Behind the scenes with me, Apeejay’s in-house designer, and our award winning employee magazine

By Anirban Dutta

Apeejay Calendar 2019 is getting ready for approvals and Paulina, a marketing colleague in the UK supplying one of the images, delighted me with her questions yesterday. Not everyone understands the creative process or the meaning of a good Design Brief! Owing to the transactional nature of my work with many group companies and departments, I am also guilty of never pushing my point, beyond a point. When I work with someone who is exceptionally “design negative”, I switch my hat to that brand audit  – I handover the brand guidelines and with a straight face, enumerate best practices of font size, colour palate and such :-). 

Sometimes I work with people who respect design a whole lot more than others and that’s the fun part of my job. Earlier this year, an employee magazine I had designed was sent for an Industry award taking me by surprise. Surprise because, we all,  in Corporate Communications have a collective aversion to “awards” that are mushrooming all over but this one I realized was different as Public Relations Council of India (PRCI) where my design was entered for the award is a reputable body of mass communications professionals. Their 2018 competition had attracted  entries from private and public sector companies. In my two decades of experience I know that most companies outsource their employee magazines and it is only in Apeejay that I found a culture of in-sourcing rather than outsourcing. Apeejay Tea Speaks was a humble “in-house” production of our tea company with a pedigree of 13 years behind it and ideally we should not have been able to ace this competition’s entries. But the magazine won the PRCI Award in the print collaterals category!

I was ecstatic! Here there is a happyy picture of managers from Apeejay Tea plantations and Head office holding up their award winning employee magazine which I designed!

 Me holding the PRCI ‘s winnerTrophy Award and posing here with the Senior Management 

I am germane to this magazine and its design!  It was a year or two after my joining Corporate Communications, as a junior to the main design head, that a requisition landed on my table which I still have somewhere –

Please attempt a cover page design and one inside page design. No fancy frills, lots of space to breathe kind of layout, with large font size to ensure readability. The cover design should be meaningful , have visual communication value and not decorative. The audience of the magazine is very diverse. It will be in English with an Assamese version.”  

It was signed by our HOD and the year was 2006! I was excited. It was a job that the senior designer in our team had done so far! My first few cover designs were rejected. Each rejection came back appended with detailed reasons for rejection thus each one was better than the one before. The fifth or the sixth one was accepted! A few edits by the Company Managing Director then and it was announced as the forthcoming cover of one of the issues of the year 2006. Each issue thereafter came to me! Acing this assignment brought me into focus and was pretty much the turning point for me and since then I have designed innumerable Internal and External communications collaterals.

I can safely say that the clearest design brief I receive is from the Apeejay Tea Speaks Editorial team. I don’t even come into the picture till nearly the middle of the life cycle of an edition if the edition does not have a pre-determined theme. I am not involved in any meetings till the editorial team has eyes on majority of the content and can see a theme take shape. It wasn’t always like this. In the first few years of Apeejay Tea Speaks inception, I or the senior designer, used to be called into meetings right at the outset in the life cycle of an edition!I don’t think it worked as well as it does now. 

I like to create ‘content first design’. To do that I have to read the content before I start anything otherwise all design will look like a decoration.  Though I am not a bookworm, what interests me most is the design of the book when I am reading anything.  At the outset, reading through the content of the magazine was tough because I like to read ‘narrative journalism’ kind of content and I love to listen to ‘story songs.’ but I ploughed through it!  Now, with practice, once the content is in, I am the king of the show. I fight for pictures because they tell half the story while the team fights against editing out content. Chairman Mr Karan Paul sees Apeejay Tea Speaks thrice in the life cycle of every edition. First the content plan and the theme, then the cover design with content laid out and thereafter the magazine’s first dummy print run. Here I am with Sir …..

Me receiving the Long Service Award from the Paul Family.  My daughter and Ms Priti Paul’s youngest are also in the picture!

I have no idea how the Chairman takes the time out but he does! Every single edition of the last 13 years of publishing for Apeejay Tea Speaks has never gone to print without his approval stage-wise!  Never! Sir is involved in all things creative and I always hang on to every word he says. It makes me very happy to follow his lead on design because his inputs always make the products I design look better! In fact the issue that won the PRCI award for excellence had already gone to print when Sir commented on the cover design – “Anirban it lacks a colour throw” – when we were at our Group’s annual picnic. I had packed up for the week ( I am part of the Picnic Organizing committee ) and was ready to slumber the weekend. Here’s a picture of how I am during a Picnic 🙂 but I had to go home and work!

But amongst the fun mayhem I found a quiet corner and looked at the “Cover” on my phone. Sir was right…We had to put some colour! It was a scramble to issue a STOP PRESS to Anderson, our super-efficient and probably the best ever printer who was already into printing. The team at Anderson is like my extended arm and even they knew that implementing Sir’s advice would make the publication better than it already was looking so they stopped press with least amount of fuss and loss. I worked from home on the design and the magazine finally went to bed at Anderson on Sunday night.  It won the PRCI award two months later for content and design!

Personally, I feel too much feedback is too much to handle! But my boss, our HOD, is different and she has made seeking feedback part of the post project protocol, a competency  that the Communications staff display and are rated for in the annual performance appraisals! We are to ask people proactively about the work we put out there!  My character is such that I wait for appreciation to come but she asks us to go out and ask people about the work we put out! It was really hard at first for me at least though under pressure I do , do it. For this magazine I asked the CEO of our book retailing company if he received Apeejay Tea Speaks and if he had read it. His response was “It is so reader friendly. The way content is written and presented – it is very real.” On an assignment for Apeejay Shipping, I visited three of our ships and I asked the Captain and the crew,  who are most of the year on high seas, if they received the magazine and their response was good with some useful suggestions.

Now, I understand much better, Communications professionals should go out and ask people  – a lot of our internal audiences hold back on suggestions that might end as great  improvement because they did not want to step out of protocol , just exactly as I wait for appreciation to come !  Design is so central to Internal Communications thus to and fro around what worked and what failed to elicit desired response is important to achieve objectives.  Take the award winning Apeejay Tea Speaks for example . It is not a corporate brochure and neither is the product we manufacture a luxury item – Tea is for the masses – so its magazine should serve as a simple communication vehicle and thus the design has to be inclusive not “extraordinary”.  

I often design for external communications too. Simplicity works. Here’s an Outdoors for Apeejay School which got a good response from parents.  

There are some quirky pleasures of my designing job here.  My boss visualizes a collateral as a communication vehicle to the desired audience. She used to be a more chilled out earlier and would take pains to make me change my designs when they weren’t working or getting client approvals. (all my clients are group companies and departments)

Me with our HOD
Ms Renu Kakkar, Director CSR & Communications and my colleagues for a team breakfast at Flurys nearly a decade ago.

Today, I think she has less time so when the conflict between client, content and design gets hot,  she just takes over my designing software and does the layout herself balancing design and content! I pretend to be annoyed that my design is being side-lined and she pretends to be exasperated with my computer! This is a very hilarious exercise. I also know that this kind of deep involvement makes my work look better. Once we get an approval I am happy and see that she has moved on already and was only helping me arrive at my best shot!

Here I am getting “advice” from my HOD., . 

Another big, BIG, pleasure of my job is that I get my name in the credits often!

Many companies credit design agencies in their advertising and promotions but I bet it is rare that you will find a company that credits the design to an employee. But in Apeejay they do !

In Apeejay Tea Speaks my name goes separately in the credits which hides the name of the Editor in the Editorial Team ! Here’s a picture of Table of Contents and you can see my name right at the bottom in Design Credit! 

Isn’t that so wonderful for me! ? More than anything, this should tell the universe, Apeejay Tea Speaks serves, how much importance Design is given in our Internal Communications practice at Apeejay Surrendra Group!  

Even for ISR, an Employee Volunteering Program, an effort I have been leading for the past few years and mostly involves employees working outside of office for social issues and filling skills gaps in various NGOs, we are really focused on how emails go out asking employees to step up and volunteer. Its really hard to inspire people to do anything other than home and office duties!

Here is our primary communication making volunteers realize that when they volunteer and do it well , they really are taking forward Apeejay brand values – Solid, Youthful, Committed, Inspired and Entrepreneurial…

and Here is a Certificate of Appreciation that I give volunteers along with their reporting heads and HR for their volunteering work with NGOs. 

Me with Mr Ramakrishn Ghosh, General Manager – HR and Typhoo East India head Santosh Tiwari felicitating a volunteer from Typhoo 

and Here is how I use it in Training events so people sharing their skills like my colleague from Oxford Marketing, Soumen, know what they are doing and Trainees from an NGO understand what is being attempted by Apeejay. 

We use Design variously in our Internal Communications campaigns too. For example I led the effort to create Ship Art aboard all vessels of Apeejay Shipping to cajole all employees to Unite for Wild Life and watch for illegal wild life and wild life products trafficking through high seas as the the company is a signatory to the Buckingham Palace Declaration.

Me with volunteers and Ship Captain and behind is the Ship Art we spent hours drawing in the Crew Smoke Rooms!

Overall as you can see I have a great fun job which now is not wholly focused on me as a Designer because I have grown to take up a lot more responsibility, but using design which remains my first love !

Once the Apeejay Calendar 2019 goes to print , it will be that time of the year when employee magazines are being made. I look forward and have some surprising looks in store!

Anirban Dutta is Manager – Brand and ISR®, Corporate Communications, Apeejay Surrendra Group

PRCI is a national body of public relations professionals,corporate communicators, advertising & media professionals and academicians spread across 30 chapters in India. PRCI and its juries give out awards for collaterals annually across 22 categories to recognize talent and professional standards in print, online and audio-visual communication, events and campaigns.

5 thoughts on “Behind the scenes with me, Apeejay’s in-house designer, and our award winning employee magazine

  1. Happy to see you all reaching out to the society as being your individual social responsibility. Keep up the good work missing all you guys will try to make a trip to see all you guys at the earliest until then just keep rocking 😃

    Liked by 1 person

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