Interview with Ikram Mayeen, Managing Director, forethoughtPR
Ikram Mayeen joined British American Tobacco Bangladesh in 1996 in the Corporate Brands division right after graduating in International Business from Assumption University in Thailand.
After a long 12 year-long career there, Ikram joined forethoughPR as the executive director. He became the managing director there in 2017. He also worked as the managing director of Cookie Jar; a digital marketing agency associated with Asiatic 3Sixty.
Ikram recently spoke to Fintech and talked about the situation of the PR business, its challenges and other relevant topics.
When was forethoughPR founded? Give us a brief history up until the present time.
forethoughtPR was founded as a part of the oldest communication group in Bangladesh, Asiatic 3Sixty in 2009.After starting our operations from a one-room office, we got our first client five months later.
Our preliminary struggling period was about recruiting the right kind of people. In Bangladesh, it is hard to find the right people for PR. This is because no training or formal study on PR is available in the country, unlike many foreign countries where this is given the proper importance.
We began to work with graduates from the business departments of different universities and started training them in public relations.
The biggest attribute of being in PR is to be an extrovert. If you are shy and introverted, then this job is not for you. You have to be able to build relations with people of all levels. This is not simply building good relations with only the media. The ecosystem also includes the government, the general public and different organizations.
Another dimension of building relation is that you have to keep maintaining them. If you work with someone for six months and you forget them after the work that will not help you in the long run. You have to be able to work with them even after five years. You can’t rebuild a relation after a long gap.
We trained a group of young people around this ethos. That’s how Forethought started to build up.
How much has the PR industry in Bangladesh evolved since you started the company?
When we started there were only a few professional PR agencies in operation. Agencies such as Impact PR and Masthead were the initial entrants. After that, it was us, Concito PR, Benchmark PR and others.
Right now, there are only a few top PR agencies. There should have been more companies given the scope of work in Bangladesh. The PR industry itself should have been bigger. The growth is not exactly what was expected due to a number of reasons.
One of the main reasons is a lack of appreciation of PR. The local companies didn’t quite grasp the idea, or perhaps we failed to explain it to them. But the multinational companies have resorted to hiring PR agencies because of their understanding and processes.
A lot of people in the local companies may think that they can manage public relations on their own because of their connections to important stakeholders and that they do not need external agencies.
However, we are now in the age of specialization. The local companies need to realize that PR companies with specializations can actually benefit them quite a lot.
But I believe this will change. There will be an influx within the next 10 years. Local companies will realize the importance of PR.
Give us a picture of your client portfolio.
We have worked with a lot of companies. Over the past 10 years we have had about 100 clients; many of them were Fortune 500 listed.
Our notable clients include the likes of Grameenphone, Berger, Samsung, MetLife, Singer, and the British Council among many others. 90% of the companies in our current portfolio are foreign companies.
Currently, a number of local companies are also working with us with more coming aboard.
What are the challenges in this sector? Talk about the ways you solve them.
Like I said before, the core challenge in this sector is getting the right people. We don’t get graduates coming out of universities prepared for this industry in specific. There are no institutions for this.
We have been to many universities and organized job fairs for this purpose. But we haven’t had satisfactory results.
They are students of marketing, but that’s not exactly industry specific. Similarly, journalism students are also not exactly PR specialists, even though there are some natural overlaps. So, this is the main challenge in this sector.
The way to overcome it is to build up communications skills through proper education. In India they teach this from the school level.
I think the major five or six PR agencies here need to coordinate among themselves. If we can create an association, we can change this industry a lot. We can make better programs in collaboration with the universities and we will have a good number of specialized students coming out through this. These students will be the country’s asset.
How much of your processes are digitized?
We have already embraced digitization in our work. From basic usages of devices to help us work on the go, to software compartmentalizing and optimizing our work processes, we are getting digitized. Our website and social media handles help us to get our word out. We also have the tools to measure effectiveness of services to our clientele.
Does Bangladesh have the right regulatory instruments for PR companies?
For this industry currently worth approximately BDT 50 crore, there are no regulations. As the industry grows bigger, hopefully there will be specific regulations in the future.
What’s your future plan? Where you want to see Forethought in 2020?
As a part of a group as big as Asiatic 3Sixty, we follow certain ethos to operate; ethos envisioned by our group chairman Mr Aly Zaker. We do not look for overnight success by any means but rather strive to achieve it through integrity and patience. We also believe that there is no alternative to hard work. The most important understanding for us is that we are only successful if our clients are. Our growth plan revolves around these principals.
I also want the whole sector to grow. If the sector grows, our growth will be simultaneous.