Monday, December 25, 2006


Soon after my schooling in 1994, I did Hotel Management from IHM, Chennai. As part of the course, students get opportunity to work in star hotels and get a feel of the industry. What I observed was that in 5 star hotels autos were not being allowed to go till the portico. Guests who traveled by autos had to get down at the gate and walk into the hotel.

I quit the industry soon after I joined. No, it was not because they did not allow autos inside hotels. I hated the life as an employee in a hotel.

After many years, I was recently standing at Taj Coromandel’s porch. And to my amazement, there came an auto and two foreign tourists got down and walked in. The security which is quite tight at Coromandel allowed the auto to go. It was quite shocking, actually. I quizzed the Durban on how come an auto was allowed. He told me then that many foreign guests had requested hotel management to allow auto inside the hotel. Why? Autos to them were true Indian experience, amongst many other things.

Isn’t it quite funny? As Chennaites (and am sure it’s true for other metros, too), we abhor autos. And here are these foreign visitors who want to experience it.

And actually, autos are truly Indian. They are our identity.

I have been thinking about it for sometime. I have come to believe that the recent attempts by some Western Governments to dissuade Muslim women from wearing bukhas and head scarves to school/class is an indicator of intolerance. It is an attempt to erase a strong, historical identity.

Similarly, very recently, British Airways got into an unnecessary skirmish with the church in England over its decision to not allow Nadia Eweida, an employee wear a tiny cross while on work.

Think about it, can you ask a Brahmin to remove his cross belt or a Sardar to shave.

Why is it that the tolerance levels today are so low?

Its not just identity, even behaviors we are not familiar with is matter of ridicule.

A couple of years back, I had gone to Delhi as part of a training program. Couple of colleagues from other metros too had joined in.

After our work, when we came back to hotel room, I switched on TV to watch Sun TV. A colleague from Mumbai commented in a not so subtle derogatory manner about Tamilians and their affinity to Sun TV. Hey come on, that’s what I like! Similarly, many North Indians ridicule that South Indians prefer plumpy heroines. First of all, it is not true; secondly, even if it is so, what’s wrong with that.

I guess if each one of us is able to increase tolerance levels and appreciate different cultures and their identity, we will have a better society to live in. I guess that is a difficult proposition.

While, there are many ways to achieve that, I feel that educational institutes should not be run by religious institutions. Nor should an institute have religious leanings.

Anyway, I am sure our leaders are thinking about it. Or are they?

One has fallen back to the temple issue while the other is busy segregating.

Picture source:

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Was that for PR?

My colleague Twinkle exclaimed that it was a great PR move! I knew what she was talking about. Pesticide problem was plaguing (still, I guess) the cola companies and then came the announcement that Indra Nooyi was going to be heading Pepsi's global operations.

I told Twinkle that this would not have been the case. Indra Nooyi's ascent was not because a relatively small part of the global operations was having trouble, believing that an Indian taking over will solve the problem. What happens if tomorrow, Pakistani operations have a trouble, will they replace Indra with a Pakistani?

I guess Twinkle is passionate about PR and that’s why she sees every corporate move as a PR initiative.

This I figured out when she said that Lalu speaking at IIM-A was a big PR achievement for the institution. Well, I agree there was good PR but can't say who contributed to whose image!

After mulling over her comments, I was wondering whether Corporates do PR for the sake of doing PR or is there strong business reasoning.

And as a management student who chanced upon a PR career, I could only reason out that PR is just a tool for communication and companies would not use this tool unless and until they have something substantial to announce. Think about it. Would a car brand launch a new vehicle because it wants to do PR or because it wants to increase its revenues, address a customer need, or, at max, ward off competition.

Thought of PR comes to the management after they have something concrete at their hands to offer.

Wait a minute, Twinkle could still be right. To me, Mr. Ratan Tata's Rs. 1 lac car seems like a PR move. Why? Since he made the announcement, nothing much has happened. Last heard (read in some newspaper), Tata Motors was not sure if the car will be priced at Rs. 1 lac. The cost might push the price little beyond Rs. 1 lac. Oh yes, land has been cleared in West Bengal for this project, though.

But why am I so cynical? Rs. 1 lac car could be Mr. Tata's vision. And great visions don't get translated to reality in a short period.

Though PR provides me bread-and-butter, I do not think Corporates have PR in mind behind every move.

As one will understand from Kotler's 4 Ps, Product comes first; Price comes second, then the Place, and finally the Promotion. Yeah, PR is part of Promotion.

Well that’s the ideal situation. In the highly competitive environment, those are just guidance. In practice things change.

I was reading Thinking Strategically by Avinash K. Dixit and Barry J. Nalebuff, there are many instances where communication has been used strategically to improve ones chances in a Game. One such chapter talked about Unconditional Moves where the authors describe how America could improve its chances against Japan in the race for HDTV standards. There are many more such cases in the book.

By the way, people who follow management and strategy, Thinking Strategically is a great book. You can order this book at Thinking-Strategically-Competitive-Politics-Everyday/dp/0393310353.

But those are strategic moves.

So, is PR reactive? Can it work only when the client shares a development and agencies come with a strategy on how to handle that event? Can PR consultants never don the mantle of a Management/Marketing consultant?

Not quite so. In our lives as a PR professional, we come across many instances where we have to do activities that are more ad hoc than planned. To justify our existence and in the name of value addition, we are urged to bring coverage even on unrelated topics. Worse, in many cases the clients themselves do not have a good strategy and expect agencies to bring clarity. But to look at that positively, it underlines the growing maturity of PR agencies.

But doing PR and waiting for business may be foolhardy. PR is a great tool in the hands of Corporates, if their overall strategy is in place. PR cannot by itself be corporate strategy!

Pictures source:

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Apple and MS

Yesterday, a colleague asked me advice on buying an Apple laptop.

Why me? Coz, I have been using an iBook for over two years now. My peers call me a fanatic, though I believe that am little short of that state.

Unlike, many youngsters, my tryst with computers began only in 1995 during my second year at graduation. Oh yes, computers have been in existence much before that. Yeah, I have seen them when I was 10 through the keyholes in my school. Those computers were there to be seen, not to be worked on.

It was only during the project work in MBA that I really got to work on a PC. Primarily, the MS Word. Despite being a novice, in a short time, I could teach many features of the application to my PC-literate classmates. Most of them were engineers and regarded as authority on computers were quite sweetly surprised by my experimentation with the application.

Then came the professional life and being a white collared professional, PC became an integral part of my life.

Microsoft Word was and still continues to be the most used Application. MS PowerPoint comes close second. Yeah, browsing and mail clients are an integral part.

A couple of years back, my company came with a laptop plan where employees could buy laptops at 50% of the cost and in easy instalments. I jumped in.

While making my decision on which brand to go for, I looked around. Dell, Dell, Dell, and more Dell. That grey executive machine was there everywhere. My boss had it, my super boss had it. Many clients had it. Oh yes, the Big Blue's Black machine too was there.

Hmm, now how could I go for what everyone was going for. Needed to be different.

What's the choice? What else but the beauty! An Apple laptop. So I decided upon the Apple iBook because Power Book was little more expensive. I decided upon the G4 iBook. I had always thought that the Apple laptops come in the shape of the Apple logo with bright colors, as shown in many movies. But what did I get, a pure white simple looking laptop.

Though disappointed, I still went for the white beauty, as I realized soon.

So, here comes the transformation in my life. So long, the only operating system that I knew was MS Windows. I guess, I am one of the few Indians who probably have worked on both MS and Mac.

MS Windows is no comparison to a sturdy Mac. In the last 3 years, I never had a single instance of the machine hanging, yeah, at times the applications do hang but the system as such never did.

I started receiving more attention than my boss and my colleagues. I used to flaunt my machine at every meeting. Many clients would start the meetings after spending a healthy 10-15 minutes talking about my machine. Everyone wanted to have it or exchange theirs with mine. Those were proud moments.

For those who have got used to MS operating system, Mac is little different but not difficult. The Dock is one of the best feature of the Mac machines. Run your pointer from one end of screen to other, the Dock, which stores most-used applications, creates a Mexican wave. I used it to death to impress my female colleagues and even others. :)

I loved Safari for its neatness unlike the ugly looking Internet Explorer. In recent times, I have taken to using FireFox which is as elegant as Safari, itself. I bought MS Office package for Mac. I am not sure why but all MS applications for are so beautifully designed for Mac but not attractive on their own operating system. Can't figure out, why?

The other concerns, that many in my organization had raised, were the availability of applications. Well, its true and not true, at the same time. Today, most of the applications that one uses are available for Mac platform. If I check the Applications folder in my machine, I have MS Office, I have all the messengers one would use - MSN, Yahoo..., browsers, PDF software, media players, stickies, games, and many more. I even have Lotus Notes.

And very recently, the Google Earth!

Of course, Apple's own applications are out of the world. iPhoto, iMovies, iChat, iCalendar, Mail. But my all time favorite is KEYNOTE. Use it and you will never want to use any other software for presenting your presentations. I will leave it as a mystery to you.

Everything was going fine, and then things changed. My wife wanted a machine at home for use as she had decided to take a break from work-life. And I had to reluctantly give away my iBook to her. Can you hear my heart break!

Took a big hit on my ego. So far, I had been taking a dig at MS and now, I had to get back to the IBM-architecture. Tough decision.

So, now, I am back to a desktop! Using MS OS.

Well, I would classify myself as OS agnostic person. So, I could, with ease, move to different platforms.

Now, I have come to admire MS, too. The ease that it offers is amazing. I can work on an MS OS without having to use a mouse which is not true for Mac. Just Tab, Enter, Esc. Everything you need can be done. The Alt commands make your life very easy. As they say productivity increases.

The way MS is building functionality in its applications is amazing. Word continues to be my all-time favourite applications. It has so many features that it will take a life time to discover and use all of it.

So, life after all is not that bad.

But ask me what is my dream machine!

An Apple with all the ease of MS applications! I guess, the dream is already true.

Monday, November 13, 2006

FM radios in Chennai

It has been pretty long since I devoted anytime for my blog. Should I say it was laziness or lack of commitment. Or maybe I should blame it on the hectic life over the last two months.

Whatever, I wanted to register my thoughts on the deluge of FM on a Chennaites radio. This was when Radio City was just launched.

And before, I could register, there are two more on our antennas. Now, there is Suryan FM, Radio Mirchi, Radio City, Big FM, Hello FM, Rainbow, then I am not sure what it is called but we have AIR's FM at 105, and a couple of Community radios (from MOP Vaishnav and Anna University). My Alto has a basic headset and there is place for only 6 FM stations to be programmed for easy retrieval. With so stations, my biggest headache was to prioritize which ones to store. I took some time to listening each and found that all the stations were more similar. Hardly anything in the name of differentiation, in content or presentation.

Then of course, things have changed and will continue to do so.

To start with I thought that Radio City had not done its preparation and simply did not deserve a place. Or that is what I thought, then. Today, they are the most differentiated private FM. While others (again with the exception of Hello) play primarily Tamil, City has more English and Hindi content.

I think if one performs a blind test, City will stand out. But does Hindi and English cut ice with Tamil listeners. Jury is still out on that.

The other big surprise I thought was Hello FM. There is loads of energy in presentation and the music they play. Haven't heard about the RJs but they seem to be doing a enthu job. One surpass, of course, is Niladri. For many English music listeners on FM, his voice is the most recognizable. He does a show with Hello which otherwise plays Tamil music only.

In terms of the launch, I think, Big lived upto its name. Its pre-launch PR and media campaign definitely set the scene ablaze. It poached Deena and Balaji from Suryan and Mirchi, respectively. And as my wife told me, their strategy was to mix old and new songs. And I think it does a good job. Of course, within a week I figured that they were playing the same set of songs, day-in-day-out. En Asai (T Rajendar's song)...

As a strategy, I thought mixing the songs - old and new, does not present you a strong competitive advantage. Not sure, what Mr. Ambani's Adlabs has up its sleeves.

Staying tuned to Big, Asin's campaign doesn't seem to make any sense, at least now. The other big disappointment is Deena. Known as Blade Deena when he was at Suryan and now as Speed Deena, he is one of the best RJs. He is quick-witted and good to listen to. But alas, Big hasn't used him well. Balaji, as usual, talks a lot.

The other big attraction that Big has are TV stars Uma Riaz and Chetan. Both fail miserably. Uma is shadowed by can't-shut-mouth Balaji. She must be wondering where she is struck. Chetan on the other hand falters and doesn't seem to fit the Radio culture. He seems out of place.

I guess, I have covered too much of the new entrants.

The first bout of freshness for Chennai FM listeners were Suryan and Mirchi. Each positioned differently. While Suryan I thought was for Tamil-Tamil listeners, Mirchi was more hep. Mirchi's RJs attained great fame. Suchitra became a hit. She does many things now, hosts TV shows and becomes chief guest at many functions. Balaji also did a show then with Vijay TV. In the afternoons, Mirchi had many programs targeted towards women including one with Chef Dhamu.

Suryan was Tamil music, more Tamil music and more Tamil music. One program that I hated was Periya Thambi, Chinna Thambi. But used to loved Deena's Blade No. 1. Of course, Suryan also took RJs to the streets through a program where an RJ visits a particular area and takes the song requests. Good connect.

Rainbow FM was the only one which played little bit of English music but must say the RJs are bad. Somehow, I felt most of the callers who made requests for English songs were Anglo-Indian school girls. I guess, I am highly opined.

105 and Rainbow also have current affairs and news programs. Being a PR professional and even otherwise, I do regularly tune into these channels while driving back home.

If your radio set is struck deep inside your house, then you probably could listen to Mirchi and Suryan. But interestingly, I City and Big which are not well received inside home was better off on the highways and places outside Chennai limits.

Now, there is the problem of plenty. In a day, I get to listen to FM between 8-9 at home, then between 9-10 while driving, and finally, half an hour while driving back. To choose from so many FMs needs some thinking. So, the most visited stations of the six that I have programmed are City, Big, Hello and 105.

Guess, had too much of Suryan and Mirchi. Yeh dil maange new!

Still, it definitely makes me wonder is there place for more. Heard that a couple of more FM channels are in the offing. What do the listeners need? The answer is not easy. Considering that a players has cracked listeners mind, others may not be too far.

Going forward, I think, a couple of these stations will loose out. Others have to focus and try to retain a set of audience. A player cannot try to be everything for everybody.

The rules of the game might change once the Government opens up current affairs to be covered by private FMs.

Tune-in later!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Annalakshmi: Overhyped!

Long time since I posted.

Work, frustrations, and little travel! Or should I say motivation was not there.

Anyway, I am back, trying to post again.

So, last week, I went to Annalakshmi for lunch with my colleague and a client.

Annalakshmi as many Chennaites would know is a premium South Indian veg restaurant. Before this occassion, I went there, just once, in 2000. Annalakshmi, which I am told is run by a swamiji, is known for its food. The cooks and service staff are from good background.

So, we ordered meals for ourselves. To be honest, I did not find anything exciting about the place. The food is ok. There was too much of oil in the potato dish, rice, chappathis...The food tasted more like home food. For some its good. For people like me, we want to eat out because we need challenge for the taste buds.

The restaurant by itself was well decorated but had a mix of Mughal and Ravi Varma painings. I could not understand why.

Service is good.

But coming back, is Annalakshmi worth the hype? I don't think so! And I could be grossly wrong.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

What's my next step?

Over the lunch table at office, our director raised a question on what would be the final destination (professionally) for a PR person (an executive working for a PR agency).

He felt that as head of corporate communications one hits the plateau (Peter Principle). There is no further growth for the PR executive. Where does this person go from here?

It was a scary thought. I did manage to tell him that the future should be a transition to marketing or sales function. Our director didn't think so. He asked me to recall if I knew of any corporate communications person who had made this transition. If a Corp Comm ever became the marketing head or CEO of an organization.

Actually, I did not.

While a parallel thought was running in my mind. What does the PR executive at an agency do? MT to Executive, Executive to Manager, Manager to Director. From more media to more clients and then maybe to operations/organization.

I know of Account Directors and Managers who have for over a decade (little less or little more) done the same thing. Have they hit the plateau.

Point to wonder.

Well, most of the PR executive move from agency to client maybe one to expand the role from a service provider to one who manages agencies who are responsible for the image/branding of the company. So, instead of just looking at PR function now one has to look into ads, pr, and other communication tools.

But, is it valued and considered as strategic by the management, thats management's problem.

Well, I do believe that atleast there is more money and exposure on the other side. Or is it just a case of the grass is greener on the otherside. What say you?

Pic source:

Who cares if I don't look like Johnny Depp?

No, this is not about me or Johnny Depp.

I was wondering to myself, how not-so-great-looking guys and gals become stars in the movies.

I am so much reminded of Vijay. The Ilaya Thalapathi as he is known amongst his fans in TN. Oh, how can I forget Rajinikanth.

But then Vijay and Rajini are bigger hits than lets say Ajit, Kamalhassan...

When Vijay was launched, forget men even women would not have kind of liked him. But over a period of time with movies of his releasing, every now and then (thanks maybe to his parent's connections), Vijay stayed on. A couple of good films with meaty roles, Vijay has transformed and is likely to be the next Super Star (Rajini).

No denying that Vijay is very talented.

So, what makes these guys turn around and become successful.

Is it that they are forcefed to us and we get used to them?

Does this happen to brands as well...Can a brand fail initially and then if brand persists and improves, it does have a chance.

What's wrong with me, haven't we heard of Microsoft?

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Pesticide or Pepsi?

There was this Big Fight in NDTV, yesterday. The fighters - an adman, an activist, and, I think, a politician, were vociferously defending their view point.

Oh forgot! The topic was pesticides in cola drinks.

Only in the morning, I watched the documentary 'Supersize me!'. It was a documentary on the effect of fast foods on the American population. How more and more Americans are becoming obese. The documentary claimed that all this was because of McDonald, KFCs, Burgerkings, and the likes. The director takes upon himself to prove that the food served by these fast food (or junk food) outlets are at fault. So, Mr. Director decides to eat McDonald burgers for the next one month. He eats them as his breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Snacks as well. He, intelligently, uses doctors to study his body's response/performance and infers that the burgers are dangerous to the human society.

Wow! That was innovative.

Coming back to the Cola controversy. If the levels of pesticides are not as per the international standards, why is it that cola companies which otherwise would have been accountable anywhere in the West, are strongly rejecting the findings of this communication.

If I were the head of either cola giant, instead of fighting the report, I would choose to work very closely with the agency and try to bring down the pesticide. Just like what J&J did in its worst crisis. The image of the brand would have gone significantly up in the minds of the customer. I would have beaten my competition blue and black.

Well, I guess that is something that one can dream off.

The other party who is central to the whole issue and yet prefers to be a mute spectator is the Government. What is their stand on it? The Cola guys are here to do business and make huge profits. The testing agency has done its job and brought 'facts' before the consumers. But the Government, the one which is more responsible than anyone else for the safety of its citizens decides to not act upon this.

What can it do? I hope, they know. I am not going to give any suggestions to them.

Well, not sure how many of you have heard of 'caveat emptor'. says caveat emp·tor (?mp'tôr') n. The axiom or principle in commerce that the buyer alone is responsible for assessing the quality of a purchase before buying.

If I understand well, its the consumer alone who is responsible for her/his decisions. Of course, has little additional information its says ...Generally Caveat Emptor was the property law doctrine that controlled the sale of real property after the date of closing. Under the doctrine of Caveat Emptor, the buyer cannot recover from the seller for defects on the property that renders the property unfit for ordinary purposes. The only exception was if the seller actively concealed patent defects.'

I guess sellers will always try to conceal facts and figures but now with consumer activism, information is available to all. Despite documentaries like Supersize me! and activists against pesticides in colas, if consumers still take a decision of buying or consuming such products/services, they should be the only one to be blamed and held responsible. Of course, unless, the Goverment decides to do something about it.

I was also upset with the Supersize me!. Savitha, my wife, was all the more. Savitha was upset because she felt that one cannot blame Big Mac or anyones else for selling food stuff. They did not ask you to come daily and eat their burgers, they did not ask you not to exercise. If the consumers prefer to harm themselves despite God offering them the power to think, then do not blame others.

One should not blame other for their own actions is what we are always told. How can it be different in Cola or Big Mac case?

It is stupidity to sue others for your own folly.

Before, I finish, Aamir Khan is considered to be a responsible celeb and ambassador. Will he ask Coca-Cola to prove themselves or will he still say Piyo Sar Uthake, of course, with the pesticides.

Picture source:

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Was it a PR disaster?

Sometime back, I had raised the issue of Apollo Hospitals' handling of Rahul Mahajan episode to the PR Point, an online forum for PR professionals. I wanted to check if my fellow PR professionals thought that it was a PR disaster for Apollo Hospitals. Here is what I had written and the comments from members.


I wrote

I do not know what happened behind the closed doors at Indraprastha Apollo? I do not even know what happened at 7, Safdarjung Road.

But whatever is happening should be of interest to any PR (wo)man.

Did Apollo doctors miss it? Or was it deliberate or maybe pressure? Maybe, they are speaking the truth? I guess not, because they have gone back on their words recently.

But if we take this as an hypothetical situation and if one of us were the PR (wo)man for the hospital (could be any company in a crisis situation) and if we had access to the truth, what would we have done?

There maybe immense pressure to suppress the truth or some value for not speaking the facts. If the business proposition is better than the PR admission, what will you do?

Mr. Santosh C Balan said

1. Get the facts very clear and double check if required as the whole case is under media glare.

2. First inform the police or court authorities when they are involved as they are the ones who will investigate the case. A lot of negative publicity could have been avoided if they would have taken the police authorities in to confidence. Why was it necessary to give the report to the media?? Did the media ask for it? Is the media going to decide or act on the report? I feel this was a blunder that they committed.

3. Why was it necessary to hold a media briefing? If at all there was a pressure from the media all queries could have been through the police. Only in case the Police give something contrary to the facts which may be detrimental to the hospital, then they should have used the media to purvey their version of the story.

4. In all such sensitive cases when there is excessive media attention, its always better to lie low. But the glamour attached to see their names in the media often tempts to give out such frivolous briefings which does more harm than any good.

Mr. Arun Arora who till recently was heading Maruti's Corp Comm said

My take on how I would have handled:

- Ascertain facts.
- In case found the our earlier statement was incorrect - admit it -
assigning a reason (preliminary report, technical error or human error
etc) - but come upfront and admit - mistake and issue a factual
statement - strictly in simple medical terms - leaving interpretations
to police / media and politicians.
- Keep a low profile

In between I wondered if the PR professionals at Apollo took the back seat, for which Rahul Anand commented

PR is in charge of media and they have to proactively move. This is a clear cut case of lethargy on the part of the PR team there.

Mr. Neelamegham observed

I am in fact happy seeing such matured views on the subject. I was in fact shocked to see the media on an upfront mood on Rahul Mahajan story - leave alone television networks - the Hindu (used to be considered a great newspaper of the South - perhaps still is like I do) put out the story in the masthead although in 6 out of 8 columns. Who is Rahul? A politician's son. What is the significance of that 'happening'. Many such unsavoury events take place everyday - perhaps some in a few politicians' bungalows of Delhi's elite areas. Most of Media audience are not interested in such 'highlights'.

There are many more issues that need 'highlighted' space. The media could have made an emboldened effort to elicit views from their
readers/viewers/listners on the subject like Office of Profit issue and the reaction to Hon'ble President's returning the bill with his comments, instead of wasting time and space on which politician's family is having what fun?

That is a valid point.

Rupali Kalav who is with SBI Caps stated that it was a disaster and said

Yes no doubt I feel it is a PR disaster but end of the day it is the media which needs to be hold responsible who has created all this hype. The 24 hours news channel is constantly on the look out for any news item just to keep their viewership.

Out of this episode, the only question that comes to my mind, why do
Apollo hospital needs to come out with a daily update report or have a
press conference. Rahul Mahajan is not a politician nor a known successful entity.

This is all the media speculation which has led to such a bad management. Just being Pramod Mahajan's son is no big deal that media needs to go overboard.

Ms. Meena Vaidyanathan of Honeywell commented

Good point to raise. What was to take notice is the "bad PR management" on Apollo's part. Whether they are speaking the truth or not became an issue, only when they went overboard (away from their regular policy, if I may add) with the press conference and the 24-hr medical update. Someone should have advised them that even if they were to present facts, it should be done in a manner that doesn't make anyone smell a rat.

For all you know the hospital is right and someone is just using the situation to create confusion. But because the process was badly managed, it has raise so much speculation.

So, in my opinion as an image management advisor, I would have advised the following:

1. Get the story on the test reports as fast as possible to quell rumours and make a fast and quick press statement (the fact that the reports came uncharacteristically 3 days after the incident only helped fuel rumours)!

2. Its not the hospital's business to report 24-hrs on the medical status of the patient. I thought the Hinduja hospital managed this really well in Pramod Mahajan's case. There were "updates" every now and then but no needless "press conferences".

3. A quote a day suits the personality of the politician. When a doctor does it, it shakes the complete faith of any human being. An absolute no-no in a political controversy like this.

Ms. Meenakshi of Pinstorm felt there was a conspiracy and said

I somehow feel the entire episode is a PR initiative by some who never wanted Rahul Mahajan to enter politics given the fact that Vivek Moitra was supposed to announce Rahul's future plan on June 3rd.

The Apollo hospital could have been under pressure to suppress the facts. And Apollo hospital wouldn't want to get itself entangled in a controversy might have bowed to the pressure only to realize that the media has become more prominent toll than it was 5 yrs back.

In addition, there must be someone who badly doesn't want Rahul to get into politics and who has the information as to what happened, leaking the news to the media.

All said and done it was a bad press for Apollo and the Mahajan's and good one for those decry Mahajan's

Mr. Jaganathan in a lighter vein said

Well the Apollo group is not known for PR activities. Incidentally does the hospital has the right to divulge the patient information to the public? But next time I go for a test at Apollo, I will surely ask whether the results are `qualitative' or `quantitative'. Can anyone tell me the difference between these two terms in the case of lab tests?

Rahul Anand after some serious thinking said

The hospital should have stayed away from giving statements to the media. As any company or spokesperson is entitled to refrain from commenting, the hospital should have taken a firm stance in its PR initiative. As many have commented here, they should have reserved their comments, until there was enough clarity on the messages that could be disseminated.

Media canÂ’t be blamed (TV Channels) for being inquisitive. ItÂ’s their job to report sensitive issues. More importantly, speculation was rife (rightly so) that it was another murder attempt at the Mahajans.

Media was instrumental in providing a larger picture of drug trafficking, which has resulted in many landing behind the bars. It is another debatable issue as to how long these anti-social elements will remain there.

The increasingly inquisitive media and the growing concept of citizen journalism will pose enormous challenges to PR professionals. The case of Apollo relenting to their pressure is a lesson (for PR pros) and reflects the task in hand for all of us in the days to come.

Finally, Meera of Aarohan said

That is a very important point - when does a hospital hold a press
conference for divulging details of a individual hospitalized. RM was
neither a person holding a public position nor was he a celebrity on his own right.

The reason being given that the media was pestering for information was lame.In this whole episode, doctors, hospitals and lawyers seem to be more interested in doing their own image building than maintaining ethics of their profession.

Further, the cavalier way and body language of the doctor conducting the press conference was appalling. It did not appear as a medical bulletin.


Some really serious thoughts.

My personal belief is that if you are honest, you do not get into trouble. Speak truth. If you can't and are under pressure, do not take up an assignment. Better avoid than suffer.

Simple. Or is it?

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Who is the winner?

Though I did not very minutely follow the Mittal and Arcelor marriage (that's what we could call that episode now rather than a showdown), I could not stay away from observing some true negotiation happening under the veil of politics and racism.

The Indian media hailed it as a big win for Mr. Mittal and his company. And of course, it is. First time there will be a true Indians will lead in a particular business. First time, we see an Indian company taking over a giant from the West. Earlier, I was quite depressed to see Lenovo, an essentially Chinese brand, taking over IBM's PC division. Always thought that Indians were not capable of such things.

Well, I was going through the reports and was wondering who is the real winner.

After some pondering over how things have shaped up, it looks to me that the real winner is Arcelor shareholders (the board).

I think Mittal was quite open about his intentions and he articulated it.

Arcelor Board, I believe, has been a great negotiator. And as I said the winner is the Board has quite effectively used the services of Mr. Guy Dolle. By aggressively defending the Mittal bid and almost successfully scuttling the process by bringing in a temporary Russian partner, Mr. Dolle successfully raised the booty for the shareholders.

Maybe, Mr. Mittal did foresee this.

Today, Dolle has resigned and no. 3 at Arcelor is slated to become the CEO of Arcelor-Mittal steel. LNM's son is to become group CFO.

Hope the new entity creates enough for the shareholders going forward.

Well, must say this is the whole case otherwise has been a demonstration that Indian business can become truly global. TCS is a case in point.

I have always wondered how American companies and brands become truly global whereas Indian counterparts remain always local.

Something wrong with us. Maybe, maybe not!

Thirupathi, no more!

Yeah, thats my decision.

Last time, I went to Thirupathi, I had a fight with those pushers because I kept telling one of them not to push my sister-in-law's FIL but he never listened. I used real bad language at the Sanctum Sanatorium. I was aghast that a devotee has to go through such trouble to have a glimpse of the Lord.

In addition, the corruption is mind boggling. I think it comes from the Lord. As they say, Power and Money corrupts. Well, our Lord is the most powerful and richest.

His heart must be bleeding witnessing so many of those who take care of Thirupathi indulging in corruption.

The primary reason behind such a situation is because of the demand and supply equation.

So Lord, let me help you for a change. I will reduce the load at Thirupathi, will meet you in other temples except for Thirumala.

Of course, I will miss the laddus but I guess there will be many others who will come for your darshan.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Zikkim kokku

Wanted to record a quotable quote (I guess it is one). It goes this way.

When one has and shows, one is Marilyn Monroe,
When one doesn't have and still shows, one is Enron!

Implications for PR: Too much of hype without reality always brings disaster. As someone said, bullshit can take you to the top, but cannot keep you there for long.


Who else but R Sriganesh :)

Word of mouth: Arresting attrition in BPO

In many a media reports, on the menace of attrition in BPO, the spokespersons claim that the rate of people leaving the companies (more of an issue with voice-based BPO) is around 40%. But the fact is that call centers are recruiting daily and the HR managers perform more of recruitment manager role than human resource development.

Can’t blame them? What if you have more than 100% attrition? Yes, that’s a truer number, I have been told by some seniors.

Every morning you come to office and find that you have lost more people that the number you had recruited yesterday.

Apart from the cost of acquiring people, management also spends a considerable amount of money in training people. So much of an investment without a return.

So why do call centre employees change their jobs so often?

One, the lack of a career path. This means that a call centre employee does not know what he will do after 10 years in the industry. If you are in a manufacturing industry, one knows of his progression, in advertising industry there are various path – client servicing, creative, media planning…what about call centre.

Two, the biological clock. Before doing my MBA, I did graduation in hotel management and went on to work for a leading flight kitchen in the country. In the hotel industry, night shifts are quite common. Believe me, working continuously in the graveyard shift is not the best of experience. Every day you find yourself more cut off from society. For the young this is so frustrating.

Of course there are other reasons too. Not many come to call centre jobs with making it a long-term option. Students want to earn handsome amounts of money before they go abroad for higher studies. Identity crisis, because now you have to not only sound western but also assume an artificial fake name. So you will find that Parthasarathy has become Party and Sujata has shortened to Sue.

Well, the issues are many.

Are there any solutions?

BPO companies undertake huge branding exercise – PR, advertising, events…with the hope that people will stick to a brand. The question is, do they?

Companies claim that they are the best place to work for and care for people. I remember eServe campaign, were this overall messaging was broken down into many aspects and communicated creatively.

Hope they have been able to address the problem of attrition.

What is the solution for this seemingly unsolvable crisis?

Have you even heard of the recruitment process of Infosys? Not recently but back in 1999-2000.

I had the opportunity to observe and be part of the preparations my classmates from IT stream went through. To get into Infy, you had to have more than 70-75% right from 10th standard, you will have to have high percentage in graduation/post graduation. Hold on that is not a guarantee. You went through a grueling written and interview process. I remember my friends going through Shakunthala Devi’s puzzle books.

Now, if you got through, it was an achievement. Even passing UPSC exam was not so hard, I guess.

Well, that’s word-of-mouth.

Coming back to what BPO companies should do? Is there any differentiation that between BPO A and BPO B?

Can PR help?

Well, taking a clue from Infy, I believe that BPO companies should create word-of-mouth for themselves. Communicate how good an employer you are, in the most effective manner. This is very important because high attrition indicates that the BPO companies are hiring the same set of people. A word-of-mouth ensures that you get preference.

Word-of-mouth? Yes. But how?

It is not building brand and only paying little extra then others, but as Shiv Khera says Winners don’t do different things, they do it differently.

Yeah. That’s right.

So, I would like to call what a company can follow – a TOUCHPOINT program.

What is a touchpoint?

Right from the time of employment (applying for a job) till exit, a company gets many opportunities to be different and leave a positive impression on its target audience.

Think about it, how does your security person treat a prospect who comes in to drop the resume, how long do you make the candidate wait before he can take the entrance test/interview, how is she/he treated…I am not sure if companies have an SLA on these issues.

There are many more opportunities once an employee becomes part of the organization. HR departments focus more on getting mandatory forms filled up. But an employee’s emotional needs are many more. Some companies have taken up a program called the buddy program where an existing employee becomes the friend of a new recruit and engages him and makes her/him comfortable.

Can this be extended to the entire recruitment period?

Companies must work on identifying such touch points, create standards and make the experience of an employee memorable.

Hmm, well, anyone’s got time? As I said earlier, the plates full for HR (read recruitment managers) to find the next candidate.

How is going to take the lead?

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Monks Who Buy Ferraris!

Did I make a mistake in the headline?

Of course not.

Apologies, Mr. Robin Sharma.

I really loved your book and find the strategies and tactics useful. I would suggest your book to everyone who wants to improve her/his life and live it fullest.

Interestingly, contrary to the Time Management program that the main character attended in your book, the one which I attended in India conducted by a Russian-lady, named Elena Agsar, covered most of the points that you have mentioned in your book.

But even then your narration is quite fantastic. Makes an easy reading.

Well coming back to the headline, Mr. Julian Mantle sells his Ferrari and other materialistic belongings in pursuit of wisdom and spirituality. He reaches India and is educated and nursed by Yogi Raman.

It made a beautiful reading.

Only, the monks in India are not quite the same.

Name the best known monks/gurus/spiritual leaders...and all of them travel in the best of cars. Adorn heavy jewellery (not all), stay in AC rooms and have heard that they organize business deals.

Murderous attaks have been carried out on some and top magazines carry scandalous reports on sexual escapedes of these gurus.

I am sure Mr. Yogi Raman is not one of them.

Having read too many negative stories on Indian monks/gurus, I have come to disregard them.

For the Vivekanand's who are searcing for Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, today, they can find refuge in books such as yours.

Monday, April 17, 2006

What is in a name?

Wanted to write a lot about Pumpkin. But I guess, I will just upload his pictures.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Measuring RoI for Internet PR

At the end of every month when I present the docket to my client what I do, is measure her/his RoI.

For the uninitiated, when one pays money to a publication or any other medium, she/he gets an amount of space/time. The value that he pays is determined by the penetration of that particular medium. So, The Hindu will have a particular advertising rate based on the standing that it enjoys in its markets. Similarly, Sun TV will charge a fee per 10 second or 30 second or so on, based on its reach and popularity.

Due to the maturity of these mediums, the way the value created for the advertiser is calculated is standardized and there are not many options. The popular ones are - display ads and classifieds. Quite simple!

Yes, it is. Makes life simple for PR professionals too. With no metrics of its own, PR borrowed the metrics of the advertising industry. And quite rightly, the output for both mediums is targeted at the same channel.

After much deliberations (hope so!) in the West, the legends of PR zeroed in on a simple formula to calculate PR RoI. It added a factor to the advertising value. It proclaimed - PR (read the written word or the word endorsed by journalists/third party) is three times more credible than the advertising space. One up on the entire advertising industry! :0. It called the PR RoI - the Visibility Index (VI).

So, if you were an advertiser and you spent Rs. 100 on a 10 cc space in a particular publication, the same space would be worth Rs. 300 if it was news (written by journalists).

Then over a period of time, PR also matured and it added more value to its formula. So, if you got a picture of a spokesperson the multiple factor increased by some points and if you get the name of the client on the headline the factor increases further, and so on.

All was fine. Until...

In came the disruptive Internet.

Oh yes, the Internet gave PR (and advertising) a great new medium. And gave them a challenge as well.

Let me explain how it is a challenge.

Let us consider the different opportunities that the Internet provides.

The most basic form of advertising is the banner ads. It comes in different shapes and sizes. Technology has given life to these banners and they are able to carry dynamic images.

Interstitials, I think, came a little later than the banners. These are basically the pop-ups and pop unders that irritates us. In many porn sites (yes, I have visited them in the past. Are you asking me if I do it even now? :)), if you close one pop-up you will be end up having numerous other irritations cropping up. Then the advertisers got little intelligent and created pop unders. All the same, they are pain on the...(no I did not mean that, I meant fingers). Acknowledging the pain, Internet browsers have enabled options to block pop-ups. I think that’s a great service to netizens

What I am more amazed about is that technology also understands which an irritant pop-up is and which one is genuine. Ever tried net-banking?

Okie coming back to other forms,

o Advergames is building in games in the advertisements
o Rich media is highly interactive and visually influential but it requires broadband to unleash its full potential
o Sponsorship, when you sponsor an event and the organizer puts your logo on the event site
o 3-D visualization
o Keyword search, a focused form advertising made popular by Google and Yahoo

Do you see the challenge?

Yes, you got it right. The challenge posed by Internet is that there are so many models of advertising that creating one standard formula becomes extremely difficult.

What's more, being an intelligent medium, Internet also offers you selective/focused reach. Let's say you want an ad only to reach out to Mac owners, no other medium can deliver that for you but the Internet. Yes! You want to reach out to people who use only Citibank, now it’s easy.

Also, you can define (at least to a great extent) the life of a medium. A daily is for a day, a magazine is for a week or month, TV is for that particular period. What about Internet?

Coming back again to the RoI, being a PR man, how do I measure it for my client? Which format should I use?

I am quite puzzled and struck when clients raise this issue.

So in an effort to solve this issue, I worked out a way with Amrita, my colleague.

What we did was to find out the ad rates of banners and take that as the unit value of advertising space. Then, we would calculate how many such units are there in a particular story. Multiply those many units by the advertising rate of the banner and 3.

Ah! How successfully we solved such a complicated problem!

Or at least that’s what we thought.

Recently on my trip to our Bangalore office, I made this presentation to the team. The grand-old Viju in his usual style first appreciated the thought and then brought to my notice that the banner ad themselves could differ from page to page. The rate of a banner in the home page maybe different from the one which results on a page which has been reached after say 4 clicks.

Blimey, no not again.

God, is there a solution!

Well, I have realized that calculating the RoI on Internet is not so much of an issue, the bigger challenge is implementation.

At the end of the month the tracking team should be able to spend the least amount of time calculating the VI.

Or else, clients will end up waiting for dockets!

(picture courtersy: online_advertising.shtml)

Savi baby, you make me feel so proud

A couple of weeks back Savitha called in for some help from Blue Cross. There was this mongrel which she calls Browny which was hurt with some parts of his skin torn apart (apparently, it met with a car accident).

Here is more on that in Savitha's own blog -

Browny was taken away by the Blue Cross and for a long time after that we did not know what happened.

I was proud of what she did.

Last week as I was leaving to play tennis, early morning, I saw this cheerful Browny sitting near a chandy put by a vegetable vendor near our place. I was really thrilled. I stopped the car to take a good look at Browny and found that though he had become little thin and weak, there were no signs of any injury. IT WAS CURED, COMPLETELY.

Again, two days back, there was this lady who works as a maid in our neighbor's place came upto me and said thanks. For a moment, I did not know why. Then she said that Browny had recovered because of me. I told her that all credit goes to my wife and not to me.

I was so touched.

Savitha, you are the best.

Monday, April 03, 2006

PCs, commodity already

Two cowboys (no, no! This is not Brokeback Mountain story!) with guns in their hands and backs facing each other start walking in opposite directions, the crowd is holding its breath, not knowing who is going to be killed. In a flash the two men turn. On a creaky wooden chair, sits our smiling Saif. When you expect the two cowboys to shoot, Saif moves his hand in a magician like manner. And lo! The two cowboys who were willing to smoke out the gun powder are astonished to see roses popping out of the gun. Saif, the magician, again does a trick and the two cowboys start dancing.

On the other side, I think in a downtown Indian city, a foreigner is in a computer store and seeks information about a PC. The Khan Badshah (yes Shah Rukh Khan), grabbing an opportunity to speak to the beautiful white skinned lady, enters and explains the features of the PC and the freebies that she would get along with it. In comes the real sales man and hands over Khan Badshah's computer and his freebies. The white babe is shocked and so am I!

Having been fed on 'Crossing the Chasm'’ and other masterpieces Geoffreyry Moore and brain trained by Naru, the recent ads are kind of disturbing. What's more! Having spent more than 3 years in 20:20 MEDIA, India's largest IT PR consultancy, we always told clients that IT was different from other industries because it was still nascent. The significance of this statement is that unlike other industries, you need to sell concepts before you can sell the products/solutions.

For those who think, I am talking non-sense, let me explain. Have you seen ads of soaps explaining the ingredients and how they keep you clean? No. Do you need to be told that to take a bath, soap is essential? No. With this in mind, every brand of soap has taken a positioning. Lux is for beauty (for film stars), Hamam is a family soap (and important to get your daughter married!), Chandrika/Medimix are Ayurvedic. Similarly for automobiles. Ferrari is for speed, BMW is for class and Merc for safety (and status). This also helps consumers relate to what products they need and able to make a choice.

But PCs. Hmmmmm. It was about a new Pentium. It was about screen - LFT, TFT and what not. It was about RAM - 64, 128, 512...It was about software, internet, games...Today, computer is almost everything. It is entertainment, education, games, information, let me make it simple, it is about convergence. Everyone was explaining how things work in the mysterious IT world. But never was it sold like a mainstream brand?

But suddenly, here are two stars who are endorsing PCs - Lenovo and Compaq.

Have PCs gone mainstream?

Statistics reveal that of the 30 odd million PCs that exist in India only 30% find their way into households. Of the 200 million odd household this penetration would be meager 5%. This fades before TV which is reaching 50% penetration.

What does this indicate?

1. It could mean that PC companies are now finding the market saturated and are not able to find new buyers. Therefore, lure them with faces they love to watch.
2. People know what a PC can do, so don't teach. Move ahead and differentiate by creating brand.

Think about it. The MAIT, Dataquest and other reports on PC consumption indicate that the market share of assembled PCs is coming down. There is a growth of PC brands.

Whatever it may mean, if this trend continues, I think it might change the balance of power in the PC ecosystem. Finally, we may see that the Intel domination is likely to be reduced. The power of brand ambassadors may steal the shine out of Intel's contribution to ads. More so, for PC parts makers.

(Picture Courtesy: The Hindu Business Line)

Friday, March 03, 2006

PR professionals, the influencer community for media

While I was sitting on the pot today, a thought crossed my mind.

Today most journalists consider PR professionals as untouchables. And not without a reason. PR professionals have not yet become true professionals. We are supposed to be communication professionals and yet cannot practice it for ourselves. Have spent 5 years in the industry and even today few of the media friends complain about some PR professionals who are nothing but intrusions.

That was not the thought I had.

Whatever said and done, no one can deny that PR professionals have an access to the decision makers in the corporate. If they act smart and professionally, can influence the opinion of key people in the client organizations.

Not sure if the media has ever considered it.

If the media houses use PR professionals as their ambassadors, they could get access to these corporate and bring themselves into consideration set whether it is for advertising or circulation.

Does not mean that media should tolerate the un-professional PR persons but definitely leverage the good ones.

Am I a good or bad???

Friday, February 24, 2006

Use of cellphones

This happened a couple of weeks back.

I was returning from Mumbai on Indian (earlier Indian Airlines). The flight landed in Chennai and was moving on the tarmac. The pilot during his announcements said that the use of mobile is prohibited until the plane comes to a halt and the doors were opened.

True to our Indian style, a passenger sitting behind started speaking loudly on his mobile.

Now, that is not the story.

As soon as, the plane came to a halt, a flight purser walked up to the passenger and pulled him up. He humiliated our man in front of other co-passengers. He said 'I can get you arrested if I complain to the police'.

Wow! Now that's new.

I am not sure the same would have happened in Jet/Sahara/Deccan or any other airline.

Was it right on the part of the purser to have pulled up a passenger in front of others? The passenger has paid a huge sum for the ticket, should he be humiliated in such a manner?

My personal feeling is that the purser was well within his duty to have done so, he is responsible for the lives of the passengers. (purser (n) : an officer aboard a ship who keeps accounts and attends to the passengers' welfare. Source:

I feel that unless the rules are strictly enforced, people will continue to make fun if it.

Why should journalists contact top managements directly?

I am part of the PR Point and Image Management, online PR community. Recently one of the members raised an issue on why journalists contact top management of companies directly.

Here are my views which I had posted in the group.


Nice topic and often deliberated within the PR industry. Lately, I have seen many clients also discussing the same with the agencies.

I believe that this is just basic human psychology. Journalist have been traditionally close to the top management as there was no active PR function in the past. Having closely interacted with them it would be very difficult for the journalist community to see a young graduate interfering and explaining them new rules of the game. Of course, it is also true that PR is today not (in most cases) capable of adding value.

Let me take an example: A company announces its results, how many of us in the PR community would be able to read a balance sheet and talk authoritatively about client's performance. Another one, let us say an auto journalist wants to know why the braking system of a particular companies model is not as per standards, will I be able to answer it.

Well, having said that PR is maturing and this scenario will change.

In today's competitive business environment, I am not sure how long the CEOs in future will find time to respond to the journalists directly and on-time.

In the meantime, till the PR community is able to think for its clients, journalists will continue to contact CEOs directly.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Why Blog?

A thought.

Most of us have already read about blogs and have been PR-ified that it is the greatest tool in the history of PR. Is it?

I am not the adopter of most trends but I did open up a blog and took a resolution that I will make it the most interesting/insightful blog in the world. So did a few of my colleagues in Chennai. Then came the IIPM controversy and it was acclaimed that blogs are here to stay.

Oh are you asking me what happened to my blog? It has rusted. I am not alone, so has it for those 'few of my colleagues'! I am so happy.

Now, it could be said that I am lazy and I did not have the resolve to continue but so are many.

Do blogs really work? Maybe.

When was the last time that you visited any blog? As PR professionals do we really have a set of blogs that we track often (as we do with publications/TVs/portals)? Do we know who are the bloggers whom can be PR-ified! ;)

We know India's PC penetration is abysmally low. Je sais, Je sais, the internet penetration is going up but still how much is it anyway? Kaun hain woh? I think the more important question is whom can we target through blogs?

Also, strange isn't it? The mainstream on-line portals (our sifys, rediffs, which are the other ones) themselves are struggling to get more people on to their portal, how will our niche blogs get the eyeballs? We nowadays don't trust the 'authentic' and 'credible' newspapers, how can we trust a blogger?

Hmmm, is it that I am missing a point or is it that blogs are over-hyped pregnancy?