‘Sheikh Aghil’, I was nicknamed by my batchmates.
*Flashback to where it all began*
As I anxiously awaited the outcome of my interview, I was called in by the Placement Committee and the interviewer; who with a very straight face said – “I hope you have your passport ready”, I stood there confused for a moment and then got a pat on my back and that’s when the interviewer said with a smile- “you bagged the international role”. For me that moment felt like an eternity, the dream to work in an FMCG company was now a reality.
With no prior work experience, but with the drive to exceed expectations and the curiosity to learn, I arrived in Dubai, the land of dreams and fantasies. The heat, the prevalence of Indians, especially Malayalees made me feel like I was at home. The place was a cocktail of flashy cars, skyscrapers, affluent individuals who come here to fulfil all the materialistic pleasures of life and well, shawarmas. Dubai, I realised thrived on the motto of 'Largest, Tallest, Biggest' and that became a key takeway to understand the consumer psychology in this particular part of the globe.
The next morning, I arrived at the office of Dabur International, a very vibrant office located in the Jebel Ali Free Trade Zone. This is the headquarter for the majority of international business operations of Dabur. As I walked through the corridors I saw product samples lined up in desks - oral care, hair care, skin care - you could see the entire portfolio of products that Dabur sold across the globe and it would make one wonder how a homegrown company spread its wings so far and wide.
As we settled into the office. I, along with the other intern(we were only 2), sat in the conference room, chatted about our experiences and outlined travel plans for the coming month, however, our touristy fantasies were short lived. We were given an induction by the HR team followed by a brief by all CXOs. It took us some time to digest all the information and while we were calling it a day, we were immediately called in by the CMO.
After a brief conversation with him, he quickly glanced through his laptop and in no time asked us what project we would prefer to work on based on the available options. This is where the first hurdle was introduced to us – “You are to work on 2 Projects, one on Sales/Trade Marketing and the other on Marketing, you need to get used to working hard in order to survive in this industry”, said the World’s Best CMO (India – UAE Business & Social Forum 2017). Each project was a live case that the company was working on or had plans to work on in the near future.
I had throughout my life decided to take challenges head-on, and in a moment of epiphany, I decided to go for the marketing project on Baby Care, despite my obvious lack of know-how of either parenting or babies. For the Sales/Trade Marketing Project I chose the one that required working on understanding the ‘Return over Investment’ of various Trade Marketing activations.
We were immediately asked to meet our mentors, who then explained the objective and what were the expected deliverables from our project. The odyssey had begun.
As I sat through all the knowledge of strategy and marketing gained from my institute in the past few months, I realised it would not be enough. I prepared a rough draft and approached my mentor with hesitance, he asked me to calm down and then he said – “The great thing about this place is that you can approach anyone at any time”
And thus began my journey as I spoke to colleagues from packaging, design, research and development, media planning and trade marketing. Dabur really made you feel like you were a full-time employee, with the caveat that you were supposed to follow the same work ethic that is expected from a full-time employee.
The most challenging part of the journey was to get consumer insights, mostly because my target group was Arab mothers. This was not India and I had to be careful while surveying strangers. I mustered all the courage I had and targeted areas frequently visited by mothers, including maternity shops, malls and baby shops to survey them.
The other major challenge was to convince my mentor to accept my ideas, he was highly analytical in his approach, and I got so used to his usual statement- “I want to see numbers, Aghil” that I developed a compulsive disorder of carrying data every time I went to him.
The parts to the puzzle slowly started fitting in as I learnt the various aspects of marketing including development of a new product, creating a go-to-market strategy, designing ATL and BTL campaigns.
Honestly this was a completely new area for me, I realised that Trade Marketing is an evolving field and one whose importance is growing year after year, more so in a country like UAE, where, unlike India Trade happens predominantly through the Modern Trade outlets and hence the importance of Trade Marketing and Shopper Marketing grows exponentially.
It took me some time to realise that Trade Marketing managers are always short on time, highly number driven and result oriented, especially during the end of the month. To get time from them, I had to be at my persistent best.
With that, I took note of my mentor’s routine and ensured that I found time to catch hold of him. At times, he would be in meetings throughout the day, but once he was done with it, he ensured that he always attended to my queries and gave me guidance on how to proceed.
Of all the things he discussed with me, I remember one important advice that changed my experience completely, he said – “You will gain little from the office, you need to go to the market”
The point he was trying to make was that calculating ‘Return Over Investment’ sitting behind excel sheets is one thing, and it's another to see for yourself how a ‘Buy One Get One Free’ offer is affecting the consumer’s psyche.
My mentor connected me to Sales Managers from the distributor’s team and henceforth I spent a lot of time in the market and covered all the possible channels – Modern Trade, Traditional Trade, Wholesale, Vans and spoke to the stakeholders and consumers to find out the efficacy of various Trade Marketing spends and came back with a number of recommendations.
With that understanding, I sat down with the IT/Sales Analyst team to figure out how the data is recorded and analysed. The idea was to recommend certain changes that would help the Trade Marketing managers evaluate the ROI for various activities.
The Grand Finale
All in all, I completed both the projects and learnt certain aspects of not only of marketing but also the niche field of Trade/Shopper Marketing. The one major takeaway from my internship is Dabur International’s focus on developing a business acumen in all the employees, every employee must keep the P&L at the back of his mind while taking decisions. I was grilled multiple times on the profitability of my suggestions, more so in the end-review, and thanks to the guidance I received from both my mentors, I dodged the rapid fire from the CXOs taking the review.
Over time I imbibed various attributes from the colleagues I observed in the office, made great friends, ate a tonne of shawarmas, and learnt skills that will help me achieve my dream of having a successful career in the FMCG industry.
I guess I did end up feeling like a Sheikh after all.