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Sri Lanka has a lot of homework to do in terms of marketing: SLIM President

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Pradeep Edward was elected the 40th President of the Sri Lanka Institute of Marketing at the recently-held Annual General Meeting. A dynamic personality with immense experience in the fields of sales and marketing, he speaks about his plans for SLIM and marketing in Sri Lanka. Following are excerpts:

Q: On the advent of you being appointed as President of SLIM, could you briefly recall your journey through the ranks of the national body for marketing?

A: I joined SLIM in the year 2000. Most of my marketing related studies have been completed at SLIM. I became the Charter President of the SLIM MBA Alumni and subsequently a Director of SLIM CPM Society. I joined the Ex-Co in 2013 and moved up the ranks as Assistant Secretary and Secretary. Prior to being elected as President I held the term for two years as a Vice President of SLIM. 

It has been an incredible journey and I could not have made it without some key figures in my life. My family has been very supportive in understanding the fact that this is a responsibility apart from work, and time consuming. The past committees and presidents and my current team have put their faith on me and I look forward to making this year a valuable one for SLIM elevating its stature.

Q: What motivated you to enter the field of marketing? 

A: I didn’t ‘stumble’ upon marketing, it was a very conscious choice. My initial partiality lay with sales and that was where my beginnings were – in pharmaceutical sales. I liked the side of it which enabled me to meet new people every day and the networking opportunities it presented. I was not fully aware of what marketing was. However, once I was involved in sales, I realised the importance of the aspect of marketing as well and decided to pursue it as a qualification.

In addition, I also realised that sales and marketing alone could not stand for itself. If one is to manage a business or company there are other fields that are crucial, like HR and finance. Therefore, I ensured that I obtained the knowledge and skills befitting for a general manager’s role by pursuing these avenues as well. 

I am a firm non-believer in having role models. My personal view is that there are leaders who one can look up to and be inspired by, but one should not try to imitate them. It is important to understand your inner strength and develop yourself. Having said that, I deeply admire one gentleman, Nimal Dias Jayasinhe, the Chairman of Emerchemie Ltd. Jayasinhe was my first boss when I commenced my career at Emerchemie, where I continued for over a decade. To this day, I look up to him for advice and guidance. 

Q: You currently serve as the CEO of Lanka Hospitals Diagnostics Ltd. Tell us about your educational and professional background?

A: I am a Certified Marketer and Chartered Marketer of CIM – UK. I’m also a Fellow member of the Institute of Management Specialists – UK. Apart from my portfolio with SLIM I have also served as President of the Pharma Promoters Association of Sri Lanka and as Secretary of the Sri Lanka Chamber of the Pharmaceutical Industry. 

One of the important roles I currently have is being a member of the National Branding Committee through which we are attempting to develop a strategic global campaign for Sri Lankan Exports. This committee was appointed by the Department of National Planning of the Ministry of National Policies and Economic Affairs in coordination with the Export Development Board. Apart from these I hold an MBA from the Buckinghamshire University, Postgraduate Diplomas in Marketing and Business Management as well as a Diploma in Finance. 

Out of the 20 + years in my career, 15 years have been in a Managerial capacity and eight years in the level of General Management/COO and CEO. I have been privileged enough to serve as a Judge and Technical Advisor at both local and international programs such as the National Exporters Awards and Asia Marketing Excellence Awards. 

Q: What is your view of marketing in Sri Lanka and SLIM’s contribution to it?

A: Similar to many other areas, Sri Lanka has much talent in the field of marketing as well, but we fail to achieve the mark at the final outcome. I have been involved in several judging panels of several awards and seen the magnitude of thinking that is behind the campaigns that come from our very own region. A major drawback I see is that we Sri Lankans tend to focus only on the areas of our personal expertise. Marketers are focused only on marketing. They do not attempt to have a cohesive approach. As a result, though we think that some of our local campaigns are amazing, we actually fall behind in comparison to our region. 

Sri Lanka has a lot of homework to do in terms of marketing. One serious need is getting international exposure. This is an area which SLIM has been concentrating on. We initiated this by bringing down Philip Kotler. Last year we had Ron Kaufman conducting a Knowledge Forum and CEO Forum on Services Marketing. This year everything is ready for the forums with none other than John Mattone, coach of Steve Jobs. One can notice that we are exposing Sri Lankan marketers to different levels of marketing and not confined to the usual over-used topics like branding. 

We have several national level award programs for manufacturers and companies. Unfortunately, we see that companies focus on things like infrastructure development but very rarely on marketing. In fact, we receive entries in which the column for marketing is not even filled. This is because they do not understand the importance of marketing your brand or product. At events such as SLIM Brand Excellence, we see that we have excellent products but they are not marketed well enough to be brought from the village to the city, let alone to be marketed internationally. This is one of the reasons behind of SLIM introducing ‘Gamata Marketing,’ where we educate the village based manufacturers about the importance of marketing. 

The SLIM team is currently planning an awards programme for young entrepreneurs and start-ups, which is definitely the future of marketing. The idea behind it is similar to what we had when we launched the digital marketing program at SLIM. Taking cue from the success of this course, we will launch the Digital Marketing Awards this year which is today only a category in brand excellence. SLIM has continued to be proactive in identifying and catering to the needs of the time in the marketing industry.

Q: As far as marketing is concerned, where are we as a country in comparison to the region and the world, and where should we aspire to be?

A: once again my opinion is that we should not try to copy what the other countries are doing. It has not worked for us all these years. Sri Lanka has a lot of potential and assets which other countries do not. It is crucial that we understand our own strengths and develop it step by step. It is very important that we market Sri Lanka at all times possible. I have been part of delegations that represent the country and every time I make it a point to wear the Sri Lanka badge on me. This is a simple way of proliferating the local identity which a majority does not understand. 

We should also decide on what areas we are to develop and do it gradually. What we are doing currently is that we try to develop all industries at once, which is not practical. If you ask me which industry we should focus on first, I would say tourism. Every time that tourism has boomed in this country, we have seen that the rest of the industries reaping its fruits as well. A majority of Sri Lankans can communicate in English and we are innately hospitable people. This is a key asset we have which most others do not. We should also get our segmentation right and aim for high-end tourists to improve the sector. This coupled with effective marketing can develop the industry tremendously. 

Q: Under your leadership, what are the plans for SLIM this year?

A: SLIM is going into its 50th anniversary in a couple of years. So this year we have themed it as ‘The Year of Gratitude’. In the past years we have felicitated our past Presidents, but a President’s role is not easy if not for the support from the rest. Therefore, this year we will be paying our gratitude to all our members, the affiliated associations and especially the staff of SLIM. 

We are also hoping to lay the foundation for the new SLIM building this year, which will house all our operations.  With that I also hope to set up the SLIM archives to document and record our work and achievements. 

The most important aim for this year is to establish our women’s association. Unfortunately SLIM has not produced a female president for the past 47 years. We have quite a number of active female members who have actively contributed to the growth of SLIM, and this year I have three ladies in my committee including the Secretary. We will be focusing on this area as we have some amazing women leading the marketing industry at present.

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