Q and A with Aedhmar Hynes, CEO of Text 100: “The key to being a David in a world full of Goliaths is the ability to differentiate yourself”
When Aedhmar Hynes won a World Technology Award in October 2011, she beat out stiff competition from the founders of Amazon, Twitter and other big wigs. Life had come a full circle for this corporate visionary who had taken on the role of CEO of Text 100 in October 2000. Utterly passionate about what she does, Hynes has gone on to master bigger and better things since her landmark achievement.
During a whirlwind trip to Bangalore, she sat down with YourStory to chat about her travels, business insights, the power of communication in an increasingly connected world and how small start-ups can take on bigger companies as long as they focus on their own unique strengths.
On this particular visit, what brings you to Bangalore?
I am here to do two things. The first is that my journey through Asia has been to announce that we are integrating Bite Communications with Text 100. Bite is a sister agency of Text 100, so this is an opportunity for us to take two very strong brands, bring them together and create a much bigger scaled agency in Asia.
The second reason is that typically every year I visit each of the offices of Text 100, meet the team, leadership and the clients to have a better understanding of what are the opportunities and challenges in each of the markets. When I am thinking of Text 100′s global strategy, I feel more informed when I know what’s happening on the ground in each of the markets.
According to the Homer Report Public Relations is now a 12.5 billion dollar industry. How much of that chunk can be approximately attributed to Asia.
For Text 100 at least about 30 per cent of our revenues come from Asia. Europe and Asia combined our revenues total at about 60 per cent and the rest 40 per cent comes from North America. So if we are a good example I would say that about 30 per cent of that 12. 5 billion is coming from Asia, but that number is growing faster than any other market.
What role does India play in the global PR landscape, in terms of market potential and industry innovation?
India has always been the heartland of innovation and technology companies. Since technology is now at the core of everything we do, India’s role in the global landscape is only going to get bigger and better in the days to come.
You once said that technology is not a separate industry anymore. It has become a core part of all businesses. What do you think is the future of this evolution?
Technology is enabling so many aspects of the way we live. It’s like the internet of everything. We are all becoming increasingly connected, not only in the way we work, but how we manage our finances, shop and even healthcare. Everything now has a component of technology that is moving that industry forward. I’d love to be able to predict where all this is going, but I don’t know. I am really excited by how it is moving so many disciplines forward and enabling breakthroughs in ways we could not have possibly imagined.
In my industry, which is the communications industry, technology is playing a phenomenal role in connecting brands and bringing audiences way closer than they were ever before.
You have been with Text 100 for 24 years! What has the journey been like? What is your advice on building key relationships with people that can sustain such a long outing?
While I have stayed with Text 100 for such a long time, it feels like I have worked in a lot of different places. My journey with Text 100 has brought me to working with companies like Xerox, British Airways, IBM. Cisco, etc. Apart from the leading brands, we also work with some of the most disruptive brands. Today we work with companies like Dropbox, Vimeo and Facebook. In addition I have lived across the world and helped clients understand how they translate their message for different audiences. When I moved to the US, I worked in Silicon Valley at the Palo Alto Research Centre, the heart of innovation of technology.
Even though it’s been 24 years with the same company, all these changes make me feel that it’s been a lifetime of experiences.
I have worked across a spectrum of teams and clients. A key lesson imbibed is that at the core of every good relationship is a trusted partnership. In addition to that, there is a need to innovate, be creative and constantly challenge yourself to think freshly about new ideas and ways of approaching the art of communication. To me, that’s what’s going to keep key professional relationships sustainable. Never ever take anything for granted.
What do you think are some of the inevitable hiccups and culture clashes that occur when American communications companies aim to operate in Asian markets?
To me the key to being successful country by country is to operate from a global perspective and stay true to the brand. In terms of addressing the challenges, companies really need to understand the cultural differences and have a sensitivity to the nuances that exist. A lot of companies take an approach that would be effective in a western market, to China and watch it tank.
A sensitivity to not just cultural but religious, economic and governmental differences across the world is needed for effective integration. What is successful in one market won’t necessarily be relevant in another. You can think global, but you really really have to act local.
Building on that, how can eastern and western entities collaborate on an equal level without letting dynamics of power play influence the way we do business? How can we keep the superiority inferiority complex at bay, especially since the west has the upper hand in capitalism?
The companies that are getting it right are those that believe there is no central point of power. For me it’s this notion of centres of excellence around the world, making sure that brands are looking towards what’s best practiced in Asia and how we can learn from those practices. Those companies which believe that the centre of excellence lies where they are headquartered will never be global businesses.
While the West has very much been a key driver in capitalism, there is a widespread belief that it is in the past. The emergence of China and the importance of India is making people look to the east for the future of the economy.
Given that communication is the new currency of power in the twenty first century, how do you think corporate houses can function on ethical values without compromising their revenue streams? Especially since it’s so easy to abuse this power, why do you think ethics are important?
Everything is about ethics. The sooner companies and brands realize this fundamental truth, the better off they’ll be. The companies defined by transparency and profit are the ones which will pull in the most profits. If you let profit drive your strategy, you will fail. The future of business is going to be connecting with people not based on the purchasing power, but based on connecting with people based on their values and ethics. The more the companies realize this, the more they will be successful.
With the emergence of this new generation of digital natives, who truly understand the difference between brands that they respect and is ethical versus those whose driving force is money, they will determine the future outcome of these brands. The purchasing power lies with this generation and they will respond to a strong ethical value system. Those that are not ethical they will not buy from, regardless of price and quality. It is going to come down to do they believe in the brand and is it authentic? How it not only conducts business but how it represents itself as a corporation around the world. Those are the things that are really important to this generation and it is these that will determine the difference between winners and losers.
You have worked on countless campaigns with top brands over the past two and a half decades. What has been some of your personal favourites, not in terms of hype and effectivity but in the kind of social change and radical thinking it promoted.
One of my favourite campaigns has been while working with Xerox. Making innovation core to the effectiveness of their campaign was a satisfying challenge. We sort of coined this notion that innovation spurs business and business spurs innovation.
Another favourite is the Palo Alto Research Centre, where much of the innovation that has been at the core of the technology industry came from a park. The opportunity to not only work with some of the most famous scientists and technologists but also anthropologists, musicians, children, etc., has been priceless. This base notion of creating innovation with different kinds of thinking has been very exciting.
What is your advice to start up entrepreneurs from India who are trying to battle it out on shoe string resources with giant corporates?
The key to being a David in a world full of Goliaths is the ability to differentiate yourself, and communications can really help you with that. Regardless of your size if you can create a communications platform that sets you apart from the other players in the field- that is your key to success. The counsel that I would give small start-ups is look at who your competitors are, look at what your audience wants. Try and identify what it that all your competitors are providing in that space is. But more importantly what is it that the audience wants that your competitors are not providing. If you look very very closely at your audience, you will always identify an unmet need. Take a position on it. Then really communicate from the rooftops on that particular subject. That’s going to differentiate you in a crowded marketplace. You have to take a position that’s unique, different and totally You.