by Iqbal Singh 15 July 2012
Successful initiative to engage young consumers involved professionals between the ages of 26 and 32, top CEOs, and 27,000 participants.
What worries media managers most is the rapid decline in the newspaper-reading habit among the young. This worry is acute for a business newspaper whose potential consumers have high awareness of, and propensity to try, alternative media.
In the five years between 2005 and 2010, The Economic Times, India’s leading business daily, lost more than one-third of its young readers. In addition to arresting the decline with the usual content and packaging solutions, we sought to engage these young readers directly and to make the brand, beyond the newspaper, meaningful to them.
In India’s hyper-competitive corporate environment, what drives the young consumer is a desire to successfully stand apart from the crowd — to be publicly recognised as a star performer. What if we could enable that? We easily agreed that this was a good idea, but defining how to achieve it was fraught with questions: What does a newspaper know about evaluating and coaching managers? Would a talent hunt be seen as frivolous for a “serious” business newspaper? Would busy professionals find time to participate, and would the best candidates stay away from a mass programme?
The answer was the Economic Times Young Leaders programme, a career-enhancing initiative in which we joined with experts on evaluation and mentoring. Launched in April 2011, the platform provided 26- to 32-year-old managers the chance to be anointed as India’s brightest young leaders. Nearly 27,000 participated in a rigorous evaluation, and we generated more than 250,000 measurable interactions. It shattered myths about our relationship with the young.
We partnered with SHL, the global leaders in leadership evaluation. We also partnered with the Indian School of Business to provide executive courses in leadership for finalists. And eight of India’s top CEOs interviewed finalists and celebrated their success at a glittering public ceremony.
The programme had five phases and ran for more than eight weeks:
The first phase easily and conveniently maximised participation from the target group. Of those 27,000 registrants, more than 60% took the test. Of the 14,648 who completed the first test, only 2,639 were shortlisted. Less than 10% reached the third phase; 61 were shortlisted for fourth phase interviews with CEOs; and 48 made it to the final list of India’s brightest young leaders.
We advertised the programme in The Economic Times and The Times of India, reaching more than 7.5 million readers. We amplified the advertising with communication at airports in three cities, at 15 metro stations, and with activities at five office parks in Delhi, and 50 cafes nationally. We used social media to drive word-of-mouth awareness on Twitter (1,000 hash tags) and Facebook (2,000 likes; 100,000 post-views). We increased response with e-mail (2,800+ received) and mobile conversations (6,000 SMS received).
We had more than 200,000 visits to our Web site in approximately two months. The 136,000+ visitors came from more than 40 industries -- from old-school manufacturing to new-age IT/ITES (information technology/information technology-enabled services), and from 19 of India’s 35 states and union territories.
Today, we have 197,000 readers in the 26- to 32-year-old cohort -- up from 189,000 in 2005. But what truly delights us is what our consumers have said: “Interaction with Young India on an equal level on leadership teaches a lot more than you could imagine,” said Adil Zainulbhai, managing director of McKinsey India, and one of the eight CEOs who interviewed finalists. Ambikesh Shukla, a 29-year-old manager with Barclays Bank, said, “I was a regular, hard-working guy [The programme] spiraled me internally to another level…my CFO wants to meet me today.”
We conceptualised, created, and launched the programme to engage young corporate executives. We did not start with a revenue drive. However, as we prepare to launch this year’s edition of the programme, many companies are expressing interest in participating as sponsors to further their brand interests among young consumers.