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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Leadership & Communications skll development course for Bangladeshi politicians

As I belong to the Generation FB (Facebook), I regularly get status updates from the trainer ‘friend’ of mine, who has nicely made a place for him in the training and development sector in Bangladesh. He makes timely use of web 2.0 technologies to signal his recent ventures, so that every time his ‘friends’ in FB think of staff training and capacity building guess who they think of calling first? He arranges leadership development programs for big multinational companies one week, arranges effective presentation skill trainings for development agencies the next week, meets movers and shakers regularly and is always on top of his game.

I sometimes feel like asking my trainer friend if he ever thought of finding a new market for his skills and expertise. The market exists in Bangladesh and is highly relevant and perhaps training this sector would do us lot of good in the long run. ‘Leadership, Presentation, Communications, Nation Building Training’ exclusively for politicians. How does that sound? The training could have included sessions on honesty, integrity, moral values, general knowledge, public etiquette etc. but they are beyond the scope of business related trainings at this point, so we focus more on the business DNA in the sphere of politicians and their politics.

Some criteria to attend this course could be as following.
Need to hold a party post of a registered political party in Bangladesh
Need to be in political career for atleast 1 year
Must have clearance from Anti-Corruption Commission
Minimum university graduate
(Some more?)

I have heard that there are specialised PR companies in the west, even in India, who give special training to their politician clients so that they put their best foot (and mouth…and avoid ‘foot in mouth’) forward when they appear in public or on air. I have noticed many politicians who find it hard to distinguish between public speaking in an open field of a gathering of say 10,000 people and in a crowded small room of say 50 people. They keep on giving speech with the same heat, pitch and excitement. Some have no wonder become so used to telling well crafted lies (very much like company CEOs at times?) to buy more time from the general public. This they must have gained without any training, its kind of inherent in the job itself.
However, may be you can think of setting up a unique PR agency in Bangladesh, focusing on these public figures. Teach them a few things on basic etiquettes and communications skills. They were never as fortunate as you were to have attended good business schools. But imagine, your fine skills are being used in a private company, the politicians have the job of running our country…a job thousand times more serious and relevant to all of us…is it not? See how you can put your two cents in that process.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

So why are you in Facebook?

So why are you in Facebook? Take this a sequel to the earlier post where the fellow blogger asked ‘Are you in Facebook?’. Since then, social media and web 2.0 have evolved drastically and social networking websites such as Facebook is increasingly used by individuals and businesses to brand themselves and their companies. And did you know that every one among five Bangladeshi internet users has a Facebook account? (total number of internet users in Bangladesh stands at 500,000). If so involved we are as a nation into the social networking site, ever wondered why and how are you using it in your day to day lives and business?

There is one group of users who use the site just to unwind, and update their friends and families about their trivial actions and thoughts of life. They use their status message tool as a mean to speak their mind out and get comments, feedback from their network of friends. We call this group the ‘pure socialites’. They usually spend long hours in Facebook browsing friends’ photo albums, commenting, taking quiz and inviting others to take part etc. They usually do not have any intention of building any self image and/or to promote any of their professional activities, they prefer to keep Facebook free of any work related matter. Many of them are not even aware of their privacy options and are open to the idea of adding or accepting friend request from unknown contacts.

The other group of users prefer to read others statuses and view their photos but refrain from updating their own. They use the site to know more about their friends, even competitors and would like to plan accordingly, or even just ignore it all together. They do not spend as much time in Facebook as the ‘Socialites’ do, we call this group the ‘undercovers’. These users are very strict about their privacy options and sometimes make use of private messages instead of wall posts to communicate with their network of friends.

Then there is another group of users who use the status message tool to strategically promote themselves and/or their businesses. I know a trainer cum consultant whose status message mostly concerns about his latest training events with different companies and consulting assignments. This way he keeps on signalling his existing, new friends about his business acumen and uses Facebook for free to increase the ‘word-of-mouse’ in combination with the traditional ‘word-of-mouth’. This group is called the 'business users'. A coffee lounge and a restaurant in Dhaka have received good response from its target audience by creating events and inviting guests, updating statuses in line with company activities.

Then there is the group of ‘stars’, having a friend list of couple of thousands and even if they write ‘….’ as their status message, they will get atleast 5 comments on a blank status. They are usually in a position to take great advantage of their ‘star’ status, however many of them still prefer to use it to express their ‘blank’ moods or news about their dogs and car only.

A corollary of this group is the ‘star gazers’, who prefer to keep commenting and ‘liking’ the status messages of the ‘stars’ they are friends with. They do so with the hope of getting noticed by the star in due course of time, to be able to attain any personal or professional gain, or just to be happy with the idea of affiliation with the ‘star’.

As web 2.0 and new media is changing the landscape of how we interact with others and how we do business over, through and by the internet, may be its time we rethink why we are in social networking sites such as Facebook? Could it be used to get recommendations for jobs? Could it be used to ‘crowdsource’ an idea for your produce, service? Could it be used for self or company promotion? Or shall we just use it as an alternative of watching TV or playing sports? Just some food for thought.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

BREAKING: Brac Bank outdid Prime Bank -according to Sajjadur Rahman (who else did you expect?)

Remember how Sajjadur Rahman always has Brac Bank to promote? Check out the graph. I think Bangladesh Bank might be interested in the new "findings".

In all fairness Sajjadur Rahman has too much on his plate, -Brac Bank PR (chamcha) and a 'reporter'.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Whose festival is it any ways?

Since a special festival is just 4 days away, wonder if it would take a big guess for you if I ask you the question, “What is the biggest festival of Bangladesh?

I have thought about it for a while, asked acquaintances and friends. Some did say it must be Eid, but majority of the persons I asked opted for ‘Pohela Boishakh’, the Bangla New Year celebrations that take place every year on the 14th day of April. This is the time to remember and realize our Bengali heritage and our being ‘Bengali’. One time of the year when the Bangladeshi Bengalis make merry irrespective of their being Muslims or Hindus, Christians or Buddhists. One time of the year when the national culture takes pride beyond and above shallow bias towards ‘I am from Comilla and he is from Sirajganj, she is from Sylhet and they are from Khulna’, useless group-ism based on tiny districts of a very tiny country in the first place. So ‘Pohela Boishakh’ is the largest and widely accepted and celebrated festival of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh. Agree of Disagree?

Volley of questions yet again.

1. Tell me what is the biggest festival of the planet Earth?
2. If you have answered ‘Christmas’, why is this?
3. Why is ‘Christmas’ celebrated and cities and malls are decorated even in ‘Muslim’ countries like Malaysia, Indonesia? Or even in India?
4. Whose celebration is Valentine’s Day? English, French, Christian?
5. Can you guess how long will it take before we start celebrating Halloween in Dhaka? (some have already started donning the ghost masks in Gulshan and asking for a ‘treat of trick’)

The argument is, there seems to be an increasing trend of commercialising and commoditising festivals around the world. Those who have money and some brain and even very little religious or cultural affiliation to the festival in question, are making sure that the ‘rest of us’ celebrate it in a big way and help increase sales and merchandise before, during, after and surrounding that festival. This also has a psychological effect to consumers like us. Have you exchanged Christmas wishes to your friends last year through Facebook and other means, even though neither your nor your friends might be Christians? Pretty much like Valentine’s Day, does Christmas make you feel that ‘it is not only meant for Christians only’, rather it is the festival of the mass earthlings like you and me? Santa is so much fun isn’t it? What about the parties with Santa cap and wearing red and snow white? Please note that the argument is not against celebrating one particular festival by discarding it as alien, rather personally I am interested to have fun and make merry in each and any festival as long as there is an element of ‘fun’ in it. What makes me wonder is that till when shall we keep on dancing to others tunes? Lets be fair, if this is globalisation and internet has the power to blur geographic boundaries of cultures and nations, why not ‘others’ also start dancing in our tunes during ‘our’ festivals?

Great Grand Indians have already made sure that they have their footprints in every corner of the world (not sure about Antarctica though). They have carried with them the tradition of celebrating unique festivals like Holi and Diwali, nicely labelled as the ‘Festival of Colors’ and the ‘Festival of Lights’. That day is round the corner when the whole world (that includes mainly non-Indians) would play colors with each other in Times Square and Trafalgar Square and light up candles in their households on these ‘originally Indian’ festivals.

The argument is, it does not matter if the festival itself truly holds potential for branding as a ‘global festival’ or not, it all depends on the ‘merry makers’, bearers of that tradition to spot the global reach of their festivals and then spread it around the world, so that it not only becomes a global festival, but it also creates scope for merchandizing surrounding it, and promotes the nation, the culture throughout different channels and places.

Coming back to what we have.

1. How could Eid be celebrated so that it could create the mass appeal pretty much like other religious festivals? If you think its only meant for Muslims, and Islam in general advocates a toned-down festivities, then focus on the next point only.
2. If we have festivals like Pohela Boishakh, Nobanno Utshob, Pohela Falgun or even Shaheed Dibash (International Mother Tongue Day), what have we done so far and what more could be done to elevate these festivals to a global level and brand them as a ‘global festival, ‘originally celebrated by Bangladeshi Bengalis’?

Perhaps you are reading this article from Sydney, or Camden Town or Bricklane Brooklyn. Ask yourself what you have done during these festivals when you are on ‘foreign’ soil. Probability is very high that you 1) dressed up in traditional costume (controversy exists even there what our national costumer actually is) 2) drove to a community center or park 3) met fellow expats 4) ate ‘deshi food’ 5) listened to some Bangla songs, dance performances by wards of Bengali families, even by those of yours 6) took a lot of photos and uploaded it to flickr or Facebook 7) went back home happy. Right?

I tell you something, if we don’t brand our festivals first and fast, ‘someone else’ will certainly do it and due to their size and power and money and patriotism and branding techniques and whatever you say…we will not be left with much options.

Say what if

1. the Bangladeshi students abroad bring out a grand combined carnival (not separate ones based on political beliefs and districts) on Pohela Boishakh, emulating what happens in TSC (Charukala) on 14th April?
2. the expat Bangladeshis convince the Mayor of London or New York that the celebrations take place not only in our ghettos of Bricklane and Brooklyn, but we bring it on big time at Trafalgar Square and Time Square? This way the festivals will have a global exposure.
3. we arrange ‘speech games’ for foreign nationals on 21st February, we arrange language games, quizzes in universities and open areas involving a lot of foreigners, so that we can not only celebrate the day but also could promote ‘our’ brand of festivals to others, so that they eventually start practicing it as their own festival some day.

Word-of-mouth is being supplemented by ‘Word-of-mouse’ these days. Its good to see that Bangladeshi netizens making use of their social media profiles and making the best use of web 2.0 tools to atleast sing in one rhyme and rhythm on special occasions. But we ought to do more.

You might argue that cultural imperialism is directly related to economic imperialism and prowess. However, if there remains any rooms for branding blended with patriotism, lets turn the board around. Lets make sure Jim, Jack and Jane ALSO carry out colourful masked processions with dhak-dole, ektara, dotara on Pohela Boishakh, I am sure we are equally exciting if not more comparing with Mardi Gras and Nottinghill Carnival, true that we are devoid of flesh and lager, but we hold the chance to present the world a ‘cleaner’ version of festivals.

Shubho Nobo Borsho.


Tuesday, April 7, 2009

'Whats Up? with Nazim Farhan Choudhury

Nazim Farhan Choudhury participates in the 'Whats Up?' series of email interviews arranged by the Bangladesh Corporate Blog to find out the current snapshots in business activities of Bangladeshi managers, entrepreneurs and executives.

1. How is your business performing during global recession these days?

There are two answers to this. Good and bad. Our advertising business has been hit by the slow down. Clients are cutting back spends. However our graphic services outsourcing business is doing well as more companies are looking for a more value driven proposition for their pre-press solutions.

2. What is the new venture you are looking into now?
Urban door-to-door
Rural activation and distribution
New media strategy and management
Branded content

3. What is your core competitive advantage? Has it remained same or have changed over the last few years?
It has evolved over the last few years. We are basically in the process of moving from being an advertising agency to a complete communications solution provider.

4. Which external factor in the country, economy, market you are concerned with now? How your business plans to tackle it?
A slow down in the garments sector, coupled with the freeze in manpower exports will result in unemployment increasing and thereby affecting the purchasing power of our client’s consumers. That in turn will lead to drop in investments.

We are fast diversifying our offerings so that the value proposition we offer our clients in significant. Instead of going to multiple service providers they can concentrate their relationship will us and as we can manage the entire value chain, we can reduce their investments

5. Do you use any online social media platform (Facebook, Twitter, blogs) to promote your business, yourself? Which ones do you use and how often do you use it?
Yes we do. Some of our newer businesses are on FB (AktiVision, Screaming Girl, Northbrook, amarpotaka, etc) However I must confess; this is really something new for us. Interestingly we now have the capability to manage new media strategy and implementation for our clients.

6. How do you describe your business in one line?
Providing appropriate communication solutions to our clients.

Nazim Farhan Choudhury
Deputy Managing Director