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Getting through to the big guys

Vanita Kohli-KhandekarLast week I wrote to Ronnie Screwvala, the managing director of Walt Disney India. He wrote back within a few hours and a couple of e-mails later we had resolved my request. He may or may not agree to talk to me or be at a forum that I am organising, but Screwvala invariably gets back in time and gives me a clear answer. It never ever goes into loops, with several other managers or people. This is true for Raghav Bahl, the founder of Network18, Prannoy Roy of NDTV, Mahendra Mohan Gupta of Jagran (the owners of this paper), Punit Goenka of Zee among many other names who are part of the industry that I write on.

They are, however, the exception, not the rule in the Rs 80,000 crore media and entertainment business. There are large swathes of the business where people don’t think they need to even acknowledge a mail let alone respond to it. Try any film star. No matter what paper you write for, national or international, the horror is the same unless you are a film critic or film journalist. The exception — Aamir Khan and Amitabh Bachchan. Both have offices and secretaries who will get back to you even if it is to politely refuse your request. Ektaa Kapoor’s secretary on the other hand is a nightmare to get in touch with. Ditto for Kalanithi Maran the head of Sun Network.


Leading the way: Do CEOs like Ronnie Screwvala, who are clear and prompt in how they communicate, run better companies than those who don’t?

When I have got through to him or to Ektaa, both have been wonderful interviewees. Maran in fact is very generous with his time and amazingly candid. So the difficulty of getting through is never indicative of any lack of ability, confidence or communication prowess. And that brings me to the point of this column. What does this tell you about the companies they run?

Balaji Telefilms for instance is a centrally controlled albeit interesting company. For all its managerial insouciance, it has one of the best written, most transparent annual reports in the business. That more than makes up for the lack of communication otherwise. Network18 for all the accessibility of its senior management had till recently one of the most difficult-to-figure-out annual reports in the business. Ditto for Zee. Both now have clear annual reports.

On the other hand companies like Bharti Airtel that have wonderfully detailed annual reports are very difficult to get in touch with. So there doesn’t seem to be any correlation between the profitability, growth or prospects of a business and how its senior managers communicate with the outside world.

You could argue, rightly, about why these companies or their people should be nice to a writer or an editor. As long as they are nice with consumers, investors and with society at large, it doesn’t matter. You could also argue that why are people in the public eye, especially in media and entertainment businesses, expected to bear the industry burden for professional courtesy. Again, they don’t need to.

What it does indicate however is a culture or mindset. Is the culture of openness, of professional courtesy or is it one of ‘I will be nice only when I need to.’ Invariably many of the inaccessible, difficult ones offer access when there is an initial public offering or fund raising sort in the offing. At such a time being on TV or in business papers may mean more mileage and better valuation. Notice that the most difficult to access film stars are always available, on their terms, just before the release of a film. Their PR people will actually chase you then.

What it tells you then is that professional courtesy is very much like good manners or common sense, you either have it or don’t. And if you do, all it will amount to is goodwill.

The writer is a media specialist and author. Follow her on twitter at http://twitter.com/vanitakohlik 

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