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The Disrupters: Think Ink – A lesson in taking on the Goliaths of the PR biz

Surviving and thriving amid the presence of large PR agency networks are the smaller, independent agencies, often referred to as ‘boutique agencies’. Quite often created by former employees of larger networks venturing out on their own, and sometimes by people from different professional backgrounds, these independent agencies are being increasingly recognised for their brilliant campaigns and benchmark-setting innovative thinking.  

Adgully’s feature offering – The Disrupters – puts the spotlight on such small independent agencies that have been setting a blazing trail in the PR industry with their work, their new way of operating and ideation, which have been creating disruption in the way the PR business is done in India.  

Radhika Nihalani, Co Founder & CEO, Think Ink Communicatons, speaks to to Adgully on setting up the Think Ink business, the challenges faced, and what makes the company a disrupter in the industry. 

How it all began  

I’d always wanted to do something on my own, but I come from a service class family, so nobody had any business experience. In my previous job, I was working with Ronnie Screwvala, who is known for promoting entrepreneurship, so a lot of inspiration was drawn from him. I got married around the same time, and my husband has played a very vital role in supporting me through this journey, because it’s not easy to let go of that assured monthly salary. He’s from a business background, so he knew it was something I wanted to do and that this was a good time to do it. That is how ThinkInk started, we begun with one business and now we’ve grown manifold. 

Why ThinkInk 

‘We don’t just think it, we Ink it’ – which basically means we give ideas that can happen, and we make them happen. Besides, it has a good ring to it. 

The Clients 

Our first client came via a friend whom I hadn’t met in a long time, who introduced me to Shashi Sumeet Productions and we signed on that business. Entertainment was something I personally enjoyed working on, I knew the company’s focus would be entertainment, but I also knew that there were some agencies that were ruling the whole celebrity and film space. While that’s a direction we are heading towards, but we had to think on how to differentiate ourselves in this space. So we decided to focus on brands like Star, Sony, Zee, etc., and make it not just a celebrity PR agency. Entertainment is a lot more than just celebrities. All the businesses that we have got have been through referral and we have serviced over 100 businesses, almost all of them have put in a good word for us. 

After Shashi Sumeet, we got Reliance through a referral. It is considered to be one of ThinkInk’s major milestones as Reliance is big brand. This upped the trust factor of ThinkInk. 

A year-and-a-half later, we got the mandate for Zindagi channel. Handling a TV channel client requires a large team and a certain kind of network, whereas at that time we were a team of just 4-5 people. But we soldiered on and delivered. That turned out to be a transition point for ThinkInk, when we transitioned into sort of a company from a freelancer PR operation. 

The Major Milestones 

Certain clients and people made us leap forward, one of them being Shashi Sumeet because they trusted us when ThinkInk wasn’t even a company. Another one is, of course, Reliance. Ronnie Screwvala’s inspiration has been an integral part of the company’s growth as we launched his book and we continued his personal PR, then we got his foundation PR, and we also got his sports and Edu-tech mandate. These are all separate businesses and all of that was done when we had a team of about 4-5 people. 

When we got Zindagi, we also got Star and then we got Ronnie Screwvala, which was all within a year into our existence. Thus, that was a formative year for ThinkInk because we had really big names in the business who could have go out to the bigger agencies. 

The Success Mantra 

What propels me forward is the excitement that comes with entrepreneurship. Besides, the entertainment industry is a great space to be in. While it is always tough to find resources, we were very critical and stringent about recruitment. We would rather be a team of 3 that would service 5 clients, but we wouldn’t recruit just for the sake of recruitment. You don’t have to be 100-member team to build a culture, what matters more to us is that whoever we hire is compatible with our company’s culture. It took me time to find the right people, but we have reaped what we sowed. I don’t have ‘grey hair syndrome’, I believe that one doesn’t need to have 20 years of experience to be able to perform at a certain level. I find the young kids very enterprising, passionate and relevant. I might not know the cool things happening out there, but these young kids would always have the knowledge of it. Couple them with training and they’ll be far better than anyone with 20 years of experience. No doubt we would need that seniority, but our focus has always been on building the team’s ground. 

But I believe that most clients are able to see the passion for the business that our small team has. Even when companies have not given us the business, they have told me ‘we can see that you guys are very passionate, we cannot possibly give you the business right now because we need a certain depth in the hierarchy’. In fact, quite a few of them have gone and referred us to other people. So yes, I do face the grey hair issue sometime with the clients, but we always try to break through that.

Leading From The Front 

I believe that when your team comes to you for a solution, you should be able to provide it. The moment the team feels like they know more than you, they stop coming to you and stop looking up to you. No doubt experience matters, but the teams that I have worked with never felt that they thought of me as someone who couldn’t be a leader. I’ve always felt that it brings energy into the team. I’m proud to say that we are a young company, because the average age of our team is 25 years, but we are servicing some really big brands. Thus, the team doesn’t really need to have 20 years of experience to be successful. 

I myself am young and hence, look at the kind of ideas that a young team is able to give with an open mind. The team has not come with any framework. They do not think that just because a certain thing has happened in PR for all these years, it should be done that particular way. They could sometimes come up with something bizarre. It is my job as a boss to pick out the good stuff and then put it in a structure. So, that is our edge. We wish to believe that we are strong in ideation and strong in service. And those are the only two things that should differentiate one from everyone. 

Media level is not the differentiator, because that is something that anyone can get. I feel that is not what clients want. You have to show quality. But nowadays I think clients are also conscious about quantity, as this urge to do something different lies in everyone. So, they are happy with innovative ideas because a lot of clients are happy in doing innovative stuff. I feel ideation is the key. The game is to come up with good ideas – they don’t have to be this massive campaign thought, just good executable ideas. 

Bringing In The Disruption 

It is purely ‘ideal-ish’. PR will not change. For a TV channel, you will do city visits, press releases, media house visits. How do you do innovation within news? I don’t see a need to reinvent press conferences, because a larger message is given out to a set of 30-40 media personnel in a press conference. What is the experience you create that makes everyone say that this was nice, this was different! Good ideas excite me a lot, even if done by a competitor. I love seeing good ideas come to life.

A lot of start-ups face the problem of spreading themselves so fast that they lose focus. We are always on the lookout for business opportunities. Once we win a business, we go back to the drawing board and then say ‘let’s be amazing, let’s be foolproof in our plans here and then a lot of things will follow’. But I don’t want the core business to suffer just because there’s an event query. I had 4 vendors, but the idea isn’t to make a quick buck, the idea is to build a stronger presence and a stronger brand for ourselves.

The Road Ahead 

Now that we have constructed a good base ourselves and have a strong set of clients, we want to be more aggressive when it comes to going out and getting new businesses. Television is going to be a key focus area, besides celebrity is a portfolio that we wish to expand aggressively. We are looking to get avenues to expand and break through. 

Today, a lot of PR lines are blurring. Digital is at the top of my list when it comes to expansion, because it is the closest cousin to PR right now. In general, PR and digital have to be aligned because digital speaks one language, while and PR speaks another language. We need to propagate to our clients this alignment that we as an agency can manage both PR ad digital for them. Today, a communication is typically driven by PR and then digital takes a leaf of that and takes it forward. I don’t feel we have missed the bus as I don’t feel there are so many agencies out there that we’ll be left out with no clients. 

I always believe that if you are good at what you do, you will find lots of brands coming to you. I don’t feel we’re late in the business and that the time for getting on to digital has gone. 

Along with digital, people are still reading newspapers and are not going to stop reading papers any time soon. Thus, print is going to exist and thrive along side, it’s all about how it is going to evolve.

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