Good Relations India (GRI), one of India's oldest PR firms, has just witnessed a mass exit of staff from its Chennai branch. While the agency insists that the seven employees (of a total of nine) were asked to leave -- with alleged financial irregularities and misappropriation of accounts under investigation -- the staffers who have 'defected' to Hanmer & Partners claim that they left on their own, dissatisfied with the lack of systems and processes at GRI, among other reasons.
Speaking to exchange4media, Meenakshi Sachdev Verma, CEO of GRI, said, "We are taking all measures to ensure that the clients' interests are protected. Our key clients have decided to stay back with us."
With the move, Varghese Cherian, formerly Director-Chennai of GRI, will don the role of Assistant Vice-President for Hanmer & Partners' Chennai office and report to Jaideep Shergill, COO, H&P.
Chronicling the events that led to the move, Verma said, "We were alerted by a good Samaritan last Wednesday that there was a possibility of some people in the Chennai team moving to another agency lock, stock and barrel. Over the last week, we also received anonymous e-mails with respect to vendors, indicating financial irregularities and misappropriation of accounts. The CFO flew in to Chennai on Thursday and I followed soon after, and we came to know that these people were in fact negotiating with several agencies to shift out. This is downright unethical. They asked us if we could match the offers they had, and were willing to stay back if we did."
Further to these talks, Verma said that these employees were asked to put in their papers if they failed to give contractual assurances on several fronts. They are learnt to have resigned on Monday, April 11.
On his part, Varghese explained that the employees who left GRI were not happy with the way the agency was functioning for various reasons. Said he, "Chennai is the only profitable office for the agency. We are disappointed with the lack of systems and procedures even for appraisals, some decisions made in the last few months, approach to new businesses and inter-office relationships."
Varghese admitted that they were indeed negotiating to leave en masse. "We approached four different agencies for taking over the team and some of the existing accounts. The arrangement with Hanmer came through last week, and we put in our papers in spite of the GRI management asking us to stay put."
H&P denies that the move was planned or conscious. "They were speaking to several agencies and were looking to move in any case. They liked the way we worked and the way we handled our businesses. We have been expanding in any case, and have grown to more than 140 people in PR alone in the last five years," said Shergill. He clarified that the new recruits weren't taken on with the objective of getting GRI's businesses, but "as part of a long-term growth plan".
On the alleged financial irregularities, Varghese said, "They have not spoken to us about this so far. In early April, we even got appraisal letters with hikes mentioned." Other sources informed that in the 'talks' on Sunday in Chennai, the employees who threatened to leave were offered an enhanced pay hike to stay on.
Meanwhile, Verma said that a "stringent internal audit" was currently underway, and it would "bring out some more cans of worms".
GRI has had a few organizational changes recently, including the exit of its Director- Mumbai, Vinod Murthy, a few weeks ago.