Coming up ! The next Carnival of Feminists !

The Carnival of Feminists is a wonderful bi-monthly event, where I often find much of my feminist reading. They feature a lot of new blogs each time, so it really makes for some interesting points of view. Ofcourse much of it is still US and Euro-centric, but that is changing, and should change faster, if more and more of us from other countries participate !

I often complain about how so much feminist blogging is lovely to read, but doesn’t tie in directly with my immediate concerns as an Indian woman. Abortion rights, for e.g., which seems to be the most hotly debated topic in the American feminist blogspace is not directly relevant here – technically, we have complete rights to choose, though the social structure may in reality leave women with few choices. The onus of bringing these issues up then, is on us, who live in this environment and need to deal with it.

So, if you have a good post you’d like to share, or have come across an interesting post that you’d like to nominate, head over to the F-word blog which is hosting the 35th Carnival.

The current one is on at A Somewhat Old, But Capacious Handbag (Doesn’t that deserve an award for the title…)

Boring brands and Taglines thereof

If you are someone who follows advertising, or any other form of brand communication, its hard to miss the ubiquitousness of taglines, in these times. It seems as though every brand needs to have, atleast one, if not two or more lines that can be used depending on the context.

First, there is the brand’s signature tagline, which is meant to be used along with the brand in every context, or almost everywhere. This is meant to sort of be a compact communicator of everything that the brand should stand for. So you have a Wipro “Applying Thought” or a Britannia’s “Eat Healthy, Think Better”. In the above two cases, it is a corporate brand, and then individual brands, for e.g. a Good Day which says “Goodness and Nutrition”.

Now, all this is very fine, but perhaps there comes a time, when there are only so many words in a category that advertisers and advertising agencies are able to find. Combine this with the fact that now brands need not only a brand tagline but also catchy lines for every single ad, or ad series, and you really are introduced to some pretty mundane combinations.

Sooner or later then, taglines seem become little more than insipid puns with very little substance, or content which would render them memorable to the viewer. Some recent ones I saw :

Essenza di Wills – a new perfume from the Wills brand, signs off saying, “Your Essence Your Soul”. Yes, yes, we know that perfume is also called Essence, and how clever of you and all that. But. I really don’t see how a new perfume, and a relatively unknown one at that, can claim to have anything to do with my soul. Is the brand trying to say that its fantastic fragrance captures the soul of a woman ? Or it is the soul of a woman ? I give up.

Indo-Asian Electricals – I haven’t heard of this company before, but apparently they make switches, lighting equipment etc. They bring in this rather grand statement, “Power is Joy”. Sure its great to not be in the middle of a power cut, and power does do a lot of things. But I don’t see how it says anything about them, beyond the basic fact that they offer something to do with electricals.

Femina – I always thought their Woman of Substance was a great line, it was succinct and it made the reader feel good about picking up this magazine. Who didn’t want to be a woman of substance ? Since then Femina has ofcourse degenerated into a fluff magazine with little more than ads and pretty faces, the brand’s tagline has also degenerated into a sort of vacuous “Believe”, which really doesn’t say anything. Its so open ended that it can mean anything at all, which is not necessarily a good thing.

Some good ones that make sense, give the reader a good hook relating to the brand –

HSBC – The World’s local bank, Distinctive and clear benefit
L’Oreal – Because you’re worth it – Its really old, but it still appeals to every woman, and repetition has probably only made it stronger.

What are your favorites?

Mixing Business with Friendship

The old adage talks about not mixing business with pleasure; But how about mixing business with friendship ? Recently, I’ve started discussing a potential business idea with a very close friend of mine, someone I know from childhood. Now this is not something that is likely to take off immediately, so we have all the time we need to talk about it, explore things etc, and we are finding that part itself a whole lot of fun. When my friend brought up the idea, instinctively, I said Yes ! Probably because of the closeness we’ve shared over the years, which has included some catfights and other ups-and-downs, I have this comfort level with taking on a new role with her as a business partner. In general though, I don’t think one can automatically guarantee that working with a friend will go well, either on the business or on the friendship count.

Starting a new business comes with its own share of risks and uncertainties. The friendship has to be close enough to weather that. For example, if the business doesn’t work out, there cannot be a situation where one blames another for it. One of the basics has to be that both partners clearly bring some value into the work. No one can be a partner, simply because he or she is your friend.. Going this way, I think, would be a sure-fire recipe for failure. Not only will one person fail to pull their weight, later, when things go wrong, it leaves a large space for the recrimination game. Both partners ofcourse don’t need to be actual experts on the subject – one could be a technical expert, the other a finance whiz ! One could be the ideator, the other an implementor…or maybe both are jack of all trades ! Infact, if you look at some Indian businesses, where third-generation members were inducted solely because of their family ties, its clear that they didn’t have either the passion or skills for the business. So at a first level, calling in someone because they are friend or family, may provide a deceptive comfort that fails when things go tough.

Another important thing would be the level of honest communication possible between the partners. Sounds basic, but isn’t. Money often makes many simple things difficult. But – if its not a friendship where you can discuss these things with ease, then maintaining both the business and the friendship would be tough. So issues like who brings in the money, how do we divide it, who brings in new clients, who is responsible for legal issues, should be discussed in detail. Its not necessarily, that both partners always be compensated equally. Maybe one person puts in more money or time. Perhaps, as the business achieves a critical mass, one person wants to move onto other things and be a sleeping partner. Personally, while I know a lot of people who have good ideas, I wouldn’t consider a partnership with all of them. This friend, when she buzzed me, I had no hesitation in saying yes, because I knew I could be upfront about all of this. (I am not going to be talking about the idea itself right now, since its still getting finalized and I don’t want to let the cat out of the bag, but gradually, you should see more references on this blog:)

These are some of the things that I can think of for myself. What other caveats do you have for mixing business with friendship ?

Marketing in the public sector

While marketing in the public sector is no longer the humdrum stuff it used to be, (think SBI ads), sometimes you still find amusing pieces/ reminders.

I saw this fairly mid-sized board on MG road yesterday, and not one, but two of them, placed hardly 2 minutes walk away from each other.

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I looked and looked, to see where the exhibition was being held, but couldn’t find any address. Until – I walked another 2 minutes, and found this – the entrance to the venue !

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Hows that ! The Ministry of Textiles obviously has money to spare if they can afford to advertise right outside the venue !

Handling Resignations

Someone sent me today this article by Sital Ruparelia, a ‘recruitment and retention specialist’, on handling resignations. (Wow, looks like you have consultants for everything today – no longer just recruitment, retention as well!). Its a snippy little piece with some good stuff in it, but one of the things he says there, “Don’t take it personally. They are just changing jobs, they are not rejecting you” is interesting, for how obvious it is, and yet so often flouted in reality. So I thought I’d write about just this bit – why managers often seem to take resignations so personally, when its ultimately a job that the employee is changing. The anger often seems disproportionate, as though the employee were divorcing him/her instead.

Most of the reasons why (some) managers seem to react this way could ultimately boil down to ego, or a sense of personally having been let down. In some cases, maybe the employee was someone the manager invested a lot of time and effort in. Rather than seeing this as a requirement of his job as manager, the latter starts viewing it as a personal interest that he took, which is then sort of invalidated, by the employee’s leaving. One can almost hear the unsaid dialogue here, Maine tumhe paala, posa, itna bada kiya 🙂 In this case, a good dose of TLC and assuring them that their mentoring has been of utmost importance to you, could help.

Again, there could be fear involved. If there are a few too many people leaving in quick succession, the manager/business head starts worrying that its a reflection on his management style. (And maybe in some cases it is !) With companies now getting into practices like exit interviews, god knows what those employees have been saying about him/her ! Rather than really getting into the underlying causes, the manager may start trying to figure out how to deflect blame, and try to show up the employee in a bad light during the notice period. This is a simple case of Meri kursi ka kya hoga ! You may want to reassure them subtly that their behaviour is not the cause of your leaving, you simply have found other things to do. If thats not the case, and the manager’s behavior is a key cause of moving, then there is nothing to lose anyways. If the manager is of those obnoxious, overbearing, micromanaging types who make life a misery, this is your chance to let them know how they are affecting the team. (politely and professionally, ofcourse)

There could also be cases where the resignation simply comes at a bad time. Perhaps the project is at a critical stage and the employee was fairly critical to its successful completion. Perhaps there are just too many projects in the pipeline. The smart manager would ofcourse realise that none of this is really the employee’s fault, or lookout for that matter. Dealing with all this is the manager’s, or if it is beyond him, the business head/director’s hassle. The employee can only be responsible for completing as much as possible within his notice period. This logic is sometimes thrown aside, and the manager reacts as though the mountain of work has been especially created and left behind by this employee, with the sole purpose of making his life miserable. This frustration of, Ab mujhse kuch nahin hone wala hai !! may lead the manager to make inappropriate remarks etc. Here, you can only reassure them that you would do your best to lighten up things, until your time is over. Its important to avoid getting caught in the manager’s emotional state of mind, and getting blackmailed into staying longer or feeling responsible for the workload.

Lastly ofcourse are the separate species of managers who act as though their lives are bound up with this company and this job. This could especially be at senior levels, where the person has spent a good deal of his career with this company, maybe even built it from scratch. In this case, his life is bound up with the company, he loves it almost as much as his family (maybe more!) and he cannot conceive how someone else can leave this splendid company ! This species refuses to believe that people could have goals that lead elsewhere, or maybe, just maybe, that other companies may have something to offer this person at this time, which this one cannot. This species is not examined here in a logical manner, since their involvement with the company goes beyond logic and it may be impossible to convince them of the ‘rightness’ of your decision to leave. If you face such a character, just hand in the papers, try and fade into the woodwork during your notice period, and then…..run !

When are you ever ready to become an Entrepreneur?

I have long cherished the dream of becoming an entrepreneur, moving into a business that allows me to do what I truly what to do. For me, one of the most appealing things about being an entrepreneur is that one can truly choose to work in an ethical manner, consistent with personal goals and ideas about how people should be treated. I understand this may be easier said than done. When there are bills to pay and perhaps employees waiting for pay cheques, even entrepreneurs may be faced with tough decisions that challenge their own principles. Still, it definitely seems more appealing than working in a large corporate set up, where the cog often has little control over which direction the wheel moves in.

Having said all that, as I near my thirties, I realise that I still don’t have my dream ready, not even a good idea of what it is really going to be. Part of it is that while I have a number of ideas brewing at any time, I haven’t really put in the time and effort to really, really think through any of them. But more than that, its the feeling, that I am not yet ready. Which brings me to the question, When is one really ready to become an entrepreneur?

I think some of the things that could help one to take the step are –

– (If you are married/committed), when one partner has a steady source of income, allowing the other to leave a regular job and take that risk. If you are single, is there a back-up in the event of any serious issues, like an accident/unexpected illness etc?
– When you are not simultaneously going through other phenomenal life changes ? (I am unsure about this one. Lot of women, for example, have started businesses after having children, starting as a way to work from home)
– When you know that you have a good idea, its implementable, it serves a definite need for which people will pay money, and you are capable of implementing it. I think all four of these are important. If its a fantastic idea which people like but think should be part of a free service, then it would just fall through.
– When you have a first/potential client to start you off ? I wouldn’t put this as a must, but especially in the service industry, if your existing clients, colleagues, other contacts etc can be a base to tap, it makes branching out so much easier.
– When you know that you are going to crib about every job you take up, and essentially don’t fit into the corporate hoopla !!

These are just some of the things that occur to me. I think it would be a good idea for every aspiring entrepreneur to make a list for themselves. When you think through it, it may surprise you as to what is really essential to you. Perhaps for some, financial security at a particular stage of life is critical, for some, not – they are willing to take larger risks and live on very little for some time if needed. Whatever works for you. As for me, I plan to make a larger list and figure out when I really want to move, though all the planning in the world won’t work unless ultimately one steps off that cliff !

Pizza Grannies

Its been a long time since I wrote, and a three month hiatus in the blog world feels like eternity ! But work has been way too hectic, and maintaining two blogs felt more like a chore than fun. Now that things have eased up a little, here I am again, and hope to continue regularly.

I am starting here with a conversation that husband and I had today morning. On the occasion of International Women’s Day, Radio Indigo had on air, Mrs. Padma Srinivasan, one of the ‘pizza grannies’ of Bangalore, who is making waves with her pizzas in a business dominated by MNCs. I love this for two reasons – one, I can’t resist pizza, and two, who can resist an entrepreneur granny !

But, she said something on air, that set us thinking. She spoke about how society has done so much for you, and hence, each of us needs to pay back when we can. Now, I am not really sure of this argument about how society has done so much for you. In a country like India, where our tax monies are mostly frittered away in lining various pockets, we can’t really be assured of a public fund being used for the public good. And if its not about monetary issues, then surely its individuals who reach out to one another in small, ordinary ways.

On the other hand, I do acknowledge, that in a deeply divided society, being born where I am, is a huge privilege, and something completely unearned. (Yes, I believe in rebirth and karma, but I don’t have any proof of my doings in previous births do I?). So I do think that itself is a good reason to give back. Giving to people who didn’t have this fantastic accident called birth in a (reasonably) affluent, educated, loving family can only be a good thing to do, besides being fair.

In the process, if you can set up a great business and have fun, why not ! More power to the likes of the Pizza grannies…