Sunday, July 26, 2009

Embrace chaos and succeed!

I read this article about Ashok Amritraj producing his 100th Hollywood film. Something about his achievement rang a bell regarding an idea I have been tossing about for some time. I will come to that in a moment.

Ashok Amritraj’s is an amazing journey from pro-tennis to the world of films which he entered in 1981. Being one of the mainstream Hollywood producer and a ‘brown skin’ at that, success was not easy to come by. Hard work, daring, perseverance are some of the traits that Ashok lists as essential to make it big in films and in Hollywood. No doubt about that. The traits he mentioned holds true even if he were to be an Indian Film producer. What is remarkable about his achievement was that it happened in Hollywood.

Hollywood in 1981 must have been an unknown quantity for the young Ashok. He was to my mind entering an area which would have been the edge of chaos or chaos itself. Chaos or madness that exerts enormous pressure on a person’s mental limits. Greater the unknown, greater the level of chaos and therefore mental pressure. For example, the level of chaos in Hollywood would have been far greater than the level of chaos in India for Amritraj.

Ashok Amritraj embraced chaos and succeeded. Likewise Ismail Merchant.

Neuroscience has an answer to this. According to this very amazing and insightful article about the functioning of brain, there are moments when the brain moves away from a stable state to the edge of chaos or madness. The article goes on to state that “the near-chaotic states maybe crucial to memory, and could explain why some people are smarter than others”. Of course, if the brain completely flips into the chaotic state it would lead to madness. The statement that there is a fine line between genius and madness holds true.

What holds true for Amritraj, Merchant and individuals like them in various fields, holds true for companies and brands.

The ability to embrace chaos is one of the reasons why some companies and brands are truly great. The example that comes to my mind is Google. The internet (dotcom) madness was at its peak with search engines popping up every nanosecond. Google dared to enter with its own definition of search engine into this madness and the rest is history. I am not for a moment discounting factors like good product, service, hard work etc. I take that for granted.

Closer home I think the IT majors entered the zone of chaos when they first made their sales pitch to North American clients. Please remember that in the ‘70’s and 80’s ‘Made in India’ was a joke and more so in the high-technology space like IT. They won and how.

In addition to the various P’s of marketing, companies should ask the level of chaos they are operating in. It might give them an indication of the degree of success they are likely to achieve.

It is also very likely that companies mistake edge of chaos with their own operations and marketing. In this case the dividing line between reality and chaos are truly blurred.

I would rather back Don Quixote on his charge!

(Image courtesy: Audringje)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

237 slides of sheer pleasure

I am never disappointed with Helge Tenno's presentations or his blog which is featured in my blog roll. The above presentation is courtesy, Iain Tait, who correctly says about Helge Tenno's presentations "..... you’ll find someone overflowing with plannery goodness AND has a decent eye for making his charts look dirt-hot too."


Sunday, July 12, 2009

Hurry Up Slowly

It was a classmate of mine who used to say ‘hurry up slowly’ when conducting experiments related to heat in the Physics lab during graduation. We had to measure temperature every 15 seconds or so and when it reached a particular point, every 5 seconds. It was not at all easy. The problem was compounded further by the antiquated stop-clock we had to use. We wanted the temperature to fall fast and yet slow enough for us to easily measure it. This line was so very apt in that context. More importantly I used to think it was an original quip from my classmate. I was wrong.

Google’s interesting result for ‘Hurry up slowly’ is copied below.

Aldus Manutius was an Italian renaissance writer and printer. He is credited with inventing italics and setting the pattern for publishing as we know it today. His personal motto, Festina Lente - "Hurry up slowly" - remains sage counsel. He captured the motto with an anchor intertwined by dolphins. The rushing dolphins and rugged anchor send a paradoxical truth. True and good progress flows from the gap between impetuousness and procrastination. We are at our best when we make haste and yet don't hurry.

This is summed by brilliantly by John Wesley as "Though I am always in haste, I am never in a hurry."

I see Festina Lente in action all around me. So here’s a list of Festina Lente moments I could think of.

Traffic and You

In heavy traffic you want to move fast but not so fast that you test the crumple-zone of your car

Boom-boom Economy and The Poor

India wants the economy to continue running on steroids no matter what and yet desperately hoping it slows down enough for the poor to catch up

Client and Agency

Client wants to push a strategy quickly (even though it is BS) and yet be slow enough for the agency to realise that they have to work on it, on time

Agency and Client

Agency wants to sell an idea quickly (even though it is BS) and yet be slow enough for the client to approve a shoot in French Riviera

Social Media and Companies

Companies rush into the Social Media bandwagon while hoping it slows enough for them to understand what the heck they have gotten into in the first place

Management and Employee

Management wants to quickly pass a resolution increasing shareholder return while slowing it enough for employees to realise that they have to work more for a lot less

Celebrities and Scandals

Celebrities are in a hurry to cover up a scandal and yet take time to milk the publicity from it

Politician and Businessman

The politician pushes the file quickly through red tape and yet slows it just that much forcing the businessman to cough up the kickbacks


I leave that to your imagination!

Now, why don’t you share your list of Festina Lente moments?

(Picture courtesy)

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Lessons in Marketing, Communication and Life from a Medical Sales Rep

My first advertising job was with Hindustan Thompson Associates - HTA (aka JWT) Ogilvy is the other agency where I spent over ten years (WPP put up with me for over 12 years!)

One of my clients at HTA was the Ethicals Division (Prescription Drugs) of SKF - SmithKline&French. They had just merged with Beecham and had been rechristened SKB – SmithKlineBeecham – and were launching Augmentin, the largest selling antibiotic in the world.
Pharma companies are not allowed to advertise prescription drugs and the budgets being too tiny prefer to work with smaller agencies. The work would be considered ‘un-glamorous’ – brochures, flip-charts, poster and other items in the sales kit.

Since HTA was already handling the consumer side of the business, they managed to convince SKB that they should use the service of a large agency for such a prestigious launch. The whole ‘integrated marketing communication’ know what I am talking about, don’t you?

SKB agreed and rightly felt that a large agency might not know the nuances of pharma marketing and communication. They wanted a key member of the team to work with one of their best Medical Sales Rep, Ramesh, for two weeks to understand their specific communication needs. And in typical agency style an ‘important integrated campaign’ was assigned to an Account Exec, Me!

I worked with Ramesh every half-day for nearly a fortnight. Little did I realise that this interaction was going to help me understand marketing and communication in ways no classroom or workshop can. These were lessons that I put to good effect in my career and continue to do so even today. I have tried to capture some of the key ones below:

Intuition it is and it can be honed

Before meeting a doctor, Ramesh would visit the nearby pharmacy. He would find out the ailments ‘in vogue’ at that time from the pharmacist and the drugs that the particular doctor was prescribing. This was something he did before meeting every doctor without fail. He has to see at least 10 doctors a day!

I then realised that he was not only soaking the doctor’s behaviour, but by making this a habit he was unconsciously honing his intuitive powers. This enabled him to take radical decisions in his job as and when required.

Shut up, listen and help people

Ramesh kept tabs of competition through the pharmacist as the pharmacist knew them best. He was a keen listener and had enormous patience. He used to help the pharmacists get fresh stocks and remove slow-moving drugs from the shelves even without being told. He built a personal rapport with some of them. They would confide details in him as though he were part of their family.

He would also get tip-offs about competition. New drugs, doctors being ‘friendly’ to competition and all other details were known to him.

Take risks, follow your instincts

The moment of reckoning is when he used to make the sales pitch to the doctor. At any given point in time Ramesh had over 20-30 drugs that his company wanted to promote. However, most doctors would allot only 3-5 minutes at best to the Sales rep. The choice of the drug was critical.

Just when I used to think that he would go for the most obvious drug based on his ‘research’, he would pull a surprise and go for something that was not part of the equation. I would ask him later why he did that. He would say that he was getting a ‘different kind of buzz’ at the clinic and decided to go with the flow. According to him competition would also be pitching the obvious kind of drug. Therefore, to remain on the doctors mind and win big sometimes it is best to bet on the horse least expected to win!

If you don’t get them at first, you don’t get them at all

After choosing the drug, Ramesh still had to combat the extremely low attention span of the doctor. A typical flip-chart would contain 7-10 benefits of the drug. Ramesh would always go for the most dramatic. This was his opening line for Zentel, an anti-worm drug with a formulation aimed at children.

“Doctor, Zentel can help increase the memory of children.”

That got the doctor’s attention and remained that way for the entire duration of the sales call.

Never show your discomfort, no matter what

On one of the moments when we were having a cigarette and coffee break, he showed me the photograph of his 5-year old son in his wallet. He said that he did not want his son to become a ‘Medical Sales Rep’. Instead he wanted him to become a ‘big officer’.

There were moments, he said, when he wanted to walk out of a doctor’s place because the doctor was behaving like an ass-hole. It was true. Some of doctors would treat the medical reps like dirt. I noticed that ‘Asshole Quotient(AQ)' was high amongst those with very poor capabilities. That brings to my next theory, ‘Big Asshole = Low Capability’.

He said if one showed even a degree of discomfort it would mean that they (the arseholes) won. Therefore, one should never give them the joy of winning. No matter the treatment or the surroundings - and hospitals can be as depressing a place as you can get - Ramesh was unflappable. The bag that he carried around with him containing sample drugs and sales collaterals would be weighing a ton by the end of the day(after nearly 10-12 calls), but his spirits outwardly was always positive.

BTW, here’s a tip. Whenever you are stuck for ideas, just chat up with the best sales guy. Some of them are creative in their own way. They can probably help you. David Ogilvy was also a great salesman. Read this little known but awesome book on salesmanship written by Ogilvy for selling Aga Cookers. It is applicable to any product or service.

It is more than 15 years since I last saw Ramesh. I do not know where he is or whether his dreams for his son got fulfilled. This post is my way of saluting him and people like him who go about their jobs tirelessly and under conditions that are not exactly friendly (more so in a country like India). They are the backbone of any economy.

The last page and specifically the last line in Luke Kennedy’s awesome book "Hey Whipple! Squeeze this" comes to my mind. He sees workers going to work at construction sites and other places doing tough jobs as part of their daily routine and which seldom get acknowledged. He realizes how small we really are. He therefore requests us to,

‘Be humble’.

(Image courtesy: hyperspace328)