AB Thinks  →  30th October 2019

Rising Stars of India: five tips from global comms expert Mark Hannant

In Episode Four of Season Two of The Internal Comms Podcast, Katie chats international comms with creative services entrepreneur Mark Hannant.

After success with UK firms Trident Communications and the Engage Group, Mark relocated to Mumbai in 2009 to set up brand and communications agency teammagenta.

Mark has now distilled that decade of experience and observation into his first book, Midnight’s Grandchildren, which explores the radical cultural changes being wrought by India’s millennial generation.

Here are our five top takeaways from this fascinating insider view of comms in the world’s largest democracy.

#1 ­– Prepare for the impact of India’s massive demographic shift
“India has around 800 million people under the age of 35, a bulge in the working-age population you could describe as a ‘demographic dividend’.

“This generation – India’s millennials – have grown up in an era characterised by abundance and opportunity, contrasting significantly with the previous era of austerity, scarcity and lack of opportunity. Most institutions – the family, marriage, the workplace, the work of brands – are geared to that previous era, so these ambitious young people look at those structures and systems and say, ‘they’re not fit for purpose anymore’.

“In my book, I speak to the people with responsibility for figuring out how to change organisations to make them more welcoming for the one million young people who will join the workforce every month for the next 20 years.”

#2 – Adjust your standard communication techniques and language for international audiences
“Any time that you give a presentation about communication, you end up saying that we’ve got two ears and one mouth, and we should use them in proportion. Listening is absolutely key, but also being able to step back and think about ‘what are my prejudices?’ I don’t necessarily mean prejudices in a negative way, but what is the context from which I come? And what are the things that I make assumptions about that other people are making different assumptions about? And how can I ask questions to be able to uncover what their context is and then be able to make some assessment about what my context is and to find the areas where we’ve got some commonality.”

#3 – Deference is the biggest difference between UK and India business cultures
“Western organisations have this sense that open and transparent communication is to be valued, so putting senior leaders in front of the people within their business and opening them up to interrogation is seen as a good thing to do.

“UK employees have the confidence to ask difficult questions and be challenging. You don’t get that in India, as they have a highly deferential culture. You could put a chief executive in front of a group of people and they won’t ask him difficult questions because it’s culturally not the thing that you do, and you sure as hell don’t do it in front of a group of your peers and potentially put yourself in an embarrassing position.”

#4 – Mark’s three mantras of writing
“In our professional lives there is momentum, because there’s a client phoning up and there are teams of people who need direction. But when you’re writing a book, there is no momentum, so it requires discipline.

“To create momentum and get the book written, I had a little mantra for myself, one of which was ‘retain the voice of authority’. There are moments of doubt when you think ‘is anybody going to be interested in this?’ I just thought ‘I’ve spent nearly a decade in India, I’ve got something interesting to say and I don’t think it’s been written about, so retain the voice of authority’.

“Number two was ‘don’t panic’. Because you get these moments of sheer terror where you think about the enormity of it.

“And my third mantra was ‘delegate’. There are things that you don’t have to do yourself, and so I looked to make sure that I have bright young people around me who are able to go off and do some of the research or do some of the fact checking or set up interviews for me.”

#5 – How to stay at the top of the IC game
“Recognise the fact that you are operating in a global environment and be interested in that. Think about how people receive and look for content in other parts of the world. Do they do it in the same way we do it here, or is it different? What are their design aesthetics? Don’t simply do things in a certain way ‘because we’ve always done it like this’.

“The second thing to think about is the soft skills: your ability to communicate with people from different backgrounds, your ability to influence, negotiate and work in a global environment. Figure out where you come from – what is your social or cultural context and what is the cultural context of the people you might be working alongside – and be prepared to invest in building a skillset that allows you to operate in that international context.”