Girish Balachandran | The Innovator 25 Asia-Pacific 2020

Girish Balachandran

Founder & Managing Partner 

On Purpose
Bangalore, India


“Make space for people from outside the industry. Having started as a chef, myself, it's been a fascinating journey."

After a first career as a chef, and several stints in comms jobs in the UK and India, Girish Balachandran launched On Purpose in 2017 as one of India’s first communications firms specializing in promoting social change. Balachandran’s idea was clearly on target. Since launch, On Purpose has experienced consecutive year-over-year grow of 125% by rallying support for the likes of climate action, public health, education and gender equality. In three short years, On Purpose has earned the trust of organizations such as the Gates Foundation, USAID, World Wildlife Fund, Smart Power India and Hindustan Coca-Cola, which have enlisted the firm’s help in garnering support for their causes and societal investments at a time when stakeholder attention to such efforts is at a high. Which is no surprise, given that Balachandran lives his personal life with purpose, too. Climbing Kilimanjaro with the PRCA UK to raise funds for Leonard Cheshire Disability, and cycling 122 kilometers in a single day for cancer research are among the efforts Balachandran has engaged in on his off time. 

How do you define innovation?  
Making things easier to do, clearer to understand and more effective in matching action with intent.

What is the most innovative comms/marketing initiative you've seen in the last 12 months?
The work done by Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages in their campaign 'Inspired by India' has shown the true power of communications to position a legacy brand as relevant to India. Its activation through music, poetry and the focus on diversity and inclusion, goes so much beyond the product and is a good reflection of what the brand stands for.

In your opinion, what brands and/or agencies are most innovative around PR and marketing? 
Godrej is pushing the boundaries of creativity and impact, every day. Netflix's language as a reflection of its culture and brand tone is pretty inspirational, too.

Describe a moment in your career that you would consider 'innovative.' 
Being called by the chief communications officer at Nomura, on the day its acquisition of Lehman Brothers was announced in September 2008, in response to an email I wrote to him suggesting he could do with extra support from a team experienced in merger and integration communications. We didn't win the business, but just getting to present before the Board the next day of the acquisition announcement was pretty good validation of being able to identify and approach a brand with a potential solution to a problem.

Who do you admire for his/her approach to innovation?  
Sujit Patil at Godrej, for being able to innovate in communications with a solid focus on business outcomes. Also, for leading from the front in inspiring his team and his agencies. Amith Prabhu, for consistently re-inventing how PR is learnt and experienced by so many of our team members seeking inspiration.

How do you get out of a creativity rut? 
It's been pretty relentless this year. Given an opportunity, it would be great to get the entire team together again and just talk, face-to-face, have a drink, together, talk rubbish for a while. That's when we'll really get our mojo back.

What advice would you give to the PR industry around embracing innovation? 
Make space for people from outside the industry. It's been a delight to watch people come into this profession and really excel at what they do. Having started as a chef, myself, it's been a fascinating journey.

What would you be doing if you weren't doing your current job? 
Feeling miserable working for someone else. Becoming an entrepreneur has helped me drop any illusions of being smarter than my peers and made me realise my shortcomings as a leader. I couldn't get this any other way and am grateful for the journey.

Which book/movie/TV show/podcast/playlist/other cultural source has helped you get through this year or provided inspiration?
The Vikings. Nothing significant was ever achieved by being reasonable.

What's your favourite time of day and why? 
6.30 am - morning tea with my wife, Pinky and our dog, Maya.