It’s Either Popularity Or Profitability – Never Both

The following article by U. Mahesh Prabhu was first published by BW Businessworld 

There’s an ancient Indian maxim, which reads “You cannot get everything you want; but you can definitely get that thing which you strive for.” Therefore, “It’s very important that you chose your objectives wisely; you must never work in haste”.

Popularity and Profitability are two different things. While some believe Popularity leads to Profitability; others believe it’s vice versa. In any case, it’s like a chicken and egg situation – it’s hard to assume what comes first. I’ve personally seen people with lots of money blowing it all out to attain popularity; I’ve even seen celebrities with substantial fan following struggling their day in and out to make their ends meet – owing to lack of profitability. Nevertheless, only wisdom can help one to understand the difference and, then, determine which of the two is important in one’s life or profession. Wrong choices can verily mean Trouble.

A few years back Chairman of UB Group – Vijay Mallya – popularly known as “King of Good Times” was understood to be among the handful men who were “blessed” with popularity as well as profitability. A few years before him the corporate media was gaga about Subroto Roy Sahara. Mallya was absolutely outspoken. He spoke vehemently about how his father “preached” him about virtues austerity – that which seemed to have bored him to the core. It was probably to make sure that his son wouldn’t have to see “cattle class life” that he started Kingfisher Airlines as a birthday gift for his son – Siddhartha.

You must only read the headlines of the article in magazines of the time to see “how right” he was about his decision to start the “legendary” airlines. There were even case studies that preached IT czars like that of Azim Premji how they could attain both profitability as well as popularity. “Only handful of people know IT czars… while every knows Mallya – the extravagant CEO of our times” was how a major business columnist recollected Mallya’s glory days. But today the empire of liquor baron is virtually in ruins. Every possible friend of his has turned into his worst foe!

This isn’t to say that Mallya is a “lost cause” or a “spent force”. Neither good nor bad times last – only tough people do! It’s only a matter of time before Mallya can prove what he’s made of. But from what’s happened to his life so far it’s very clear that you just can’t have both – popularity and profitability – at the same time. You must be wise to choose the right option at the right moment.

In India it costs a few lakhs to publish a vanity articles favouring you or your organization. There are few which can do it for a few thousands. Of course, who reads them is a matter of anyone’s guess. In the age of internet social media is the hot buzz. To have blue tagged “verified” account along with a few thousand “followers” is what people consider as a matter of “real recognition”, “achievement” or even a “feat”. What they don’t know is that all these “followers” and “Likes” can be purchased dime a dozen! It hardly costs Rs 3,000 or less to get over Rs 1,000 “likes” or “followers”.

Every major publication in the country, be that newspaper, magazines, radio or television, are all going online after their conventional forms of business are reeling under heavy financial losses. They are trying everything possible to make sure that they look the most promising for advertisers. To do this all they do is pay Rs 1,000, or even less, to buy such “likes” and even “shares”. Else how can it be even that an article, that’s less than a minute old, get over a thousand likes? Are they suggesting that it takes less than a minute to read 1,000-word article? Yes, some may. But not all can read that fast.

These petty tactics are killing the essence and fundamental principle of PR. In PR we emphasize on popularity only when it’s “viable”. If you watch it closely most of the respected industrialists in the country are very cautious of their image. They weigh their words cautiously. They make sure they don’t speak anything out of the context.

Think… how much money would it take for Kumara Mangalam Birla or Ratan Tata or Azim Premji to be on the covers of every major channel, magazines and newspapers in the country? Are you assuming that they don’t have the money? Or are you thinking that they aren’t willing? I’m sure there’s a perfectly sane reason why truly most successful businessmen don’t “show-off”. The reason isn’t hard to guess if you apply your mind to it.

Too much of popularity is a liability – socially as well as financially. You need to expose yourself more cautiously especially when you are in serious business. Too much attention seeking desire in business is worse than ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) – a psychological illness unworthy or true business leader. It must be shunned!

Author | Investor | Painter | Media, Management & Political Consultant

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