Gunjan Prasad
Jun 13, 2012

Q&A with Ashwani Singla, Penn Schoen Berland

The MD and chief executive of Y&R Brands' Penn Schoen Berland (PSB), South Asia, discusses the firm's India foray, strategic alliance with Via Media Health, and more. Excerpts:

Q&A with Ashwani Singla, Penn Schoen Berland

Campaign India (CI):  How has the journey for PSB in India been so far, since the launch in early 2011?

Ashwani Singla (AS): The journey has been fairly satisfying and in just over a year we have developed a good roster of clients, built a solid team of counsellors and have commenced creating a niche for ourselves as a 'research focussed strategic communications advisory' helping clients with their corporate image and corporate affairs challenges. We seemed to have filled a void between traditional advertising, market research and Public Relations by bringing the science of persuasion into the corporate image and corporate affairs strategy.

CI: How has the market received an offering as niche as PSB? Who are your key clients? Who would you call your competitors?

AS: Delighted with the response so far, clients seemed to like what we have to offer. Can't name the clients due to the confidentiality commitments in our contracts with them, needless to mention they are blue chip Indian multinationals and some of the leading MNCs in India. We don't really have any direct competitors as we generate proprietary insights for clients and leverage those in the development of their corporate image and corporate affairs strategy. We would indirectly compete with market research companies, consulting firms, advertising firms and leading public relations and public affairs firm. We also partner and collaborate with them on several engagements.

CI: PSB recently tied up with Via Health Media. What is the objective of this alliance? Are the Indian health majors ready to invest in research-driven PR?

AS: Our tie up with Via Media health creates a symbiotic relationship whereby Via Media is able to leverage the insight-based strategies that we develop for clients and PSB benefits from their knowledge and reach in the healthcare advocacy campaigns that we develop and implement along with them.

CI: The vision Mark Penn is said to have for PSB is an agency that is smart, research-focused and politically connected? How far has PSB India succeeded in delivering on the ‘political’ parameter?

AS: So far, we have focussed on developing our corporate practice and that has delivered significant gains to PSB, as we have operated in the board room of our clients. We are starting to see the interest of clients in our political campaign management strategies. Let's see how that develops; the conversations we are having are very exciting.

CI: PSB, globally, also represents some major Hollywood studios – the recent David Ogilvy Gold Award for Justin Bieber: Never Say Never being the latest feather in the agency’s cap. Will we see PSB India entering any such alliances?

AS: We hope to develop our media and entertainment practice in times to come. We are currently focussed on building the firm one step at a time to ensure that we are able to deliver what we promise our clients. To us, serving our clients and helping them negotiate some of their toughest communication challenges is our top priority. Only through delivering work that makes a real difference to their success, will we build a reputed PSB brand. So right now, our focus is our Corporate Practice with expression of interest in our political consulting work. We are excited and enthused about the progress we are making.

CI: You recently conducted a study on 'Global Green Brands’. Does brand purpose impact consumers’ perceptions of leading brands?

AS: Yes, it does. It allows consumers and other stakeholders to connect with the company at a higher plane: a deep emotive level. They can relate to companies that stand for something more than a mere commercial transaction with them. 'Brand Purpose' gives companies a real competitive edge. Mahindra 'Rise' is a good example of a brand purpose. It's not a tag line, it's what you stand for.

CI: Ashwani, you have recently been invited to serve on CII national committee on marketing. What will be your contribution to the committee?

AS: The committee has luminaries who have achieved so much in their careers, so to be in their company is a privilege for me. There will be lots to learn from them. I hope to bring a perspective beyond that of advertising and media to broaden the scope of our deliberations. I am quite looking forward to the experience.

Campaign India

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