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In Jamaica's telecoms 'war', the pendulum swings

Thursday, July 19, 2012    

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ALL of a sudden, the sleeping telecoms giant, LIME has awakened and is back in the fight. Behind this resurgence is the diminutive Grace Silvera, whose disarming beauty belies her marketing genius and a ferocious tenacity.

And, market leader Digicel knows it's in a fight. For at least the last 10 years, Denis O'Brien's Irish-owned company had had its way. LIME's predecessor, Cable and Wireless — with a history of the worst public relations image that any corporate company could have — virtually handed Digicel the mobile market on a platter.

Digicel says its customer base in Jamaica grew to 100,000 customers in approximately 100 days and is now in the region of over two million users, or 70 per cent of the mobile phone market — a commercial feat of no mean order in just over 10 years of operation.

The widespread view was that Jamaicans not only embraced the new company, but used the occasion to send a big signal to Cable and Wireless, now LIME, that they were in a sour mood.

This was the mountain Silvera had to climb when Chairman Chris Dehring unleashed her into the fray in January last year. One newspaper prophetically headlined it: "Grace Silvera sweetens LIME".

Appointed vice president for the twin portfolios of marketing and communications for LIME's 13 regional territories, Silvera took over a brand refresh programme started three years ago. That programme had included a star-studded line up of artistes who ramped up the market attention to LIME's new look, but which enjoyed mixed results, including the hasty retreat from the jailed Vybz Kartel's 'Teacher's Pet' reality TV show.

But switching the focus from promotions to marketing, Silvera and her team recently launched three new campaigns, the latest aimed at grabbing back share in the mobile market.

Strategically, LIME asked Silvera to take extraordinary responsibility for Jamaica, a temporary assignment, while the company is recruiting for a permanent head of marketing for Jamaica. What LIME is relying on is the dynamic, no-nonsense yet endearing style that Silvera is known for in the trade.

Prior to the stint at LIME, Silvera blazed a trail at Red Stripe in several roles then took less than a year to re-brand and revitalise the state-run Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC) on secondment, saying she wanted to include national service on her already impressive resume. Importantly, she got to work at LIME.

Mobilising her small team, she commandeered the recent launch of the Talk EZ campaign around new mobile rates, within less than a month achieving what she claims is a "90 per cent consumer awareness".

In response, Digicel took a rare misstep by taking the Office of Utilities Regulation to court, over its handling of a regime for lower rates, but which, apparently unintended, suggested the company was not as favourable to competition as popular perception was. Digicel has since abandoned the action.

"We are now regaining some mobile market share and consumers love the new offer," Silvera said in an interview with the Jamaica Observer yesterday.

"Brand affinity has also increased for LIME to levels not experienced in many years. Social media has 'exploded' with overwhelmingly positive responses on the company's revitalised brand image, new mobile rates, speed to market and engaging commercials. To our consumers, the brand now has meaning and a 'soul'," she insisted.

Since the introduction of their new J$2.99 mobile rate — subsequently matched by Digicel's $2.89 'sweetest rate' — "there has been a turn in mobile subscriber base, handset acquisition and usage". Silvera said that the Talk EZ campaign preceded a new brand campaign, which included the slogan "Value Every Moment".

"Our LIME Ambassadors (staff) are our biggest assets. They are passionate, quick to support and truly have the brand at heart so when we organised a casting for them to be featured in our ads, the response was tremendous," added Silvera.

She also organised the company's first gospel concert on Holy Thursday with gospel sensation Kevin Downswell, whose recent album tour LIME sponsored, followed by a lunch-hour prayer meeting at their Carlton Crescent offices. The events were beamed across the island and region with the use of LIME technology.

Silvera said her mandate from Dehring to support the transformation of the brand, redesign the structure, establish processes and embed a strong marketing culture within the function.

She has done that and more. "We also now have a comprehensive governance process around budgets to ensure tighter fiscal prudence. When I just joined I was a bit taken a-back by the real scope of work to be done. No one had realised how daunting a task it was until we held up a mirror to ourselves and our desired best practice. But, we managed to achieve quite a lot within a short time frame.

"LIME is one of the toughest challenges of my career but I'm very pleased with what we have achieved as a team. With the recent regulatory accommodation, we are now on our way to recovery.

Explaining her decision to join LIME, Silvera said that after the JCDC, she was interested in a new challenge and a new sector. "Telecoms has now rounded off my experience. I'm delighted to have come in to perform a turn-around and honoured to work with some of the best minds in Jamaica and the Caribbean. God dictates my path and with Him it's always secure.

What's next for Grace Silvera?

"Former president of Red Stripe, John Irving once told me that 'the world is my oyster' and I've never forgotten that. Right now, I'm focusing on doing a good job at LIME. I want to leave an imprint that will last well beyond me there," she said.

— Desmond Allen

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