Penn Schoen Berland (PSB), a  ‘Global Research based Strategic Communication Advisory’ completes three years in India this week. Penn Schoen Berland South Asia was established in Gurgaon and serves blue chip companies, leading Indian and transnational corporations and political parties as well. PSB abroad serves Fortune 100 Corporations, leading Hollywood Studios and has helped elect over 30 Presidents and Prime Ministers around the world.

Paul Writer talks to Ashwani Singla , the MD & Chief Executive of Penn Schoen Berland Asia. In his two decade of experience in the communication & service industry, Ashwani has donned the role of a trusted advisor and strategist for the C Suite of top MNCs, Indian enterprises and emerging Indian MNCs across a wide range of sectors. He has been voted as one of the most well respected professionals in India by the Holmes Report in its inaugural Asia ‘Agency Score Card’, Ashwani has also featured in the Campaign India Magazine’s ‘A list’ and recognized among the top professionals in Agency FAQ’s listings.

You are completing 3 years now in India, can you tell us a little bit about this milestone and how this journey has been?

The journey so far has been just great; we have served Indian blue chip companies as well as MNCs in India and have also worked across a spectrum of political campaigns. We are delighted with the response we have got from our clients and thank them for the faith they have shown in us. We continue to invest in developing the talent needed for our kind of work and a testament of that is that we have grown to thirty people today across Mumbai and Delhi NCR.

How important do you think it is for firms to have a 360-degree approach towards marketing?

I am more a believer of using the most appropriate/effective platforms to engage our audiences. Some of them may need 360 degree whilst others may not. So you can say that whilst 360-degree approach is important, ‘integrated communication that integrates platforms and audiences’ is crucial to reputation. Therefore, it is all the more important to generate insights that allow for best use of precious marketing dollars. At PSB, we help our clients generate these insights that help them match the right audience with the most persuasive messages.

What do you mean by the 3i Campaign?

3i simply means INSIGHTS, INTEGRATED and IMPACT. Campaigns that are rooted in proprietary insights, are integrated between stakeholders and channels of communication and deliver business impact.  When I set up PSB, we interviewed CMOs, CCOs of a wide variety of corporations. I found a remarkable consensus on the need to adopt Empirical Communication: communication that is rooted in the science of public opinion. Almost all of them were willing to pay a premium for it. Not just that, two out of three said they would gauge their success at least partially through stakeholder opinion unearthed by research.

Time magazine termed PSB as ‘Masters of the message’, how exactly do you help develop the messaging for your clients to position themselves in the market?

Time Magazine recognized the firm’s work in helping President Clinton to the second term in office. Persuasive Messaging is about getting under the skin of the people you wish to persuade. If you don’t understand your audiences, you cannot persuade them. Our ‘neo-personality’ polling technique allows us to generate insights that traditional market research cannot. In addition, our messaging development & testing methodologies allow us to find the messages most likely to persuade; we then match the right audiences with the most persuasive messages and are able to predict the perceptual shift likely to persuade our audiences to act. Time Magazine recognized the importance to the discovery of the “Soccer Mom”, a segment that supported the President to win the elections.

In India, we were able to unearth the “YPP: Young & Politically Progressive” a segment of youth that will be a crucial segment for political parties who seek to win elections this season. We have done similar work for our corporate clients as well.

How do you ensure that your client has an effective communications strategy?

I believe that a brand’s position is reflected in its cumulative perception of its stakeholders in relation to its competitors. If that cumulative perception is differentiated and compelling, it will be very persuasive and the brand will win in the market. Therefore, for communication to be effective, it first needs to be relevant.

First, we help our clients develop most relevant and persuasive narrative to support the positioning statement. Second, we help our clients direct that communication to the most relevant segment of stakeholders, making it very focused. Third, we help clients identify the most influential channels of engagement across formats. This makes communication most persuasive and hence effective in delivering results.

What are the most important factors that should be considered while developing a crisis management strategy?

First of all, recognizing that a crisis is inevitable and being prepared for it is important. Then, being proactive in planning to prepare to not only prevent loss of reputation but gain admiration. An effective crisis management plan is simple, multi-functional, multi-stakeholder and multi-lingual. And lastly following a simple rule: when things do go wrong. Apologize, Acknowledge & Act to fix the problem.

You work in different practices like Political, Corporate and Entertainment. What are the few things to keep in mind while building an image?

The experiences may be different but our core work not vastly different. We focus on our core proposition to ‘help our clients negotiate some of their toughest communication challenges’ and don’t try to be everything to everyone. We don’t profess to be ‘industry experts’ but we are subject matter experts and invest time and effort in developing our understanding of the challenges that our client faces.

How important is it for firms to be interactive with their consumers on social media today?

More than any other media format, social media allows companies to interact with and engage with their consumers. So if your consumers are on it, you better be good at it.



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