AgTalk - February 26, 2013
Ever since it set up operations in India, Penn Schoen Berland (PSB) the multinational Global Strategic Communication advisory firm has made a steady progress. PSB has corporate marketing, corporate communications and public advocacy as its main practice areas. According to Ashwani Singla, Managing Director and CEO, PSB sees itself positioned differently from other Public Relations agencies in the sense that it is a consulting firm that advises the top management on the aspects of strategic corporate communications. He calls it the “Science of Persuasion” wherein they deal with the three concerns of any CEO: The public image of his/her company, the continuation of its license to operate and the value that market puts on its stock.
Adgully spoke to Ashwani Singla on the current activities and the plans ahead. An industry veteran, Singla in his two decade of experience in the communication & service industry, has donned the role of a trusted advisor and strategist for building strong and effective communications strategy for top corporates, MNC’s, Indian enterprises and emerging Indian MNCs across a wide range of sectors. Prior to his current role, Ashwani was the Chief Executive of Genesis Burson-Marsteller and Member of the Asia Pacific Board of Burson-Marsteller Worldwide.
Adgully (AG): Can you tell us how is PSB (Penn Schoen Berland) different from its industry peers?
Ashwani Singla (AS): Our difference is really in the use of the ‘Science of Persuasion,’ which is about getting inside the minds and hearts of a company’s stakeholders to understand levers of consideration and impact of its messaging. We use this understanding to craft campaigns that tells our clients what to do, who to engage, what to say and how to say it. We work directly with the CEO and the executive leadership of the company.
Our Political Consulting Practice focuses on helping political candidates in devising campaign strategies that effectively build a strong constituency of voters that help him/her win the election.
This is how PSB’s unique research-driven bespoke campaigns really home in on the key consideration drivers and differentiators that help drive a competitive edge for both candidates and companies.
AG: What was the rationale behind setting up the company? Having worked in the industry in so many different roles, how do you think your role is different at PSB?
AS: During the course of my journey of building Genesis Burson-Marsteller into India’s finest Public Relations firm, I championed the need for insights and measurement but with limited success. PSB was a natural progression to put the understanding of the driver’s stakeholder behavior & response to various messaging cues at the heart of the business. This really allows us to develop research driven communication campaigns that bring focus and creativity ensuring not only a high probability of success but also the ability to measure what success looks like.
I am really setting the pace at PSB as it brings science and intellectual rigor into marketing a company of a candidate. This combined with our ability to get the job done with the highest quality and in time has allowed us to carve a niche for ourselves.
AG: How has been the journey so far in terms of getting closer to the company's mission? Are you satisfied with your professional journey so far?
AS: Our work in India and the larger South Asian market that we serve is really breaking significant new ground and I am delighted with the response it has received so far. PSB, South Asia has grown from 3 to 20 in under two years with at least 50% of our strength being counselors with over a decade of experience. However, we recognize that this a long journey and we need to persevere. Over the next few years, I would really like to see PSB become a game changer in the way the corporate and candidate marketing is used in our country.
AG: Building trust in your clients is very important in the industry, so how it can be developed today given the increasing competition in the industry?
AS: Trust is developed when there are following ingredients in an engagement; Transparency, Reliability and Mutuality of Interest. Clients want firms to be deeply engaged with them in their issues, challenges and their successes. Our ‘UNAGENCY’ approach ensures that we are in the know and engaged with our clients and more importantly they are assured that we will get the job done in their best interest, with the highest possible quality. When we do make a mistake, they know that we will be the first to tell them and make amends. We live in the world of our clients.
AG: What are PSB's plans going forward?
AS: We are building our business one step at a time, but with a sense of urgency and focus. We are a niche consulting firm and want to remain so doing meaningful and outstanding work for a few clients every year.
We want to remain focused on solving problems for our clients and that requires dedicated time by seasoned professionals. We want to stay small and invaluable to our clients. This does not mean that we are not ambitious, our success will come from the success of our clients and that translates into value and loyalty.
AG: Where do you see the organization in the next five years?
AS: Currently we operate out of two offices in Delhi and Mumbai and maybe we will set up another when we feel there is a need. The focus is on talent, not real estate, and we will ensure that we deliver what we promise and success will be its by-product. Over the next five years or so, we are putting the building blocks in place brick-by-brick. We have launched our Corporate and Political Practices and will introduce a Media & Entertainment Practice sometime in the future.
We have also established Three Centers of Expertise, The Policy Group, The Media Center and The Advanced Marketing Science. We have to build on this foundation and continue to do good work.
AG: Where do you feel the Indian PR industry is at the moment when compared to the western peers? What needs to be done?
AS: The Indian PR industry over the last couple of years has seen the big multinationals consolidate their presence and a lot of them setting up their presence, this augers well for the industry as it will spur the local independents to raise their game and I see the industry raising its standard and sophistication. Quality of talent and compensation continue to remain significant issues. I strongly believe that in the western world, PR has been almost commoditized but here in India and Asia we have an opportunity to avoid that situation and learn from their mistakes.
We need to move away from ‘hand and legs’ perception to ‘insights, ideas and impact’ image of the industry.
AG: What is your advice to the new talent entering the industry today?
AS: Learn, Dream and Do in that order.
AG: What is one thing you would like to do if you have the chance to do it?
AS: Go on a transcontinental road trip on my Harley Davidson, see the world differently and come back to tell you all another beautiful story.
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