MXM India

Here for the long haul: Anthony Good

If an agency has been around for almost a quarter of a century in India- and more than 40 years in existence globally – there must be something valuable about its offerings that may be setting it apart from its peers in the business. True to its objective, Good Relations India has been one such agency that has been the bedrock for clients who continue to flock to its doorstep for seeking solutions, however small or complex they may be.

As part of its continuing efforts to provide the best solutions to its clients, Good Relations has announced the rollout of its CSR initiative – CSR Advisory and CSR Audit, with which it hopes to redefine the way clients approach the function. With Anthony Good, Founder & Chairman, Good Relations, the company has an imperative plan up its sleeve as they take to the new terrain in India .

In conversation with Johnson Napier of MxM India, Anthony Good delve deep into the need for such a service in India, analyse how the CSR marketplace is currently placed in India and predict what’s in store for the agency in time to come. Excerpts:

The Good Relations Group boasts a legacy whose origins sprang at a time when the PR industry itself was in its infancy. What was the thought process you went through to come up with an agency that was much ahead of its time?

We were one of the first public independent agencies to start here in India in 1988. Before that the agency took wings in the UK even before you were born. Our claim to fame was for two things: one was that we were the first to float in the London Stock Exchange, making us the only PR company at that time to do so. The reason we got there was because we were pioneers in extending the bricks of the PR service from pure Press Relations. I myself was a journalist and started at the lowest level but it’s funny what you learn as a beginner and when it stands you in good stead. I then spent time doing PR for an airline group and that responsibility led on to a marketing role. When I left to start a PR agency, I realised at that stage that PR even then was moving away from press relations to a broader range of responsibilities. In fact, when we floated Good Relations in the UK we had seven operating subsidiaries. We were also the first agency to own a design firm and have an advertising arm – though not in the conventional sense. Unlike the way things were structured in those days, where many ad agencies owned PR subsidiaries our ad agency was designed to carry forward programmes which were PR programmed.

Having planted the seeds of ingenuity across several domains, how did your tryst with CSR come about? Also, when did India figure in the scheme of things for the Good Relations group?

One of the domains that has always been high on our radar is the area of social responsibility. Let me illustrate with an example. You may have social issues relating to, for example, water pollution. Now you may need to use advertising as a tool to tell people what you are doing so that they get the message from more than one source. That led us to believe that the future of PR was combining a number of specialist areas so that for any given set of requirements of the clients you could bring together the specialists in those areas. But one may wonder why we didn’t do that when we came to India ? The answer to that I’d say is: India wasn’t ready for it at that point in time. It wasn’t even that way when I originally started Good Relations. We didn’t have seven specialist units then. PR wasn’t ready, even we launched on the London Stock Exchange, but when we floated we had a range of offerings, which meant we could feel like specialists in each of those areas. Now you may say: aren’t these things that companies can do for themselves?

Exactly. And, also you do have companies that have an in-house CSR facility…

In fact there is a tendency with bigger companies to only do these sort of things (CSR) in-house. Even in a country like Britain, which is in no way near as hierarchal like India, and I say this with a bit of experience – this is my 371st visit to India – and I have learnt that Britain may be hierarchal, but India is the expert at that. If you are not at a decision-making level in an Indian company, you are unlikely to be able to convince the senior management that what you are saying is right. I think it is a dangerous thing to keep all these responsibilities in-house. If you are talking about basic press relations, a large retail store for example, will need to have in-house people who will know the ins and outs of merchandise, stores and management, but when it comes to rather broader issues not only do you need a greater breadth of experience but also you need the ability to say: Mr client, you are wrong!

When you come to Corporate Social Responsibility, often you will find companies who think that they know what they have to do and what not to do and actually reminding companies of their responsibilities in this area of the importance of developing a reputation into the community relaying a very important message that if you are not at a decision-making level then it may be just as difficult. What we are doing here is very much to duplicate what we did in Britain but also having regard to the particular need of this environment. One must realise that doing the right thing lasts a very long time but doing the wrong thing lasts even longer, maybe forever.

How would you differentiate CSR from Crisis Management, which is another important function that’s receiving due attention by most agencies?

The two, in a sense, go hand in hand. Being responsible and making companies aware of their need to be seen as part of the community in which they operate, establishing what the needs of the community are and being seen as a source of solutions looking at what they should be doing and what they should not be doing. I remember what someone told me during one of my trips to this country: nothing ever moves upwards in an Indian company. The best advice that one can give to companies looking to come to India is that bit of advice. We know of companies who have tried meeting company ‘x’ for years but nothing comes out of it as things only move downwards. That’s why I feel it is important to have a consultancy relationship, because the top people do listen to consultants. There is a need for specialised professional advice but they are unlikely to think that it will come from within their own business.

Do you provide consultancy services to any other units of Good Relations across the world?

You must know that Good Relations Group Plc, which we floated in the UK, was acquired by the Lowe Group which was also acquired by the Interpublic Group. And, you may know that there are two big communication companies in the US namely, Omnicom and Interpublic. The Good Relations agency was bought out by one of my friends and refloated as Chime Communications. So I am no longer part of that group, however, we had started GR in India when it was independent. My personal involvement as of now is only with Good Relations in India .

What is it you desire to see becoming of Good Relations in time to come?

We are not in this business for the short term; we are here for the long haul. We have been around for almost 25 years so we must be doing something right. Our effort is to see that the relationship we share is a win-win for both the client and for ourselves. What we intend to do is have an annual fee review which is based on work done on our side and value delivered to our clients. And with inflation making a comeback here, we hope to have an inflation-proof fee which will see us giving the best value to our clients even in dire times. In every business there are two sets of people: those who are there for making a quick buck and those who are there for the long ride. And I can claim that we are very much here for the long run.