Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

You’re always on duty

November 14, 2017 1 comment

Last week, media in India was agog with the manhandling of a passenger on Indigo airlines, a budget carrier in India. For my non Indian readers the quick summary is that a passenger got into an argument with the airline stuff which quickly escalated into a physical altercation and two airlines employees then held the passenger to the ground with the images of one of them, holding him by his neck being the one that went around all the channels.


The airline moved pretty swiftly by taking disciplinary action against the employees. A pretty simple decision, as the staff were on duty and there is a clear manual on how to behave in these situations. A manual that they disregarded.

A few weeks ago Juli Briskman went on a bike ride. As she was out the President’s motorcade passed her by, and for whatever reason, she flipped the bird. Another iconic picture that went around the world. Here it is, once more.https_blueprint-api-production.s3.amazonaws.com_uploads_card_image_648661_90a7d0f8-6a63-4aae-8d9c-5990f7198b1b

Seeing the picture, Juli spoke to her employers to state that the picture was hers (though the name does not show up anywhere) and shared the picture on her own social media channels. Shortly after, she was fired, for violating the company’s social media policies.

And another episode closer home, a friend’s colleague got into a twitter argument with someone. At some point in time the person she was arguing with, did an on-line search for the employer name and sent a complaint email to the company’s global HQ with screen grabs of the offending chat. As expected, when something like this happens in a global company, an investigation was launched and the employee was called in and strongly advised to rethink his on-line behaviour as it was not aligned with the company’s values. Interestingly, the only place this person’s employer was named was on his Linkedin profile. Not the twitter one.

What this seems to suggest is that the line between personal and professional is blurring. We saw this start with the advent of mobile devices. Email and work calls did not recognise office from personal time. It was all one amorphous mass.

The same seems to be happening with the concept of being ‘on duty’. It appears that one is, slowly, always going to be on duty. The values of the company one works for are going to be expected to be followed in personal time as well. Usually all is fine, but when things go wrong then social media amplifies it tremendously and then the juiciness comes from taking on Goliath. Not the offending individual.

If you get into an argument with someone in a public space, you need to be well aware that when things go South your company’s name is going to feature prominently in any sound bytes about the episode.

Celebrities usually have a morality clause in their contracts, where they can be fired for doing something that affects their personal brand value and thereby impacting the value of the contract.

I imagine most employee contracts have something similar buried in the pages and pages of stuff we sign when we join a new company.

We all carry that implicit expectation from our employers that we don’t act in a way that shows them up poorly, even in a personal capacity.

Not applicable to the Indigo story of course, as they were at work, in uniform.

But when we are out of the work space, or how we interact with people on-line is where we are susceptible to our own morality clauses and where companies will increasingly expect their employees to be brand-true.




Categories: Uncategorized

The Advertising Agency Challenge

This weekend I was having drinks with a well respected CEO of one of India’s top brands, and after talking about matters of mutual interest, we drifted to talk about advertising agencies.

In fact he started it by referring to a blog of mine where I had compared agencies with other professional services like doctors and consultancies.

What follows are his thoughts/comments:

When I go to a lawyer or a CA or a doctor, with a problem the expectation is that the problem will get solved. With an agency, I get the feeling that the problem is always mine, with the agency wanting an active say without the attendant responsibility.

Law, Medicine etc have codified principles which have SMEs who guide their clients. Does the advertising business have any such learnings that can be leveraged? At an execution level or a consumer behaviour level?

When he was planning a retail expansion, McKinsey was hired to advise them and they were to draw in a bunch of global retail experts including market visits to Europe and the US to learn. In the agency world it looks like the same person works on everything thereby not really having in depth knowledge on any one subject.

The agency business is very Creative Director driven so the agency with the best creative director wins the business. Makes the relationship very ‘campaign’ driven. This prompts clients to look at new Creative Directors every time they think of a new campaign. Hence, loyalty tends to be low.

As the creative business becomes more art and less science, senior management of companies start tuning out of the process, leaving it in the hands of juniors.

The pressures on business are very intense and those that come with greater knowledge and ability to tie in many disparate parts of the business get C-level attention. This is where Consultancies like IBM, Accenture etc tend to win. They start with a conversation around helping companies go digital..this leads to transforming processes and culture..leading to digital touch points..apps etc..and before you know it many aspects of related design get gobbled up by them. The linkage to business is vital.

I am sure none of this is new, but hearing it from an influencer in the industry was rather sobering.

I am pretty sure there is an agency POV, which would be worth hearing to balance this out. But rather than it being about ‘why clients are to blame’ if we are able to get to a situation of how the perception/reality addressed, we may see agencies winning the battle to get CXO share of mind and more budgets.


Categories: Uncategorized

A Programmatic Oops?

This week started with the horrific shootings in Vegas. Everyone’s timeline was awash with articles and perspectives on the tragedy.

Amidst this, a friend of mine shared this picture.


Crazy eh? amazon advertising for ‘mass shootings’.

Being of the suspicious mindset, I put it down to a photoshop. After all why would amazon be linking to ‘mass shootings’ and try to profit from it.

And I was so wrong, because I found this.


Something was going on here. What was it?

My initial analysis was

  1. Amazon has books called ‘Mass shootings’. So when someone searches for that ‘title’ then their ads get served.
  2. Someone searching for ‘mass shootings’ is more likely to be a ‘researcher’ looking for information about the subject than someone seeking information about the incident.

While the above was true, the context in which the ad was seen, was very sub otpimal.

Then I researched some more and found that there were other books like Hurricanes, Floods etc on amazon, but their ads were not served when I searched.

Maybe there was something else going on here.

And this is my hypothesis:

Bid for trending words in Search/twitter.

Trending words indicate what most people are searching for.

If amazon is able to showcase their range of books (products) in the context of that search then they are, literally, striking when the iron is hot.

So if US Open is trending, amazon shows their tenning products, books on tennis etc.

If Mars landing is hot, then amazon presents their books on Mars

and so on.

This is a pretty simple alogorithm to put together and run programmatically.

All works well till you hit upon a tragedy like the Vegas one. Then suddenly, what is trending, is not good news. And the brand gets seen in a bad light.

I expect amazon, and other bidders, would learn from this and build into their algorithm some sort of sentiment analysis to ensure that programmatic saves them dollars and face!!

Of course, the above is my hypothesis and I could be wrong. Hopefully, then, one of my readers can correct me.

Categories: Uncategorized

The Advertising Agency – Client Relationship

June 23, 2017 1 comment

When I was in the advertising agency business, which is not too long ago, it often was apparent that agencies valued the relationship they had with their clients far more than vice versa. Stories of many clients sending agencies on red herring projects, delayed payments, calling for needless pitches, continually beating agencies down on rates/prices were literally SOP.

Not true for all clients obviously, but for many. The paranoia of one day being put on review drove the agency to all sorts of weird behaviour as well as anxiety. Not good for morale or Quarterly projections.

This puzzled many agency people because we compared ourselves to other professionals, like lawyers, chartered accountants or doctors.

Publicly, of course, clients swore on their agency relationships.


Then this happens:

Recently there was news of Amex moving their business from Ogilvy to McGarrybowen. A client who was with the agency for 55 years did that without a pitch, just one fine day they upped and moved.

3 years ago Johnnie Walker did a similar thing. ‘Keep walking’ a BBH created campaign widely acknowledged as the best piece of work in the spirits category was not enough for the agency to retain the business. They put the business up for a pitch and moved it to Anomaly.

Clearly something is wrong with this equation, and it doesn’t seem quite like clients value their agency as equal partners.

And then earlier this week I saw this article. Publicis decided that they were going to pull out of Cannes and other festivals to focus on internal infrastructure.

Of all the responses, this one from one of their biggest clients tell you everything about the relationship between clients and agencies:

Diageo uses Cannes to get to know agencies it is considering hiring, said Mark Sandys, who oversees Diageo’s global beer business, as well as Smirnoff and Baileys. This week the company’s agenda includes a two-hour speed dating session with a group of agencies it is targeting.”Some of the agencies I’ve met, big and small, I come away from the dinners or meetings thinking, ‘Wow those are great people to work with, we should be thinking about them next time something comes up for a pitch.’

To my mind, this paragraph says it all.

What kind of business is this, where a client says openly that he goes to Cannes to meet other agencies, all the while having a happy relationship with his agency back home?


Should clients expect undying loyalty from their agencies till ‘death do them apart’ if the same level of commitment is missing from their end?

Clients don’t attend every lawyer convention to see what’s new out there. When you have signed on a legal firm you don’t call for pitches, or continually hold the threat of being fired. Same with CA firms. These relationships are contract bound and are usually terminated mostly for ‘malpractice’. There is value in these relationships gained over time which clients seek to leverage over the course of the relationship.

Somehow when it comes to agencies, it seems all bets are off.

And, obviously am not generalising but when you see names like Amex and Diageo in this sort of conversation, you got to wonder how wide spread this malaise really is.

Do agencies need some sort of protection mechanism against these seemingly whimsical behaviours from their trusted partners?

I don’t have Answers just Questions.

Categories: Uncategorized

What do you do when things go wrong?

June 12, 2017 1 comment

Over the weekend I was watching a cricket match. Australia vs England. Australia had finished their innings and England was batting. England got into a spot of trouble early on and the Australians were all around the batsmen hoping to make further inroads and win the match to keep them in the tournament. But things didn’t go according to plan and the two batsmen played England to victory.

Through the innings the camera kept showing the increasingly frustrated face of the Australian captain. One of the commentators said ‘ This is the problem with the team, they have no Plan B’.


While the story has to do with sports, we find the same situation replicated in real life.

At one extreme the storied situation United Airlines was in, where they had overbooked the flight (which happens all the time) and had to get a passenger to deplane. He refused (which they didn’t anticipate). And they called in cops to physically pull him out causing injury to the passenger and to the brand. While this is probably the rarest of the rare, brands nowadays often face similar situations and how they react makes customers decide whether they want to stay on with it or not.

Amazon, of course set the bar high, early on in their business, where refunds ‘no questions asked’ were just unheard off.

My experience with amazon has always been good. They don’t always get their delivery right but their ability to fix it, I have found, is next to none.

Flipkart on the other hand is a mess. (my experience) They seem to have no idea how to handle customer issues. And I have had two issues with two orders and stopped going back to them. (With great reluctance I just bought a phone from their site last week, because only they had the model I wanted, and this is an issue too.)

Some of the newer brands have been very good. A few months ago I ordered a shirt from the Bombay Shirt Company. As I was not in a hurry for it, I put it away to wear at an appropriate occasion. Some 3 months later, I pulled out the, by then, dry cleaned shirt and alas, the sleeves were too short. Unhappy that I had lost a few thousand rupees I wrote to them about the problem. Within hours I got a call from them. They said they would replace it. And they did.

I have had similar good experiences with placesoforigin and dunzo. Swiggy and bigbasket not so much.

The born on the web brands seem to understand, though, that customer service is a key aspect of their brand proposition. They have made some investments in that space and are at varying levels of excellence.

Offline businesses moving online that have traditionally not had to pay attention to this aspect of their business model need to undertake a cultural transformation to bring this to the core of their business.

When everything is going well, no one notices. It is when things go wrong that reputations get built.13d68adfcd0859ac00269d8b8403fa70

One of my bosses, the founder of Direct Marketing, R Sridhar, published a booklet titled, Life begins after the coupons come in. I think we can safely update it to ‘Brands get built when customer service kicks in’

Categories: Uncategorized

Truth and Fairness : Is there a difference?

April 10, 2017 2 comments


Many, many years ago when I was a school going kid, we lived in a small housing colony. About 12/15 houses so a rather tightly knit group of families.

At some point in time during our stay there one family moved out and another moved in. This family had one boy about my age.

Pretty soon we realized that the boy was more than a handful. He was naughty beyond belief. He had scratched cars, broken windows, plucked flowers from others gardens and so on. Each time something happened, one of the mothers would go across and complain to the boy’s mother. With the growing litany of complaints the tension between the mothers in the colony grew significantly with the boy’s mother finally just refusing to talk to any of the mothers. She said once ‘ you all are just ganging up against my son’. Pretty soon the colony was split into all families on one side and this family on the other. No more comings and goings to ‘that’ house.

Given the small community we all lived in this was really awkward for everyone concerned.

One day my grandmother came to stay with us for a while and after a couple of days she picked up on the colony dynamics and asked me what was going on. I dutifully relayed the situation to her. On hearing it, she shook her head in sadness and said she may have a solution.

A day later my grand mom went over to the house in question, some food in hand, and rang the bell. The boy’s mother opened the door and eyed my grand mom suspiciously. As she was old and had come to visit with a ‘gift’ she allowed her to come in. A few hours later, she emerged and we saw them parting with smiles all around. This continued for a few days.

Over time we started seeing a slow change in the ‘unhappy’ mother. She started checking her son for his behavior. Punishments were being doled out and slowly but surely the boy’s behavior started changing.

One day, over dinner, my mother asked my grand mother how she had achieved this miracle. She said that in her initial conversations with the mother she didn’t talk about the boy’s behavior at all. It was all general family stuff..then she graduated to finding things to compliment the son. He was such a hard worker. He played football well. And so on. And then once in a while she would slide in a complaint. But, because my grand mother had already established the trust this ‘complaint’ was seen as positive feedback and accepted with credibility. And hence the mother did something about it.

Now, we managers in the corporate world do this continually as part of the feedback process to our teams. Compliment the good. Give feedback on the areas for improvement and set some sort of goals for review.

I give this long background because when I look at the media coverage of Trump it seems this basic fact needs to be reinforced. There is a set of media channels that can find absolutely nothing positive to say about Trump. This means Trump’s followers find it low on credibility and brand it unfair. So all the Trump bashing has no effect on the people who voted for Trump and the polarizing continues and hardens.

Now turn to Fox News for a minute. No matter how much one may find it distasteful, or coloured in its opinions, you are very likely to find at least 1-2 articles critical of Trump. So a Trump supporter reads, say, 100 articles praising Trump and a few critical. She/he sees Fox as a credible source of news thereby raising its stickiness with that base.

If the rest of the media really wants to reach out to Trump’s America it needs to first start building bridges, like my grandmother did with that boy’s mother, and then slowly build the platform for change. Else they are just talking in their own echo chamber.

Rather than only complain about Trump’s Syria strike, for example, talk about the need to be firm and definitely punish people for using chemical weapons.

Rather than only comment about Bannon’s demotion talk about how Trump is restoring the NSC to its original intended mission.

And so on.

Slowly, and very slowly, influential news media like NYT, CNN will start being seen as credible by Trump and his millions of followers. Then, when criticism follows, more people will take it seriously.

Changing any behavior needs to first find common ground.

It is not enough to be ‘true’. It is also important to be seen as ‘fair’.

Categories: Uncategorized

Where do I work?

March 21, 2017 4 comments

Yesterday I read another article on the Work From Home debate that plagues many organisations. Like many of the debates, it was one sided. This specific article talked about managers needing to trust their employees that they will do the work expected of them and so on.

Work from home ad

Every time I read articles of this type I feel that they assume the worst of management and that forcing employees to come to work is a sign of a weak management culture.

I have a slightly more nuanced view which I want to share with a couple of analogies.

For sometime in my life, I lived in Singapore. A city with great public transport. Consequently (and the fact that I couldn’t afford a car) I relied on metros, buses and taxis. I was never really inconvenienced, except when it rained or after an event when the demand for taxis made it a challenge to get transportation. I went to restaurants, movies, plays, friends’ homes and so on. Great public transport has that benefit.

From Singapore, I went to Nairobi. A city with poor public transportation. So, I went back to getting my own car. Now I was able to drive to movies, plays, restaurants friends’ homes and so on. Same as Singapore. With a change. Freedom to explore unknown paths. It was not destination driving. If, on the way to a place, we spotted something we wanted to explore we could stop, or take a detour. Thus we saw much more of Nairobi and, looking back, we saw much less of Singapore than my friends who had cars.

While much of what we did in Singapore was achievable with public transportation, the freedom of exploration was lost.

Let me take another analogy. Education.

With the growth of home schooling and availability of education material on-line, there really is no need for anyone to go to an educational institution (unless there is a significant practical element to it). Yet, can you imagine growing up without going to school? Some of our best friends are from there. Some of our greatest memories are formed there.

And, of course, there is the learning component. We clarified doubts with class mates. We studied together at exam time and pushed each other to do better.

In the context of education, if you just want to study you can probably study at home alone. But if you want to learn from friends, make new friends, discover short cuts to remembering a formula and so on, you went to school.

I think it is the same with working.

No one doubts that an employee can do his/her work on himself/herself. The reason companies, and individuals, benefit from people coming into office is the opportunity to do more.

There is no replacement for the water cooler conversation. There is no replacement for the ad hoc getting up and walking across to talk to someone about a problem or an idea. There is no replacement to getting someone to review your work, as you are doing it. There is no substitute to bouncing ideas off your colleagues. There is no replacement for a conversation that sparks an idea.

Yes,  technology is making some progress, but we are still some distance away from that replacing the human interaction. Maybe never.

For sure there are times we need to work on one’s own. Maybe it is a big presentation that needs concentration., Perhaps the need to put together one’s thoughts that needs silence. For all those reasons one needs the mind space to do the job.

I have yet to hear of a start up birthed on a conference call by a bunch of people working from home.

My nuanced view is that everyone benefits from a collocated collaborative environment. This can be balanced by the flexibility to work in privacy when needed.

All modern corporations understand the need for this and provide the appropriate systems to enable work-life balance.



Categories: Uncategorized
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