Palin Ningthoujam on delivering physical copies of press releases to leading the digital arm at Avian Media

In an exclusive conversation Palin Ningthoujam, head of digital practice at Avian Media shares the current position of the agency and his old association with PR and the blogging world

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FOR MORE THAN 3 YEARS, Palin Ningthoujam, is leading the digital and content marketing practice, EXPD, at Avian Media – an 11-year-old specialist communications consultancy. In 2013, he wanted to move back to the agency business, one of the primary reasons for his move from Ernst & Young to Avian Media – “In E&Y it was more of a consulting business. I wanted to get back into the execution business. Besides it was an entrepreneurial role with 2-3 employees to start with,” Palin informed. The team has grown to 20 plus in strength with plans to open a Mumbai practice.

Avian Media is now pitching its clients with public relations services, along with a complete suite of digital offerings. “Campaigning for brands has moved from contests. What I have observed is campaigns that connect on an emotional level and on values, do far better than those who work with gift proposition. At our end it is our constant effort to not propose contests to clients. We provide ideas that can connect with customers on values and change.”

Adding further, he shared another observation – the adoption of social media by different entities in a company. “Earlier it was just marketing, but today we are seeing being integrated everywhere in the organization.” This change has given rise to the need to train employees from different departments. “We are making a lot of inroads in training various organizations and getting up to speed. As digital is now way of life.”

Subsequently Palin and his team are working hard to make customer service effective for their clients in the digital age. “EXPD isn’t in the business of creating the most buzziest or biggest campaign. As we don’t have the time, budget or the resources to do it like that. But at the same time we are looking at ourselves as consultants to clients. While we have an execution team, we don’t mind if the client has its own agency to do that. We want to be your consultants and add value to your campaign.”

“We want to add as much value in the strategy, as we want to in the execution.”

What is very interesting for the Manipuri lad is his early interest towards public relations and communications. After completing his Bachelor of Arts in English from the Delhi University, he enrolled himself in a year-long postgraduate course in Marketing and Public Relations. He started his professional journey as a PR guy at Perfect Relations where he worked for 2 years. These were the defining moments of his professional career.

Sitting in a conference room located in the basement office of Avian Media, in Lajpat Nagar, Palin takes me into a time when there were no emails or computers but press releases that needed to be delivered. Did you do that via fax or courier? “No, we used to get the bundles of press releases printed and then my job was to deliver them to the publications. Every day riding my Yamaha RX 100, I would take rounds of Connaught Place and deliver press releases,” Palin reminisced with a big smile.

Life was good for Palin in those days. He was a complete PR person, pitching stories, connecting with people and getting stories covered in publications. However, life was about to change for the young man when in 2005-06, one of their foreign tech clients wanted to get covered in Indian blogs. “I and my VP were sitting in the meeting and we were asked to get coverage in blogs. We had no clue what blogs were at that point.”

Post the meeting, Palin invested time in finding more about blogs and what was their purpose. “I realized that there is a complete different world, a shocking eye opener for me. Since I had a bend towards tech and most of my clients were tech clients, I decided to start my own blog – Indiaprblog.”

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He started the blog as an anonymous writer bringing inside stories, scoops from the PR world. Stories you would love to read but no one would dare to write in open. “I was writing about my work days, how journalists behave and how my boss was at work. It caught the attention of people as there were only 2 or 3 websites that wrote about public relations from a thought leadership point of view. My blog was bringing the inside gossips.”

The blog got traction and this was also the time when the blogging industry was growing in the country. “I shamelessly promoted my blog like any other blogger would do. I used to spend entire nights just tinkering with design and other stuffs.”

The blog became the talking point and it had fans who wanted Palin to write more. Here is a LinkedIn recommendation from one such fan who felt Palin had amazing panoramic perspective of the PR industry.

“Haven’t yet met Palin yet and all our interactions have been thanks to the blog he created indiaprblog.com. I think he not just writes swell, but has an awesome understanding of not just the PR industry and has an amazing panoramic perspective. It’s interesting to read his thoughts and comments and most often they are the starting points of our discussions. Hope to meet him some day, am sure his clients couldn’t have asked for better.”

With time, blogging just caught upon Palin, following well meaning advice he made his name public on the blog and started taking his writing seriously. In 2009, Genesis Burson Marsteller noticed his hard work towards blogging and content. He was offered the role of Digital Strategist. “I learned a lot in my 3 years stint. Ford, one of our clients was really kicked about social media and ready to experiment. We did a lot of blogger engagements for the auto giant, ‘Discover smart couple’ campaign was a great success. As a result, Ford, at that point of time, was credited as the top social media brand by Neilson study. ”

“It’s not the brand but clients need to have the appetite to back crazy ideas.”

Over the years at Avian, Palin has been instrumental in building the team, growing the revenues and clients. “I am very particular about who we are hiring. I don’t want to build a big team, but hire the people who are the executioners and bring a bit of business sense in our campaigns and work. This is how we would like to differentiate ourselves from the rest of the digital agencies out there in the market.”

Talking about one of his favorite campaign, Palin happily shared one of their award wining internal communication campaign for global beverage brand. The company has a mandate to get a BPO certification wherever they work. The biggest challenge they were facing was in India; they had missed it second year in a row. “We got the mandate that we need to get the brand certified in the next six months. Our job was to train and educate every employee about the BPO certification in six months time.”

To achieve the task, the agency created a mascot with a friendly face, a series of educational videos with the mascot. Along with these posters and infographics, BPO days were organized to make people familiar and comfortable with the process. With all the hard work the result was sweet, the company got its internal BPO certification in India. “It was a do or die situation for the brand and we are happy that we were involved in solving a business problem of our client.”

BUT THE LOVE FOR BLOGGING and the community is still there. This is evident from the India Blog Trends 2016 report, that the agency produced this year; Palin was an essential part of the team that produced the report. Some of the worth mentioning findings were – 60% of Indian bloggers surveyed have made an earning out of blogging and are working as full-time bloggers. 90% of these bloggers have admitted to charging brands for their services and 97% of them are okay if brands reach out to them with engagement ideas. (Read: #IndiaBlogTrends2016 – 4 key trends that define the state of Indian blogging industry)

Professional blogging and brand participation have proliferated in the recent years. One cannot point out whether it is good or bad but Palin loves the old blogging times. When the voice was more important than the money or brand integration. “Times have changed and we will have to accept the latest trends. The good part is that today brands value the voice of bloggers and blogger engagement is a must. This has encouraged the growth of blogging in the country too, not like the old days when it was a small community. With revenues coming in, people are seriously taking it up as an alternative career option.”

However, he stresses on the fact that bloggers should not let go the independent voice. “As an old time blogger, I wish that bloggers still maintain their credibility. If we don’t maintain credibility then it will become just another paid media. While brand association will still happen, the respect will be lost.”

Blogging, over the years, has earned recognition because bloggers drive authority on a certain subject with their fearless attitude of sharing it with the world. Bloggers have been known for an informed stand. We need to keep that alive.

Going forward, Palin is looking to build the existing positioning of his agency. Rather than just doing big campaigns, he is aggressively looking to solve marketing problems and not just social media or digital challenges. “Today our clients are looking forward to us to train their entire staff, as well as making the customer service more smarter. While we are involved in executing campaigns, we are focusing on how do we come on board and add value to their existing infrastructure.”