His belief in the power of communication inspires him to drive the business forward and deliver amazing experiences. Exhibiting his trademark humility and down-to-earth approach, Shailesh Goyal, Founder Director, Simulations Public Affairs Management Services, discusses with Shree Lahiri how he entered the world of PR, the experience of steering the Simulations story to success, future of PR in Regional India, challenges faced by entrepreneurs and more …
A Science graduate, he holds a PGDM in Enterprises Management from Bangalore, and MBA from BK School of Business Management, Ahmedabad. After a decade-long stint with BCCL (The Times of India Group), Living Media (India Today Group), Torrent Pharma and Vadilal Foods, entrepreneurship got the better of him and he set up Simulations in 1997.
Simulations was an extension of Shailesh’s vision to help brands meet their PR, Brand Management and Corporate Communication needs by crafting awe-inspiring and compelling stories of human connect and interest. Today, Simulations manages PR portfolios of organisations in varied sectors like – Education, Lifestyle & Entertainment, Healthcare and Wellness, Telecommunications, Energy & Infrastructure, Co-operatives, Manufacturing, Government & PSUs, Trade bodies & Associations among others.
RT: What got you started in Public Relations?
I worked with leading publication houses in the initial years of my career, but the thought of doing something of my own was always there at the back of the mind. Having been associated with the field of communications for over a decade, Public Relations was an obvious choice when I started my own venture about two decades ago.
The need-gap was apparent. My past experience in handling the corporate communications of a Gujarat-based pharma major, wherein I looked after its publicity campaigns during its IPOs, made me realise about the existing gap in the field of PR here. The fact that there were no specialised PR firms in Gujarat and PR work was limited to few national advertising agencies that doubled up as PR firms, helped reaffirm my decision to set up my own Public Relations firm. My sole aim was to assist brands in their PR and communication management needs.
Thus started the journey in Public Relations.
RT: Describe the efforts put in by you to steer Simulations to become a leading reputation management consultancy in Gujarat.
From the onset, I was clear that Simulations will aim to deliver knowledge-driven services and value to its clients. Our commitment to deliver quality over quantity has allowed Simulations to create a niche for itself in reputation management consultancy. Clients know that they can expect measurable, impactful communication solutions from us, and this is the reason many of them have stayed with us for years.
It is worth mentioning that Simulations was perhaps the first consultancy in Gujarat to work with the government. We worked very closely with top officials and bureaucrats in Government & PSUs to bring professionalism in ‘Sarkari Communications’. Continuously upgrading my own knowledge and skillset besides the team’s continuous training and learning, and investing in personal relationships while working on our own visibility have reaped rich dividends for Simulations over the last two decades. Knowledge powered by personal relations has been the prime driver for the growth of Simulations.
RT: What is the future of Public Relations in Regional India?
Public Relations has become extremely challenging in recent years, with the shift in media business strategy. However, it continues to hold tremendous potential in India, especially Regional India comprising of Tier 2 and 3 cities. Regional India is untapped opportunity and vernacular language papers tapping on hyperlocal news is the way forward. The future growth will come from the smaller towns. Many companies are now focusing their energy on smaller cities in view of rising population, the growing middle class, increasing disposable income levels and greater digital exposure.
I believe, PR firms will also have to do the same if they want to continue to grow. PR is nearing saturation in Metros, and the only way forward is to realign their strategy and focus on the emerging market.
RT: The core philosophy of your firm focuses on: “staying relevant and bringing together myriads of thought currents on a single platform”. How easy or difficult is it to stay relevant?
Staying relevant is not a choice for us, but a ‘sine qua non’ to survive in the current age. We have seen in recent years many market leaders and pioneer consultancies struggling or have gone out of business, who failed to remain relevant by adapting to the changing times. Challenges are plenty due to paid and branded media vying for attention coupled with growing digital mediums, overall shrinking budgets and ever-growing expectations of clients, who have half-baked knowledge of what PR can do. But with our sole focus on adding value to the clients business and their reputation, we have been able to differentiate ourselves from others.
Collaborating with burgeoning brigade of social media influencers, ideating innovative visibility tactics, working in close tandem with wordsmiths, film-makers and visual communicators ensures that we incorporate market relevant strategies in corporate & brand communications and PR.
We are happy doing this because it gives us a clear edge over firms mushrooming on a regular basis.
RT: Your role as Member, Board of Studies for Mass Communication, Pandit Deendayal Petroleum University (PDPU) exposes you to academia. What are your observations on imparting education in Mass Communication today?
Having the right talent, especially in a creative profession such as Public Relations, is much needed. As a communications professional, my role is that of a bridge between the profession and academia. Mass communications is a dynamic education field where the students get exposure to various aspects of communication – print, electronic, digital, advertising, film making, developmental communication and so on. Bringing in industry experts on-board helps the academic institutions stay updated and relevant in their pedagogy. We are seeing institutes updating their curriculum to ensure that the students come out with the right skillset, and are business-ready the day they leave their college.
RT: What are the challenges faced by entrepreneurs in Middle India and how do you overcome them?
Entrepreneurship is the buzz-word. Students are veering more towards building their own start-ups today without wanting to gain work exposure. These start-up entrepreneurs need visibility and PR but they do not want to invest in acquiring knowledge or placing importance to quality communications due to lack of budgets.
Another challenge is to educate small and medium business enterprises in regional India on the need for PR and communications. With paid and branded media seeping in, PR as a domain is struggling to stay relevant beyond just being seen as a news disseminator to media. So, the bigger challenge for many entrepreneurs like us is the client ‘mindset’. Their concern about immediate Return on Investment (RoI) is understandable, but it takes time to convince them that this cannot be the sole prism through which one can measure the efforts and expenditure on reputation building.
Within our profession also, finding right talent is imperative in PR. Curiosity, the need to continuously learn and update with an ability to connect the dots are few of the important skill sets in PR. It is an uphill task to find the right talent that is willing to settle down in small cities in India. Professional fees is another challenge, where seasoned companies end up competing with freelancers or boutique shops who offer services at dirt cheap rates.
So, the challenge lies at all levels – client, media, employees and peers. How best can a company navigate through these determines the success and survival of a PR consultancy in India.
RT: You have worked on multiple campaigns. What is the one that stands out and why?
It’s been a long journey in PR, and there are several campaigns we are proud of, but the one that is close to my heart, and has been particularly satisfying is the Motif Charity Walk. We have been the Communication partner and outreach associate of this annual event since its inception 17 years ago. Through extensive campaigning, leveraging media coverage and positioning, we have helped in establishing the Walk as City’s own event. This has led to participation numbers go up sharply every year, and the latest edition saw 4,200 participants. The Walk has been instrumental in raising over Rs. 7.40 crores for 55 different NGOs (who are audited do-good organisations) in these years, and our contribution in making this happen year after year is extremely gratifying.
RT: What do you do in your leisure time?
I love to travel, and I let go of no opportunity to travel and explore new places. I make it a point to take small breaks on a regular basis, which help me recharge. I am also a movie buff, and watch a lot of movies. I also spend much of leisure time reading philosophical and wellness-related books besides profession-related periodicals.
RT: Who is your role model in the business of communication?
Prema Sagar, Founder of Genesis PR, is my role model in the business of communication. She is the one who introduced value-based and process-driven systems in the business of PR consultancy, and helped bring respect to the profession in India. She built a PR consultancy which was capable of competing with the very best in the world.
RT: What is your advice for the new generation of PR professionals?
The field of Public Relations is changing at an unprecedented rate as new technologies break ground. PR as we know today will be drastically different in the coming years. The new generation of professionals will have to be equipped with the right skillset, so that it can keep pace with the technological advances, and deliver value. My simple advice to the young generation is to stay relevant by learning new skills, acquire domain knowledge while remaining updated of current market trends, build relationships, and to remember, that there are no shortcuts!