Yusuf Hatia, Fleishman-Hillard: PR Entries At Cannes Are Still Measured on Ad Terms, Not PR Terms


As head of Fleishman-Hillard’s operations in India, Yusuf Hatia leads a dynamic team that leverages the reach and resources of its global network – both, FH’s international operations as well as those of the larger Omnicom Group to which it belongs – to offer integrated communications solutions to clients. In an exclusive interview with Image Management, Hatia addresses the importance of nurturing talent, PR awards, and his favourite campaign of 2012.

Yusuf Hatia, Senior Vice President, Fleishman Hillard

Q.  Do you think PR agencies are doing enough to train and nurture talent?

I don’t see enough training going on within the industry. I’ve worked in other markets like the Middle East and U.K where much bigger investment goes into training. Right from the start when somebody joins FH as an intern, they usually go through a whole program followed by an induction. Interns go through the series of training that is built into their whole program. Here it’s either done in peace mill or it is not done consistently as the whole training program. There may be some training around media relation or writing obvious things but there is no consistent program.

That’s one of the things we tapped on when we came in. What one can’t do is sit in the background, admit there is a problem with the talent, and then not do anything about it. We will have to bring in certain things ourselves. We have a whole series of programs which is customized to each person who works with us. Each person has his own training calendar for the year. They also have training programs built in to their skill set levels, depending on their experience of online training, offline training and external experts.

Although, we have our own Omnicom University which is for people who have worked in the industry for 15-20 years. They go through a Harvard MBA which is devised just for Omnicom, so they have everything from an intern level although you have somebody who is the head of the office, who can take it all the way like a Harvard MBA.

The stepping stone from PR to Corporate Communication theory only works up to an extent because I don’t think there are as many jobs in corporate communications to accommodate the number of people an agency employs, therefore only a handful can go into that.  Working in an agency and working in house are two different things, in terms of what your expectations are and what you are going to learn.

Generally one learns more in an agency because one gets work across brands and with your peers.   Even in a good, large company, one may be in a team of 3 or 4 people doing certain things up to a certain level.  I don’t see a lot of threat from in house position, but I also think it’s a natural inclination for people to go on to try in house. One is perceived incomplete in the industry unless they have done an in house position. But I’ve always found people who are better suited to the agency. They have liked agency culture, working across different brands, different sectors. Even if these people try in house, they usually end up coming back to an agency because that’s where the buzz, the vibe is.

As a company, we can offer all the training in the world and opportunities and working with different offices.  People come to company like ours because they want to work on international brands, which they might get that locally. But they want to work with colleagues in other parts of the world. Major reasons why people come to us is things like training and opportunities to work across geography, campaigns and accounts.

In exchange of these opportunities and training, there is an expectation that people will spend certain number of years with the agency. Agencies like ours tend to keep people longer than our competitors, because we offer a little more. If one works on a FH account in India, they are probably working with at least three or four other offices and people at various levels. Thus they get exposed to different ways of working, a wider experience and I think that’s how we can offer loyalty. Otherwise the only form of loyalty is adding to the salary but that is a dangerous game, because it then becomes a competition to see who can pay most, and then eventually one hits a ceiling.

If an agency doesn’t put enough into training, people will not stay behind, because they can get a rise in salary elsewhere. Like this, it becomes a vicious circle because agencies lose people therefore think what’s the point in investing in training because it’s going to go out of the door. They invest less which means they lose more, and the attrition rate continues to rise.

The years that we’ve been here I don’t think we’ve lost any people to rival agencies’. They have either gone in house or they have gone off into something else. For us it is a multiple thing, it is offering opportunities to work with different clients across different sectors.  Agencies like us bring in lot of processes, which is part of training as well. We tell them how we manage budgets, time, and different ways of working, to which they may not have been exposed to in other agencies.

We explain to our executives what budgets we’re working with, our services, etc so that they understand the functioning better. When an organization is open, people also want to stay longer because they know they are going to learn more as opposed to limited tasks, which then frustrates them and they chose to move on.  People are looking beyond salaries, they are looking for the right kind of experience and if they are not satisfied with an agency, they will move to either corporate communication or another agency.

Q.     How important do you think PR industry awards are? What are some tips you have to create strong award entries?

They are important because they are showcasing test practices and good campaigns. For the industry, it’s good to know what others are doing and where the success is coming from as. It is always useful to know how someone ran a useful campaign. Unfortunately, from dedicated PR awards like the SABRE, PR week etc. there is a move over into the advertising space with Cannes etc.

Those guys struggle to understand PR campaigns and eventually they are looking at a very populist piece of work. I’d like to mention the example of P & G Gillette campaign which is cited as the best practice. I think there are much better, deeper, more detailed campaigns that have had better results. But it is a very consumer focused campaign and it’s actually measured on Ad terms than on PR terms.

Managing reputation is a major part of what we do and measuring it is very difficult as opposed to measuring how many clips you have generated. The mechanics and the dynamics of the work measured are quite difficult for our industry.

Some of the other successful campaigns are very difficult to measure because it involves reputation.  We as an industry can’t analyze that effectively and thus end up underselling some of that work. PR campaigns usually generate consumer work which is measured by varying basic mechanisms. We should look at some of the deeper campaigns which involve preventing a crisis, managing a reputation, etc.

I never felt Cannes is really geared up towards PR campaigns. Everybody wants to win as many medals as they can. The Ad agencies now see it fair to go after the PR awards. But what one ends up with are campaigns that are Advertiser’s interpretation of PR. It is what they think PR is, as opposed to what PR really is.  Lots of PR agencies are not getting past that first post.

The other part is some of these big award ceremonies are geared up about how to tell the story and ironically PR agencies are not brave to tell their own story.  When you see how it’s packaged – the videos operated, the graphics and the storyboards, they are very ad way of working. PR agencies tell a story in a linear way, buy Advertisement professionals will create a very funky video that either PR agencies can’t do or don’t want spend money to do that.  Ad agencies have these equipments in house, but PR agencies don’t have production teams, video capabilities and voiceovers etc when applying for a Cannes or Spike’s award. We entered one of our Indian campaigns for Spike’s awards in Singapore last year. We got shortlisted but it was very clear who the winners were, they were very Ad centric campaigns. It is difficult for us.

Q. Do you think the average PR retainer in India needs to increase? What do you think will drive this change?

It does need to rise and corp. com professionals claim that PR retainers are on the rise. The reality I think is slightly different. The average retainers are very small across our industry and it is because of two reasons.

First, because there are agencies who are willing to work very long tenders, which is fine since that’s their business model and that is how they operate, but the quality will suffer. If the retainer is small, the return of work will also be small. There’s a need to move beyond small retainers.

PR agencies need to show some values. The distinction between price and values needs to be defined because we’re too focused on price. We showcase price instead of values. When there is a competitive pitch, a lot of it comes down to price and that’s why value suffers.

The industry will not benefit by us claiming more or larger retainers. The agencies should be able to show values for what they are taking retainers and presenting a very cohere argument to the CFO, apart from the corporate communication head. A PR professional should say “if you invest an extra 20% your return will be X % and this is where that return will come from.”

We would all, including corp comm. professionals like bigger retainers but they don’t necessarily control that. It’s the CEO, CFO who needs a credible argument. Let’s say if I’m going to invest 25% more than I did last year what am I going to get in return?  So if those arguments become stronger, our case becomes easier. We see retainers moving upward slowly but it goes up and then comes down. The CFO will turn and say,” We’re having a tough year this year, so you guys need to shape up in 10%”.

It is a wishful thinking that parts of the advertising budgets might move towards PR or at least the focus might move towards PR. We all like to believe that Ad budgets get hit. A CFO will look at all the spent and say we need to shave this much of. Where we benefit is that our programs are more HR and we can pick up project work.  We might benefit, by being more flexible whereas an Ad agency doesn’t have that inherent flexibility built into it.

So PR can say let’s reduce the retainer, add some projects or we might need to do something else, more efficiently. I don’t see Ad revenues coming our way. If the Ad revenues are cut, CFO’s will probably want to invest that saving into something more efficient like digital as opposed to giving it to PR.

Q. How do you think being part of Fleishman-Hillard’s global network impacts what you can offer clients?

It sometimes sounds like a cliché that we are part of global network. Some staffs within FH say that 80% of our clients work with more than one office. A market like India definitely benefits from that because a lot of our global clients have an Indian strategy. We have involved inflow of network opportunities and these tend to be clients that we are comfortable working with and vice versa, therefore there is no competitive pitch.  We work with them because they work with us already. They have got seamless work across the network.

We definitely benefit from them. In actual fact our ratio of local work and network work is actually very helpful and it has helped us to grow. A lot of that network work comes in at lot of our sub – standard middle rates and we don’t have to offer huge local market discounts to compete.  A Market like India benefits more because the kind of brands we are talking about have the big India strategy for growth themselves. They are investing in a market like India constantly and looking for that continuity from us as well. We also benefit because we work with our sister agencies TBWA, BBDO.

For instance we did some work for ‘Nissan’ last year. Nissan is a TBWA client. They were doing big campaign with them here in India and wanted a PR partner. They asked TBWA to recommend and they recommended us.

Q.    What was your favorite campaign that Fleishman-Hillard worked on in 2012?

I think ‘Nissan’ was a good one which came to us from TBWA. It was the launch of the MICRA campaign. It was interesting for us because it was consumer based and with a growing brand like Nissan. It was part PR, part digital, so we had to put two parts of our thinking together.

And it was a campaign where Nissan had a very low presence on social networks like Facebook. They created a campaign which was devised to increase their footfall in a youth centric market where social networks were incredibly popular. So we worked with them on PR, digital ideas, their brand ambassador Ranbir Kapoor, and created this platform called, New Star in India. This was like a reality show but broadcasted over Facebook. They wanted to find a number of new stars who then acted, set their auditions on Facebook and uploaded them. They got selected based on what they uploaded and once selected, they took part in a small film which was broadcasted only on Youtube, Facebook and other social networking sites. They also got to decide the plot of the film, the clothes that Ranbir Kapoor wore etc. so it was a very integrated campaign. What was crucial is that, although it was mostly digital and social networks, we relied on traditional media relations to get the message out and I think Nissan went from a very outside of the top 10 for auto brands on Facebook,  to in the top 3. They took big leap from that campaign. The campaign was also shortlisted for Spike’s awards. This is also the kind of work we like to do where the client faces a challenge in sending the message across. They have the money, the brand ambassador and if don’t get the message out all that great stuff will sit there, and they knew the only way to get the message out was through us on social media.


Interviewed by Kunal Pal for Image Management

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