4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri Attempts to Checkout Some Details of This Unique, First-Time Ever Exercise, With a little help from some Communication Practitioners
It is a well known fact that Public Relations (PR) is both invasive and pervasive. Its critics are quick to pounce on the term and unleash a veritable volley of not-so-complimentary adjectives – implied deceit, corruption, trickery, exhibitionism, specious pleading! These are accompanied by cynicism and disbelief. Like with anything, not all is wrong... or right! Sane exponents of this specialised – and ever-growing – discipline will warn you that before embarking on any PR activity, expectations for the results need to be well framed within measurable and realistic yardstick. Before pulling the trigger, the blueprint has to be fully planned and managed within a close knowledge of the operating environment and its likely future development. Great – Now let’s quickly cut to the chase.
First things first. If the main purpose of Public Relations is “to influence the behaviour of individual groups of people in relation to each other, through dialogue with all those audiences whose perceptions, beliefs, attitudes and opinions are critical to success,” then how does Acanchi, (a consultancy firm based in London, whose job is to deliver “tailored positioning solutions for countries, regions and cities; a pioneer in the field of developing holistic country positioning strategies”), hired to give the city of Mumbai a solid thumping make-over sound to you? And Saffron Brand Consultants’, (Brand Guru Wally Ollins, firm commissioned by the Bengal government to polish the state’s image), swing with you? No kidding, guys! Ratnakar Gaikwad, Metropolitan Commissioner of the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) is dead serious. “The Mumbai Metropolitan Region is not known to the outer world, especially foreign stakeholders. It has to be presented before the globe with all its rich, inherent characteristics for which the exercise of branding and positioning on the lines of cities like Singapore, Sydney and Dubai is required.”
On the Bengal front, CEO Avik Chattopadhyay admitted that the presentation that Ollins made was discussed with the Chief Minister, along with the “unique cultural pluralism of Bengal”. Ollins explained that “the idea was to help Bengal express itself better. There definitely needs to be a change in the way Bengal is perceived, both outside and within the state.”
Strategic, professionally-driven, solutions-friendly initiatives... or is PR being stretched to do an impossible, houdini act?
Interestingly, social commentator and communication pundit Santosh Desai – whom we expected to actually support PR – is first off the block straightaway expressing scepticism at PR initiatives in general. He has no problem with people leveraging the power of PR for makeovers, altering beliefs & powering reputations, but he feels that especially with the Mumbai context, the intended PR is mostly superficial. “To begin with, they can only be successful if you have the required knowledge & control over the specific image you want to change. Is this happening? Ask Mumbaikars and you will get the answers! Also, I feel this seems to reflect ego-boosting posturing and time hogging, totally ignoring the stark reality staring at them [the administration],” says Desai. In fact, he feels that if they are really serious about image, these guys should identify & address the zillion ills plaguing the city & crying for the attention before getting the PR machinery to hit over-drive. It appears that they are more interested in the sizzle not the steak, about what people should think and view about the cities. “Logo changes, Tee slogans, sexy catch lines... what an appalling waste of time & money... and so demeaning too! Remember the chest thumping Meri Dilli Meri Shaan slogan pasted all over Delhi? What happened? Get your act together first. The rest will follow,” says Desai.
Head-honcho of the Kolkata based Genesis Advertising, Ujjal Sinha is equally frazzled. While branding the Kolkata PR effort ‘cosmetic’, he is of the belief that the guys behind this genuinely seem to think that “desperate times need desperate measures,” which is way off-center. Also, what perplexes him is the implied concerns & preoccupations to impress, impact & inspire a consistency (elitist, outsiders) – who really don’t matter in crunch-time. “Look inside. Get your house in order. Then go in for powering brand and image equity,” says Sinha. Finally, what strikes him as biter irony (something that Bengal & Kolkata could well do without) is the fact that Bengal has invited the very same gentleman, Wally Ollins for an image correction who handled the image of the very same group whose operations contributed much to Bengal’s present image quotient – Tatas!
But this is not to say that the well has been poisoned. There are frenetic appeals to the positive too. Paris based Pia Sen considers all these anti-PR allegations pompous, conceited, sweeping & quite uninformed. “Hey listen! Both Acanchi and Wally Ollins are huge names in the city and nation branding spheres; so please respect their credentials. Fionna Gilmore, Founder & Chairman of Acanchi has worked in initiatives with authorities in Ireland, Britain, Wales and Hong Kong, among other places. And Ollins has image-navigated London, Poland, Portugal and Vietnam.” She believes that this is a very serious issue and surely the powers-that-are behind the commissioning of these endeavours are respected people with “knowledge, focus, intent and a clear blueprint about the desired road map.” She also believes that the problem with Corporate India is its cynicism. “They are probably taking the ‘tomorrow’s superpower’ tag too seriously. Chill”!
Neither Pops Sridhar nor Alyque Padamsee are prepared to do that. While the NCD of Leo Burnett Pops believes that the best means of growth comes from within, and being frivolous or superficial in the perception-reality game can spell doom and disaster, he points towards Malaysia as a glorious example of identity building. “They took time, understood and identified their intrinsic persona they wished to project when they broke away and slowly and steadily went into brilliant image building mode.” However, flamboyant, ageless Padamsee does not waste time & breath and says, “It’s lot of hogwash mixed with a good amount of whitewash! Don’t get me started on this one for Godsake”!
So, at the end of the day, what gives? Since there have been no great positives in either progress report, popular responses or media bytes, it’s quite clear that a better option for Mumbai and Kolkata would have been to either do the PR themselves or to at the most hire a local agency with a sound understanding... Or are we just envious, eh?