Jan 6, 2009

Mktg - Engineering its way across

Radhika Sachdev

We are Punj Lloyd. Short, direct and succinct. Yet, you can’t possibly expect this to work for a consumer durable. However, when the campaign is for business prospects, rivals, investors and employees spread in 60 countries, the message might go straight home—how in just 19 years a small pipeline construction outfit has metamorphosed into an US$2 billion EPC (engineering, procurement and construction) specialist, second in size to Larsen & Turbo in India.

The brief to C2 Design Studio, a non-descript upstart in Singapore that emerged the proverbial dark horse among a few top Indian agencies, after a pitch called in February, was clear: announce to the world that we have arrived. The Singaporean outfit turned in an extremely functional concept and Surprise! Surprise, it won hands down, mainly for “our emphasis on the company’s multicultural employee base,” according to Gerald Chng, C2 Design Studio’s creative director.

In the final execution, the employee series features three faces of Punj Lloyd, workers from three different nationalities, getting their hands dirty and shoes wet at difficult sites for a common purpose, the growth of a transnational company.

“Initially, we toyed with a lot of ideas but eventually tanked those to go with a ‘direct’ approach; an ultra simple message that the client favoured, something ‘in the face’,” explains Chng. “Anything less direct would have missed the mark,” he hurries on to add, underscoring the usual travails of an engineering corporation vis-à-vis a consumer brand—how to communicate attributes of a brand that are not tactical or immediately visible to the consumer.

The creative hardship was resolved in another series by showing a diversity of Punj Lloyd’s business portfolio. This was easy as today the group dabbles in all things big and small: oil and gas pipelines (onshore and offshore), tanks and terminals, refineries, thermal and nuclear power and petrochemicals, besides building airports, seaports, jetties, expressways, flyovers and bridges, utilities and townships.

In tandem, the television commercial urges the viewer to believe the scale of the company’s operations in the images they see rolling out before their eyes—projects being undertaken in diverse geographies, the Middle East, the Caspian, the Asia Pacific, Africa, South Asia, China and Europe, under a 360-degree plan that includes TV, print and outdoors. There is also a “Do you know…” series for the trade journals.

“The biggest inflection point in the lifecycle of Punj Lloyd brand,” according to Louise Sharma, who heads the corporate communication division, came “when we acquired Sembawang Engineers & Constructors, Singapore, and Simon Carves, UK in June 2006.”

Sembawang, although a young company, just 25 years old, had built a good track record in civil work, while Simon Carves, 125 years old, specialised in engineering and petrochemical projects and had major business links in the UK, Singapore, Iran, Russia, Malaysia and the Middle East. Together, the two entities complemented Punj Lloyd’s expertise in turnkey projects for energy and infrastructure sectors.

The foundation of this entity got laid in 1982, when chairman Atul Punj, then 22 years old and a recent passout from Delhi’s Sri Ram college, decided to “digress” from the family’s traditional business in air conditioning and insulation to pipeline construction for oil majors.

Starting from scratch, he won his first “big” (Rs 7.50 crore) project, laying the Bombay-Pune pipeline across Western Ghats from Hindustan Petroleum Corporation in 1983. Established players didn’t want to get into it because of the logistical problems it posed. But for Atul Punj, it was an opportunity to prove his company could deliver.

“Next came tank projects for Bharat Petroleum, leading up to more complex terminal projects for cryogenic LNG tanks,” recalls Sharma.

The first overseas project was Balongan-Jakarta product pipeline in Indonesia (US$ 14.834 million) that came in 1990 and was delivered in December 1993.

Meanwhile, the company also got busy in domestic road infrastructure from Belgaum to Maharashtra (a part of the Golden Quadrilateral network on Jaipur bypass), civic infrastructure (Delhi Metro), more pipeline projects (Bhivpuri section of East West gas pipeline for Reliance) besides also laying oil and gas pipelines in Malaysia, Oman, Turkey, Georgia, Kazakhstan and Libya.

This was indeed an active period when the company was also constructing tunnels (Kallang Paya Lebar, Singapore’s longest road tunnel), flyovers (Yio Chu Kang interchange in Singapore), building airports (the famous Changi airport, Singapore) and high rise buildings (Four Seasons Hotel, Singapore; The Exchange, China; Tianjin International Building and GE Plaza, Pune) and of course Ananda Resort, high up in the Himalayas.

Interestingly, although Punj has no degree in engineering or business, “this has never come in the way of him being able to convey his impassioned engineering vision to each one of us,” says Sharma.

To a measure, this must also have come from the leadership of VK Kaushik, managing director, and Atul Jain, president of Punj Lloyd’s oil and gas division. Both were inducted into the company as trainees about a decade ago and have quickly climbed up the corporate ladder.

“The average tenure of a senior manager in our company is upwards of 10,” informs Sharma. As with any other logistics company, there are no women, except for a few, “but there are expats working in the corporate office and at sites,” she adds.

All this is well communicated in the employee series that surprisingly also features a woman in the India clip, although, as the company spokeswoman admits there are very few women in this industry that calls for on-site postings and transfers.

In Atul Punj’s words, “The TG (target group) for our corporate campaign is potential employees who see the sector as boring or unattractive. They often feel disappointed at the lack of recognition. We want to instill into them a sense of purpose. We want to generate a sense of pride, achievement and peer group recognition for them.”

After this campaign, they hopefully won’t have to try this hard.

No comments: