Ramanujam Sridhar

There is a lesson in Infosys

Ramanujam Sridhar | Updated on June 19, 2014 Published on June 19, 2014

A time of change N.R. Narayana Murthy, Executive Chairman, Infosys (right) with Vishal Sikka, named the company's new Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director, at a press conference at Electronic City in Bangalore. - GRN SOMASHEKAR

Once the media’s darling, Infosys is now at odds with some sections of it, raising questions whether a brand can be built entirely on PR



“Wooing the press is an exercise roughly akin to picnicking with the tiger. You might enjoy the meal but the tiger always eats last.”

_ Maureen Dowd

Let me quickly tell you something. I am a great admirer of Infosys and its founders. The agency I worked for back then handled the public issue. The 200 shares of Infosys I bought helped me build the house I live in now. There is a chapter on Infosys in my first book and Nandan is someone I admire personally and professionally. I have a section in my lectures on how the Infosys brand has been built on PR and not by advertising and now as Infosys takes the media to court, I have egg on my face. But is there a lesson for all of us who are in public relations and branding from all that has happened? I believe there is.

Those were the days …

Infosys had taken media relations to a different level as the media wrote not only about its financial performance or its Nasdaq listing but also on how Narayana Murthy’s driver was worth a crore of rupees in stock options and how Mr Murthy did not have a maid in his residence, and I am quoting just a couple of instances. Mr Murthy had a view on every subject under the sun. On the roads, the government, the power; he was the expert on corporate governance and ethics and it all came to haunt him when he brought his son Rohan Murthy into the company. Surely a company with 1.5 lakh employees and offices in every part of the world must have had one prospective candidate?

This leads me to my first doubt. How much publicity is good? Should leaders determine the sort of coverage they need to have? I think we need to remember that we can’t selectively open our doors to media and journalistic credentials are established not by writing positive stories but by frank evaluations of leaders.

Is PR the answer?

Infosys, we were told, was a unique sort of company and so it was. It did not believe in advertising. The only advertising that it did was need-based recruitment advertising. If one had to pick a bone, one could always say that this advertising was fairly dreary. But I am digressing. Let’s take a look at some of the big tech majors that Infosys pits itself against in the market place like IBM. They may have been launched in the business pages of Forbes but they used advertising to build their techno brands. There are no surprises in advertising. You see in print what you approve in the layout. You rarely have to take your advertising agency to court. But on a more serious note, Infosys had the resources to mould perceptions and build the image that it desired rather than being at the mercy of the media. As an eminent writer wrote recently “it is not the job of media to build the Infosys brand”.

Am I faulting the PR strategy of Infosys?

I most certainly am not. You could not find a company which spoke in a more unified voice or had clarity in terms of what it wanted to convey. Its spokespeople were articulate, well informed and available to the media. Their quarterly result announcements were big events that media and investors looked to with great interest. The street looked to them for guidance and promptly sent the market up or down based on the pronouncements. It was personality-led, though, and one wonders in hindsight if a less ‘in your face’ approach like the one followed by TCS or Cognizant might have been better. But then hindsight is such a wonderful thing that columnists and cricket commentators seem to have.

A time to transform?

Now that Narayana Murthy has decided to call it a day, it is perhaps time for the new leader to step back and learn from the past and look to the brand’s future. Let us not forget that the brand has enormous equity with customers, investors like me and the public at large. Its external equity seems to be much stronger than its internal equity with its employees. The challenges are many and I am sure that foremost should be the image issue and the angst that media has. It is not that there is an image problem but there might soon be and the time to act is perhaps now. I am sure the new leadership is aware and capable of turning the tide as I for one will be hoping. It is also a time to realise the importance of media. It is time for Infosys to bury the hatchet and move on and remember the good old days when the media was its strongest ally and greatest admirer.

What the future holds

Only time will tell. But I hope that time is on Infosys’ side this time around.

(Ramanujam Sridhar is the Founder CEO of brand-comm. He teaches at various management schools and offers an online brand management)

course.

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Published on June 19, 2014
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