How Sonal Sharma Became A Shining Example of Integrity at Nielsen

Sonal recently relocated to New Jersey to join the Client Service team supporting a large CPG client, after a few years with Nielsen’s Consumer Insights and Innovation teams in India. While working in Consumer Insights, Sonal unknowingly walked into a undercover political sting operation being conducted by a major news organization in India. This is her story of professionalism and integrity.

One day during India’s 2014 election, I was called to the front desk of Nielsen’s India office to meet with two gentlemen inquiring about a political survey. They told me they were public relations representatives for a major political party, and they wanted Nielsen to help them do some research. They needed to understand the types of topics the political party should look into, the troubles of the people in the community and any other information that could help them portray the party in a better light. I took their asks at face value and never thought that they had any other intentions.

Initially, our conversation was similar in nature to previous discussions I’ve had with clients, but it slowly turned into them asking me to tweak the polls in their favor. They attempted multiple times to get me to agree to alter data depending on the outcome, and every time I said “No, that’s not how we work. We cannot accommodate this request.” When it was clear to them that I would not agree to skew the results, we ended our conversation, and I went on with the rest of my day.

The next morning, I was on my way into the office, and my team lead called me up out of the blue.  He asked “Can you tell me everything you said during your meeting about the political survey yesterday?” I was a little taken aback. I started thinking to myself: “He knew that I declined their request. Why is he asking me to do this?” Once I got to the office, I quickly found out why.

“Operation Prime Minister” was a sting operation being run by News Express, which at the time was a new media channel that was looking to make a splash. In addition to Nielsen, the gentlemen I had met with visited 11 other market research providers of political polling with the same ask. I was shocked to hear that I was the only one who had rebuffed their attempts to get companies to agree to manipulate data.

As I look back, I can honestly say that I never struggled over the course of the discussion and never once thought about compromising. You often hear that the client is always right, but the values that my parents instilled in me and the company’s values made it very easy to say no.

My only worry in the aftermath was that the media might take my words out of context, but thankfully that did not happen. Even if it had been spun differently, I knew that my team would stand by me no matter what.

It was even more amazing to have people across the company personally reach out and personally thank me for doing the right thing, including Nielsen’s CEO, Mitch Barns! While this situation taught me to be a bit more on guard, I can’t think of anything I would have done differently. Sticking to your principles and standing up for what you believe is always the right path.