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Majority of Truecaller’s revenues from in-app ads & biz are from India: Hitesh Raj Bhagat

In the last 10 years, PR has taken a different dimension, especially after the entry of social media and the rapid shift to digital, especially in the pandemic period. However, at the same time the industry has been facing stiff challenges, moreover client expectations has also increased, with more emphasis being given to digital and online reputation management. The industry has undergone a radical shift and the current times have pushed the industry to change gears.

In conversation with Adgully, Hitesh Raj Bhagat, Global Head of Corporate Communications, truecaller.com, how the platform has been able to set up a strong base in India, the various ways in which the company is managing its reputation in challenging times, and more.

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Big brands like Truecaller are very particular in preserving and maintaining their reputation. In today’s world where a pandemic has disrupted the world, how are companies managing their reputation?

At Truecaller, we are very fortunate to have the trust of close to 280 million active users globally. With that comes a massive responsibility – not only to provide this vital service in a seamless, uninterrupted manner, but also a responsibility of ensuring privacy and keeping user data safe.

We ensure our reputation in these ways:

  1. By making sure Truecaller works across the widest range of devices, right from the cheapest to the most expensive smartphone.
  2. By offering the highest accuracy and fastest algorithms that rely on community reporting to find spam and scam callers.
  3. By practicing data minimisation - capturing only the data we need for the service to work and no more.
  4. By communicating openly - about how Truecaller works and that the app does not upload user contacts or make them publicly searchable
  5. By storing all user data locally within the country (without any foreign backups or mirrors) - well ahead of any regulations
  6. By offering strict GDPR set rules and settings to everyone, irrespective of their location (such as the option to unlist yourself, download data, change your name)
  7. By taking down bad actors who misuse the Truecaller name while selling databases - Truecaller data is not for sale.

Could you also throw some light on the changing face of managing reputation risk in the VUCA world? What kind of corporate strategy are companies deploying to manage reputation risk in the VUCA world?

The last two years have only amplified the concept of VUCA - and it is important to be prepared. In the current climate, it's important for any company to also step up to the task when it comes to corporate social responsibility. That alone is a big contributor to manage reputation. This year, we launched a new app for personal safety called Guardians - it is a completely free app, no ads and no premium tiers. It's meant for user and family safety for everyone, and available in multiple languages, all over the world - and it will never be monetised.

When COVID-19 was wreaking havoc in people's lives, Truecaller was helping the fundraising efforts of multiple charities like Give India, Feeding India, Vibha, Hemkunt Foundation and Milaap. We partnered with the government to add the COVID-19 helpline into the app, we included all government hotlines in the app. Then we partnered with FactChecker and MapmyIndia to include even more verified numbers and 60,000 COVID-19 related points of interest - all inside the Truecaller app. We are also very vocal about women's safety - a cause we have been working actively for, for many years. 50% of Truecaller users are women - simply because they use Truecaller as the first line of defence against stalking, harassment and unwanted communication.  Our women safety campaigns are actively geared towards guiding and protecting women's interests while they use their smartphone as a powerful communication tool.

Digital has become a powerful communication tool and managing online reputation is a challenge as the medium is dynamic as news travels fast. How is your company geared to manage the online reputation to project a positive image and strengthen the brand equity?

We have a fantastic support team that is always answering questions and guiding our users across multiple channels. In addition, we have a brand team that has official Truecaller channels across YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. We are always interacting with and listening to user requests across all these channels. In fact, most new Truecaller features like Call Reason, Call Alerts, private Group Chat, SMS scheduling, SMS translations, Smart SMS and Spam Statistics are based on user feedback. We regularly engage with content creators to help spread our message.

What are some of the best practices that you follow and apply in India from your counterparts in Sweden to create a focussed communication and PR strategy for the India market?

Truecaller is built with love in India and Sweden. Today, we call ourselves Swe-Deshi, because while the co-founders are Swedish, India is home market for Truecaller. Whichever way you cut the pie, India is the home market. The biggest section of our users are in India, majority of revenues from in-app advertising and business are from India and a majority of Truecaller employees are also in India. So, it is India that sets the tone and practice for communication and PR strategy.

Truecaller is built on a simple ideology - when someone knocks at your front door, you have the right to know who it is before you open the door. Similarly, we believe all users have the right to know who is calling before answering a phone. The mission is to make communication safer and more efficient for everyone - that is why all core features of Truecaller have always been free. That being said, we also incorporate the best of both Swedish and Indian values in all we do. That is why Truecaller in-app advertising - our primary revenue stream - never has political advertising, alcohol or any objectionable advertising. We communicate all these practices quite often and quite openly.

In today’s complex world, cross-cultural communication at a global level is a challenge. One has to manage different geographies in different languages. So, what are the challenges that you face here and what is the process you follow to have communication that is meaningful and sensitive across cultures?

There are certain markets that are much more important for Truecaller - these are places where Truecaller is growing at a very rapid pace. Usually, these markets have 2-3 things in common - they are developing markets that are seeing explosive smartphone growth, the smartphone user base is primarily Android users and thirdly, these are markets/ countries that deal with a lot of spam or scam calls on a daily basis. So, for Truecaller, India is the number one market - but other countries in Africa, Middle East, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brazil are where Truecaller is growing very fast. In August 2020, we crossed the milestone of 5 lakh new registered users per day in a 24 hour period - this gives you an idea of the growth for Truecaller.  As far as cross-cultural communication goes, we rely on some excellent local partners in those countries to advise us on communication - it's important to speak the local language and be sensitive to cultural differences and opinions.

How do you work on the effectiveness and measurement front for your campaigns with your PR partner? Is there a particular metrics that you follow to arrive at the impact of every campaign and PR activity?

We are fortunate to have some of the best PR partners globally and they follow industry standard best practices. We try to target our news and releases as much as possible, maintaining regular conversations with stakeholders, track effectiveness, total numbers and value of each coverage. Plus we maintain a high level of transparency in any dealing with the media - this automatically translates into honest coverage - we don't shy away from any questions. We also have several third party tools and research that track things like consumer sentiment, media sentiment, total coverage effectiveness, impressions and so on. We also have a strong focus on vernacular languages - because Truecaller is not just an urban phenomenon. Spam and scam calls affect all users, so Truecaller itself is available in many Indian languages and is present across all cities, even Tier 2 and 3 semi-rural and rural areas.

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