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!