT Services business has weathered several storms and yet come out on top every time. The desire for brand differentiation has pushed many of the brands in this space including TCS, Infosys, Cognizant, and Wipro into running large branding campaigns. This is the fight for mind space both for business as well as talent where the competitors include the likes of IBM, Accenture, EDS, Deloitte, and Capgemini.

Emphasis on the Environment

Global warming seems to finally have arrived on the scene in the media and the din is getting louder. Everyone is talking green and hybrids are being talked of in a car market that has yet to get the basics of ABS and Safety equipment like air bags as standard fitment for most manufacturers selling in India. The Reva continues to survive as a green brand and even has export ambitions. Plastic bags are banned with lesser resistance and effluent treatment and water pollution have becoming real issues. As the glaciers melt, Tsunami’s strike and our carbon footprint becomes increasingly menacing, I don’t think it’s a year too early!

Finally, it promises to be one hell of a year to start your own business or company as people lose patience with traditional mindsets and opportunities explode. There has never been a better time to be an entrepreneur since the dot com bust. Happy New Year!

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