There will be a lot more than the bacon on the table in California for Obama and Xi, both of whom face massive domestic challenges when they get to know each otherChinese love their hogs, but so do the Americans. And the last thing US President Barack Obama would have wanted to hear days before he met his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping at a summit in California was that the famous Smithfield bacon on the table would soon be owned by a Chinese company. But that’s what he’s had to – a sign of the changing times, some would say.
For the Chinese, increasingly keen to acquire American businesses, the friendly takeover of Smithfield Foods — the world’s biggest pork processor — by Shuanghui International for $4.5 billion is yet another step towards meeting global ambitions of its companies. For many American politicians, worried over trade with China and Beijing’s alleged cyber-attacks on US. institutions, this is bad news. They would try and stop the deal. American bacon can’t be taken away by the Chinese, they would argue.
But for Obama and Xi, the buyout should provide an opportunity to focus on what needs more attention in bilateral relations between the world’s two biggest economies — cooperation. A succulent piece of Smithfield bacon, as yet American, should give them a good reason to look at their relationship differently — more as two large countries trying to adjust to each other’s needs than be seen as distrusting foes.
The importance of the summit can’t be negated. It is the first meeting between the heads of the state of the two countries since the leadership transition in China. It is also being held in an informal setting, away from the official trappings of a visit to a capital. Most important, the visit comes at the end of a whirlwind tours to key nations by the Chinese leadership.
China’s new leaders are keen to show their faces to the world. For Xi, who began his foreign visits with a trip to Russia, a neighbor China shares a more than 4000 km-long boundary and has followed it with swift touchdowns in Africa and the Caribbean, the United States is the final stop on his diplomatic iternary. Premier Li Keqiang has done his rounds, making another neighbor India his first pit stop and then travelling to Pakistan and Europe.
There will be a lot more than the bacon on the table in California for Obama and Xi, both of whom face massive domestic challenges, when they meet and start a process to getting to know each other. Personal relationship between leaders is always helpful to diplomacy, and this will be a test for a second-term US president and his new, long-term Chinese counterpart to set the tone of bilateral ties that will influence global politics for at least the next decade and maybe beyond.
If the two leaders can get along just as well as Ronald Regan and Mikhail Gorbachev did, or Richard Nixon and Mao Zedong did, there could be dramatic shift in the way the United States and China see each other and their respective global ambitions. Washington’s perception of the Chinese threat might change slightly, and the Chinese — who feel they are being kept out of the US economy — might feel differently.
There are of course niggling bilateral issues that have strained ties between the two countries of late – North Korea, China’s muscle flexing in the seas off its coast, the US challenge to China in form of its Asian pivot policy, Washington’s charges of cyber-attacks against China and of course the trade battle. The hawks in Washington would want Obama to push the Chinese to address them.
The focus, however, should be on the bacon, as the two economic behemoths battle domestic challenges of creating jobs and ensuring growth picks up again. China needs to restructure its economy to manage discontent among its people who are now used to double-digit growth that has fuelled prosperity. The United States is still battling to limp out of the global financial crisis that has shaved off growth in the world’s biggest economy. A turnaround in the US economy is good news for China, as that would only help raise Beijing’s exports.
The math looks simple: Chinese companies have the money to invest in the American economy to create jobs that would help Obama. While they have been slow in getting into the US market – mostly because of scared American politicians and regulators – Chinese companies have the potential to increase their investments quickly if they have an opportunity.
Like in the case of Smithfield, the Chinese may not want to change the management. They would, however, pump in more money to expand business and create jobs, a sore need for Obama and the United States.
It is, however, not as simple as it seems. A battle for global influence will always come in the way of the normal relations between the two countries. But if Obama and Xi can work out a deal that helps them fix domestic problems they will help address some of their external challenges too. The need, therefore, is to ensure that the sausage doesn’t roll off the breakfast table. A stable China is good for everybody.
June 4th, 2013 businessworld.in
Attempts to influence government policy by those paid to do it is legitimate activity so long as it is done transparently
The brouhaha over Walmart’s public declaration in its home country of the monies it spent on lobbying activities merely showed India’s ignorance of best practices in the developed world.
While American and European companies have perfected the art of lobbying for their interests under strict scrutiny of the law, we, in India, are still struggling with the nuances of a process that we choose not to understand because it makes a lot of sense for many to keep it in the grey zone.
It is easy to equate lobbying an attempt to influence policy through legal and ethical means with corruption in India because a large chunk of the population believes that almost every dealing with the government requires bribes to be paid to officials.
Does that make honest, transparent efforts to convince the government of a point of view illegal? No, it doesn’t. Neither does it stop companies, non-governmental organisations and industry bodies from engaging with the government to get concessions that impact them positively or contest those that don’t
Lobbying, as a process, practice and profession, has been around the longest. Lobbyists provide a contrarian point of view, which in a democracy is essential not only for debate but also fair play.
In the United States, lobbying firms are regulated under the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995 and the subsequent Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007 which provide for mandatory public disclosure of activities and put limits on gifts to elected public officials among other stringent measures. In short, lobbying is a legal activity and a profession that attracts some of the best minds on policy.
In India, where there is no law regulating the process, lobbying had traditionally been a tool for industry bodies and other pressure groups to engage with the government ahead of the national budget.
For decades, organisations such as the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry and the Confederation of Indian Industry among others have worked hard on behalf of their members to influence key ministries and policies. In recent years, the need for continuous engagement has increased and so has the sophistication.
Most often, this exercise does not involve cloak-and-dagger games in dark alleys. Discussions take place in government offices where facts are used to try and convince policymakers of the need to change track, and how this is in the larger good of the larger number of people. Governments benefit from policy changes as much as those propagating the change.
There are enough examples of policy change through transparent means. Go back just over a decade and look at how phone companies used an advocacy programme to convince the government to slash import duties on mobile phones. Cheaper handsets brought about a telecom revolution in the country. Electronic procurement by the government is another example where advocacy helped introduce transparency in its purchases of goods.
So why do our politicians and political parties so dread the “L” word and get into a moral mess over its use? Why would the media get all excited and equate it with corruption? Why won’t the government want to create rules to regulate the sector to ensure it is process-driven and doesn’t encourage corruption?
One reason could be that in the Indian system, most politicians are themselves lobbyists, and making this activity transparent with laws might adversely impact their turf.
Another could be that it makes political sense to keep confusing the man on the street who still depends on government benefits that the villains of the piece are rich and greedy corporates and lobbyists.
In reality, lobbying is not corruption; at least not the western model that is increasingly gaining currency in India, as an open economy pulls in new rules of engagement from developed economies. Given that most foreign companies have to follow strict anti-corruption laws in their own countries, few are keen to come under the lens of their regulators, lose face and pay fines.
The Indian government itself spends millions of dollars every year to influence the U.S. government and other interest groups there.
We should, in India, put in place a system that allows everybody — from corporates down to the man on the street — to push their interests. Lobbying is a time-tested method to get what we want by engaging with decision makers. It is in the absence of transparent lobbying that corruption flourishes.
May 30th, 2013 The Hindu Newspaper
Chinese entities have invested just over $25 billion in the United States since 2000. Are Americans getting scared? Yes, they are. Should they be? That’s for them to decide
It is now the turn of the Chinese to launch a buying spree in the United States – only they are being smarter. Chinese are not buying high-end real estate; they are buying into American companies. The Chinese know that they are not trusted by the Americans, so they don’t want too much publicity. It’s fine to buy slowly, but surely. China has the appetite, and with $3 trillion in its national kitty, bandwidth too. It is not in a hurry either.
The momentum slowed last year over national security concerns, but it seems to be picking up again. According to the New York-based Rhodium Group, which tracks China’s overseas investments, Chinese companies came out firing all guns in the first quarter of this year after a slow previous quarter, concluding eight mergers and acquisitions and nine green-field investments totaling $2.2 billion.
Chinese firms bought energy companies, a battery maker, a solar technology company and finalixed green-field projects in power generator manufacturing, real estate and high-end technology. Rhodium also said potential acquisitions that are under discussion or awaiting government approvals were worth more than $10 billion. Interestingly, private Chinese firms are investing more than that state-owned enterprises that earlier led the race.
According to Rhodium, Chinese entities have invested just over $25 billion in the United States since 2000, small change when compared to what the Japanese spent on buying concrete and steel structures. The maximum Chinese investment has gone into the energy sector.
Are Americans getting scared? Yes, they are. Should they be? That’s for them to decide, but given that there is little that can be done to stop money from flowing across boundaries, it is probably best to accept that Chinese finances will muscle their way into the United States just as American money jumped across the Great Wall.
Business interests are eventually linked with political and strategic interests. Some years ago there was a huge furor in the United States when a Dubai-based company was stopped from taking control of American ports which were part of a large European company it had acquired. Public opinion forced the government to take decisions that it otherwise wouldn’t have. People, scared stiff after the 9/11 attacks, feared Islamic terrorists would attack the ports.
Last year, two Chinese telecom companies with global play were summoned before a House intelligence committee on fears that their equipment could be used to spy on American interests. Similar fears have been raised in India too, where government agencies have warned phone companies against using Chinese telecom hardware and instead use locally-produced equipment.
Political compulsions and fears over a rising China will continue to drive the US stance on Chinese investments into that country. Allegations of cyber-attacks and espionage do feed into a view that China and its influence need to be curtailed from a strategic point of view.
However, there are times when potential economic benefits can and should be used to overturn the political debate. China is a large economy and Chinese companies – for long sequestered within their boundaries – are keen to get out and acquire not only businesses, but also technology and expertise which in short supply in a country where the state controlled business for the longest. Despite the fact that China produces more steel and cement than many countries put together, and is the world’s biggest market for televisions, refrigerators, mobile phones and cars, Chinese companies are hard up on technology and management expertise. They also need to diversify.
A large, developed market with a fully-developed financial system, which China lacks, is always an attraction for any company whether it is from China or India. And for China, with its huge financial muscle, it is only natural to be attracted to the US market; merely a flip end of how American companies see the Chinese market.
At the end of it what matters is whether a foreign company is making an investment that would help the local economy. If Chinese companies can create jobs in countries they go to, including the United States, and contribute to the local economy without impeding on national security, so be it. They have as much interest in getting to new markets as anybody else.
May 16th, 2013 businessworld.in
Remember the spat on Twitter between former IPL head honcho Lalit Modi and INC minister Shashi Tharoor in 2010 over the equity pattern in the former IPL Kochi team?
This one incident, which cost Tharoor his job as the junior minister for external affairs and made Lalit Modi a rather public fugitive in London, reveals very clearly the sweeping power of social media.
It’s not surprising then, that brands in India are also grappling with how to handle a reputational crisis on social media. How best to respond to this medium which tolerates no dishonesty? How to monitor and track the voices in social media? And, crucially, who should lead the charge, when a crisis breaks out. Should it be the PR agency or the social media expert?
Anatomy of a crisis in the age of social media
First, it is important to understand how a public crisis plays out today. Stephen Waddington, European Digital and Social Media Director at Ketchum and author of Brand Anarchy, says; “Prior to 2000, a crisis communication situation was led by broadcast; either radio or television news. It had both the audience and the air time to play out a story in real time. Newsprint, with its 24-hour cycle, followed with deeper analysis. In 2013, people at the scene share the news loaded with their own comment and opinion. This is quickly amplified in real time by networks and picked up the mainstream media.”
Waddington adds that a situation that starts as a tweet can quickly spread via networks. “It will typically be amplified and inflamed as it spreads. But corporate communicators are better armed than ever before to deal with a crisis situation as it arises. The social web allows every conversation to be monitored in real time. You might not like the fact that conversations that are taking place publicly about you but at least you have the opportunity to listen in and, crucially, take appropriate action.”
Which team should lead the crisis response?
Stephen Waddington believes that, “A crisis communications response should be led by a public relations agency that has the knowledge and expertise of crisis situations. Social media cannot be treated within isolation in a crisis and an integrated response is required across all forms of media. An issue that breaks on a social form of media such as a blog or Twitter can quickly shift and be amplified by more traditional forms of media. Oversight of the entire media landscape is critical for listening, planning and response.”
Nikhil Dey, President of Genesis Burson-Marsteller, feels that whoever is equipped with the best content generation capability should lead, so there is no one size fits all approach. “Social media strategies differ from company to company, those that have a holistic approach to engaging multiple audiences (consumers, fans of the brand, employees, prospective employees and also managing negative feedback online) often find PR agencies better suited to support their needs. Today, I think we are seeing more blended teams, with companies tasking internal team members with social media management responsibilities, but working hand-in-hand with outside agencies who specialize in strategy and implementation. Whatever path a company takes with respect to social media, the key to success is team work and seamless integration.”
Vivek Bahl is Founder and Director of GoVivekGo Social Media Marketing, which handles social media for clients such as Fiama Di Willis Men, Bausch+Lomb, Cadbury Celebrations, Happydent, and Dunkin’ Donuts India. He points out that the scale of the crisis is what decides the nature of the team leading the crisis response, “Social media agencies act like an on the ball PR agency during a crisis. They play a critical role in alerting the organisation to an issue. The key is to decide at what point traditional PR agencies need to come in. If you, for example, have a complaint about a faulty car door, then this is easily first addressed by the social media expert. But the minute, you have over seven to ten complaints about the same issue then that is where PR companies need to come in and work at addressing and curtailing the issue.”
How to handle the social media crisis
Once a crisis is spotted that requires an early response, Bahl advises quick action, “The key is the speed with which you respond. For example, if a complaint or reaction is spotted on social media at 12 noon, then social media agencies should swing into action in three to four hours to reach out to the person and convey that information along with the contact details of the complainant back to brand managers. This is very useful first contact is addressing the issue. An open and mutually trustworthy relationship between the agency and brand managers is the key to achieving this. There should be an efficient process for reaction.”
Nikhil Dey says it is critical to “Have a strategy in place that provides critical team members with a unified response and establishes clear ownership and accountability within an organisation of who is in-charge of social media, this saves valuable time and resources when a crisis hits. It should also be noted that social media is immeasurably helpful in a crisis, if used properly. With the help of social media, companies have instant access to what is being said, and can respond immediately with proper messaging and other necessary information that does not get filtered or distorted.”
Vivek Bahl agrees saying that, “Today, consumers do not wait to call a phone line about their complaints, they just write about it on social media. The social media is the spot where brands can first spot and curtail an emerging issue. Brands can watch live what the reactions are to an issue.”
Whatever the pace of a crisis event, the nature of it, or the media by which it breaks, Stephen Waddington says that the response effort should follow best practice. The fundamental tenets of crisis management remain constant. That means preparing for an event long before it breaks out by scenario planning and rehearsing crisis events. In their excellent handbook to crisis communication, Risk Issues and Crisis Management in Public Relations, Michael Regester and Judy Larkin summarise the key eight components of a crisis communication plan as follows:
1. Develop a positive attitude towards crisis management
2. Bring the organisation’s performance into line with public expectation
3. Build credibility through a succession of responsible deeds
4. Be prepared to act on opportunities during a crisis
5. Appoint appropriate teams to act on opportunities during a crisis
6. Catalogue potential crisis situations and devise policies for their prevention
7. Document the plan
8. Test, test and test again
It is clear that in these complex times of multiple communication platforms, an integrated public response led by a crack team of communications experts that includes social media professionals is essential.
Written by Paarul Chand
May 14th, 2013 PRmoment.in
Some years ago I found myself in Djibouti – a tiny country on the Horn of Africa, surrounded by Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia. It was not a fancy place when I got there along with many others for the inauguration of a Dubai-funded container port.
On the streets ravaged by long years of violence were gun-toting soldiers and tanks. Also, at a road crossing was an old, discolored and decrepit bust of Mahatma Gandhi.
Nobody could tell me what that bust was doing there, when had it been installed, and what opportune moment in history had prompted somebody to introduce the messiah of non-violence to a rather violent part of the world. But there he was – looking at soldiers, stray goats and sporadic traffic through his rimmed glasses – a sign of times when India meant more to Africa than it probably does now.
Some of the old links still exist, but are now mostly overshadowed by China’s increasing influence in a continent which the West left for dead and the rest never looked at seriously. Zambia’s Vice President Guy Scott described the situation succinctly in a recent newspaper interview.
“If you fly over Africa, and find yourself looking down, you will see football stadium after football stadium. They are all Chinese-built; they are all Chinese-financed,” he told Mint during a visit to India. He should know well. His government has done and continues to do business with the Chinese just as several other African governments.
Some of these African governments also do business with India, and want to do more, if only India and Indian companies knew how to do business with the new, emerging Africa. Here again Scott had a few suggestions. According to him, India needs to learn a few lessons from China.
“The Chinese somehow, without getting into the nuts and bolts of it, manage to be quick on their feet or produce something tastier… Maybe the Chinese are doing it more effectively,” Scott said.
Fascinating lessons from a continent where the biggest stock markets worry more about what’s happening in China thousands of miles away than in their own economies; punters play the Chinese roulette, and a change in policy in Beijing could make or break African businesses worth billions of dollars.
The deep influence of China on Africa is a story that’s been told many a times, mostly from the point of view of the West that has fared miserably in recent years in a land which it once colonized. There is also a tendency to club India in the same narrative and speak of its failure to spread its sphere of influence. India has lost out to China in the dash for natural resources, people like Scott tell us. Yes, that’s true, but then that’s only one side of the coin.
China began by throwing money and creeping in slowly in its hunt for minerals and oil that are needed to churn its economic machine. They were initially quite democratic in their choice, willing to do business with dictators, military juntas, rebel militias and others who were seen as pariahs by the rest of the world. It was an easy give and take: you let us dig; we give you cavernous palaces and football stadiums. It worked well for a long time before the tide turned and African governments and population began suspecting the Chinese and their intentions.
But China, knowing well it has to rely on Africa for a lot of its needs, has been smart. It has changed tack over a period of time and worked hard to enhance local economies through jobs and investments and complaints against the Chinese have lessened after certain countries brought in laws restricting industrial sectors in which Chinese companies can invest. Politically, the Chinese have not interfered with African governments and have helped some smoke the peace pipe too.
For China, which has bilateral trade worth $166 billion with Africa, the continent is more of a business partner today. Beijing will pull all stops to ensure that its interest is secure. And it has money to throw around through subsidies and state-owned banks, which are quick to provide soft loans to fund projects.
In recent months, for example, a Chinese consortium led by mining group Jinchuan, announced it was taking a 45 per cent stake in South Africa’s Wesizwe Platinum with China Development Bank pumping in $650 million. Similarly, the Hanlong Group is about to complete a $1.45-billion takeover of Australia’s Sundance Corporation, which owns large tracts of iron ore mines in West Africa. If the $3.5-billion acquisition of African Barrick Gold – Tanzania’s largest gold mining company – would have gone through, Chinese investments in the first few months of this year would have equaled India’s committed credit line of $5.5 billion to African nations.
India’s low on money, but it could still win a few games if it realises that it can’t match China dollar for dollar and find smarter ways to engage Africa, which is not only a huge reservoir of natural resources but also aching for help to grow its economy.
The need, therefore, is to move away from the traditional mining sector and expand the footprint in services, telephony, information technology, pharmaceuticals, healthcare and education – areas Chinese companies are generally weaker given their focus on natural resources. These areas offer huge potential and are those where Africa needs help as it grows and emerges from its centuries-old cocoon.
India shouldn’t fall in the trap of being equated with China in rush for gold. It should set its own pace and look for smart synergies that would ensure a long-term, sustainable and equal engagement, not the lop-sided arrangement that first made Westerners and then the Chinese unpopular.
April 02nd, 2013 businessworld.in
The Bill, which has already been passed by Lok Sabha, is ground-breaking – probably the first of its kind globally and a move in the right direction for India. In short, companies meeting specific financial thresholds are now required to devote a minimum of 2 per cent of profit after tax (PAT) of preceding three years toward social spending.
Backers of the law are hopeful that deserving programmes will now see an infusion of new support and participation. Others are a bit more cynical, wondering aloud if corporates will create undue hype around the opportunity, creating a PR stunt, while doing little more than throwing money at problems for which funding is not the only solution.
Thankfully, the Bill addresses some of these concerns by providing directional definitions of what CSR may or may not be, and anticipated reporting formats for ensuring transparency. With more specialised CSR personnel engaged in the process, whether consultants or in-house, outcomes will be genuinely strengthened. I also believe communications around CSR will become more specialised, both for compliance and for strategic differentiation.
It’s important to remember that CSR is not about charity, or throwing money at a problem. It’s about community partnerships, stewardship and the development of better practices for all. It is understood that key stakeholder relationships improve when businesses do good work on behalf of their local communities, but what about stakeholder perceptions at large? This is an important reputation risk, and performance parameter.
While there is much to be gained from promoting CSR initiatives, in the absence of a real plan or policy, corporations might find themselves defending against accusations of green-washing, or covering up questionable practices. And there may be public perception that corporate India shouldn’t even take full credit for allocating higher resources to CSR because they are being forced to by law. The evolving situation merits some planning ahead, because formulating a good CSR communications strategy requires understanding more than just the programme. It means understanding stakeholders and how they are affected, and how their perceptions and behaviour can impact the company.
There are basic essentials to every successful communications plan — like knowing the audience, delivering a clear message, and channelling the message through trusted and credible sources in order to reach the target audience. Formulating a successful CSR communications plan is really no different, but there are other factors that must be considered.
1. First and foremost, assess the needs of the community and determine what contribution the programme is making. Identifying how and where to allocate CSR resources is a critical first step. What value is the programme delivering, and is it a value that can be measured?
2. Be thoughtful about the messaging. It must articulate why certain practices have been targeted. On the face of it, most CSR programmes are rooted in a good cause and do deliver benefits to the larger community, but pressed by the new law to devote resources to corporate responsibility programmes opens companies up to potential criticisms. Make sure your company’s CSR objectives make good business sense and are consistent with the overall operations.
3. Do away with the communication silos. By putting the name of the company behind a particular cause or initiative, it becomes a part of the brand and should be treated as such. Certainly the CSR communications plan warrants its own resources, but it doesn’t always have to stand alone.
4. Make sure the plan highlights the action, and the mobilisation of people and resources used to improve practices. The story is not about charitable giving, it’s about creating change and enabling progress.
5. Don’t just broadcast, create a dialogue. Because CSR is about empowerment and partnerships, it presents a unique opportunity for companies to educate, engage and actually mobilise people toward a cause. Whether it’s a programme targeting environment sustainability, health, education or human rights, keep stakeholders engaged in conversation using social media, in-person meetings and live events. Listening is just as important as telling the story, and will go a long way toward ensuring success.
March 27th, 2013 PRmoment.in
Prema established Genesis in November of 1992. In 2008, it was ranked as ‘India Consultancy of the Year’ by The Holmes Report, acknowledging Prema’s success in nurturing reputation whilst managing complex issues in a business environment rife with inherent contradictions.
Prema Sagar has played a leadership role in the industry as well, which is demonstrated in her various positions as the Founding President of the Public Relations Consultants Association of India, Council Member for India of the International Public Relations Association and member of the global Board of Management of the International Communication Consultancies Organisation.
On the occasion of Women’s Day, Adgully had a rare opportunity to interact with this woman of substance and to understand her view point on the empowerment of women in media space.
Adgully (AG): How did people around you react to your choice of profession?
Prema Sagar (PS): People had mixed reactions. The truth is, few people really understood what Public Relations was all about, or why I would want to make a career out of it. This was an unchartered territory, so the risks were very real. Maybe some people thought I was a little crazy, but I didn’t care. To me the opportunity was a good one and I knew I wanted to make the most of it.
AG: What have been some of the high points of your journey?
PS: A highlight has been growing our roster from just one client, into a broad portfolio of clients; many we have worked with for a number of years. I am also proud of our team of colleagues, who are all so talented and work every day to deliver creative and effective campaigns for each of our clients. Seeing how far we have come in our twenty years is itself a high point.
AG: What specific challenges did you face as a woman in order to get a breakthrough into the corporate world? Is it now easier for women professionals to reach the top?
PS: My first entrepreneurial venture was a printing press that I pursued together with my brother. It taught us a great deal about starting and running a business. Our father was in the Indian Air Force and did not agree to this venture. He felt that a job would be safer. The press is still running well under my brother’s stewardship.
I subsequently set up Genesis PR as a result of incidental meetings. The challenges I faced were not because I was a woman, they were mostly financial. I was the mother of two small children while trying to build a new business. I had no financial backing other than what I had managed to save up to that point. My husband and I had a family to support, and the financial challenges that came with that were very real. The success I experienced early on gave me the financial footing I needed to eventually grow the business and map out a course for success. Maintaining that success, however, is a challenge I still face today. It never goes away. As for whether it’s easier for women now, I think as more women become educated, they are better positioned to have a career. It’s up to each individual how that career develops and what she makes of it. Something we can never take for granted is that just because a woman can ‘break through’ in the corporate world, doesn’t not mean or guarantee she will stay there. A career requires dedication and hard work every day, not just at the beginning, but throughout.
AG: How has the industry evolved in terms of its outlook towards women and they matching the steps in a men’s world?
PS: We have certainly seen progress, but we still have some way to go. Generally speaking, I think the Public Relations industry has been quite favourable toward women, and the number of women who have excelled in this industry is evidence of that. Every day I look around the offices of Genesis B-M and see bright, talented women rising through the ranks and developing further in their careers. As I see it, this is a great development not only for women, but for India.
AG: Do you think women need to push boundaries to make their presence felt in men’s world?
PS: I don’t think so. People must remember that in order to succeed, one has to be committed to the mission but not at the expense of being true to oneself. If it’s your nature to push boundaries, then go ahead and do so. But it shouldn’t be about trying to fit in or trying to make a mark. We make our presence known through the positive contributions we make to the world around us, which typically follow a path of hard work and determination. Occasionally, boundaries may need to be pressed; but as a long as women are making contributions – whether as mothers, wives, or businesswomen, I believe women’s presence is being felt and appreciated.
AG: Do women gain independence by following their dreams or lose the respect of the society by not confiding themselves to conventional roles? Share your thoughts and in particular one or two of your personal experience.
PS: Yes, women gain independence by following their dreams, because it means they are being true to who they are. But as women, we cannot expect to gain the respect of society until we learn the art of self respect. It starts with respecting oneself and choosing a path that is best for you. Whether that path conforms to a conventional role or breaks tradition entirely, it doesn’t matter. What matters is honouring the commitment to what it is that you have set out to do. For mothers especially, this commitment to family is so important. If this doesn’t succeed, nothing else will. Rabab Rupawala [rabab(at)adgully.com]
March 8th, 2013 AdGully Bureau
The brief is often a major cause of mismatched expectations between PR agencies and their clients as this blog post by MSL India points out.
Both PR agencies and clients spend a lot of time and effort to prepare good briefs for pitching as well as for briefing agencies. From the point of view of an in-house communications lead, what makes up a good brief presentation?
Karthik Srinivasan, AVP Corporate Communications at Flipkart.com, says, “It depends on the nature of the brief. Pre-pitch briefs from clients are more generic in nature, aimed at finding out how smart the agency is. Ongoing briefs are different – should be more about sharing ongoing expectations and specific internal things that could potentially impact public perception of the client, positively or negatively. If it is positive, the agency could help make the best of the situation and if it is negative, the agency could again help manage the situation in the best possible manner based on the resources (time and inclination to talk, from client’s senior/appropriate management, and facts). In this case, the presence of a smart corporate communications person at the client’s side is a big plus.”
Karthik adds that during a presentation, he also expects the agency to dig deeper and also find out the potential client’s attitude to media, saying a good presentation should focus on: “(a) business objectives and goals, (b) communication objectives and goals in the client’s own words and (c) the prospective client’s attitude towards media and communications. Most agencies get (b) right, as a question. Many of them derive (a) from what the client shares during the brief while many of them assume (c) on their own. The derivation and assumption becomes a problem in many cases, even during the actual pitch, if it is a multi-agency pitch.”
Karthik also says that the most important part of the brief is the “understanding of the business and its business and communication objectives, by the agency. That showcases the quality of people (agency talent). Deliverables is more operational and is something that needs to be worked out based on budgets.”
Nikhil Dey, President of Genesis Burson-Marsteller, agrees, saying the key points in a good brief are: “Clarity of objective (business objectives and PR objectives aligned with those). Secondly, a well defined articulation of the target audience the program needs to be designed to reach and thirdly, a view of how the client typically measures success of its PR efforts. These are the three inputs that we look for. Ideally, if an indication of the budget range is available it just makes the process more productive. Understandably sometimes clients don’t want to share budgets upfront so in such cases an indicate scope of work is very helpful as that ensures an apple to apple comparison when different agencies submit their proposals.”
Tara Kapur, CEO and Chief Strategy Officer at Stellar Communications India, flags of four main queries across strategy and operations as important from the point of view of a PR agency. These include,” First of all, Information on what has worked well as well as the “state” of relationships with various stakeholder groups including media and industry associations. Secondly, are spokespersons media trained? Are there key messages and are they up to date? Thirdly, are there any sensitivities, issues or imminent crisis? And lastly who will coordinate with us? How will we work – what processes are in place so we can add what’s required for example a weekly work in progress reports to make the PR program more effective and both client and agency accountable.”
Apart from operational issues, clients believe that the PR agency should be their strategic partner and not just arms and legs. A senior communications lead at one of the biggest MNCs in the world, says that “PR agency teams in India are usually in ‘tell-us-what-to-do-and-we-will-do-it’ mode. Very few account executives or managers really know what’s going on in their client organisation/industry well enough to ask insightful questions that will help design an optimum PR program. However, I also believe that clients are guilty of not treating their agencies as partners and many a time bring them in only at the last minute to the grunt work e.g. Email press releases and follow up with reporters to see if they have received it or not. That is necessary work, especially in a country like India which has such a vast media universe. However, agencies need to move up the value chain and think like the internal communications team to be able to provide real value to clients.”
The PR insider adds that “A good brief from the point of view of the in-house lead should contain the following:
1. Background about company / brand – global overview, country overview.
2. Most important PR objective pertaining to the brand/company.
3. Elements of the approach that has been decided by the client (in case some thinking has already gone into it internally eg. create a mascot or do a 20-city road show. This helps the agency build on it).
4. Time frame in which the PR objective needs to be achieved.
5. Desired results (examples)/ success parameters.
6. Agency evaluation criteria (only in case of new agency selection).”
Having said that the PR insider says that “The evaluation while selecting an agency depends on what the objective of the PR program is and which company/brand/ key message one is dealing with. If a telecom service provider wants us to make sure that they reach out to their customer about their latest value added service offerings in Tier II and III cities, the selection criteria will be different from an enterprise customer that is trying to create a certain perception about itself among policy makers.”
Clearly, the whole exercise of a good brief is a complex one with several factors. Both clients and agencies have asset of expectations, closing the gap between them is the foundation to a strong client and agency relationship.
March 6th, 2013 PRmoment.in
Given most corporates’ inclination towards the practice of CSR lately , certain PR agencies are making concerted efforts to assist their respective clients with dedicated CSR service. According to Avian Media CEO, Nitin Mantri, “with the Government issuing an advisory of 2 per cent of profits to be invested in CSR, we feel that a lot of companies will now strategically invest for the benefit of the society in the coming years.”
Earlier this month communications consultancy Avian Media, officially launched its Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability practice. Their Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability practice will be lead by Sharmistha Ghosh. The firm has also set up a social advocacy board that comprises of development consultants and NGOs having experience in diverse roles ranging from monitoring & evaluation, capacity building, strategic corporate responsibility consulting, NGO investment promotion, building industry and trade relations.
Mantri is of the opinion that “CSR is a key element which organizations today are accepting and implementing to not only be good corporate citizens but also get closer to their communities. However, there is expertise required in ensuring that CSR activities are part of the overall ethos of the company. Today, companies are proactively undertaking significant investments and giving a social value to all their business endeavors.”
Taking charge of the Avian Media CSR wing, Sharmistha Ghosh understands that successful CSR practices helps in strengthening the corporate – consumer relationship. She said “Today organizations are beginning to see CSR as an integral part of the core business function and are shifting their focus from mere philanthropy to sustainability. This is reflected in their intent to “Do no Harm” to the stakeholders and responsible conduct across levels – creating wealth for stakeholders, lesser impact on the environment, ethical business practices by obeying the law of the land and socio-economic development of the community. This well-rounded corporate responsibility approach plays a pivotal role in shaping corporate reputation. Studies conducted globally have shown that a sustainable corporate responsibility programme yield results in terms of better business performance, employee retention and motivation and customer loyalty.”
But what about the corporate’s intentions? Many still frown upon CSR practices as a mere greenwashing exercise – one meant to cover for a corporate’s true, sinister intentions. To combat this suspicion, a company should participate in CSR activities that effectively and directly benefit their communities and stakeholders, according to Chowdhury. “Essentially, as long as corporates invest the necessary resources into developing, executing and sustaining real CSR programmes, they are better able to mitigate potentially negative allegations, leaving less opportunity to have their real motives questioned.”
Ghosh on the other hand believes that “a corporate responsibility programme is interlinked with the motive of the company and is a reflection of its values and business goals. It is not a challenge for an organization if its on-ground CSR initiative has “Do the right thing” as its motive and transparency, accountability and social inclusion as key elements. Such programmes with effective monitoring systems will showcase positive socio-economic impact on the external and internal stakeholders.”
Written by Chaahat Madaan for Image Management
Feb 6th, 2013 Image Management
Why institutionalising learning across all levels is a smart way to bridge the PR industry talent gap, with Genesis Burson-Marsteller’s Deepshikha DharmarajPosted in Articles on March 1st, 2013 by admin
Attracting and retaining good talent is an issue every industry faces, and the PR industry is certainly no exception. The story is the same and we have heard it many times. How do companies find the best talent and, more importantly, how do they keep them engaged?
The PR industry talent is young, and what they lack in experience they make up for in energy, enthusiasm and fresh new ideas. They are also demanding more from their employers. It’s no longer just about the pay-check, they want to feel appreciated, they want to learn and most importantly, they want their hard work to pay off with bigger and better opportunities in their future.
Over the course of our twenty years, Genesis Burson-Marsteller has worked to attract and retain its talent. But just as the competition has increased for attracting the best clients, the same can be said of recruiting and keeping qualified employees. From the earliest days of our business lifecycle, we have worked to identify relevant learning needs for both existing and potential key talent that is in line with their future growth aspirations. As part of this, we conduct learning interventions designed to develop talented and motivated teams through classroom study, mentoring, on-the-job learning and self-evaluations.
Learning is also a communications tool. It opens up dialogue and presents opportunity to hear from the employees and understand what are their needs, what are their strengths and what are their challenges. It’s important to develop and nurture a real culture of learning, and not just adhere to a set of policies that mandate learning as yet another task that must be completed. In fact, learning is an area where more policies usually mean bigger failures. When policies are established to push people into learning, it’s often met with strong resistance. But if companies create enough of a draw and feed the aspiration for employee learning opportunities, employees will do everything in their power to make sure they are nominated for relevant programmes. I strongly believe that people have to want to learn and invest in themselves, and no amount of company policies can make this happen.
At Genesis B-M, one of our most successful programmes is the Associate Learning Programme (ALP), conducted for entry level employees. Following a competitive selection process, chosen associates enter a one-year programme which efficiently combines all three forms of learning, including classroom study, mentoring and on-the-job. Associates graduate from this programme as well-rounded professionals who are motivated and ready to deliver.
Another popular programme is the Learn Evolve Advance Perform (LEAP) programme for young managers. This course works with identified future leaders, focusing on their personal leadership and professional skills. A year-long programme for hand-picked participants, the course load includes classroom sessions on teamwork and leadership skills using tried and tested tools like Myers-Briggs Type Indicators (MBTI); work skills like effective media relations, writing skills, generating creative and innovative ideas and, most importantly, also teaches lifestyle skills like dining etiquette, wine appreciation, fitness and dancing! Finally, we also encourage LEAP participants to pick their favourite NGO and do a community project. Participants come out of these sessions fully charged, bursting with ideas and positive energy which they further infuse into their teams at work.
There is a common misperception that learning and development falls entirely under the HR team’s responsibility. Experience has taught me that nothing could be further from the truth. At no point can HR force learning. HR’s role is to create an environment of learning, one that nurtures communications among employees and one that creates opportunities on the journey toward knowledge.
Deepshikha Dharmaraj is Chief Officer of Growth Initiatives at Genesis Burson-Marsteller
Feb 27th, 2013 PRmoment.in