Mafatlal Industries the decline of a major and very respected industrial group which at one time ranked as the third largest business group in the country.

To illustrate the importance of market research in PR and PR strategies today, I would like to cite a case of the PR program of Mafatlal Industries Limited, Mumbai, in which I was deeply involved during my tenure with the company.

Mafatlal is one of the large corporate houses in India. In the early 70s it was amongst the large business houses in the country. Thereafter with a split in the family it did not figure in such rankings. However, Mafatlal continued to be a leading textiles company with NOCIL, petrochemicals major (in a JV with Shell) as one of its flagship companies.

Whenever one mentions textiles, Mafatlal name crops up on the top of the list. Plus the name Mafatlal stood for some specific values, standards and excellence in business and at the marketplace.

In the fiscal year 1995-96 Mafatlal Industries with a number of diversifications was a Rs. 2000 crore Group with about ten companies in its fold, including NOCIL. Its portfolio of businesses comprised textiles and garments, petrochemicals, finance marketing, natural gas and LPG, plastic molding, machinery, electronic components and IVP healthcare fluids. It was a multi-business conglomerate spread all over India. However, people did not know this fact. People still associated Mafatlal solely as a textile company. Its other companies had their own distinct identities.

At this point, when the Group was expanding and growing Mafatlals decided to project themselves as a diversified Group, just like the TATAs and Birlas, both internally among its employees and externally among its wide range of stakeholders. They decided to project it as a pioneering yet modern group - one that has moved with times through a strategic and centralized PR program, with participation of each Group Company, morally, if not financially, but surely and proudly.

Audit of Company Image
As this was to involve a major effort and a fairly large sum of money, for the first year and for the subsequent one or two years, it was agreed to first audit the company's image and the perceptions of its stakeholders on various parameters through a formal research before proceeding further. Based on the findings of the research a program or campaign would be evolved which would ideally fulfill the twin objectives of projecting an image of a group externally, and a feeling of being part of a large and respected Group internally among employees.

A leading Market Research Company was hired for the purpose and briefed on the required research and its objectives within the overall communications and proposed image strategy.

The target audience among whom the research was to be conducted were defined.

1.    External

o        Financial institutions, investors, brokers, financial consultants.

o        Customers, dealers and suppliers.

o        Media.

o        Government.

o        Business/Industry Associates and Associations.

o        Management Students (future/potential managers/employees).

2.    Internal

o        Employees

o        Shareholders

Scope of Research
The research was conducted in the four metros, Mumbai, Delhi, Calcutta and Chennai, plus Ahmedabad, Bangalore and Pune where the company had some of its plants and offices.

About 400 respondents in the defined target segments were personally contacted and interviewed by professional research investigators, with a detailed and pre-approved questionnaire on the various issues to be checked out.

Broad Findings
In looking at any research concerning image and PR, one needs to remember that its findings firstly highlight awareness levels for the company, and following this if the performance of the company is good and has been communicated well, it generally reflects in good image findings.

In the case of Mafatlal Industries the findings overall, thus, were not too bad. The Group had high awareness, no serious negatives were highlighted, and in fact some of the positive aspects also came out. All in all, however, the finds showed that the company was suffering from a "no image" or a "static image" syndrome. And that there was a definite need for greater communications with the target audience (shareholders).

Strengths of the company and its image that were highlighted by the research were :

1.  It was an old and steady group.

2.  Ethical and law abiding, with good values. Not arrogant as some of the new Groups in India were.

3. It was rated well in its commitment to employees and maintained good industrial relations.

4.  Its products were good, value for money/reasonably priced.

Specific, areas of weaknesses that emerged in the research were:

1.  Awareness of the Group business areas was low - except for textiles.

2.  It was not seen as a Group. Knowledge level of its activities was low among external publics.

3.  It was perceived as old fashioned. Not dynamic, fast growth oriented, innovative and profitable group.

4.    It was not known as a global player (despite its large exports and the number of JVs it had in different businesses. This was so even among its employees.

5.    Its products were not considered high quality and to be innovative.

6.    As an investment the Group and its companies were rated "average". It had a "weak" to "no image" among financial institutions.

7.    It was not among the first, or an ideal career option among students of management institutes.

The research, as it was designed, also brought out further areas that needed attention for the image at the Group level:

1.    The need for a Group identity logo, house colour, etc.

2.    Projection of new projects, new products, innovations, and potential growth areas.

3.    Projection of its global activities.

4.    Profitability of the Group companies and the Group as a whole. And the fact that it was a profitable investment.

5.    Projection of its employee strengths and the employees being a key professional and productivity resource.

It's known contributions in community service and the field of environment protection.

Vision Statement
Finally, the research suggested that the Group must have a Vision Statement to support and back up projection of its being a Group of the future in the Indian business scene - today and beyond in the new millennium.

Hence, one observes here that the research not only threw light on the awareness of the Group and its activities, the negatives and positives of its image, but also additional factors which could be used in the image building and projection strategy and plan.

Mafatlal's PR Strategy
After the research report had been studied, at a top management meeting, the following board strategy was proposed and agreed upon for implementation.

1.    Identifying issues and areas for changing and building corporate image -- especially among external publics.

2.    Packaging the desired image in the form of a Mission or Positioning Statement, and communicating it internally and externally through a program of activities and within a time frame.

3.    Holding face-to-face discussions (workshop) with a select group of employees for ideas on specific activities to bring the change and build as well as strengthen image in areas and op the issues identified.

Positioning Statement
Having decided on this strategy, the company's PR Department got into action and worked out a Positioning Statement which would give the Group more visibility and unity in its image and identity, different from other textile groups in India.

Side by side, a Mission Statement was also evolved, which would help provide the needed direction to the company's operations, people, and communications.

The positioning and mission were then translated into a theme message and incorporated into a specific PR program and activity plan for the first year, supported by appropriate budgets.

The key elements in the PR program were:

1.    A newly designed corporate identity and standardization of its use at the Group level.

2.    A corporate advertising campaign with the theme that the Group was "more than a textile company" in the press medium.

3.    A press relations program, including periodic press releases and interviews with the Vice-Chairman and other Company CEO on different and specific issues.

4.    Employee communications at different stages on the Group's activities and imparting news relevant to them.

5.    Sponsorship of events related to products, and management or industry issues which helped project a Group image.

6.    Incorporating an element of the Group image in marketing and promotional efforts of the companies - for instance on stationery, advertising, at outlets, and in the dealings with financial institutions and the like bodies or associations.

In this PR program, there was also a planned and built in proposal for a post-program research at the end of the first year, to check out its impact and results, and to find out the requirements for a further fresh image building effort that was needed or would be undertaken

Bad Performance Nullifies PR
Unfortunately, after all the effort, the performance of the Group did not meet up with the targets. The performance of the Group in the different (consumers) sectors dropped sharply, resulting in the Group having to rethink all of its overall corporate strategies. Some of the Group companies were put on the block and sold. Expansion was stopped and was to be reviewed - leading to a massive cost cutting exercise. As a result, the PR and image building had to be frozen. The objective of building image with a bad performance is something unheard of in the normal circumstances.

The purpose of this article is to review the role of research in public relations. While I have dwelt on the importance of research, how it can be used, and be made an integral part of PR planning and program development, the example or case discussed is one which did not see its full and successful conclusion. It is, however one from real life, and which was undertaken in all seriousness with total management and financial inputs as well a support. Its full and final completion would have made it a very good testimonial and case-study on the actual and effective use of research in PR for any organization, as well as for Communications and PR professionals to draw lessons from.