PR has become a core strategic function across serious organizations and the bullishness towards “achhe-din” for PR going forward comes from current trends and increasing demands from stakeholders on transparency, authenticity, engagement that are essentially PR bastions; which means PR and communications professionals will have a wider role to play opines Sujit Patil, Vice President & Head, Corporate Communications at Godrej Industries & Associate Cos in an interview with Richa Seth, read on to know more.
- You have headed communications department for two large corporate institutions? What are the top 5 things that you would cherish as life time learning?
If I have to reflect on my journey so far and sum up 5 top of the mind learnings in an organizational and functional context, they would be in no particular order, the following:
- Humility & People Connect – I had and continue to enjoy the privilege of working with some of the best bosses/leaders, earlier with the Tata’s and now with the Godrej Group. One thing that I admire about them is their humility, people connect and clarity of thought. I guess if the attributes of all our communications are also such, the effectiveness tends to be higher.
- Organizational interest is of paramount importance – In our profession, dilemmas are common. Be it communicating bad news, balancing adverse perceptions, or even as simple as deciding whom to give an exclusive story, situations tend to get ambiguous. Keeping organizational interest as a guiding star in the decision making process always works well as it is a given that people will inevitably align.
- Seek help and be Interdependent – Even if you are functionally gifted, the ability to break silos and go beyond your role to enlist people’s support across functions to ensure the success of your tasks is critical. More so for a communications professional, this is of utmost importance. The ability to create interdependencies across an organization is as crucial as keeping oneself updated on the latest in the industry.
- Build and nurture relations – Relations matter. A robust universe of service providers, media, and key stakeholders is the biggest weapon for any successful communicator. Being part of industry forums and sharing experiences is yet another great way to network.
- Pursue a hobby with passion – We all need energizers that temporarily take our minds away from the day-to-day routine and bring us back refreshed. For a field that is so dynamic, burnouts are common. Artistic pursuits or hobbies that can stimulate thinking certainly helps a communicator perform better.
- What is the importance of the role of a communications department in such large conglomerates?Perhaps the importance of a good communications department is best understood by simply imagining what things would be like in its absence. I believe, large organizations are microcosms of a complex world full of diversity. With multiple stakeholders across multiple businesses and geographies; within and outside the organization enabled by a global information landscape, this maze can be complicated. The role of a specialized communications department under such circumstances is to strategically plan, manage and sustain communication around organizational imperatives across the key audiences. In doing so it helps establish a conducive relationship with the stakeholders, takes responsibility of the overall reputation and contributes towards the achievement of organizational goals.While the consequences of taking a negligent approach to financial management are well known and documented, large conglomerates have now realized the dangers that come with taking a casual approach to managing their communications. A robust communication function effectively orchestrates flow of information internally and externally and owns these processes. So while a lack of communication can be seen as a silent organizational killer, in simpler positive terms, the department helps leaders get closer to its stakeholders, builds engagement, aligns them with the organizational strategy and creates a reason to stay invested!
- What are the unique challenges you face when you manage communications of companies with large employee base as well as large presence across geographies?Being a peoples function, I believe, communication challenges with large multi geography organizations with large employee bases are generally people driven. However, with different degrees of communications maturity in organizations, the challenges could be on various fronts.
- One size does not fit all – Employee demography and segmentation today play a critical role. Working with large multi geography organizations with a diverse workforce, I have faced challenges in terms of the tone of communications, modes of communications and even the cultural nuances that differ so much. Communication that is segmented, transparent and timely is fundamental when the objective is to align individuals with different backgrounds, priorities and perspectives to a theme, particularly during change management.
- Reach and technology – Large multi geographical organizations have a typical challenge of having different levels of maturity of communication processes or availability of technology to enable communications across their locations. Due to this they run a risk of employees not being kept informed, inconsistent messaging and sometimes miscommunications due to informal networks becoming stronger. Proper processes for information dissemination based on preferred modes of communication becomes quite critical.
- Reputation management – In a scenario where a conglomerate has businesses with different risk profiles across different geographies, reputation management becomes an issue as one adverse situation with one company in any geography can clearly impact the others. More so with the prevalence of social media. Implementing uniform systems and processes for crisis communications and response management is a tough but interesting task.
- Channelizing external communications – Having a workforce that is aware of the organizations spokesperson policy and the social media policy is quite important. In today’s connected world the risk of controversies due to unintended communications is high and large organizations are prone to them much more.
- Your comment on Consultancy – client relationship? What are your top expectations from the consultancies that manage your account?Chemistry and synergy between client and consultancy are vital to the success of any campaign. For me, inputs from consultancies during strategy and planning phases have always increased the quality of output, especially due to their expertise on the external climate. Some of our most effective PR campaigns have been an outcome of utilizing combined skills, knowledge and unique specialisms that cut across our in-house and PR agency teams. Compelling story ideas can come out only if the relation is symbiotic and well embedded.While our regular PR partners are mandated to bring on board perspectives from the industry, best practices, critical media contacts and insights on what our competition set is up to, following are my top of the mind expectations that I feel will help further raise the PR bar for us:
- Insight’s and analytics based PR, understand the business levers – “Great” PR ideas with no business benefit are passé!
- Managing reputation is more than just communicating reputation – Understand our corporate culture, values, become a part of it
- Be real brand journalists – Good stories could be told only by identifying, researching and developing those stories. Develop content creation and sourcing skills
- Think outside of the traditional pitch – There is no reason why my PR partners should not be just as comfortable suggesting a flash mob as they are recommending a press conference. Or for that matter use a video news release or create an info graphic to tell the story
- Own up – It’s no longer about who did what. It is about what was the impact
- If you were to expand your internal corporate communications team, what kind of talent you would prefer to have in your team?Functionally I would like the candidate to have an ability to understand the business levers, issues and use communication to solve/achieve the strategic objectives. An aptitude to craft (write/design) appropriate messages, assimilate content, use research data to generate insights and have a measurements focus would be a must. Skills like campaign design, conceptualization and implementation through traditional as well as new media would be like an icing on the cake.Behaviorally, he or she has to necessarily demonstrate interdependency, responsiveness and high energy levels apart from an ability to build relations, inspire trust and influence internal stakeholders.
- What will be your key recommendations for youngsters who are planning to joining corporate communications?I would say, come on board, it’s an amazing time to be in this brilliant profession. I guess, role of PR has evolved significantly in last five years as compared to previous several decades and further change will only be exponential. It has become a core strategic function across serious organizations and my bullishness towards “achhe-din” for PR going forward comes from current trends and increasing demands from stakeholders on transparency, authenticity, engagement that are essentially PR bastions; which means PR and communications professionals will have a wider role to play.
Also as the lines that once alienated CC&PR from marketing and advertising blur, there is a huge opportunity for professionals to retain the core PR strengths, yet also adopt the new media and other contemporary platforms. I strongly feel, going forward, PR professionals will find themselves increasingly doing work that goes beyond the traditionally rigid boundaries of earned, owned, or paid media.
It’s an era of advocacy, influencer management and we are seeing more and more proof of an editorial approach to brand building. Online reputation management has garnered greater prominence and increasing PR pie in integrated marketing communications mix are signals of greater expectations from PR.
There is enough space for every new aspirant. All you got to do is have the will to understand the business levers, be constantly updated, and think beyond traditional PR. I feel cross learning in PR is at a very nascent stage and hence networking amongst professionals and association with PR industry forums needs to be ramped up. Lastly, like the way advertising, marketing and media industry have done good PR for themselves, PR needs to do PR for itself and it’s in our collective hands!