High Impact Launch with a Shoe String Budget

By: Rajiv Tewari (Updated article) 

In my over thirty years of practice the only constant has been lack of resources, so I had to innovate with shoe string budgets. In some organizations, I had to take on competitors who had many times of my resources. It was like the David and Goliath fight, yet I was fortunate enough to innovate and neutralize the competitors’ fire power to gain impressive market shares. India’s first book on services marketing carries the case studies of my battles for the advertising pie during my media days. I intend to share one story at a time to demonstrate how innovation can help in spite of budgetary constraints.

Launch of the Rockland Dwarka Hospital, Delhi

The Rockland Hospitals Group was launching a new hospital in the Dwarka sub city of Delhi in 2012. At that time, I was helping the group as Advisor (Strategic Communication) to the Chairman. A budget of about Rs 75 Lakhs was presented by the advertising agency with the conventional model of using mass media channels for advertising coupled with an aggressive plan of using outdoor media and sales promotion tools such as brochures and leaflets. The entrepreneurial team at Rockland led by the Chairman were not fully convinced to go for a conventional plan so the assignment was passed over to me. 

Ground Reality Check in Dwarka

Times without number I had found that the market place has most of the answers yet many professionals waste a lot of time in trying to copy some one who may have succeeded in the past or otherwise indulge in a lot of brain storming in closed room meetings. My first gut feel was that enough home work had not been done as the plan seemed to be a straight forward case of copy pasting from the practices adapted by other large hospital groups.

Cycle Rickshaw Pullers of Dwarka identified as the Key Target Group for Communication

I asked a fundamental question on who the Agency and the Marketing team thought would be able to tell where the new hospital is located in case of an accident on the road. There was no answer so I knew that field work was not done. In India, typically the local washer man or the paan (betel leaf) seller would be able to help in finding a place but this was not true for Dwarka sub city. 

I had gone to the colony to find out how Dwarka was different and had already found that only the Cycle Rickshaw Pullers could help in finding a new place and strangely they could help only if one knew the plot number and not just the house number. So I knew that a campaign among the Rickshaw Pullers would be one of the most effective parts. On enquiring a bit more, I found that over 1000 Rickshaws were rented out by two brothers from a single location early in the morning at a fixed time so one point contact with the Rickshaw Pullers was not going to be a big challenge.  

RWAs & Village Panchayat (Village Council) Members came next in the Target Group

Interaction with the local community revealed the influence of the village elders in the neighbouring villages and the importance of Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs) in Dwarka. Both commanded a lot of respect due to their combined efforts in keeping Dwarka clean and environment friendly. They were also very active in organizing regular health check-up camps with the help of over 200 doctors who had OPDs in Dwarka. I decided to meet select RWA office bearers and the village elders to inform them about the launch of Rockland Hospital and to engage them in a conversation about community activities. In one such interaction I was invited to have lunch in a Bhandara (community free lunch) associated with an auspicious day. I made some enquires and was surprised to find that the Tent Owner had given a huge discount for Bhandara and so had the caterer. Food costed a mere Rs 20 per head and the tent costed Rs 30000 only for a day. The enthusiasm and the gathering indicated a huge participation by not just the poor also by an equal numbers from the well to do residents housing complexes. The RWA office bearers and Village members were proudly serving the guests. I immediately decided to use Bhandara to launch the Rockland Hospital due its capacity to engage with the local community and its very high cost effectiveness. 

Bhandara for the Cycle Rickshaw Pullers

Based on the insights about the cultural and social context at Dwarka we devised a strategy based on a Bhandara invite for the Rickshaw Pullers & Road Side Vendors. RWAs, Village Panchayat (Council) leaders, Doctors and Chemists were invited to help in organizing the whole event and to serve the guests. Some sceptics thought that with over 1000 Cycle Rickshaw Pullers there will be a lot of chaos and it may not be easy to control the event. The space in front of the hospital was not big enough so several people doubted the practicality of the idea. 

We went ahead and sent out a team to formally distribute invitation cards to the Cycle Rickshaw Pullers. They came in large numbers, neatly parked their Rickshaws on one side of the road and formed a que to have lunch. Not a drop of rice or any other edible item was dropped by them while eating and they made sure that dust bins were used for the plastic plates and plastic cups given to them. We had simply briefed them on this factor and had also requested them on the back of the card. RWA members, Village leaders, Doctors and Chemists admired this gesture and cheerfully served the guests. 

Most Touching Experience

The most touching experience for me was when after having lunch one of the Cycle Rickshaw Pullers Association came to me with a request to allow them to take the Invitation Cards back with them. The invitation cards were collected to ensure that no non invitee joins in and since the cards were numbered with written timings it also helped in managing the Que. I was quite surprised so asked him. What he said touched the heart of everyone around. He said “No one had ever invited us with so much respect and that they had never dreamt of being served by such well to do people and that too with so much warmth. We would like to keep the invitation for our memory and it will also help us in sharing the information of such a good hospital in our neighbourhood.”  I had tears in my eyes and can not find the right words to explain the feeling. 

By the next day everyone in Dwarka knew about the launch of a new hospital at a cost of just Rs 67500. The hospital did organize another get together later on for the Chief Minister which needed AV presentation and recording facility for the media yet the total cost of even this event was only Rs 8 Lakhs. Compared to the Rs 75 Lakhs proposed budget, which may not have even delivered the right results, this was really a launch with a shoe string budget. 

I am planning to share several case studies with practical insights in the coming weeks. Hope this will of some help the Start-ups and SME sector entrepreneurs look at the option of low cost communication solutions.