Author Archives: suchitaullal

Leadership Blogathon: Colourful personality Insights at Offsite!

In keeping with a well known fact in the PR industry that extensive training and development is a part of everyday life for every employee at Text 100, we (20 leaders across 3 offices in Text 100 India, VOX and GRO) have just returned totally boosted by a 3-day offsite training on “Leadership Skills”, brilliantly facilitated by Shari Roberts and Anne Costello and an external trainer.

The offsite was certainly worth giving up a weekend for, as it threw up different faces of leadership (a much misused word) including effective communication by leaders. After a host of training sessions, discussions and workshops (and of course fun in trademark Text 100 style), we surfaced 3 days later with a lot of new insights and learning. One of the sessions that resonated well with me personally was a session on Day 3 by Shari Roberts (Senior VP, Global Human Resources) on the Insights Discovery Evaluator. This was an individualized Discovery Profile, an excellent investment made by the agency in each of our personal development paths. The evaluator summarized our personal styles, decision making preferences, strengths, potential challenges, style of communication preferences, potential blind spots and more.

So how was this done and what was it all about? Based on a questionnaire in which we had earlier responded to situations that relate to us in a work environment, a simple and accessible four colour model was used to understand each of our unique preferences. The output was a 20 page personality profile that identified our strengths and areas for development. The model, called the “Insights Discovery”, has its roots in the work of Swiss psychologist Carl Jung first published in his 1921 work “Psychological Types” and developed in subsequent writings. It is continually validated and refined to ensure it is always accurate and deeply insightful.

Watch on as the Insights Discovery language sweeps through the leadership teams at Text 100 India offices – because it was fun to learn, inspirational to experience, easy to remember, effective and practical in application. We discovered that personality theorists have identified four distinct energies exhibited by different people: red, blue, green and yellow. Each colour stands for a set of attributes: for example, people with a high red energy say “Let’s do it NOW”, those with green say “Let’s do it in a caring way”, yellow is for “Let’s do it together”, and blue always wants to “Do it right”! Armed with the knowledge of your co-workers’ energy colours, you can “do unto them as they would be done by” and not as you would want done by you, making communication more productive, calibrated and result oriented.  All of us have one of these ‘colour energies’ as our dominant, preferred style of thinking, working and interacting with others. As leaders, the ability to tap into each of the other colours is crucial.

What Colour Personality are you?

These 4 energies drill down further into 8 personality types: Reformers, Directors, Motivators, Inspirers, Helpers, Supporters, Coordinators and Observers.  Typically we get stuck in our own preferred style according to our personality preferences, because for most of us, one or two colours are more dominant than the others. Discovering what it is like for us could possibly be the turning point for us to lead our teams better, and we’re all looking forward to put this into practice beginning NOW!      

Leadership Blogathon” entry submitted by Suchita Ullal, Managing Consultant (South), Text 100 India

 Image source: http://bit.ly/xTr3BH

Is your PR Agency a Partner or a Vendor?

I recently went through a new biz pitch where we had to answer a series of questions about ourselves as an agency which provides Public Relations and related communications services. One of the questions started as “Vendor to elaborate on…” which got me thinking about the use of the word “vendor”.

Client and agencies work at their best when they are in it together, chasing common goals

Now, Public Relations is one of the most cost-effective marketing tools available today. Many companies are constantly increasing their PR spends while cutting back on their ad budgets. Yet, too often, they think of public relations agencies (even in the course of playing out the relationship) as vendors. Yes, while technically, we are vendors, as the dictionary says “a person or agency that sells a service,”  but the role we actually play is much larger than that.

 

A good PR agency is a partner in the business. It offers strategic counsel and direction and it helps maximize every opportunity for business success. A public relations firm can play a crucial role in the success of marketing plans, and it’s important for internal marketing managers to realize this. So what are a few tips that can help us demonstrate our value as a true partner to our clients? I can think of the following:

  1. It’s all about the relationship. A vendor generally does exactly what the client asks without any talkback or alternate suggestions. It is easy for a client to set up vendors to compete against each other and keep them on their toes. Best of all, they don’t have to have meetings about the relationship! However, a PR agency that is providing top-notch consultancy often goes beyond the brief and demonstrates its value to the business of the client. Soon, the client is convinced that it’s well worth the extra time and trouble it takes to create, and more importantly, maintain a relationship.
  2. Winning the trust of our clients is critical. To ensure the success of any PR program, an agency always needs to get the client to view the former as a business partner. One illustration of this would be to get the PR team a seat at the table during internal business discussions and provide informed counsel to the client before marketing plans are finalized. Now this is not a idealistic scenario; PR consultants and agencies who have won the trust of their clients have no problem getting invited to these meetings. As an external organization we are in a unique position to provide a perspective that may not be available internally, so the clients always listen to us with an open ear
  3. Fuel the momentum at all times. “You guys are not being strategic enough!” How often do we hear this phrase from clients? Many years ago during my early days in PR, this phrase used to bring despair as I feared it spelt the beginning of the end of a relationship. But years of servicing different kinds of clients has led me to some introspection: yes, it is sometimes true that the agency is not thinking strategically.  Yet it’s also true that that complaint rarely comes up in the first six months of the program.  But why is that? The obvious answer is that the agency has likely been hired with a lot of expectations in mind, and with probably a “Big Launch” in mind.  This means lots of upfront planning, writing, execution and follow-up.  But when the launch is in the rear view mirror and everyone has caught their breath, a critical delta begins to form between “client expectations” and “agency execution.” Few clients and/or agency partners recognize this gap until it is too late.  The trick here is to keep finding new fuel to keep the engines running on all cylinders. The reason that clients are happy with their agency during a launch is not just because they’re busy getting results – it’s also because they’ve spent a lot of time together providing initial tankful of gasoline – they meet, they plan, they debate – the agency is given tremendous insights into the product details; the strategic thinking behind the launch; the future of the company; etc. It is important to find ways to sustain the same momentum at all times from both sides.
  4. Get early, in-depth and frequent access to information: One of the hallmarks of a successful PR agency-client relationship is free and transparent flow of information from both sides and at all times. While working at building such a relationship, it is the duty of agency executives to keep reminding the client of the following rule of thumb for information sharing: as much as possible, as early as possible. PR programs can go awry if the marketing or communications manager does not devote his/her full time to the effort, leaving the agency with little or no information to use in its efforts. Whenever possible, agency representatives should also get to hear straight from the horses’ mouth – a smart client marketing manager would schedule regular meetings for the agency representatives with the business owners and other stakeholders within the client organization. The information discussed at these meetings may seem insignificant to the client but it may provide the agency just the right foundation for an attention grabbing campaign or story opportunity — or even cushion the impact of looming crisis.
  5. Solve the client’s problems. If you are not presenting fresh ideas, solutions and blunt advise to help solve your client’s business challenges, then you are not doing your job as a business partner. Sometimes this approach calls for a little daringness: which client wants to be told that the messaging framework they spent a fortune on developing is not up to the mark? It’s important to make your client understand that you want both him and his company to succeed, that the agency looks good only when the client looks good.
  6. Respect yourself. It is critical that agency representatives insist on their client for reasonable time and budgets necessary to carry on the PR programs successfully. Don’t allow yourself to be set up for failure by accepting under-funded efforts or unrealistic deadlines. When you hire an architect or an engineer, you don’t negotiate down the rate, or ask for junior level staffers so you can stretch the budget, and then expect to get stellar results. Likewise, counsel the client that he has to give the PR program reasonable time to work. If a client is new to PR or has had a rocky relationship with the media, it could take as many as six months before you are able to build up enough trust with reporters. Ensure that the client understands that.
  7. Measure your progress proactively. Set up SMART objectives and put strong processes in place to track results. PR has moved from just image building to playing a key role in improving the bottom line. Most goals today are to increase sales, so make sure you are able to track leads that come in from your PR efforts and measure the value of those leads that convert to sales. Tracking where the leads come from will help strengthen the PR efforts by focusing more on those media outlets. And, when you actively track progress, it becomes easier to modify your efforts to get the maximum results within your budget. If you are interested in trying new media channels such as using video or speaking at a specific venue, ask how the client can support you and make sure you measure the success of those efforts too. Best tip here – develop measurable objectives together with the client.

PR teams and agencies often struggle to service their clients for lack of enough and relevant information, news pegs, clarity of messaging, or simply because there’s nothing new to say. Smarter agencies bring this up proactively with the client and are not hesitant to think of ways on how they can use the PR budget to support the client’s expectations.  The task is so much easier if the client truly looks at them as a business partner.

Do you have more tips to add on how to strengthen the client-agency relationship? Please share them in the comments below.

» Picture courtesy jeffk on Flickr

India’s learnt to speak for herself!

The English-language newspapers have traditionally been referred to as ‘national’ dailies in both India and Pakistan, despite the fact that they catered to less than 10 percent of the population. For over half a century, this branding has helped them collect the largest shares of advertising revenues. When in 1979, the first National Readership Survey revealed that the vernacular papers – particularly those in Hindi – now commanded several times the readership of the English newspapers, it did not surprise the readers or journalists of the vernacular press.

Between 2002 and 2005, a new story was written. Readership in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand recorded a phenomenal annual growth of 14 per cent. Over two-thirds of these readers were based in small towns and rural India. Despite political turbulence, poverty, rise in crime and a near-breakdown of law and order, or perhaps because of all these factors, the poor but news-hungry readers in Bihar were ready to spend Rs. 5 a copy for a slim Hindi newspaper, almost three times the price of the (considerably thicker) English dailies. In the Indian Readership Survey Quarter 1 2010, the list of India’s top 10 dailies had only one English newspaper, The Times of India. The remaining nine were regional newspapers: five Hindi, two Malayalam, one each in Tamil and Marathi.

An Indian news stand

An Indian news stand

With dozens of languages and hundreds of dialects spoken, India’s population is amongst the most diverse in the world. It’s not surprising therefore that the Indian vernacular press, always a presence in the background, has grown tremendously in the recent past. Over the last few years, as disposable incomes in small-town India have risen, the wall that stood between English and vernacular publications has begun to crumble. The vernacular readers may have grown up on a diet of only language papers, but they now send their children to English-medium schools. The brave new bi-lingual households of the future are the new focus area. And that is where the action is.

Viewed from the outside, the world of vernacular or regional publications can seem almost chaotic. For instance, there are upwards of 70 regional publications in the politically important and populous Hindi belt in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh alone. Yet, it would be foolish to assume that the Hindi belt is a large, homogenous one. This belt, involving 11 of India’s most populous states, from the central Himalayan states of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand to Bihar and Jharkhand in the east, involves many variables, just as in Kerala, where in that one state, it is said there are approximately 1,576 newspapers in circulation! Among these, only a few newspapers are widely circulated with a good number of readers.

All these regional publications face many pulls and pressures, and have their own set of unique cultural, linguistic and ethnic diversities. Their writings may be less polished, the dailies less well-produced, yet it is as though India had at last learnt to speak for itself! It is this aspect of the vernacular media, including in Hindi, which one finds the most beautiful and endearingly human. And with this, the Hindi newspapers, as in the case of their Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Gujarati or Bengali counterparts, have managed to create a republic for the humblest readers sitting far away in Samastipur or Farookabad, Coimbatore or Almora. Since the early 1990s, growth in advertising has even made it lucrative for vernacular papers to expand their regional editions. Yet these newspapers are still rarely factored into mainstream media-planning exercises.

To what extent do we in the PR industry (and our clients) understand this media? Do they interest us at all? Should we not be  recommending increasingly to our clients that the half page exclusive in Malayalam Manorama, given that the publication is a regional heavyweight, is more impactful than 10 sq cm piece in the ET and banish a widespread “perception” that the latter is more likely to result in a sales call from potential customers than the former? And what about our clients who sit in the lifestyle or consumer space? Are we helping them factor in this emerging and burgeoning new middle class in the Tier 1 and 2 cities of India or the ‘other India’?

I feel there is a latent need to educate our clients on the readership profiles of various media, just the way media planning agencies do. Maybe this will bring a change in their views on the regional media and in the process reveal a few surprises to us PR practitioners as well.

» Picture courtesy Tallkev on Flickr