This interview first appeared in YourStory.com | 5 May 2010
Arvind Agrawal, Founder and CEO of AICL has worked for over six years with more than 120 companies to give shape to and execute their communication strategies. A Chartered Accountant and Company Secretary, he has moved from being an amateur journalist with one of India’s oldest English dailies to CFO with a steel fabrication company, into this field.
He is the runner-up of the British Council Young Communications Entrepreneur Award 2009.
He was conferred the Promising Business Communicator of the Year by the Association of Business Communicators of India (ABCI) at the recently held 49th ABCI Annual Awards in Mumbai. The award was presented to him by his Excellency Governor of Maharashtra Shri K. Sankaranarayanan and Deputy Governor of Reserve Bank of India, Dr. Subir Gokarn. ABCI is India’s premier body of communication professionals from amongst the largest companies in India and is in existence since 1956.
He marries an understanding of mass communications on the one hand and the dynamics of various businesses, on the other. Today, he is one of India’s most experienced campaigners and strategists in investor communications. At AICL, he wears many hats – chief strategist, principal copywriter, paper selector, proofreader and itinerant communication evangelist.
Arvind regularly speaks at industry forums on the relevance of Investor Communication and enjoys interacting with B-School students on entrepreneurship and its charms and pitfalls.
How would you define corporate communication?
Simple. Anything that helps establish an emotive connect between the entity communicating and the target stakeholder group. It is NOT to be defined with reference to any particular medium. The medium is incidental. The message is key. And the connect a critical determinant of efficacy.
What does AICL do?
Atherstone Investor Communications Limited (AICL) is a full-service communications consultancy working closely with organisations to communicate with diverse stakeholder groups. AICL is a leading provider of consultancy services to Indian corporates for reporting communication products such as Annual Reports and Interim Reporting solutions. In line with its focus, AICL deploys domain knowledge, financial expertise, investment insights and communication skills. AICL is one among very few consultancies to offer this value proposition in India.
AICL has expanded its product suite to encompass stakeholders other than investors and prospective investors. Therefore, AICL is also setting up an internal and sustainability communication practice. We also have a practice that addresses the segment of corporate-biographies. AICL delivers solutions over a diverse array of media – print, interactive, web and audio-visual, to help clients sustain goodwill and stakeholder loyalty. Having said that, almost 80 percent of our revenue today comes from Corporate Reporting solutions such as
AICL has a 25-member team working out of two locations, Mumbai and Kolkata for more than 70 clients in diverse industries across India.
What differentiates AICL? What makes your company unique?
We are one of India’s ONLY companies in the realm of corporate self-expression. What this means is that we help companies sell themselves as opposed to advertising which helps to sell products/services. The other critical differentiator is our focus on high-quality content, delivered through a combination of finance professionals and editorial expertise. I believe that the focus of communication will increasingly be the quality of the message rather than the package in which it is presented. We also have a strong focus on helping the medium and small sized Indian corporates reach out to a broad spectrum of stakeholders, investors in particular, in a manner that did not pinch their pockets too much and yet delivered a world-class solution. Our principal objective is, therefore, to ensure that Indian companies stand shoulder-to-shoulder with their global peers in not just HOW they do business, but also in the way that they speak about it. Our work also contributes to ensuring that the valuation rationale of our clients gets communicated to the right audiences, and thereby it directly helps in the creation of shareholder wealth.
What is your client profile like? Who are your principal clients?
We have served large companies such as Hindustan Unilever, Reliance ADAG, Punjab National Bank, Axis Bank and Jammu & Kashmir Bank to name a few. Our portfolio of clients in the mid-cap space is significant. These include Shriram Transport, Simplex Infrastructure, J.K. Cement, Zee TV, HSIL, CRISIL, Motilal Oswal, UTV, Balaji Telefilms, Indiabulls and many others. Among emerging companies, we serve the VISA Group, Tilaknagar Industries, Vinati Organics, Sunil Hitech and Shri Ashtavinayak among others. Essentially our client portfolio is spread across a good mix of listed and unlisted, small and large, in a wide variety of sectors. We serve clients from Kashmir to Chennai, and from Jaipur to Kolkata. We also have a few international clients from places such as Indonesia and Zambia!
Are companies realising the importance of communications?
Yes, we see a paradigm change and companies are realising that “talking” to the investors and other stakeholders are very important, more so because the overall awareness of these communities is progressively increasing. It is important for corporate voice to be heard and differentiated, proactive communication is therefore not a luxury, but an imperative. I am pleasantly surprised at some of the enquiries we receive from relatively unknown companies, expressing a desire to be noticed and counted through communication at the organisational level. However, there is still a significant room for more and more companies to access communication services and we are working on expanding the scope of our nascent industry. I also feel that over time, the Government will be a large customer as they need to communicate at an enterprise level with many stakeholders.
How do you see communications emerging as a career stream?
If you look at the numbers, they are mindboggling. We have approximately 8000 listed or to be listed companies in India – that’s TWICE the number of companies on the FTSE. Not more than five percent of these companies are presently accessing any communication or advertising services. It is a HIGHLY underpenetrated sector and more and more companies are today instituting corporate communications as a full-time function. Therefore, lucrative opportunities lie on BOTH sides of the table. However, there is a dearth of both awareness and formal education on the subject. I feel we need a specialised communication strategy stream to be introduced in curriculum across many colleges and B-schools as it is an important career stream of the future.
How was your experience taking part in YCE and being chosen as the Young Communications Entrepreneur Runner Up in 2009?
Honestly, I did not know about YCE until a friend suggested a nomination. Filling up the nomination questionnaire was an insightful exercise because I was addressing important issues that helped me think more clearly about our business model and crystallise our value proposition. The positive feedback from the judges and the award itself served as an additional validation of our vision and its relevance in the Indian context. This was a confidence booster.
The visit to the UK was an eye opener because of the highly organised nature of this industry there. I met with quite a few peers and also senior consultants who had been in the business for more than two decades. It afforded me an interesting take on strategy, and how we could further sharpen our offerings and consequently, client relevance.
I have also been to the Netherlands on an invitation from the Dutch Design Organisation, as part of a delegation hosted by the Dutch government, with a view to foster a communication partnership between the two countries. I got a chance to meet, interact and share thoughts with studios across design disciplines. Among other things, I realised the number of awards that existed and how they added important feathers in any
In India, we have a fairly well-oiled machinery to acknowledge advertising excellence but few, almost none that recognise communications as a discipline. Notwithstanding that, I am quite thrilled at the number of awards we and our work have won.
These continue to serve as inspiration for us to continue producing high quality, globally benchmarked work.