Category Archives: Ann Mary Thomas

The ROI drama

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Read an article recently on how ROI was the most important aspect of business. And chanced upon a sentence that went:

“What clients really want is to be shown the money”

Interesting and appalling at the same time. If all that clients were interested in was the reaping of profits why would PR people lose sleep over complicated strategies and market research and press kits? it reminded me of an episode in the fourth installment of the Harry Potter franchise: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. During the Quidditch World Cup (an awesome game as HP fans would know) the participating teams are egged on by their respective mascots. Tiny green leprechauns begin showering gold coins onto the thousands who have gathered to watch the game. Their motive being the garnering of support for their team. People scramble over themselves to hoard the falling gold. If the statement above is to be believed, this is an excellent PR tactic. Who wouldn’t want to support a team that gave them gold?! If customers get incentives to like the client, they’ll stick on. Or at least that is what some believe. The catch in the mascots’ PR trick being that it was all leprechaun’s gold and would disappear after some time. It is the same drawback that affects clients who try to bribe and woo customers. Money just doesn’t last, reputation does.

The way that customers are influenced by the client’s behavior, the goodwill they can rake in and their genuineness of their corporate social responsibility endeavors all matter in the long run. Media expertise and concise content can work wonders if the client is sure of what to tell the audience. Clients have to arrive at a clear understanding of what their prerequisite is: money or goodwill. Unless they prioritize their needs and come to terms with the fact that monetary profit is indirect and secondary, PR isn’t going to do them the world of good it otherwise does!

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Morning

A reminiscence of my college days and the daily dramas of the classroom came to mind. A random memory made me search for this piece that I am sharing now. It was written one lazy afternoon in the B. A Communicative English class as part of an exercise in Creative Writing. We were given half an hour to write on the topic “Morning”. 

One of my closest friends, Ibrahim Rayintakath, was kind enough to breathe life into the story with his mind blowing brush strokes. He is a student of Art Direction and Production Design at FTII, Pune, a (super) talented artist who is in the pursuit of numerous dreams including saving the world and watching the Northern Lights.

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The merchant stood at the harbor waiting for the cargo ship that would arrive from India bearing spices- rich nutmeg, saffron, cinnamon, cardamom and most importantly, pepper- black gold. It would make him rich- in fact, it would make him the wealthiest man in Venice. The sun still hadn’t risen

The merchant felt a sharp pain in his arm, radiating into his chest. he knew he was dying at that very moment. He thought about his beautiful wife and his young daughter. He thought about the legacy his unborn sons would never inherit. he thought of the spice empire he would never build. But most of all, he thought about the sun that still hadn’t risen, but gave the illusion of morning by casting about a reddish pink glow.
At sunrise, workers at the dock noticed a dead man lying by the pier, with his hand clutching some peppercorns. They threw the nobody into the sea and went about doing their chores in the sweltering morning sun. The merchant’s body stayed rooted firmly to the ocean floor by a heavy anchor that had been dropped by a vessel from India which came bearing spices- the smell of which saturated the heavy morning air.

The Importance of Empathy

ImageA friend happened to mention the eternal human habit of turning things personal and taking things to heart. Yours truly felt it rang true. One might be asked to express a generic view about the state of politics, education, culture, fashion trends; it becomes invariably colored with a personal opinion. While most people believe it is prejudice that clouds sound judgement and objectivity, I beg to differ. What of empathy? Isn’t this subtle and unconscious emotion responsible for the millions of passing comments we make every day? Unless one puts oneself in the shoes of another, a public opinion cannot be effectively formed.

Taking it to another level- as PR professionals our human ability to internalize and empathize is what is most required to aid a client. Unless we’re seeing the world through their eyes, as well as whatever-colored glasses they are wearing, can we truly call ourselves advisers and counselors? PR folks are often insulted when called spin doctors to their faces, when knowing the client in and out, and being a spokesperson who will let the world know their story is a designation to be rather proud of.

Public Relations is nothing if not empathy. In the rat race of marketing and devising formidable communication strategies the end products, namely mutual understanding and goodwill remain out of focus. One is asked to don the garbs of a spokesperson, mediator, crisis manager and a lot more. None of this can be genuine without a personal understanding of the the client and their publics. Objectivity is an enviable quality indeed but true understanding can only be built on a foundation of empathy.

WYG is WYG!

ImageNow there came something my generation could relate with, the leaps and bounds of the great kingdom called “www”. I was going to learn social media organizing in detail. A brand image could be enhanced by deceptively simple devices such as a Facebook page or a Twitter handle.  The great audiences of the cyber world were going to be listening just as intently as a client’s various publics in the real world. As days passed by, I would slowly learn to build a strong online presence for clients and find out the vitality it had in getting the interest of those who had a gamut of possibilities at a click.

Earning such loyalties becomes a lucid task with Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, Pinterest and other social networking sites, along with online blogs can be used to ensure maximum reach and commendably quick channels for feedback.

I was slowly learning that the only thing stronger than a good idea was a well enunciated one. If form and content have to reach the audience in the intended manner, then experience is a prerequisite. In the conversations called markets; Respublicans were progressive envoys who could script a client’s dialogs to perfection. Flawless content delivered with punch-be it writing releases, adapting content to suit the tastes of various publics or to create copy-helps the publics read your story in the way you had envisioned. Knowing the Kerala players, understanding them thoroughly and possessing a subliminal perception of what would reach out to various strata of audiences requires the strength of years of pioneer expertise.

The apprentice thus sat under the great tree of PR knowledge waiting for such flair to fall down and enlighten her. Any day now!

Reading around twenty-two newspapers a day, including national and regional dailies ought to account for something, I thought. Simply scanning and monitoring pages to scout out any mention of clients and their competitors was a pretty easy task. The truth is that it is fundamental to synergize two extremely different actions to produce proper public relations. If I was looking for clever feedback I was going to have to keep tabs on the various publics and gauge the dependability of my own means and maneuvers that I was using to reach out and communicate. (Mommy’s advice kept ringing out loud; What You Give is What You Get!).

ann@respublica.in

David Cameron and the Great Kerala Fish Curry

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“My wife makes fantastic Kerala fish curry. Sadly I’m not going to Kerala this time but maybe next time. That’s what I’d like to have it as it is made in Kerala and see if it compares with my wife’s…” – David Cameron, British PM

The apt reaction of any Keralite to that quote would be nothing short of punching the air and going “Woohoo!!

The mouth-watering aroma of red chilli powder and tempered mustard seeds, melt-in-the-mouth pieces of fish and the rich red gravy of a traditional Kerala fish curry is an experience parallel to none other. When UK’s premier citizen makes such a specific remark about the quintessential Malayali fish curry, it is surely time to bring out the confetti, celebrate and show off.

Mr. Cameron found it befitting to visit the country’s largest consumer products firm, the Indian unit of Anglo-Dutch company-Unilever on only his second visit to a land his predecessors ruled in the Republic’s colonial past. His speech was filled with diplomacy and shrewd dodging to avoid any favoritism that might slip through. And yet, the humble fish curry had a field day, basking in the glory of being a regular dish in the British PM’s household. Funnily enough, he wasn’t even close to Kerala territory!

International political/ business figures have been known to make such famous remarks about the varied culinary experiences that only Kerala can provide. A curry is more than a piece of fish in a dish or some fluffy white rice on a banana leaf. It is all about the holistic art of preparing it, right from the cook’s innate knowledge of the right number of pinches of salt and the right size of shredded curry leaves.

This article reminded me of another time, when I tasted a truly delicious “meen” (fish) curry at a household that is quite renowned for the experience of Kerala cuisine it seeks to provide foreign tourists with. With a lush green ambiance and a typical Malayali upbeat attitude to cooking fish and many more Kerala culinary classics, the Pepper Trails home is a one stop solution to embark on the adventure that is Kerala cuisine.

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On more than one occasion, a foodie traveler can’t stop with a single serving of the legendary “Meen Pollichathu“, a seafood dish ranked higher than Tangdi Kabab all over the world!

To know more about this culinary tourism venture and to explore a recipe or two, visit the Pepper Trails website at http://peppertrails.com/ or the Pepper Trails blog at http://peppertrails.blogspot.in/

Closer encounters with the PR kind

I found a wide range of activities running smoothly; all integrated to garner goodwill. Internal communications, consumer relations, community relations, corporate social responsibility  techniques, crisis communication, press relations and government relations fall under this wide wingspan. My job was to sit open-mouthed and awe-struck, watching all those textbook terms come to life! Yet, in such a different manner from the definitions I had learned by rote and spun out in my answer sheets at college.         Augmenting corporate communication activities also meant that as PR personnel, we were sounding boards for plans to connect to the media in the most effective means possible. My new role models were those strange PR folks who spent all their efforts on simply persuading and changing attitudes of their client’s various publics.

Dear good ol’ public relations definition, you sound as easy as a nursery rhyme compared to the real thing. From conception to launch, from placement to coverage, from generative beginnings to success story, I was going to be part of all the activities that made sure the clients were heard in all the right places. Not bad at all!

Simply making a noise and gaining attention wasn’t going to go the whole way when building a brand, a colleague said. You had to learn to see the pictures inside the heads of your publics, their images of themselves, of others, of their needs, of their purposes and relationships –inexplicable riddle, this public opinion. Yours truly would soon learn how to put out feelers, right at the grass root level to reel in this opinion and to implement strategies accordingly, never considering public opinion a volatile consensus. In simple, less obnoxious terms I was going dive headlong into public affairs;respect the publics and try to know what made everyone tick. This was going to be interesting alright, I thought, humming a tune to myself.

From textbook to reality

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First day at the new office. New job, new faces, everything new. There was an instant flash back of all the first days I had endured at seven different schools beginning from the nursery chronicles to the exhausting post-graduate days. I muttered a prayer and walked in to Respublica Consulting. Day 1.

Sitting back quite comfortably and watching a lot of things going on at once is supposed to be a tad intimidating. I rather felt at ease. The walls were covered with the names of clients we were working with. The scanning and name hunting went on as each newspaper rustled. Monitoring and Tracking it was called. There was also some extremely shrewd assessment of websites and online forums going on at a steady pace. Ah! Chapter 1 of the Marketwire’s manual on PR Skills- Media Intelligence, I remembered.

According to Edward Bernays, the very famous father of PR, Public Relations “is a management function which tabulates public attitudes, defines the policies, procedures and interest of an organization followed by executing a program of action to earn public understanding and acceptance” It’s more of an art that analyzes the trends in the industry, predicts its consequences and advises the organization leaders on what will serve the interest of both organization and the public. Who said textbook definitions couldn’t find a place in the practical world?