Thursday, May 07, 2009


4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri almost reaches for the smelling salts while attempting to decode this new, never-before connect between two completely different entities – Adland & PSUs!

Advertising and Public Sector Units (PSUs) have always been the perfectly unmatched jodi! Jargon-flashing and deeply entrenched in the business of brand-building, strategising, brainstorming and generally leveraging creativity as that critical catalyst that makes a difference, hot-shot ad agencies have always perceived the PSU universe as deadly dull, boring, format-specific (5 pics of politicians, a corny headline, some facts and figures… ugh!) and stayed away. Where was that opportunity to fly with an idea that was truly creative and transformational? Where was that need to use cutting-edge communication to entertain, enlighten and empower? It was all so one-dimensional, tame and listless… So, suddenly (in the last couple of years) why this change of heart for ad agencies? Why this sudden, collective dash to empanel themselves with PSUs? Have PSUs become communication savvy overnight? Have ad agencies realised that acting snooty and arrogant is their loss? What?

Chetan Varma of PowerGrid Corporation of India Ltd. analyses the situation and says, “I think we reside in two different worlds and if this fact is not understood and their normal FMCG perspectives are applied, it would spell disaster. That’s what it was with our earlier agency.” He adds that the present one has demonstrated a genuine desire to understand their culture and communication needs and therefore, is in a better position to deliver. He also believes that the Top 20 agencies should look at PSU advertising both as a challenge and an opportunity, only then would they be able to adapt and perform. But regarding adland’s sudden move to PSU zone, Varma admits that it has to do with change in the PSU mindset. “We are into reality checks too and competition is making us look at communication as a critical ally.

NTPC’s T. S. Rajpoot also agrees, “It’s true. Our empanelment process is on and we find quite a few top agencies, who wouldn’t condescend to even look our way earlier, pitching energetically. How times change!” Apart from changed mindsets, both Varma and Rajput are of the opinion that the R-word has played the biggest part. All the bravado, posturing and big talks is fine but at the end of the day, when funds take a hit, its wake-up-and-taste-the-coffee time! “Our portfolios may not be as sexy as the FMCG lot, payments (sometimes) maybe delayed too, but they will definitely be paid. No ad agency has ever not got its fees from PSUs.”
Ad consultant, Jo Sachdev, however, brushes these off with all the arrogance that his 28 years allow. “All this is hogwash! If the biggies are evincing interest, its not because the PSUs have suddenly seen the light and turned professional. It’s because many agencies have taken a bad hit in terms of ad-budget cuts or lost money with clients and therefore realised its better to be safe than sorry – and great adrenaline-pumping work be shoved in the freezer, temporarily!” Sachdev openly challenges the PSU guys to throw up even six really good campaigns in recent times. “Apart from the odd SAIL & Air India ads, nothing truly fantastic comes to mind. This is all delusion of grandeur!”

The BHEL Corporate Communication team begs to differ. While they agree that earlier communication may not have enjoyed great professional attention, the early nineties – opening of the economy – marked a turning point! “All sensible PSUs saw the writing on the wall and made genuine efforts to re-invent themselves in terms of corporate persona because they categorically understood that in the age of competition, image did matter.” This impacted the way they looked at communication and their interaction with their vendors. Today the finest corporate film makers and exhibition specialists are keen to work with BHEL because they believe that they are very particular about quality. However, the BHEL group argue that “the biggest reason could be the slowdown. Safe, reliable and sure-shot payment of bills can be the most reassuring of all attributes in today’s scary wish-list of the recession-hit ad land. No two-ways, there!”

ITPO’s Soma Chakravarty agrees. “PSUs have covered a lot of distance in the last few years and have consciously striven to be in the zone. At ITPO, the entire team remains focused and committed to connect only with ad agencies who understand our basic vision and mission and execute the given task with quality and speed.” While she agrees that there are limitations, she believes that everything can be surmounted if professionalism plays a starring role.

At the end of the day, it’s not so complicated. Some of the biggest names in the PSU universe have indeed over time made effort to professionalise, if they wanted their vendors to respect them. The larger, FMCG-driven agencies (for their turn), have also pulled back to have a fresh look at the big picture and figured that broadbasing their bandwidth to connect meaningfully with this lot would be profitable. Also, the smarter shops realised that instead of mocking them or pulling them down, trying to understand the PSU’s special and different brand of communication needs and delivering the goods, might be a better idea.

And sure, the slowdown really helped this cosying up. Is marriage on the cards? Wait n’ watch... Picture abhi baaki hai, mere dost!