Our Views

Lessons from ONGC Fire: Build and engage brand advocates

This article was first published in Reputation Today
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The layers of fire at ONGC’s oil and gas processing complex at Uran near Navi Mumbai on September 3, 2019, needs to be unfolded more to look at the significance of crisis management from communications perspective. While the previous article highlighted the importance of empathetic messaging, in this article we will explore the impact of building brand advocates and engaging with them as a part of long-term preparedness.

Typically, when any crisis occurs, the negative discernment of the brand dominates. Many a time, this gives an apparatus to people to make remarks at the brand or scrutinise its readiness to manage that sort of crisis. Power of owned media through social media platforms has given voice to everyone, often times resulting in uninformed opinions. Such public flak sometimes even leads to regulatory interventions. In such cases having brand advocates can be of tremendous help. These brand believers can help in neutralising the negative perception; or even turning it positive in some cases.

One of my most quoted examples is perception management of the brand Salman Khan- the famous actor who is often called the ‘Bhai of Bollywood’. He has been at the centre of significant controversies for many years. Some of them have even become legal cases against him. Each time when any of the cases are due for hearing, there is always a set of blended perceptions for the actor. While there are individuals who believe that the guilty must be punished, yet some of his charity initiatives like the ‘Being Human’ foundation gave out an alternate appeal towards him. Using this whole acceptance of the ‘Being Human’ brand, he has not only created the so-called brand advocates for him but also garnered positive publicity. It is believed that the “Being” franchise through concepts like ‘Being Human foundation’, ‘Being Human Clothing’, ‘Being Talent’, ‘Being Smart’ and now ‘Being Strong’ is a carefully planned strategy towards the endeavour of enhancing his goodwill among masses. This approach in my opinion is a good example that the corporates should take crisis management lessons from.

Let us look at how the ONGC’s episode was managed. After the incident, the company received front-page coverage in most of the leading dailies. But if we take a closer look at the image shown below, the quotes of senior officials as well as the locals have some lessons. These are free flowing independent observations and do not add value to the company’s perception. It is important for organisations to identify important stakeholders and have a detailed long-term engagement plan with them. Mostly companies tend to misinterpret that their stakeholders are only employees, customers, board members, government and possibly the media too. But, the local authorities, community members, industry experts and influencers can also be significant stakeholders as evident from the image below.

As Julia Roberts’ dialogue in the movie Notting hill goes, “Newspapers last forever”, such episodes that appear in media never die. In future if any mega fire incident will be discussed, then it is highly likely that this ONGC episode will be referred to. Hence it is a must for companies to be mindful of what gets quoted about them in newspapers; that too not only as their own quote but any other stakeholders’ quote too. Consequently, the significance of identifying and engaging with such stakeholders can never be overstated. To err is human but to let people not understand the complete story and lose control of narration can be devastating for the brand reputation.

Company Personified

This article was first published in Reputation Today
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Recently, at a reputation management workshop in a Maharatna company, I made some of the participants research and present on innovative ideas adopted by companies for stakeholder engagement. One of the teams shared the case of ‘BooBoo Family’ of Bajaj Allianz, a major industry player in the Indian insurance market. It was a road safety campaign by the company conveyed through a family comprising of 5 relatable members (Father, Mother, Daughter, Son, and Uncle).

The animated videos showed various irresponsible behaviours of people while driving on roads and their repercussions in a humourous manner. On the launch day itself, the video garnered over a lakh impression on Twitter and Facebook. It made a lasting impression on the audience with its goofy demeanour. Along with the stunning response on social media, the insurance company emerged as a responsible brand in the market.

This campaign stayed with me. After the session, in my car out of intrigue, I started exploring more about how brand personification through animated characters or mascots can be better than brand ambassadors. And then I researched on this fascinating concept which I had noticed every day in multiple Indian and international brands. Yet, I didn’t really study this creative idea to its depth which has actually helped many brands become cultural symbols and drivers of change.

The amazing Amul Girl

The port of call obviously was the Amul Girl.

It’s a prime example of how consistent creative efforts in the right direction with an eye on the changing times can do wonders for a brand. This mascot created decades ago is still relevant and more popular than ever. The company adapted to the digital era and launched an app for fanatics of this playfully comic mascot’s take on the latest happenings and special occasions in the country.

The Amul Girl was created in 1966 after just 9 years of launching the brand. And even today (especially today) after more than 50 years, the Amul brand is recognised through the chubby little girl who is fond of eating Amul Butter.

The Amul Girl captures and engages the attention of the right audience – the common man. It seamlessly connects the brand/product’s features with the story or news it is sharing. And expresses a distinct opinion that resonates across its stakeholder segments.

The zealous ZooZoos

If you have caught a glimpse at your TV during an IPL match in the past decade, you have seen these amazing balloon-headed white creatures proposing their love, dancing on radio music, posing for a photo on the moon. The ZooZoos were a welcome addition to the loyal pug that brought the initial customers for the Hutch-turned-Vodafone.

ZooZoos were shown to stuck in similar problems of tele-communications that a common person was facing at that time. But with multiple themes and storylines, the ads highlighted how Vodafone had a solution for their every problem with its unique value-added services. This simple connection and stimulation through the mascot helped them capture the urban audience in spades.

All three campaigns adopted a different style. While Bajaj Allianz focused on a specific segment and subtly used the campaign to drive home a specific message, the Amul Girl is consciously positioned as the voice of ‘aam aadmi’ and the ZooZoo campaign by Vodafone is very clearly used for feature promotion.

These and many more such cases indicate that a brand mascot helps the target audience to connect with the company through the personification of human qualities. And the absence of preference biases associated with a typical brand ambassador further elevates the rapport with the customers. Also, it’s way more cost-effective!

The Reputation Rangers: Visibility and Authenticity

This article was first published in Reputation Today
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In one of my media training sessions, the country head of a company remarked, “While I agree we must have clarity on our key messages, yet I do not want to be the Elizabeth Holmes of my industry”. His remark sounded quite cagey and we got discussing more on how some companies and spokespeople create a story bubble and keep selling it. Most of the relevant stakeholders end up believing the ‘not so true’ story and that too convincingly.

The actor shared the incident on Twitter via a video, and soon it was viral. Memes on the episode were being circulated and hashtags like #RahulBoseMoment, #RahulBoseHotelBill, #GoBanana were trending. Twitterati started sharing their experiences when they were over-charged for a product or service. As absurd as it may sound, but this resulted in a debate on price vs value.

Just to set the context – Theranos, a health-tech company, claimed that it can do multiple blood tests by simply collecting as little as a drop of blood. Founded by 19-year-old Elizabeth Holmes in 2003, the company declared that it has developed a breakthrough technology for the same and signed contracts with well-known pharmacy chains in the US for mass rollout. Over the period of about 15 years, the company managed to craft and sell a powerful story, which led to eminent investors, politicians, senators, and scientists associate with the company. Seasoned investors and illustrious board members helped the company receive investments of over USD 700 Mn and valuation of USD 10Bn in 2013 and 2014.

Most of the prominent media houses showered recognitions like featuring in the TIME magazine’s Most Influential People, the Under 30 Doers Award from Forbes, ranking in Forbes list of the Most Powerful Women, Fortune’s Businessperson of the Year and listed on its 40 Under 40, Woman of the Year by Glamour, and much more.

All these recognitions and applauses are worth nothing today as Theranos has shut down and liquidated. Its celebrated leader is facing charges of wire fraud and conspiracy. The tall claims of the company were a lie and no such revolutionary technology existed.

This story has many facets but the most striking one is its communication strategy. For years through her messages and her messaging style, Elizabeth made the world believe a story that never existed! The resultant reputational damage to her and all influential figures associated with her is not even measurable.

Three key observations stood out in the communication strategy she adopted to build her reputation:

Empathetic message – Elizabeth’s messaging premise was her ‘traumatic fear of blood’ helped motivate her to build Theranos. She claimed that instead of vials of blood—one for every test needed—Theranos requires only a pinprick and a drop of blood. She often quoted, “It [also] came from losing my family members and people that I loved, and the belief … the true legacy of Silicon Valley is to build great products that can make a difference in the world.” Many people in this world fear needles. Secondly, many of us feel hurt when our dear ones, suffering from any disease, have to undergo multiple blood tests adding to the distress. People instantly connected with her story.

A well-designed personality – She developed a specific personality that made her noticeable and authoritative. She followed Steve Jobs and his style to the core. She wore a standard uniform of black turtleneck and black dress pants that reminded people of Steve Jobs and at the same time conveyed a sense of authority. She also had a habit of making intense and uninterrupted eye contact that intimidated people or even made them believe her. A part of her invented personality included a notable deep voice. People who knew her confirmed that there were times when she did drop the baritone. But mostly, she maintained a deep and low voice to establish her authority.

Stakeholder engagement – She knew well that to succeed she needs to manage her stakeholders well. She aligned herself with very powerful and prominent senior men who could influence people in the government, department of defence and other regulatory bodies. An influential board and impressive investor list acted as a strong testimony to her claim during multiple rounds of funding.

Each of these contributed to build brand visibility but lacked authenticity. While visibility builds recall and short-term reputation, authenticity protects reputation over long-term. My media-training lesson made me add a special mention of this episode and highlight to all the spokespeople – Be Authentic and Truthful.

The luxurious controversy

This article was first published in Reputation Today
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A few weeks back, Twitter was on fire with many tweets sharing the #TheRahulBoseMoment – a controversial play for JW Marriott which certainly it did not expect. What caught my attention is the hotel’s approach to remain silent on the controversy. Is that an advisable approach? Let us take a closer look.

Rahul Bose, a well-known Bollywood actor was staying at JW Marriott, Chandigarh while working on his upcoming project. During his stay, he ordered two bananas while he was working out at the gym. For the fresh fruit that costs around Rs 50 per dozen at the regular market, two bananas at the hotel cost him Rs 442 (including taxes). Rahul was upset and decided to take a dig at them; something that the brand wasn’t expecting or possibly didn’t care about.

The actor shared the incident on Twitter via a video, and soon it was viral. Memes on the episode were being circulated and hashtags like #RahulBoseMoment, #RahulBoseHotelBill, #GoBanana were trending. Twitterati started sharing their experiences when they were over-charged for a product or service. As absurd as it may sound, but this resulted in a debate on price vs value.

The competitors took advantage of the situation, instead of standing up in solidarity. “Don’t slip. For (Rs) 422 you can get a whole room.” said an Oyo Rooms ad showing a banana peel. Taj Mumbai and Park hotel also put messages claiming they serve complimentary bananas and seasonal fruits. Not only this, many other brands rode on the trending hashtag wave and came out with ads and posts with their versions of ‘2 bananas @ Rs. 442′. Amazon Prime, Nature’s Basket, LIC, PepsiCo, Pizza Hut, Reliance Retail, Western Railway, and many others put out spoof ads. All these were certainly not helping the brand!

To add to the trouble, the Excise and taxation department of the state fined the hotel Rs. 25,000 for violation of section 11 of CGST (illegal collection of tax on an exempted item).

The Federation of Hotels and Restaurants in India (FHRAI) cameto the hotel’s rescue and clarified that it didn’t do anything illegal by charging Rs. 442 for two bananas. Both the price and taxes are justified.

This brings me to my start point i.e. how effective is it to adopt a ‘silent stance’ in case of potential crisis. We have seen many individuals and corporates take up this approach and it has worked in their favor sometimes. While in some other cases it backfired too! Actor Aamir Khan and former Axis Bank CEO Shikha Sharma are good examples where adopting a silent stance worked. However, there are cases like Nestle Maggi where remaining non-communicative have cost the brand reputation heavily.

In this ‘always on’ world, we cannot ignore our brand mentions at any time. Yet, should we jump in and issue a statement the minute there is a negative mention? The answer lies in a balanced approach. Brands must continuously keep listening by scanning media coverage, online mentions and engagement levels during such times. If the initial, high-decibel drama is not getting carried forward then lying low and letting the episode settle is a wiser approach. Conversely, if the discussions are continuing for long and the threat to reputation is imminent then a quick action and communication are essential.

Additionally, we need to be mindful of what is the ideal duration to watch before communicating. It has no definite answer. Yet my experience says that if it is a social media lead crisis then the first two-three hours are critical. That will give us an idea of what could be the scale of this crisis and we can plan our response accordingly. On the other hand, if it is print media lead crisis then it is essential to monitor the online media including social media along with other newspapers. If the pick-up in other outlets is not much, then the issue will soon be closed. However, the readiness with a holding statement is a must here. The moment we observe that development is taking shape of a crisis a holding statement must be issued, followed by updates if need be. Another approach can be leveraging influencers to clarify our stance instead of issuing direct statements. This presents an independent perspective and applies a break to the controversies. Possibly in JW Marriott case the FHRAI statement was an outcome of leveraging influencer strategy?

What's Your Story?

This article was first published in Reputation Today
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As a young girl, I had to be really coaxed into eating my meals and going to bed on time. My parents would try every trick in the book to persuade me into finishing my food and to sleep on time. My only response was “First, tell me a story”.

A good story had me glued to my place and gave me satisfaction like no other facts about the importance of healthy food or enough sleep did. That is the power of storytelling.

It has enamored us by weaving its magic around us from a very tender age.

How does that happen? There is a perfectly sound scientific reason behind it. Stories activate seven regions of the brain, while data only activates two regions.

This right here is a profound insight into the power of storytelling and why it should be applied for success in the corporate world.

Marketers who understand the human need for stories and the emotional response they elicit can be really successful in establishing lasting relationships. Stories help marketers sell not only the product but create a legacy around a brand which lasts in our memories much longer, just like the childhood stories we heard. They leave an imprint in the target consumers’ minds, which creates a brand loyalty more valuable than any other performance parameter.

The greatest example of the corporate storyteller is the tech giant Apple. The story of Apple is not merely about the great products they make or the excellent user interface of their gadgets. There are a plethora of smartphones and laptops in the market with equally great features. Apple is the story of a company which started out in a garage and the passion of one man who wanted to take it to unimaginable heights. Apart from a great product, Apple has a story that feeds the human craving for connection and has become synonymous with innovation and quality.

Similarly, in the financial services industry, insurance companies do not talk about how they compute the monthly premium; they focus on the benefits an insurance policy will accrue to you and your family in the long run. Or Mutual fund companies do not talk about the process of investment but focus on the financial freedom that investors will enjoy.

By regaling a story you can convey the true power of your product and drive home the message harder. Stories let you convert a sales pitch into a vision, which you share, with your client. The focus here moves from the product to the client’s need, which your product addresses. With the help of storytelling, you can emotionally handhold your audience through the complexities surrounding your product or service. Instead of trying to make sales pitch purely on the basis of complicated facts and figures, base it on real-life benefits and possibilities. Remember, charts do not talk to hearts, stories do.

In fact, the message around national unity that we used to watch on Doordarshan still remains etched in my memory very strongly.

Given the digital cacophony surrounding us, the need for powerful and memorable stories has multiplied. We view and share tens and thousands of links every day and go through a deluge of content as part of our daily routines. What stays in our recall are the powerful stories communicated through memorable visuals. One brand that tops my recall at this moment is Airbnb. This brand is all about choices and flexibility everywhere every time. It talks about travelers expectations and experiences in forms of short stories that connect with people across geographies.

Like this, pick up any successful corporate story and you will find that one core message runs through all their content across all platforms. Google bases all its content on one central idea- their search engine can be used to find almost anything and everything-people, places and answers to the most inconceivable questions. ‘Google it’ is now a legit verb.

That’s the power of storytelling in the corporate world. Have you leveraged it?

Are you from Jhumri Telaiya?

This article was first published in Reputation Today
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Recently I met a few of my friends and as usual, it was super fun with loads of jokes, leg-pulling, conversations flowing seamlessly. During these conversations, one of my friends spoke of something significant, but since all of us were in a light mood, I made a silly and playful remark to that. Assuming that I misunderstood the significance of her point she said, “Come on Mitu, how can you say this? Are you from Jhumri Telaiya? “

Playful mood as it was, we took this conversation in stride and moved on. However, this episode set me thinking.

Often, I have observed that whenever we want to say that someone is less capable or talk of something insignificant, we attach the label of ‘Jhumri Telaiya’ to that person, place or thing. However, the reality is substantially different from our perception of the place. Coincidentally, I partially belong to Jhumri Telaiya as my maternal grandparents and uncles live there and I have visited that place every summer vacation and carry some awesome memories. Hence, with authority, I can claim that there exists a huge difference in perception versus reality with respect to Jhumri Telaiya.

For non-starters, Jhumri Telaiya is one of the major mica mining centres in India. The Telaiya dam was the first dam and hydro-electric power station constructed by the Damodar Valley Corporation. In current times, Telaiya has become an incubator for small scale industries in Jharkhand because of its proximity to easy access to minerals, good road-rail connectivity, and favourable power infrastructure. These and many more are significant trivia about the city. Yet, what people remember are the funny and sometimes derogatory associations.

This mismatch between perception and reality is not just limited to one place. In fact, if you think deeply most of us suffer from this bias. Companies and individuals both are exposed to the perception risk equally. An individual can be highly capable, a company could be selling a high-quality product, a start-up might be filling a major service gap but if they just leave it to chance that people will understand this and regard them accordingly,they will land up exactly where Jhumri Telaiya has landed – Reality vs perception mismatch.

For companies and individuals to be recognised and respected for their competence and achievements, it is critical that they consciously spend time and effort on identifying their positioning and promoting it at the right platforms through right messages. Especially, with the growing significance of social media and digital platforms, opportunities for communication have multiplied. While it does bring in the threat of information overload, but a well thought messaging strategy around identified positioning does outshine the clutter.

So, dear friends think about it: what does your or your company’s brand communicate? Do you even have a brand or any identified positioning? When someone Google searches your name or your company’s name what kind of information does one land into? Does that resonate with your brand promise?

Whether you are an employee with certain career aspirations or a professional who is enthusiastic to stand out in your area of work or an entrepreneur keen to build a loyal customer base for your company, a well thought through positioning strategy goes a long way in deriving favourable outcomes. In fact, a conscious attempt to understand what positioning should you adopt and then how should you go about it, is a must-do for bridging the perception vs reality gap and thereby building and establishing your reputation. Otherwise, often many of us keep wondering how do I bring down my ‘Jhumri Telaiya’ Quotient…Errr shall I say bring up the ‘Jhumri Telaiya’ quotient?

Stay Agile, Stay Relevant

This article was first published in Reputation Today
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A quick search on the IMDb website for “Cinderella adaptations and references” throws up a list of 73 titles with the oldest one dating all the way back to 1899. It is amazing how a story, whose basic premise remains the same, has been retold and adapted to fit a different audience and generation. With each retelling, the story underwent a modern makeover that kept it relevant to the audience of the time, going on to become a blockbuster. To think that the 19th-century version of the story would hold the same appeal in the 20th and the 21st century would be foolhardy.

Similarly, the ever-changing consumer landscape and cutthroat competition has made it imperative for brands to constantly evolve and reinvent (both their offerings and messaging) in order to maintain their brand relevance- all this while sticking to the core of their brand.

However, despite an early mover advantage and a clearly defined target audience, not all companies can sustain the brand patronage they once enjoyed. When doing well, it is easy for a brand to fall into the deep pit of complacency, failing to keep abreast with evolving consumer preferences.

The much-loved “Vicco turmeric nahi cosmetic” jingle, though fondly remembered by the people born in the ’80s and the ’90s holds little relevance for today’s generation. Established as India’s first ayurvedic fairness cream targeting young women who were about to get married, Vicco slowly lost the brand equity it had built over the years to competition from brands like Kama Ayurveda, Patanjali or Fair & Lovely by HUL. As they failed to meet the changing demands of a more modern, aspirational and a more self-reliant India, a brand which had once revolutionised product marketing, gradually began lagging behind. An attempt at product diversification came too late when even those loyal to the brand had already moved onto more desirable beauty care products. As the company refused to break its ties with its past, they failed to build upon the brands heritage, rejuvenate it and keep it going.

Remember Blackberry, the reigning king of all smartphones so smoothly dethroned by Apple and Google? Comfortable in their position as the premier mobile gadget available, Blackberry was completely flummoxed by the breakneck speed at which ios and Android phones overtook the market.

At a time when the mobile industry was on the precipice of shifting to bigger touchscreens display, Blackberry refused to embrace change, continuing to produce phones with full keyboards. Insistent on appeasing only its existing “business” customers, the company colossally failed to tap the new customer base which would use smartphones as a means of entertainment and not just for communication.

Their adoption of third-party apps came too late by which time the brand had just lost too much ground to recover.

Refusal to get out of their comfort zone rendered the brand redundant faster than they could ever imagine.

In direct contrast, Apple has spelled innovation and change since its inception in 1976. The very DNA of the company seems to lay in disruption and evolution.

Apple revolutionised the gadget industry when it shifted its attention to handheld gadgets like the iPhone and iPod at a time when it could have just as easily stayed in its comfort zone of PCs and laptops. Showing an uncanny understanding of changing consumer tastes, the company blurred the boundaries between tech and fashion sector by introducing the Apple watch.

With each reinvention, Apple has displayed a knack of adding to its service and capabilities with perfect timing, keeping the brand meaningful through the years. In the age of the internet, brands need to do everything they can to stay relentlessly relevant. Mobile and internet allow customers to interact with brands in ways which have made evolution more important now than ever. In their product offerings and marketing communication brands needs to continually delight and deliver; redefining what is possible.

Everything, from the speed of the internet to the taste of the customer, moves at a breakneck speed in this new world order. The brands, which slow down or do not move, risk decay. To stay relevant brands have to be agile.

Corporate reputation matters each time, every time, not just during tough times!

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With the changing business landscape, a company’s reputation has begun to matter more now than it has in decades.

Reputation is an indirect result of anything and everything that we do. It is the sum of all our actions, that is reflected in the way our stakeholders treat us or interact with us.

Hence, regardless of the situation, companies need to step up their reputation management efforts by trying to better the customer experience journey.

Now more than ever, it will be our action at all touchpoints, that will result in our brand reputation.

Real-time relay of user experiences a challenge

We live in a world where people have an insatiable urge to share everything on social media - what they experience and as they experience it, in real-time. The downside is, this reality has created some major challenges for corporates and their crisis management strategy.

Social media, the real-time news cycle and mobile technology have come together and transformed the landscape for crisis management.

They have presented companies with some major challenges, such as the heightened speed with which they need to respond and communicate with the outside world.

In today's age, everything is public, and this real-time cycle makes it difficult for brands to get ahead of the story before the story is already ahead of them.

Managing real-time and actual crisis

Like it or not, these are today's realities. Therefore, any successful reputation management efforts depend on the company’s ability to manage the real-time challenges that this digital age presents, while simultaneously managing the actual physical crisis in real time.

In such a situation, the sustained energies put into creating a positive perception for the brand through proactive storytelling - about its CSR initiatives, the gaps its products and services and filling and the lives it is transforming in the process - can be a real differentiating factor.

As a result of the brand initiatives taken to build trust and credibility at every single touchpoint, when crisis strikes, a positive reputation built through sustained efforts acts as a cushion that protects the company to sail through difficult times.

Communication - when, how and where is the key

Hence, to ensure that both digital and physical efforts work in tandem to produce desirable results, the organisation’s response force needs to know when to communicate, how to communicate and where to communicate during a crisis. And this ability to communicate effectively is developed and honed only if the brand adopts a proactive strategy every single day to instill trust in its various stakeholders.

When things go awry, this reputation built and nurtured over a period of time allows the company not only a little extra time to respond, but also their stakeholders are also more receptive towards their communication and eventually more forgiving towards errors, if any.

Even as reputation management takes centre stage as a key business issue in most organisations, it’s important that they adopt a focused approach to optimally use the tools at their disposal to build credentials that drive financial and societal returns.

Leadership communication critical for building corporate reputation

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Zomato Founder Deepinder Goyal's response to a customer who had demanded his delivery agent be changed because he was a "Muslim fellow", has served up as an exemplary lesson on the role of senior leadership in building a strong corporate reputation. Demonstrating traits of an effective leader, Goyal echoed his company's stand, with a firm message. Not all corporate leaders have shown such spine.

He tweeted that his company is proud of the country's diversity and "not sorry to lose any business that comes in the way of our values". An image of the Tricolour accompanied the tweet.

Goyal's response has won him many admirers. "Respect. I love your app. Thank you for giving me a reason to admire the company behind it," former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah tweeted. Former Election Commissioner S Y Quraishi tweeted: "Salute Deepinder Goyal! You are the real face of India! Proud of you."

Leadership and communication are the future as brands look to establish and protect their reputation in a competitive marketplace. Now, more than ever, leaders need to behave differently and demonstrate traits that will help them win respect and authority as an effective communicator. And for doing that, they have access to more platforms for communication and engagement than ever before. At this critical time, organizations and their leadership teams need to act faster, smarter and more openly if they wish to own the hearts and minds of their stakeholders.

In today's complex digital milieu, fast-changing situations and opportunities often outpace the speed and capability of communication. Corporate leaders no longer have the luxury of time when it comes to dealing with the challenges that have the potential to turn into a crisis which can have a lasting impact on their organization's reputation. The company's stakeholders - Customers, regulators, shareholders, investors, employees, journalists and communities want the information to trickle out at the speed of now.

To rise to the challenges of our time, business leaders need to serve an important role in helping their organizations meet the continuous expectations of immediacy, at every point of contact. Reputation is fundamental to corporate success and the role of senior leadership in building, establishing and protecting it is critical.

Control the narration to contain the crisis

This article was first published in Reputation Today
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#MahalaxmiExpress and #MumbaiRains were the trending hashtags on July 27, 2019. While #MumbaiRains was obvious, I wondered what happened in Mahalaxmi Express. Doing a quick search, I understood that nearly 2000 passengers, including nine pregnant women onboard Mahalaxmi Express train were stranded due to heavy rains. On the previous night, Mahalaxmi Express left Mumbai for Kolhapur in Maharashtra, India but could not travel beyond Vangani, in Thane district due to flooding on tracks following heavy rains. However, a swift and well-executed multi-agency rescue operation that lasted for nearly 17 hours ensured that all passengers were evacuated safely. Reading this was a relief but it also made me notice two important aspects of any negative incident –

  1. Operations:
  2. A quick and effective response is necessary to ensure that the scale of the incident remains under control and does not turn into a crisis

  3. Communication:
  4. Since we are living in a world where LIVE information is available 24 x 7 x 365, it is important to control the narration through official communication.

On both aspects, this episode scored a perfect 10/10. Teams of National Disaster Response Force, Navy, Air Force, Army, Police, Railways and local administration all worked together and in tandem keeping the common objective in mind. Even on the communication front, official handles of the Chief Minister of Maharashtra’s office (@CMOMaharashtra), and Central Railway (@central_railway) were used to keep the information flow seamless. This helped them to control the possibilities of rumors and panic driven responses. Not only this, but consistent communication also gave them an opportunity to showcase the efforts that were being made to ensure passenger safety and comfort. Use of videos and pictures added to the authenticity of messages.

This episode has many lessons for the corporate world to learn and implement. While consulting various large and small companies I observe that many of them do not have a well laid out crisis response plan in place. Even if they have the plan, it largely covers the operational steps to be undertaken. Very few corporates have a documented crisis communication plan. While every incident is unique and needs customised approach, a well-documented plan acts as a compass with respect to process, responsibilities, basic holding statements, etc. I remember the infamous refinery fire in Jaipur plant of a well-known oil company in India. While rescue operations were undertaken, but communication consistency and quality were missing. This resulted in narration being completely in the hands of media. Fortunately for the company, in those days acceptance of social media as a news platform was still getting established. Otherwise, the damage to the brand reputation would have been higher.

In more recent times, episode like the crash landing of SpiceJet Flight SG 6237 at Mumbai is another example of sub-optimal and inconsistent communication. The incident resulted in shutting down of the main runway at Mumbai airport causing huge inconvenience to air passengers. Challenges with the situation multiplied as Mumbai received the highest rainfall in a decade, in that period. While the rescue operations were undertaken and the airline claimed that all passengers were evacuated safely, yet numerous WhatsApp forwards and personal accounts of passengers on social media presented quite a different picture. According to them, the airline didn’t act responsibly and a few passengers were hurt. This resulted in conflicting messages doing rounds about the company – company’s version, media’s version, and passengers’ version. Such developments adversely affect the brand’s reputation. That’s exactly where the differentiator lies i.e. relevant operational response along with authentic and consistent communication.

Incidents happen. They are a part of every business. It is the response to that incident and the control of narration around it, holds that incident from turning into a crisis. Both these were managed incredibly well in case of #MahalaxmiExpress case. Kudos to the entire team.

Are we Exploiting the Weakest link?

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Recently, while coaching a senior professional on emotions management she talked about how guilty she feels when she beats her son up.

She said, “Mitu, by the time I reach home, I am very exhausted. That’s when he starts demanding my attention and annoys me so badly that I end up beating him.”

During the course of our interaction, I asked her, “How about your boss? Does he annoy you too at times.” “Obviously”, she replied.

“Hmmm…., and your husband, parents or in-laws, do they make perfect sense always or do they annoy you too? I further asked.

“There are instances when I just can’t stand some conversations with them but I simply ignore them”, was her response.

Pat came my next question, “When you can manage your emotions with your boss, husband, parents, in-laws and others, then why not with your son? Is it simply, because he is the weakest link in your life and its easy to vent out your frustration on him?”

Another instance happened almost around the same time when I was talking to a lady (the wife of a politician friend). She had filed for divorce. I was talking to her and she said that he beats her regularly. I found it hard to believe her, as he is someone I thought was a genuine person. Surviving in the political world is not easy and he not only survived it but was doing well too. He had seen many ups and downs in life, which he managed judiciously and was well respected in personal and professional circle. So I wondered why would a normally rational and mature person beat his wife, who was also quite a nice person. The same issue seemed to be cropping up again- abusing the weakest link. He used to be so tired struggling with the outside world that at home he had no patience to deal with his wife’s expectations.

That set me thinking… are we all falling in a trap? We put up a brave face in front of those who we think will not accept our weaknesses while those who accept us unconditionally, we exploit that relationship. Is that the show of our strength, resilience and bravery or a painful side effect of our pent up emotions?

Anger Management is one of the major leadership coaching areas that I cover. Some leaders say, we get angry on our teammates but then we also apologise, take the teammates out for coffee and so on. Granted, you do that. However, the apology or cover up act only work as an M-seal on the crack. The crack gets covered but it still remains. Similarly, scars of your anger remain on people who were hurt. And mostly such people are those who are the most powerless in our stakeholder chain. Is it fair?

Many people discuss anger management as an issue. I have a simple question to ask them– If anger is the issue then why does it not come out in front of all stakeholders? Why are only a select few subjected to it?

Introspection will reveal that it is actually not anger but an attitude issue. Think about it.

Tata - Mistry Saga

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A case of strategic communication moving towards crisis communication

It takes years to build a reputation and seconds to destroy it. No better thought applies more aptly to the ongoing Tata Group and Mr. Cyrus Mistry saga.

The brand Tata stands for “TRUST”. Having lived in Tatanagar I know that to a great extent the brand Tata is synonymous with trust for many. Yet, one episode of public spat and unstructured communication, has created a dent in the brand’s reputation.

Actually this is not the only episode. The earlier incident of Niira Radia case had also raised questions about the “ethics & values” that the group always projects. However, people’s memory being short, they moved on and eventually the brand regained trust. There were two key learnings from the Niira Radia episode: First, unstructured communication impacts reputation and second people forget and move on.

Looks like in the Tata Group Vs Mr. Mistry case the group remembered the second learning better ie people forget and move on. Hence even in this case despite making a critical announcement from its end, the group paid limited attention to structured communication and now appears to have inadequate control on the narrative.

No one will ever know what transpired between Mr. Tata and Mr. Mistry. But surely the involved parties were well aware that it is not a small announcement. Though the announcement was made strategically after market hours, yet we witnessed fireworks a week before Diwali.

Such an announcement was bound to cause speculations.
It was bound to cause accusations.
It was bound to cause heart burn and disappointment

Knowing these well, it is unbelievable that a brand like Tatas did not think of the repercussions of unstructured communication. This has resulted in complete loss of control on narrative from their end.

Typically, any good communication plan has three key elements: Frequency, Clarity and Engagement. Surprisingly, this incident missed all three.

Apart from the first communication, which itself was cryptic, there has not been any communication, which is a thoughtful response to the developments. For most part it is either a reaction or a set of vague statements where the “whys” are completely missing. On the contrary, for an episode like this, a regular communication from the brand could have put a lot of speculations and accusations to rest. Even if communication would have been in the form of simple updates, instead of detailed insights (which we understand cannot be divulged at this stage) that would have been reassuring to the multiple affected stakeholders.

Looking at the second element i.e. clarity. I understand the incident is too recent and only limited clarity can be presented at this stage. However, various aspects from the changing stances of involved parties, the lack of confidence projected, to the alleged compromise of ethics to sheer underperformance adds to the complexity of this whole incident. Couple that with the nebulous response to Mr. Mistry’s leaked email or allegations leaves the stakeholders completely perplexed.

Finally, a lot is at stake but limited visible effort on engaging with stakeholders is adding fuel to the fire in this situation. I am certain that the group must be already reaching out to key stakeholders like regulators, ministries, board etc. but the larger set of stakeholders is experiencing complete disconnect. Especially in this digital age where information travels in seconds, limited stakeholder engagement is a big miss.

This was too important an episode to take a chance and come across so unprepared. Somewhere it borders on the lines of being arrogant; like this is what it is – take it or leave it. Though it is just the start and the whole chapter is yet to unfold, still I believe the reputation of the brand Tata did get marred by its unstructured approach to communication.

Tata is not simply a conglomerate. Each one of us is associated with the brand in some way or the other. Many of us share an emotional bond too. Come to think of it the word “TRUST” itself is one of its strongest emotional values. With its seemingly unplanned communication approach, Tata group not only dented its credibility but also emotional ties. This is why, what should have been a case of strategic communication is now moving towards being a case of crisis communication.

The Tata brand fan that I am, still makes me believe that they will get their act together around responsible communications strategy and once again control the narrative – imperative to protect its brand reputation.

Maggi Crisis - Goes beyond numbers

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Sales may climb back but reputation will remain scarred

It takes years to build a reputation and seconds to destroy it. No better thought applies more aptly to the ongoing Tata Group and Mr. Cyrus Mistry saga.

The brand Tata stands for “TRUST”. Having lived in Tatanagar I know that to a great extent the brand Tata is synonymous with trust for many. Yet, one episode of public spat and unstructured communication, has created a dent in the brand’s reputation.

Rs 320 crore loss or 10,000 trucks required destroying 27,000 tonnes of noodles – these are staggering figures people are talking about but is Maggi crisis simply a business loss to Nestle? The answer is clearly NO.

What comes to our mind when we think of Maggi? – “Two Minutes” Right? In others words a quick snack to satiate our hunger pangs. However, Nestle’s response to the recent Maggi crisis has been far from quick, resulting into an ‘Epic PR disaster’ impacting their long-term reputation.

As reputation management professionals, we have a lot of lessons to learn from what may eventually become one of the most popular cases of crisis communications. Here are Meri Maggi Lessons –

Never underestimate a challenge, however small – During the course of our career come many situations, which could become benign once handled appropriately. However, if the same situation is left unattended, it has the potential to become a crisis, as big as the one Nestle is facing currently.  On hindsight, it appears that Nestle did not realize that one test result in Uttar Pradesh would snowball into a series of events finally resulting in the ban of a product, which ruled the segment for over thirty years.

Issue a holding statement – It is important for the stakeholders to know and know asap that the company cares and acknowledges the fact that there exists an issue. It just makes the company more humane and enhances people’s level of tolerance for it. A simple statement acknowledging the situation with a brief mention that the company is looking into the details would suffice. This has to come out within the first or the second day. Any further delay reduces its impact substantially. Staying silent is a big No No.

A good example of this is the response of ICICI Bank when Cobra post crisis hit about two years ago.

Have a crisis communication plan in place – When crisis hits, it is important for communication experts to handle the crisis instead of running from one decision maker to another, internally, for approvals. A robust crisis communication plan keeps the engine well oiled for it to start moving as soon as the start button is pressed. Nestle seemed to be caught napping here. Even the decision to roll back the product came more as a compulsion than willingness to stop consumers from consuming something that is believed to be hazardous.

Engage with stakeholders – Maggi held its first press conference over a month after the first outbreak. Too late to convince or even communicate to any stakeholder group. By then opinions are formed, statements are made and the reputational damage is done.

Also, when asked by a reporter what took them so long to even come open in public, the spokesperson responded that they were “engaging with authorities”. Certainly that’s important but stakeholder engagement need not be sequential.

Another aspect is influencer and media engagement to at least get a balanced perspective out, if not all positive.

Train the spokesperson to deal with local media – Media in each country behaves differently. Indian media is one of the most aggressive media globally. But the Nestle spokespeople did not seem to be aware of this nuance and their whole conduct in the press conference left a very tentative feeling even amongst the general audience.

Leverage brand strength – As communicators we should understand our brand strength and leverage that. For instance in case of Maggi the brand strength is the loyalty across age groups, yet instead of leveraging that, Nestle seemed to be complacent about it. Roll back came as an afterthought, or communication with public appeared as a necessary evil. A simple decision to roll back the product well in advance could have created an impression that the company cares.

Most of us have grown up eating Maggi. We are all aware from the beginning that it is not a healthy snack, yet each one of us have enjoyed it and has some memories associated with the product – be it a  “masti time meal” during college days or a friend we depend on to sail us through a lonely night or our travel partner – all of us have a story of Meri Maggi.

Hence unlike other similar crises such as Cadbury Dairy Milk or Pepsi, this crisis has gone beyond business and has touched emotional chords. Couple that with the complacent or slow approach of Nestle, the reputation risk has multiplied.

We do not know what has triggered this crisis – Is it actually a bad product or is it politically motivated or competition planted. Of course I wonder, why suddenly authorities thought of carrying out the tests for a product, which has been ruling the segment for last three decades. Whatever the trigger may be, Nestle needs to quickly launch a 360 degree campaign and tell a compelling story.
Depending on people’s short memory it could revive sales in the next 6-8 months, but the reputational scar will never heal.

Leadership Coaching in India: A New word for mentoring or more?

The basic difference between a coaching and mentoring process is the approach. While mentees ape their mentors, reach out to them for regular guidance and seek solution to the challenges that they may face, a coaching process is more fundamental. Under coaching process, a coachees undergoes a transformation where coach only acts as a facilitator. It lets the coachees explore multiple dimensions of self and prepares them for dealing with personal and professional challenges instead of providing them guided solutions on demand.

Leadership Coaching is not just a world where magical business-people calling themselves ‘Guru’ tell you a rare insight unknown to you till now which will transform your life. Its an indulgence. A coach takes you through a journey whose destination you set and whose course you choose. He or she just ensures that you stay on track, you are responsible and accountable to the outcome you set out to achieve.

So a leadership coach becomes a part of your journey yet stays out of it while a mentor may inspire you but may not be able to transform you.

A leadership coach may sound like a swiss-army knife to hack your career growth.

A leadership coach may sound like a swiss-army knife to hack your career growth.

Leadership Coaching - Why it is important for aspiring Leaders in India

Leadership Coaching is not just a world where magical business - people calling themselves ‘Guru’ tell you a rare insight unknown to you till now which will transform your life. Like Sports Coaches, it also includes helping the candidate to develop & maintain a specific set of habits to achieve a planned goal in a stipulated time. But unlike Sports Coaches, where physical training is a must & requires help & training, can’t we provide leadership coaching to ourselves on our own?

Yes, we can. It may not be necessary to have a leadership coach to guide you through the hurdles at work & life. Although, a good leadership coach will not only lessen the probability of failure, but they’ll also push you harder, and show you your true potential. They will constantly remind you & in fact make you realize that-

You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. – A. A. Milne.

Here’s why leadership coaching is important:

  1. The Kickstarter
  2. Self-motivation is no doubt the best motivation there is, because you are always there for you (at least physically). Yet sometimes we do need a push from back, a supporting hand on our shoulder, a warm hug, or a strong hand-shake that tells us ‘You can do it’, ‘You have it what it takes’, ‘You are not alone’, ‘I’m here for you’. All this acts as a kickstart to our inner potential and brings us closer to our best versions.

  3. The Emotional Support
  4. We think in a corporate environment or at work, emotions are the last thing we must take care of. No wonder, most of us leave work tired, stressed-out and in constant worry instead of being happy & satisfied of the fact that we contributed to the world today. According to Dr. Travis Bradberry, author of the book “Emotional Intelligence 2.0”, EQ (Emotional Intelligence) is responsible for 58% of your job performance. A leadership coach makes it easier to harness the power & the true capability of your emotions at work.

  5. The Balance Manager
  6. Before we know, we are handed over an ocean of said & unsaid responsibilities in work as well as in life. It becomes a mess and we’re right in the middle of it, lost in the plethora of tasks that consume us rather than making us happy. A leadership coach helps to navigate, organise, strategize, and optimize all of this to ensure a right balance of life & work that brings peace, happiness & excitement in your life.

Leadership Coaching is designed to explore the immense success possibilities that exist for you, taking the necessary steps that’ll help you progress on your growth path and in your career. A leadership coach is usually someone who has experienced almost every obstacle that you face daily at work. This enables them to understand you deeply and offer customized solutions & advice that get you through the obstacles effortlessly.

Want to create a Memorable Brand? Focus on Experience: writes Ms. Mitu Samar, reputation & brand consultant

This article was first published in South Asia Fast Track

What makes any company famous?
Advertisements!
Promotions!

These two are the most common responses I receive from participants whenever I conduct a workshop on brand-building. And these responses can be extrapolated to a whole host of companies who have the misplaced belief that brand-building can be achieved mostly through advertisements and promotional campaigns. Such campaigns, often high decibel, involve significant costs and time. Due to limited resources, this discourages many small and medium-sized companies (SMEs) from undertaking a well-planned brand-building strategy. At the same time, such campaigns are also received with limited acceptance by consumers because it is the company itself that launches advertisements and promotion – viewed as a case of the company blowing its own trumpet. That puts the Return on Investment (ROI) of the campaign under question, which further limits the attention SMEs put towards the brand-building exercise.

This misplaced belief causes huge disconnect!

Brand-building is not about high decibel campaigns. It is about fixing the little things that matter. Promotional campaigns may bring the company in the “consideration set” but “conversions” happen due to the reputation that the company earns through experience it leaves with its target group.This is exactly what companies must focus on – initiatives that impact real experiences and are cost effective too!

A recent study by Bain & Co said 92% of consumers trust recommendations from other people (known or unknown to them) over promotional content that comes directly from the companies. In simple terms, this means that companies need to engage with their stakeholders proactively and offer unforgettable experiences. That acts as the unique differentiator in an otherwise price sensitive market. The customers become the brand evangelists in a true sense!

Based on my experience, I recommend the following three-pronged approach for any SME as an effective base to plan a brand-building strategy for a company –your company!

  1. Get your basic positioning right, and ensure all your communications reflect that positioning:
  2. This means companies must have a clear brand message and positioning of what it is targeting. And all its collaterals and communications must carry that core message in some form in order to reinforce the positioning in the audience’s mind. For instance, let us consider a footwear company. Just calling yourself a footwear company is not enough. You are talking to everybody, but connecting with nobody. So the company must have its basic clarity on which category it is targeting – men, women, kids, etc., what kind of value it is offering – long lasting, trendy or pocket-friendly, etc. Then its entire brand communication should target that segment of consumers with that specific brand message.

  3. Do you engage with your employees; and if so, how?
  4. As the famous Richard Branson said, “If you take care of your employees, they will take care of your customers.” Rightly so! Ensure that your employee interests are addressed and they are engaged well. Not only are they consumers in their own right, but they are also interacting (formally or informally) with a number of your probable consumers out there.

    But in reality, most companies pay minimal attention to proper employee engagement. According to them, initiatives like traditional days, funny Fridays, quiz are the major forms of engagement. Absolutely incorrect! These may be fun initiatives that are enjoyed in a day, but they do nothing to keep employees loyal to the brand. Employees are the biggest brand ambassadors, so pay attention to their voice. Listen to their core issues and address those; that goes a long way to build morale and true engagement.

    …engaged employees are more likely to improve customer relationships, with a resulting 20% increase in sales…

  5. How do you really connect with your customers?
  6. Sales do not happen by default. It needs months of planning and effort to convert the prospects into customers. Further, retaining these customers is even more important as that is what helps the companies manage both topline as well as bottom line – remember, it is always cheaper to sell to an existing client than to acquire a new client! Studies suggest a 5% increase in customer retention can lead to an increase in profits between 25 and 95%. It goes without saying that companies need to connect with their customers and make them feel valued. That creates impeccable experience – the crux of true brand-building.

    So what are some of the simple ways for you to get this right:

    • Ensure that any customer feedback is always acted upon:
    • In B2B setups, it is easier to circle back and inform the customer about the progress on their feedback. Even in B2C setups, this is not impossible – contrary to popular belief. Companies can regularly study the feedback pattern, prioritize the issues raised, fix them and communicate the progress at a public forum. Valuing customer’s feedback is a must to make customers stay with you and buy again!

    • Kill the irritants:
    • Even though you have implemented the best processes to ensure unforgettable customer journey, yet the reality might be different. Time and again conduct “mystery shopping” to ensure that the claims on your marketing materials actually meet the real practice on-ground. If any gaps exist, then plug them. Any long-holds when a client calls up customer service, any delay in responding to client mails, any unempowered (“I will check and come back” type) employee at your front desk, any indifferent sales/customer service staff, etc. are all typical examples of this.

    • Let them know you are smart:
    • A relationship works both ways. While you have to make you’re your customers feel valued, they also must feel proud of being associated with you. So remember to showcase your achievements, certifications and insights time to time through owned platforms like your website, social media platforms, emails or get-togethers.

    • Actively engage with customers throughout the journey to keep them aware:
    • Thanks to digital solutions, staying in touch with customers is just a click away. Design simple engagement programs and keep them aware and hooked though the journey.

    • Let them know they matter:
    • Many companies often take long-standing relationships for granted. Never let such complacency creep into your system! Retaining a customer is way more cost effective and profitable for you, so do not leave any room for disappointment in the case of existing customers.

Following this three-pronged approach can create a brand with lasting recall. The key is to listen to customer feedback, engage your employees properly and get your brand positioning correct.

That builds the reputation of an organization and brings target group loyalty, which is turn creates memorable client experience – a must for any SME to build a memorable brand!

Meet the SHEROES: Mitu Samar, Founder Of Eminence

This article was first published in Sheroes

Eminence is a boutique firm with a simple value proposition -building brands and positioning personalities. Mitu Samar speaks to us about the venture and her professional journey so far.

  • Tell us about yourself
  • I believe that whatever I am today is because of my upbringing and the values that my parents inculcated in me. That forms the core. People, who know me well, will agree that my biggest differentiator is having a rising professional life along with an equally happy personal life. This differentiator keeps me sorted and that reflects in every interaction I have with anybody.

    I was brought up in a small town for the initial 15 years of my life and then we moved to Mumbai. This presented me a lovely mix of simplicity with focus and ambition and I think that’s how I will loosely define myself.

    After finishing my Masters in Economics from Mumbai University and subsequently doing a management program from S.P. Jain, I worked in various corporates like G E Shipping, ICICI Prudential Mutual Fund, Aditya Birla Financial Services Group, CRISIL and Standard & Poor’s primarily in the branding and communications roles. I came up the rank to be a part of leadership team before deciding to take the entrepreneurial plunge.

    I am also an independent director on the Boards of Times Group Companies. The Group owns and manages powerful brands across media such as The Times of India, Times Now, The Economic Times etc.

    This career background positions me as professional who has well-rounded perspective on the functioning of a corporate, both from inside and outside. Hence, it appropriately places me to guide corporates and individuals on their reputation and positioning.

    In addition to these, I am passionate about gender diversity. In fact, under CII’s unique mentoring initiative called ‘100 hours of change’, I have mentored over 150 girls on how to achieve professional success while ensuring personal satisfaction.

  • Can you tell us a little bit about Eminence?
  • Eminence is a boutique firm with a simple value proposition - building brands and positioning personalities. Simply expressed, we offer services across the branding and communication spectrum that helps a company or an individual rise to eminence.

    At the core of our offering lies reputation management. Reputation of corporates and individuals both is an outcome of brand experiences different stakeholders like customers, employees, board members, regulators or media have with them. Eminence works closely with the CEOs office or the marketing, communication and HR teams of client companies to help them build or protect their brand positioning.

    We offer three distinct areas of consulting. First is strategic consulting under which we help established corporates in their external positioning strategy like leveraging digital and traditional media, managing media crisis, enhancing customer experience and loyalty, and also internal positioning through employee engagement initiatives.

    Second space is that of leadership coaching wherein we work with CEOs and CXOs in building their personal brand, polishing their leadership skills and most importantly support them in stakeholder management.

    Lastly, we work with Start-ups and SMEs in building their brand and creating visibility.

  • How did the idea of starting this venture come about?
  • It might sound cliché but I always wanted to be an entrepreneur. At the same time, I wanted to ensure financial stability. So I opted to work in a corporate set up initially.

    After having met my financial goals, and also having developed a robust network as well as subject matter understanding, I decided to take the plunge.

    With corporate experience of 15 years in communication and branding space, I observed that different teams address different stakeholders to influence the reputation of the organization. However, all of them work independently.

    For instance the HR team addresses employees as a stakeholder while marketing team reaches out to existing and potential clients, PR team works with media while the legal and secretarial team interact with the regulators or the Board. There is no unifying thread in most cases. Even for individual reputation, holistic approach is missing. This is the gap that I identified and went ahead to bridge it through Eminence.

  • How long has it been since you started off and what were some of the most challenging experiences?
  • It’s been about a year and half. We are a small team that has executed some marque projects and have an interesting client roaster ranging from unknown names to established brands. According to Harvard Business Review, over 80% of global start-ups fail in the first 18 months, and in India this figure is close to 90%. I am happy that Eminence has successfully survived the 18 months and is going strong everyday.

    A journey is not exciting without challenges and even my entrepreneurial run is not devoid of them. What helped me though is regular guidance from my mentors and friends.

    Two specific advices from one of my mentors stayed with me and helped me wade through challenges – First one being ‘do not take rejections personally’. He said, “so far you have worked with prominent brands in the country and those brand backings give your business cards entry everywhere. However, when you will set up a new company, there will be no brand back up and the same people, who would chase you for business in your corporate role, may not even pick my call.” Fortunately, I did not face too many rejections but yes being prepared helped.

    Secondly he said ‘don’t make a plan B’. You have to succeed come what may. If you will have plan B, you will feel tempted to move away from challenges and that should never be a choice.

    Both these advices helped me immensely to make this entrepreneurial ride worthwhile.

  • What is a typical day at work like for you?
  • There is no typical day. Actually monotony bores me and that is one of the main reasons why I did not want to do a full time job. Entrepreneurship gives me opportunity that I can work on so many more assignments, experience different industries, meet variety of people (from CEOs of large corporates to 25 year old Start Up Heroes or SHEroes) and still have time to enjoy activities that I like be it travel, dance, catchup with friends, or outings with family.

    Everyday is different and that’s what makes the journey exciting.

  • When it comes to personal branding, what would you tell new and upcoming women entrepreneurs?
  • For entrepreneurs, men or women alike, it is important to work on their personal brand. Particularly for stakeholder management, which is what takes maximum time and effort as an entrepreneur, having a personal brand goes a long way.

    However, specific to women entrepreneurs, I think the most important aspect of personal branding is to be visible. Having a personal brand but no one knowing about it is no good. Networking is essential, which most of the women shy away from. When I say networking I do not mean increasing contact list in phonebook or wining and dining aimlessly. Instead it is about building relationships. Leave imprint of your experience with people. They will remember you.

  • A few thoughts you would like to leave our readers with?
  • We often believe that we are responsible for our success. However, in reality there is a whole ecosystem that works behind to help us succeed. Acknowledging this basic fact and remaining humble is critical for sustained success.Harness an attitude of gratitude.

A simple five-point formula to help women leaders have their cake – and eat it too

This article was first published in Her Story

Did you know?

  • India ranks the third-lowest in having women in leadership roles
  • Only 20 percent of the senior roles in corporate India are held by women
  • 41 percent of the businesses surveyed have no women in leadership roles

Recently I was reading an interesting study on women and leadership in corporate India and these numbers startled me. I strongly believe that irrespective of gender, leadership is not about the title, it is about the behaviour. Yet these numbers do tell a story, which makes women and leadership – or simply a respectable career – an often discussed topic.

Over nearly two decades in corporate India mentoring over 100 women on what it takes to be successful in corporate life while maintaining a happy personal life, I have observed the leadership behaviour of women very closely. I must say, women carry some impressive leadership qualities naturally, which they must leverage. But unfortunately, a lot of us give up early on. So I often pondered:

  • What limits us?
  • What must we do as women leaders to not only stay in the workforce but succeed too?
  • Do we have to choose between personal happiness and professional satisfaction?
  • Can we have it all?

The great news is, yes we can have it all – maybe not all at once, but then why to be in a hurry? Patience and persistence pay. So here is a five-point formula that women leaders must follow to achieve the right balance:

  1. It’s OK to not have everything ‘sorted’
  2. “Everyone else has it all figured out, only I have no idea whats going on”. Does this statement resonate with you? Be it the student fraternity, the professional space, a mothers’ group, or even social get-togethers, this is one common challenge most women tend to discuss with me. Often my response to them is, “No one is perfect. Why do you think even pencils come with an eraser?” It’s okay if we do not have our things figured out. Our beliefs are one of the most commonly found limiting factors in all human beings, but with a higher proportion amongst women. So, take one step at a time.

    First, believe in yourself and have confidence that you will swim through once you have jumped in the pool. Remember – the most attractive thing you can wear is confidence.

  3. Who needs to conform?
  4. Secondly, don’t conform to norms or stereotypes. Why is it taken for granted that if elders at home fall sick, or a PTM has to be attended in school, then the lady of the house has to take time off from work? In case any other member volunteers to do so, then it is looked upon as “help” and not really the role! Similarly, at work, the so-called tough tasks with pressing deadlines are given to men, and a lot of us accept it quietly. If you are expecting equal treatment then stand up on such occasions too.

    Let people think whatever they want to as no one can understand your situation better than yourself. So do what works the best for you. I am not saying be selfish, but definitely, love and respect yourself. We attract what we believe. You have to believe in your worth and capability.

  5. You define your success
  6. This brings me to my third observation i.e. the Superwoman Syndrome. We want to be the best daughter, best wife, best mother, ideal employee, top performer, and so on. Why? Who decides what’s the best? Each of these relationships and roles are special. Cherish them. Don’t fall into the trap of being the best according to someone else’s definition of who you should be. Have your own definition of success and enjoy every bit.

  7. Financial independence helps...a lot
  8. Being financially independent is the next big step. By this, obviously, I am not limiting the focus only to your salary. Being financially independent means planning your finances well, investing right, being insured for health and life, knowing your life goals and aligning your fund flow to them, and so on. It’s no longer cute to say, “Numbers don’t talk to me,” or “I don’t understand money and finance”. You must. Not only for personal financial security but also at professional fronts, a leader must understand numbers.

  9. Reach out for support when you need it
  10. Finally, remember to create a fantastic support system both at home and at work. Multitasking is not necessarily productive. While we may take pride in multitasking, a lot of research has proven that the human brain cannot always multitask efficiently and productively. Too many things on your mind can take away your focus. So, build a robust support system that you can rely upon when any of your roles demand more of you. Get used to technology and leverage the convenience it offers.

The list can go on and on, but this simple five-point formula has helped me come out of constant guilt trips and move up the corporate ladder while enjoying my kid’s company. We have to understand that the whole concept of work-life balance is a misnomer. They are pretty much a part of each other – they are fully integrated. The balance has to be within us. We have to overcome our limiting beliefs, and then no ceiling – whether glass or steel – can be a hurdle in a woman’s leadership journey.

From disruption to transformation: PR industry faces new challenges

This article was first published in Business Standard

From experiencing disruption to undergoing transformation, the public relations industry has begun to brace up to new challenges, a survey shows.

Apart from the ever-changing technology, rising expectations from corporates and rapidly evolving media trends have kept PR consultants on tenterhooks during the previous year, the survey conducted by the Public Relations Council of India (PRCI) -- the national body of PR, media, advertising, HR, marketing professionals -- shows.

The organisation conducted an opinion poll ahead of its 12th Global Communication Conclave to be held at Pune in March next with the theme "Transform or Perish".

"While it is given that PR consultants have to cope with the technological developments sweeping across the media universe, a major challenge lies in the pace with which the transformation, and not mere change, has to take place," PRCI National President B.N. Kumar told IANS.

"PR practitioners are now forced to keep pace with the social media challenges to deliver the message to their target audiences and react with equal speed to reports that may impact the image of their clients," he added.

"The growing usage of social media, WhatsApp and other digital platforms has caused significant disruption in the brand communication space," said Mitu Samar, Founder of Eminence -- a reputation management Company.

Focus was also on the unforeseen changes the government communication has witnessed. From tweets to the month-end Mann Ki Baat broadcasts have transformed the Prime Minister's messaging landscape. Also, there is the government's increasing focus on the social media, rather than the traditional media, that kept the brick-and-mortar model on the run.

"I will not say that the government and political communication have come of age. They have been transformed by technology," said S. Narendra, adviser to former PMs and ex-Government of India spokesperson.

"Twittering helps in speed. If PM or an official spokesperson tweets before breaking the news, he or she gains the upper hand in spin," he further added.

"The government's PR machinery really went out and improved the perception manifold. Proof of the success was that no one really said demonetisation was wrong, but only its implementation," said David Franklin, President at Concept PR.

The icing on the cake -- or Thepla for the saffron -- was the success of its rejuvenated political communication that helped it win Uttar Pradesh by a convincing majority, he continued.

"Globally, the advent of artificial intelligence and machine learning and deliberations on using these techs in PR hold a long term advantage for clients as well as for the PR industry. The structure is set to become efficient with the removal of avoidable manual intervention. Professionals can now focus on value-added services that can't be performed by robots. This trend would soon come to India as well," said Praveen Kumar Singh of Integrated Brand-comm Pvt. Ltd.

"The biggest change in the global communication industry in the coming years is going to be the emergence of social media as a key channel of communication," said Vijay Lakshmi, Executive Editor, Intermedia.

"While the print media has already been overshadowed by the electronic media, the PR industry not only needs to harness the electronic media for conveying its messages but it needs to be forward-looking and turn to social media as its key channel of communication going forward," she said.

"Like MoJo, or mobile journalism, is here to stay, MoPR too would become the order of the day as PR practitioners too would be needed to function against time and flash-of-a-second deadlines," said Mrityunjay Bose, Chief of Deccan Herald's Mumbai bureau.

"The year 2017 has truly been a transformative year for the PR industry where consultancies adopted integration of digital media and also mastered the art of creating integrated PR campaigns," said Richa Seth, Account Director, Adfactors PR.

PR is not complete without crisis communication. From political leaders to emergency ambulance services to corporates, crisis has engulfed all and will continue to do so.

"In my experience of advising various companies and individuals on reputation, 2017 communication practice highlight has been the need to have a well-articulated and practiced crisis communication plan," said Mitu Samar.

"This not only saves administrative efforts when a crisis hits but lets the company focus on the well planned response methodology -- right from sourcing trustworthy information, identifying spokespeople, crafting holding statement to disseminating its stance articulately and timely to the target group," she said.

"Digital communication has thrown up its own share of crisis," said Richa Seth.

"We are also witnessing many brands struggling to manage their reputation online, increasingly consumers are sharing their experience -- positive and negative -- with the brand on social media. This makes it imperative for communication professionals to understand the strategy for managing a Digital Crisis," Seth added.

Digital crisis has impacted political communication in a big way, going by the likes and trolls that one witnesses. The Gujarat election campaign has seen a new low of communication.

But many communicators feel that it was a year of transformation for Congress leader Rahul Gandhi as his strategy and tactics seem to have changed.

"He goes on a much-ridiculed vacation and a new improved version emerges, for the first time, at Princeton College. He talks with a new confidence and tweets with the best. Puns and jokes flow endlessly," concluded Franklin.