Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Exploring the world of academia

I have been told by various academics including my supervisors about the importance of attending scholarly conferences ever since I  enrolled in my PhD programme. Finally, I made a decision in June this year to attend Pacific Employee Relations Association (PERA) annual conference. I wrote a research paper on one of the theories I applied in my PhD research and analyzing some of the data I have collected for my PhD project. I was fortunate to receive one of the '2011 Elizabeth Whiting PERA Conference Scholarships for Postgraduate Research and Honours Students' for my paper. It covered my registration fee and accommodation (up to AU$1000). The conference was held from 14th-17th November 2011 at Hotel Grand Chancellor Surfers Paradise, Gold Coast. I made my presentation on 15th November under the stream of 'industry studies'.

During the four days I spent in Gold Coast, I learned a lot about academia and academics. First, academics love and enjoy what they do, researching, teaching, presenting  and debating over the issues relevant to their fields. In PERA conference, I noticed a couple of academics who attended all the sessions and in all four days regardless of the stream, topic and presenter. They made genuine contributions and set future directions and research agenda for areas such as enterprise bargaining, union leadership etc. I was amazed to see the level of debating among the academics, the openness and recognition for divergent thinking. They pursued their arguments giving due credits to the top academics in their field and respecting individuals who proposed counter arguments. The level of tolerance and respect was second to none. They listened carefully to students and early researchers and made suggestions for improvements.

Second, besides enriching their area of research, academics use conferences for networking. PERA conference provides various opportunities for networking. Morning tea, lunch, evening tea, conference BBQ and conference dinner were all opportunities for networking. They also organized an informal session for early researchers for networking purposes. I met a few top professors in the field of employment relations and workforce development who were found to be very humble, approachable and willing to help new researchers.

Third, academics enjoy chatting and sharing. I observed that during the conference dinner and BBQ nights, they kept on having conversations with each other over a glass of wine or beer. It lasted for hours. For me it was like being in a prison. I tried to escape several times. I got bored within the first hour each night. But as they kept on talking to me, I did not get a chance to get out of the restaurant.

Fourth, besides the academic part, academics use conferences as an opportunity to travel and enjoy. After having a hectic academic year, they want to relax and enjoy on the sideline of the conference. That's the reason why organizers are careful to host conferences in popular tourist destinations such as Gold Coast.

Fifth, I observed a few things which might be specific to PERA and Australian academics. I was amazed to see the bond between the group of academics leading PERA. They are like a family. They do everything in an informal and friendly manner. As all participants automatically receive membership of PERA for the upcoming year, I was given the opportunity to attend the AGM of PERA. The way they conducted the AGM was unique. I observed the casual, easy going and cool Australian way of life throughout the conference. Who would think that participants attending an academic conference like this will wear shorts and T-shirts. For the opening ceremony, I went with my suit, but I found that the key note speaker and I were the only people with suits. I ran to my room and changed my clothes before going inside the conference hall.

PERA conference was a wonderful opportunity for me to explore academia and learn about the lives of academics.I tried to make the best out of it. I made some friends, established networks with academics and professionals. I made a presentation and I was offered to submit my paper to a journal affiliated with the conference rather than publishing on the conference proceedings. I was also elected as one of the postgraduate representatives to the PERA committee. I agree with academics who recommend these conferences to early researchers. But my advise is not to leave your research paper to be published in the conference proceedings. Instead improve the paper based on the feedback received from the conference and submit it to a scholarly journal. I wish to attend the second conference during 2012, only if I get the funds.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

A quintessential symbol of love - what a marketing campaign!!

We always talk about how society and the environment  in which we live influence individuals and organizations . We all agree that norms, beliefs and values prevalent in our societies guide us. They draw boundaries within which we act or behave. We often underestimate the power and influence of individuals and corporates. Who would think that a profit making organization can shape the global society. Well, multinational corporations are increasingly seen as careers of globalization. 

Recently, I read about the marketing strategies of a company called De Beers. I am sure undergraduate and Masters' level marketing students have come across this case. But this is the first time I have read about this company. De Beers is renowned for its jewellery business, particularly for its diamond product line. How they have developed and executed their marketing strategies are not only fascinating but also inspiring. How they have ingrained their marketing 'tag line' in Western societies is phenomenal.

Initially, the company thought that consumers use diamonds as a fashion. But, a market research by an advertising company changed this perception. It found that fashion was not the key reason why consumers bought diamonds but but rather it was because they were a symbol of love. So they decided to market diamonds as a symbol of love and commitment. They came up with the tag line, 'A Diamond Is Forever' in 1947, which is arguably the best advertising slogan of the twentieth century. 

For me, more intriguing than the tag line is the marketing strategies used by De Beers to promote this tag line.They used the following marketing strategies:
  • writing (or re-writing) scenes for Hollywood movies that injected diamonds into romantic relationships between men and women
  • giving diamonds to movie stars to use as symbols of indestructible love 
  •  placing celebrity stories and photographs in magazines and newspapers to reinforce the link between diamonds and romance
  • using fashion designers to talk on radio programs about the “trend towards diamonds commissioning artists like Picasso, Dali, and Dufy to paint pictures for advertisements, conveying the idea that diamonds were unique works of art 
These strategies have made diamonds a symbol of love as a strong belief of the Western societies. Today, hardly any marriage in Western societies take place without an engagement, and few engagements take place without a diamond engagement ring, regardless of the economic status or the social position of the bride and groom. The size of the diamond in the engagement ring may reflect the affluence of the couple.

For me, this case has significant importance for individuals, organizations and society. First, research and development is a pre-requisite for any marketing effort. Second, an eye-catching 'tag line' is no use without sound marketing strategies. The success depends on how the marketing strategies are executed and implemented. Third, corporates and individuals are capable of shaping the environment and society in which they are embedded.

Note: This is part 1 of the reflection of a reading on De Beers marketing strategies. Over the last 70 years, they have been refining and redeveloping their market campaigns. They have never been complacent in terms of marketing. I will be reflecting on them in the future. Please note that my reflection is focused only on the company's marketing strategies.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Where are we heading?

Today marks the International Day to End Violence against Women and the start of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence. United Nations encourages us to see what actions we can take to end violence against women and girls. I believe this is a noble cause that we all should pursue. It appears that some NGOs in the Maldives are organising rallies and other activities to create awareness about the violence against women. However, it seems that some of us (Maldivians) have already started making a mockery of these activities in the social media. Some have already labelled these activities as a disturbance. Others have been questioning about the need to have such a gathering at a prayer time. Yet others have condemned the organisers and police blocking the roads and preventing people going to Asru prayers. I don't know what's wrong with our fellow citizens. We keep on using religion as a political tool to pursue political agenda. We condemn anything we don't like in the name of religion.

It is a fact that the Maldives is far behind in protecting and advancing women rights despite protection and rights of women being guaranteed by our religion. I am at the moment living abroad (in a 'civilised' western society) where women stand equally as men. The value of equality is well embedded in this culture. I can share with you one recent incident which reflects this. Recently, a popular radio breakfast host made an unreasonable comment against a woman journalist who has written an article criticising the radio host. The public reaction to the comment was disproportionately strong and swift, condemning the comment. Even the sponsors, most of them are corporate heavy weights have started withdrawing their sponsorship from the show. This reflects how much women rights are valued in this society.

As a person who is passionately observing and following social issues, I wonder where we are heading. We are becoming more intolerant and extremist in all aspects. Only time will tell where we are heading.