March 24, 2003

PR lessons from my barber


I've lost count of the number of times I've seen hi-tech CEOs attempting to get the press excited about their "exclusive" tie-up to distribute some foreign company's software product in India, or their "significant achievement" in landing a SEI-Level 3 certification, etc. etc..

In most cases, after a lot of time, effort and money is spent, the end result is a one-para mention in "the briefs" section of most papers--if at all!

Don't get me wrong. It is natural--and laudable--for entrepreneurs and CEOs to be proud of each and every baby step that their start-ups make. And feel eager to tell the world about it.

However, whenever we are trying to market something (in this case, a message) it makes sense to look at things from the side of the consumers (in this case, journalists).

This is something that the co-owner of the latest "men's hair style" shop in my neighbourhood knows pretty well.

"You know what, sir? Journalists as a breed don't want to hear anything that's normal or stuff that has been done before," he says, handing me the business card of the local NDTV correspondent with contact details of journalists at The Hindu and Indian Express written on the reverse. "If I'm just another passerby on the road, they won't care for me. On the other hand, if I throw a stone at a passing bus, then I become interesting to them!" he says.

So, what is he doing with this insight?

"I'm toying with the idea of announcing that I will give free haircuts to underprivileged--'corporation school'--kids," he says. "These are boys who cannot even imagine stepping into a shop like this. Don't you think that would get some journalist to take notice, sir?"

"Or, should I do something to go with the world cup? Maybe, make some boys stand outside my shop dressed in the Indian cricket uniform and with haircuts that make them look like those of Indian cricketers?" (I had my haircut before Ponting gave Srinath, Zaheer & Co. theirs).

"I'm still groping for the best idea to go with, sir. However, I'm sure of one thing: whatever I do, must stand out. Once my unusual offer or service catches the attention of the first journalist and he publishes something, then I'm sure all the others--including the TV guys--will start approaching me on their own."

Wow! Let alone hi-tech CEOs and entrepreneurs. This guy could teach the so-called PR gurus some valuable lessons.

As for me, this is one haircut I surely won't forget! (Unlike the case of the 18th Indian software company to acheieve SEI CMM Level 3 status.)

Agree? Disagree? Do send me your thoughts.