Communications is now complex and a rapidly evolving field, youngsters who plan to join this industry should be Adaptive, expect Constant Change, Engage in the conversation, Build Alliances, Be Anticipative, Focus on Impact and the Results and lastly develop Skills to adapt digital media, says Shravani Dang, Experienced leader in Corporate Communications, Citizenship, Diversity, Board Member APACD. In a candid interview with Richa Seth, she shares her experiences and insights, please read on the interview below.
1. Tell us about yourself and the exciting journey you have had over the past decade in the field of corporate and media communications?
As a communicator, I speak about my organization and not about myself so it is a tough call to do so! I have worked in for both Indian and MNC organizations for profit and not for profit organizations and across sectors- IT (HCL & CSC), Financial Services (Fidelity), not for profit (Delhi University, CARE) Industrial (Avantha). I am privileged to have the experience in developing and implementing communications strategies and working closely with senior executives. This also means that the challenge to work with diverse teams is actually a most interesting and stimulating part. It’s learning about countries, cultures, work practices, economies, priorities and so much more. Working with teams globally allows me to exercise both my strong interpersonal and motivational skills and use my intuitive sense of tact and diplomacy.
2. What is the importance of the role of a communications department in such large conglomerates?
“Effective communicationis a building block of successful organizations”. At conglomerates, Corporate Communications is a service-oriented function which enhances the organisation’s image credibly and strengthens its competitive advantage among its multiple internal and external stakeholders through proactive and two-way communications. Communications also helps to win the trust and confidence of various stakeholders.
At large conglomerates, the Communications department is its public face and builds the brand image and reputation both externally and internally. As conglomerates straddle multiple businesses, organizational reputation is an asset and communicators play a large role in maintaining and increasing reputational capital. A reputation measurement with regular audits and listing of reputational challenges and vulnerabilities, goals and opportunities is critical here.
At Avantha- the communications departments’ main business is to enhance the Avantha brand and reputation credibly.
3. Please could you tell us, how do you manage the herculean task of consistent and appropriate messaging/communications of the eight companies and six affiliated organizations that you oversee at the Avantha Group?
“Think Big. Question. Dare. Stand out.” This is the motto of the Communications function at the Avantha Group. We use a results-oriented approach for traditional, digital and emerging methods while facilitating Avantha to manage both corporate and brand reputation.
At Avantha, we take deep dives to discover, shape and build the Avantha story in the right place globally. Like most organizations, the Communications strategy includes the Avantha story and its narrative across platforms and channels. The Communications function operates at two levels – Group and Entities. We have an engagement model between the entities and the Group. This enables us to work together effectively. For some of the smaller entities- we incubate the Communications function.
4. Do you have an external agency managing your communications on traditional and social media platforms? If yes, how does it tie in with your overall communication strategy?
We use agencies for all such functions and activation and it is imperative that they link up to the Avantha Communications strategy.
5. Please can you share your experience of a successful PR/Integrated communications campaign that worked very well for Avantha Group?
A once in a lifetime integrated campaign was my remit when I joined the Group. The task was to understand, define, devise, execute and leverage an identity for the newly formed Group of companies under the leadership of the Chairman. From the qualitative and quantitative surveys to understanding what our brand is, what is the personality and character and then defining it was a start point. I worked with the best market research agencies and brand advisors to create an image of what we are and what we stand for. Then came the expression of the name options, articulation of the vision and values and selection of logo.
We rolled this out the entire programme same day across our offices globally with precision. All channels of communications were used. Incredible today the Avantha name and brand is well recognized globally in this short span of time. Launched the Avantha Group’s first internal communications platform-Avantha Times- Avantha’s monthly digitised newsletter collating organisation information and updates from across business sector for employees worldwide. Initial 2-pages now expanded to 30 pages. Awarded Asian Publishing Awards for Innovative Corporate Communications.
Two cover stories in Business India, BusinessWorld and multiple stories in leading global publications- Wall Street Journal, Knowledge@Wharton, Financial Times, Economist, Forbes among the many ensued.
6. Your comment on ‘Women can’t have it all’, what are the unique challenges you face when you managed communications of large reputed brands with large employee base as well as large presence across geographies?
Gender has never been an issue- I am a professional and meritocracy has always prevailed.
7. Tell us about the objective of setting up APACD (Asia Pacific Association of Communication Directors) , could you touch upon some of the initiatives/activities undertaken by this group?
On June 20th, 2014 more than 80 senior communicators from 15 countries gathered in Hong Kong at the HSBC headquarters to launch the APACD, the first international network for in-house communication professional across the Asia-Pacific region.
The APACD is planning some exciting and engaging initiatives. To have a strong and solid basis, we have launched our country networks. By hosting debates, presentations and discussions on the latest trends and concerns in PR and corporate communications, we aim to gather and share the accumulated knowledge of our members and peers and to grow a strong network.
Our think tanks, the APACD Working Groups, will offer further important platforms for expertise and thorough peer-exchange. Working Groups will either explore specific concerns or areas of interest, or discuss the common communication challenges faced by a given industry. Moreover, the APACD is publishing Communication Director magazine, a leading resource for information and analysis on corporate communications and PR, as well as provide members with practical service brochures that will offer expertise and solutions to a wide variety of concerns in today’s world of PR. We have recently launched our Indian Country Network. The topic of the event is “Communications: The vital link for business, brand and bottom line” with two expert speakers -Dr. Mukund Rajan, Brand Custodian and Group Spokesperson, Tata Group and Nishant K. Rao, Country Manager, LinkedIn India. At our event, Mukund Rajan and Nishant K. Rao shared their thoughts, from the perspective of business leaders, on the strategic nature of communications, the opportunities and challenges the communications function must embrace in order to be even more successful. The session was moderated by Anant Rangaswami, editor of Storyboard on CNBC-TV18.
8. What will be your advise/recommendations for youngsters who are planning to join corporate communications?
Here’s my recommendation for young communicators
- Be adaptive, expect constant change
- Engage in the conversation
- Build alliances
- Be anticipative
- Focus on impact and results, not activities
- Understand that communications is now complex and rapidly moving field
- Understand, debate new forms of social media and big data