The world is changing. Dear consultant, are you?

Enough and more has been said about the ongoing era of digital disruption. So, I won’t go down that path. I am sure as you’re reading this, you must have received at least two notifications in your smartphone, a new hashtag must be trending on twitter, a brand campaign gone viral on social media and two of your friends on Facebook have already shared it on their timelines. Even the lines between C-suite is blurring and this has given rise to a new bracket of corporate ninja’s – the Chief Marketing Technologists. Brands are investing millions in data analysts and scientists, who are sitting neck-deep in data to figure out the answers that will resolve all their problems. Marketing gurus who once had a Midas touch, are now huddled, wondering how to re-position a certain brand, so it can be in the limelight again.

In a world so fast-paced that it can make gossip-vines in kitty-party circles seem sluggish, how does a communications professional ensure a brand’s voice is heard? And then not forgotten. As a professional myself, I think it’s a tall ask. And how.


While it is not the solution, creativity lies in the heart of it. As consultants, clients look at us for creative solutions that will push the envelope in their communication strategies. In today’s world, creativity is not just an ask, it is the life blood of communications consultancy. It is imperative for us to keep going back to the drawing-board to check how we can do things differently for our clients.

There are a few daunting questions for any PR novice: What will take to be a creative thinker? Am I creative enough? How do I learn to be a creative thinker?

Creative thinking lies in the roots of brand ideas and problem-solving. However, PR consultants largely, restrict themselves to just the ‘promotional’ aspect of their consultancy – product launches, promotional events, large-scale campaigns and of course new business pitches. If you don’t water the roots every day, how will the tree bear fruit?

If we are honest with ourselves, A-list celebs, top-Government professionals or God forbid! – a scandal is the quick-fire way to grab media-interest. In the absence of all of these, we come-up with innovative ideas to garner interest. As consultants, this is our skill to hone in every task that we do. Promotional activities or big-tickets events aside, consultants need to be constantly thinking on their feet to find innovative strategies, creative ways to nurture client-media relationships, the ever-so mundane reporting and even, crises management.

As a consultant, every morning, you step into the battlefield, where your client is pit against its competitors in the fight for higher recall or Share of Voice. It is critical, soldiers, to remember – great wars have been won by implementing strategies that weren’t previously imagined. Consultants need to break out of ‘the herd mentality’. While it is important to keep an eye-out at what the ‘other’ is doing. What got them here, may not get your client there.

Here are some quick points to keep in mind during the course of your creative journey:

  • Don’t complicate it – In your attempt to come-up with ‘brilliant’ ideas, don’t over-think the challenges. Sometimes, it is smarter to keep it simple.
  • Know your audience – What may be working for one audience, may completely fall flat with another. Ensure that your ideas are targeted toward the correct audience
  • It’s not an ego-battle – It’s okay if another team member is coming-up with better ideas. That should not deter you from voicing your thoughts. Remember, it’s not about you. It’s a larger vision.
  • Stay hungry, stay foolish – If you don’t constantly hone your creativity skills, you will stop growing. So think…think… THINK!
  • Don’t stray far from the brief – You are after all thinking for your client.
  • Voice it – Don’t let the idea keep growing and eventually die in your head. Speak to your seniors or peers. Believe me, everyone loves an innovative thinker. Maybe the other person will be able to help you polish your ideas. They may see a genius in what seems like a silly idea to you.

Cheers! To the little creative genius who lies in each one of us! Unleash the beast, I say!


Financial Communication is subject to interpretation risk

Recently, India’s National Pension Regulator had a tough situation. An advertisement about the National Pension System (NPS), a market-linked product, was labelled “safe”. Mutual fund managers questioned how the product could be called ‘safe’ when half of the investors’ funds were invested in a ‘risky’ portfolio of stocks. The ad was taken off in a flash, but not before the regulator was trolled on social media.

This situation could have been avoided, perhaps in many ways. One of these is in the role played by the respective stakeholders while creating the ad campaign in the first place – right from point of brief to appreciation of the brief to the creative process. There are several lessons for communications professionals from this instance.

  • Don’t dive if you don’t know the depth of the pool– Like any other sector, financial communication requires fine understanding of the products, market participants, and synergies with other sectors. The stakes are higher for communications and advertising professionals due to various regulatory compliances associated with the communication collateral in this sector. Communications experts may not be the sectoral experts, but it is imperative to nail the devil hiding in the details.
  • Go beyond the client brief- Clients may not always understand how much an agency needs to know. I have often played ‘investigative officer’ during client briefs. Believe me, it is more often than not, appreciated.
  • As YOU say is not as THEY hear- For sure, financial products are complex in nature. So is the communication around these. Merely being factually correct may not land the right message to your target audience. In the example of the NPS advertisement, the word ‘safe’ had two different connotations, i.e., fixed returns and government backed. So, while the intent may not have been to mislead, the message was interpreted differently, and the rest as they say is history.

In sum, the rule of thumb is to imagine how a layman might interpret the content, numbers or jargon. In fact, this holds true for any communicator and for any industry. If your family and friends do not understand what you mean easily, please REDO. After all, the average reader is not an expert.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the personal opinion of the author. Text Hundred India Pvt Ltd assumes no responsibility or liability pertaining to this article. 

Diversity in a Women’s World

All this talk about ‘gender diversity’ and ‘inclusion’ at workplace is kind of lost on me. I don’t get it and you really can’t blame me. Having worked only in the PR world, I find it difficult to realize that it isn’t the norm.

A few years ago when I started my work-life and a career in communications, I was surrounded by women all around – bosses, colleagues, clients, media. Fresh out of college, it was so liberating to see smart, articulate, bossy women all around me. Women who would engage and consult the seniormost levels of CEO or MD, or silence them if needed. They could handle corporate crises on their own and also make elaborate lunch plans with their teams. A few years down the line, when I started interacting with and counselling clients independently, every time after a media interview/show when one of the top corporate honchos would turn to me and ask how they did, my inner ‘me’ would respond from seventh heaven. It was empowering and humbling at the same time. This profession taught me that without sex and age as bars, if you are focused and know your business, it can take you to the moon and back.

After nursing and teaching, I think PR is one of the rare professions in the corporate world heavily skewed towards the fairer sex. A rough estimate of the sector would put the female male ratio as 75:25. I have often wondered, what makes women better in this field vis-à-vis others. According to me, the two key reasons for women succeeding in communications world would be – we are better at communication skills and multi-tasking. While there might be reasons galore but this post does not intend to address those, let’s keep them for a different discussion.

Well, a lot of my male counterparts might disagree and debate the reasons endlessly. Have also heard the other side, male colleagues suggesting how the PR field is kind of sexist with pretty girls wielding their soft skills. But how far will your pretty face and soft skills take you? And sorry if we ate up your jobs and your success but we are good at it and you better acknowledge that.

But it’s a special day as all of you have been screaming and shoving it down my throat with offers, emo messages and discounts. In order to show solidarity, I have decided to undertake gender diversity in my own little way in this field. I have inducted a male colleague in the team servicing women’s beauty products. How is that as a small step for gender diversity in this female skewed world of PR? I know that’s not enough but I promise to do more in my own little ways. Hire more boys, appreciate their work more often, teach them to multi-task, give them more feminine products to work on and more. Do you have any more suggestions? After all why should women have all the fun?

This piece has been contributed by Liza Saha, a closet feminist trying to make a career in the communications world. Hates tokenism and chauvinism but appreciates chivalry.

Change is the only constant

Last year wBlog_Shilpias a truly insightful one for me. I stepped outside the realms of PR after about a decade in the industry and had the opportunity to work with diverse set of people, with different specialities and across various sectors. The sheer experience of meeting and interacting with new people taught me a very important aspect of one’s professional life i.e Change is the only constant and one should always be open to it.

Yes, this is an old adage so you might think that I am saying nothing new here. But it is one thing to read about these motivational phrases in text books and another to experience it and understand the essence of it.

In fact, recently, as part of Text 100’s training programme we had the former Xerox India MD, Mr. Rajat Jain take a session on leadership for the entire managerial and leadership team. He called out “Change” as one of the single most important factor that has helped him to succeed in the various endeavours he has undertaken so far. ‘Change’ in his thinking, his approach and attitude to enable him to evolve in every role he has undertaken and adapt to new circumstances.

It is important for professionals to always look at newer ways to bring about change, to sustain an edge in this competitive environment. A successful professional will always be aware of the needs of the environment and willing to make the relevant investments towards “Change”. Individuals or companies who are unable to embrace change or innovate to drive an edge for themselves in this scenario, perish.

We have examples of several companies who were leaders in their category when they started but today are struggling to find their identity. Some, in fact no longer exist. Some of the biggest companies have been challenged by the innovative thinking of the start-ups who have forced them to relook at their traditional approach to address the changing requirements of their customers.

Taking a cue from children

We often see that children at any age love to experiment, try out new things – their mind is never bogged down with the fear of the unknown, fear of  failure, fear of what others will say, whether they will perform better than their peers, whether people will appreciate them. And because they are fearless, they learn new things every day and adapt to new circumstances quickly. On the contrary, our mind is constantly plagued by various inhibitions and we remain ensconced in our own world – scared to try out anything new.

In the era of survival of the fittest, it is extremely important for everyone to constantly look within themselves, innovate, remain agile and abreast with new developments taking shape. Those who cannot do that, will not be able to survive the test of time!

This piece has been contributed by Shilpi Prasad

Buy by Wire

If you wanted to buy an electronic device a couple of years back, there was always this ‘guy-geek’ in your circle of friends whom you would call upon. He would definitely know the market like the back of his hand. He would give you some much needed but heavily boring gyaan about clock speeds and sensor sizes. A conversation that would help you purchase the much needed gadget but would leave you with a headache.

Let’s fast forward to today. How would you buy an electronic device, for example a digital camera today? The first thing you would do is put it up on the social network of your choice – Twitter, Facebook, Instagram etc.

Or, you would find a forum that is discussing about cameras and ask the people there. The chances are that the ‘guy-geek’ is also there, who is giving his valuable inputs. But, there are even greater chances of hearing from normal people (non-geeks) and their experience about the device that you are about to buy. And, sometimes, that information is a lot more important than just an objective comparison provided by a magazine or your geek-friend.

This is exactly what our findings tell us too, according to Text100s Digital Index – Consumer Electronics, Indians place less importance on word-of-mouth when researching Traditional Electronics and Home Appliances (33%). However they do rely heavily on what may be termed the ‘modern word-of-mouth’ – online sharing – particularly when researching Smart Devices and Wearable Technology (49%-56%).

Why do you think we are seeing this shift to online research rather than word-of-mouth. Yes, its true that we have better broadband penetration in terms of fixed line as well as mobile broadband. But, as history has told us, its more about the application of technology than the technology itself.

The biggest reason for this is the opportunity for people to complete the purchase cycle easily in India. Earlier, we could research for hours for a product that we wished to buy, but buying it was a different story altogether. I remember waiting for months for some of the game titles to launch in India before I could buy them. But, no more.

Let me illustrate this with an example of my cousin, who stays in Gwalior. One of the major cities in Madhya Pradesh in India, Gwalior has an important place in the history of central India. It is a small city with an abundance of monuments that are a photographer’s delight.

My cousin, who has been born and brought up in Gwalior, was always mesmerised what his home city offered. He started his photographic journey with a a traditional film-based Nikon SLR. And, he was using the same camera for the longest time. Mainly because of two reasons – firstly he could not buy a new model and its accessories easily in his city and secondly, nobody was ready to buy his traditional SLR kit to help him upgrade. It took him almost a year to get rid of his old camera and buy the equipment necessary to shift fully to a DSLR.

This was about seven years back. Fast forward to today – he has just changed his loyalties and has moved to a Canon DSLR kit. Try speaking to a photographer and you would know how difficult it is to change camps from Nikon to Canon and vice-versa. None of the accessories like lenses and flash are compatible. How long did it take for him to shift? Less than 15 days.

This included selling off his old camera and its lenses, researching for a new Canon camera and buying all the accessories. All of this was done online. He sold his old camera on OLX (an Indian auction site), researched using various forums that he was part of and bought all the new equipment from various online portals like Ebay, Flipkart, HomeShop 18 and others.

To summarize, while the new order has increased the choices for consumers in metros; the real impact is more countrywide for people in tier 2/3 cities. They can not only research products online they can use that research and actually convert that into a purchase of a product from virtually any part of the world. Finally, they are able to complete that purchase cycle. Something, that could not even be imagined less than five years ago. 

Authored by Geetaj Channana, Senior Consultant and National Digital Lead at Text100 India

Measure the value of PR, what’s that?

India and globally as well, despite knowing the benefits that PR delivers to a brand or product, spends on it are miniscule in comparison to advertising. PR budgets are a part of the advertising spend that a company plans and then only about 3% to 5% of the advertising budget is set aside for PR.

There are enough studies done to gauge the impact of PR on company’s products and services and more importantly their reputation. In fact, an InterBrand study found that 27 percent of a brand’s value is tied to how often the brand name appears in the press. In industries that involve more research before purchases are made, public relations can account for nearly half of the brand value. It is also a well established fact that good editorial coverage is considered 6x to 8x as influential as advertising. Despite these facts, budgets for PR remain abysmally low and no investments are made for measurement of PR either by companies or by PR Agencies.

To the best of my understanding, the challenges that remain for measuring the impact of PR are 2 fold and interrelated.

  1. Since the budgeted spends on PR are very low, the budgets for measuring PR either do not exist in the budgets allocated or are so low that nothing much can be done in that money besides, Advertising Value Equivalents (AVE) calculations.
  2. The problem is also compounded by the fact that other measurement techniques and services come at an exorbitant rate in comparison to measurement in advertising.  For example, in advertising usually a company spends about less than 3% of their advertising budgets for measurement.

Sadly, in India specifically, Advertising Value Equivalents (AVE) method of measurement is quite prevalent with a lot of Corporate Communication professionals. AVEs are calculated by measuring the column inches of coverage and based on their placement (page) multiplying it with the publication’s advertising rates. The resulting number is what it would have cost to place an advertisement of that size in that publication.

Advertising Value Equivalents have no place in public relations or media measurement is a fact known by several measurement experts, public relations professionals and academicians, besides, this model has several inherent flaws too.

  • Advertising and publicity have complementary but not same strengths: Generally speaking, advertising tends to command attention and create awareness. Public relation tends to build credibility. Normally a business needs both. However, AVE tends to cloud this issue by falsely equating advertising and public relations. This in turn reinforces the ancient but ever-popular fallacy that public relation is “free advertising”. In fact, it is not free and it is not advertising
  • Advertising Rates & Calculation: The calculation of AVE itself has several problems. In many cases no advertising rates exist and in a few instances, publications don’t accept advertisements on their front pages. In recent times publications have further segmented their rates through cross-bundling (other publications & channels of the group), promotions, colour and other such variables. The measurement agencies are not reflecting this segmentation in their calculations
  • Positive coverage: A highly positive article can be worth much more than a single advertisement in the same space. This is because readers consciously or sub-consciously think of an advertisement as an instance of a company boasting about itself. However an article is viewed as an implied endorsement by a presumably objective and knowledgeable third party. So, from this perspective, AVE underestimates the value of the editorial
  • Negative Coverage: There is no advertising equivalent to a ‘negative’ or ‘unfavorable’ story. So how does AVE factor for this type of coverage that impacts perceptions? Most times, it is simply ignored, thus giving a biased measurement result
  • Industry Coverage: Many articles are industry stories where several companies are quoted. There is no benchmark of calculating AVEs in such instances; is the entire article to be used or the portions where the client is quoted or mentioned to be used?

There has not been much investment by PR companies in developing proper tools, science and systems for measuring the work that they do and linking it to business performance of their clients. And unless we can develop a system of measurement linked to the business performance and show the impact of PR on that, investments will continue to be low on PR and even lower in measurement.

The leaders of the PR Industry need to make investments into developing measurement tools that are cost effective and showcase clearly the impact of PR on the company’s bottom and top line. They also need to come together as one and adopt a method of measurement as an industry standard instead of having multiple methods of measurement being recognised. There is much merit in learning from our richer cousins – the Advertising Industry.

Some of my more erudite clients asked me to provide them with an easy solution to measuring PR, they like me did not believe in AVE, however, needed a volume based system to be able to satisfy the accounts division who questioned ROI and others who were also looking to pull down the work that the corporate communications department was doing. We designed a metrics based system on readership, viewership and page views and it’s working well so far. Perhaps we as an industry can begin with this married to the message being delivered and the audience that we are reaching through the media vehicles we are using. This can be the first tiny step we take together.

Authored by Rafi Qadar Khan, Deputy Managing Consultant @Text100India (Delhi) – ace communications consultant, self-proclaimed amateur photographer, foodie and someone who talks for a living. 

A Syrian war of words! Can cross-border PR save the world?

Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin are fighting the big fight. Not with bombs and missiles, but with words. A softer and in the long run, a more powerful weapon.

What, you may ask, is happening?

The Background: It’s got everything to do with Syria. Following evidence (just like Iraq had WMD’s I suppose) that sarin gas was used to kill 1000’s of its citizens recently, the United States and Obama is chafing at the bit to go to war with Syria. A limited, no boots on the ground war, that aims to take out “key” targets. Early in September, Obama stated publicly that he planned to seek approval from the US Congress for war against Syria. The deadline for approval was set as Sept 9.

In the interim, Russia and Putin, counter argued that US could not unilaterally declare war on a sovereign nation. They interceded and offered a silver lining to Bashar Assad – if Syria would agree to handover their chemical weapon stockpile, war could be averted. Assad of course grabbed that with both hands.
Obama however is not convinced. Arguments for and against war is raging in the US media (the US has to be and wants to be the top dog of the world. Anything that will undermine their position will not be tolerated).

Something else that is different from any of the wars / potential wars of before – Obama is looking for permission from the public to go to war with Syria, couching it as the US’s duty to protect people who are oppressed. However, the citizens are tired of war. Afghanistan and Iraq are still simmering.

Here is where PR comes in.

Putin, in all his KGB brilliance, penned an Op-Ed piece in the holy of holies, The New York Times! So well crafted, that a person reading it will come away marveling at Obama’s foolhardiness and 2ill-thought approach to the Syrian crisis. [As an aside – if anybody ever questions you about the power of an opinion article, please share this with them].

The article is sheer brilliance. Words are used ever so subtly. A few of them below:

  • “RECENT events surrounding Syria have prompted me to speak directly to the American people and their political leaders.” –Americans love forthrightness. By and large, the regular folks are pretty straight. By using “speak directly” Putin touches a chord
  • “The United Nations’ founders understood that decisions affecting war and peace should happen only by consensus, and with America’s consent the veto by Security Council permanent members was enshrined in the United Nations Charter.” – Hammer the point that UN Charter was developed with US consent
  • “Potential strike by the United States against Syria, despite strong opposition from many countries and major political and religious leaders, including the pope, will result in more innocent victims” – The Pope is referenced. America is a very religious country (Surprised? It is very much so) and jotting down that the Pope too has voiced his concern adds might to his argument
  • “We are not protecting the Syrian government, but international law.” – This is for everybody’s benefit, not just Russia
  • “Reports that militants are preparing another attack — this time against Israel — cannot be ignored.” – Israel is a touchy subject. Anything that might threaten Israel’s security does not go down well with American public
  • The ending paragraph is again sheer brilliance (yes, I know I have used the word too many times). Please, please read it.

The article was placed with the help of Ketchum, who is representing Putin in the US. There is reason to believe that the translation might have been done by them. I wonder how many drafts it went through!

I can’t think of any other time a leader of a country has written to citizens of another, to appeal them to *not* side with their own elected officials!

If you want the back story on how the article was placed, read it here. The NYT says that it is one of most popular opinion pieces they have ever featured. Editor Andrew Rosenthal also answers questions on whether it was morally (it is universally acknowledged that Putin is no angel) right on NYT’s part to give Putin a podium to voice his opinion.

So, what do you think? Is this PR at its finest? …or worst?

Authored by Zibi Jamal from @Text100India (Bangalore) – a communications consultant par excellence.