Percept in the News

26 December, 2009

Harindra and Shailendra Singh have worked to their strengths and around their differences to make Percept a success

Like most brothers, Harindra and Shailendra Singh are quite different from one another. If one prefers the limelight, then the other prefers to stay well away from it. One is willing to take risks, while the other adopts a more cautious approach. And that’s a good thing, Shailendra says — if not for his brother, matters could have gone haywire.

Reinvent, rediscover and reposition are the three key practices that Harindra Singh, vice chairman of public relations powerhouse Percept Holdings, firmly follows. He believes those three made Percept what it is today.

His brother Shailendra — the face of Percept — on the other hand, believes “sharp reflexes” have kept the company ahead of the curve. “I have so many ideas and so much energy that I could go pretty haywire with my reflexes,” he says, “but my elder brother Harry has made sure that I don’t stray too far into unrelated genres.”

It was Harindra who started Percept in 1984 as an ad agency. And for the first eight years, that’s all it was. Those were the days, Harindra says, when money was hard to come by and clients paid just enough to keep the boat afloat. 

Things changed when one client offered them the then hefty sum of Rs 13 lakh as a retainer fee. Then Harindra figured they could be on the verge of something big. “We didn’t know what to do with that much money,” he says with a laugh. That is the moment which, he says, laid the foundation for the company’s later success.

“As an ad agency, we were one of the fastest growing, and clients were quite happy with our work,” Harindra says. Then, in 1992, according to the younger Singh, Shailendra, Percept broke the mould and started its own PR agency. “When PR first came in, it still wasn’t a strong brand communication tool. We entered it at the right time,” he observes.

Timing is one thing, but both brothers add that, without the right people, nothing could have been achieved. They consider themselves fortunate to have working with them some of the best brains in the business.

Talking about advertising in the “old days”, Harindra recalls how exciting it was to get hold of foreign magazines, or videotapes, so as to take a look at the ads they were filled with. “We used to wonder how those guys could come up with such phenomenal work,” he says.

Now, however, he says the tables have turned, and Indian advertising is as good as that anywhere in the world. “From the ad agencies’ working style to the clients’ expectations, all have changed for the better,” he says.

You can’t stand still in this business, and Harindra says that Percept, too, has changed with the times. “On certain occasions,” he says, cautiously, without going into the specifics, “we probably jumped the gun, but it’s all a part of the learning curve.”

There have been disappointments along the way, but the company, says this co-founder — again erring on the side of caution — doesn’t believe in dwelling on them. “If you don’t learn from those disappointments or mistakes, then you aren’t cut out for success,” he says, adding that he believes that Percept has learnt from its disappointments.

None of Percept's successes, however, would have been possible without vision, which both the brothers shared, and opportunities. “We had the fire and hunger to achieve more and more,” says Shailendra.

If Harindra has his three infallible “R”s, so does Shailendra. They are: research, revenue and relationships. “I think the industry is all about building relationships, be it with clients or employees,” says the younger brother. He cites long-term clients like the Bharti Group (with Percept for 23 years), Hero Honda (13 years) and Pantaloons (close to 25 years) to demonstrate that understanding what a brand wants is essential to keeping it as a client, year after year.

Percept has a finger in almost all the entertainment pies — including movies, media buying, talent management and sports marketing. The entertainment business, says Shailendra, is extremely close to his heart. “We make movies we believe in.”

Offering the example of the award-winning Kanjeevaram, he says that it was sheer conviction which led them to make that movie. “And look how wonderfully well the movie did.” In the offing, now, is a biopic on Lalit Modi, though Singh is tight-lipped about the project.

When Percept entered the movie business, the idea of big corporate names producing movies was still nascent. Shailendra believes they were the trendsetters.

“Be it sports marketing with Percept D’Mark, or P9 with integrated services, or the wedding management division, we have always wanted to be ahead of the curve,” he says.

Controversies have come along with success, especially relating to celebrity management — as in the case of Yuvraj Singh or boxer Vijender Singh.

Do the Singh brothers ever worry that they have their fingers in too many pies? Not at all, comes the response. But yes, the company now plans to restructure its business model. The Percept Group companies and divisions will be unified under the brand name “Percept” and be re-organised into three business groups: Percept Entertainment Group, Percept Media Group and Percept Communications Group.

Percept Entertainment Group will deal with movies, television content, ad films, talent management, sports and entertainment marketing. Percept Media Group will handle media planning and buying services across mediums. Percept Communications Group will cover all advertising and PR.

The co-founders describe this as the start of a new era in the company. “We want to build on the last 25 years and, hopefully, be where we want to be,” says Harindra. “I think our vision to pioneer with new avenues and take risks at every given point is our success mantra.”

Away from work, the younger brother is a sports freak. Golf, tennis, badminton, table tennis — he plays them all. Often the two brothers play a round of badminton. There’s always a competitive edge to those games.

It is the competitive edge which has led to 25 years of Percept. As they start their 26th year, Harindra and Shailendra plan to usher in a new era which they hope will be a golden one for their company.