PrSpeak Shweta Shukla
Shweta Shukla
Country Head – External Relations, Procter & Gamble India
17 May 2012
The explosion of new media touch-points such as social media and mobile phones has given the External Relations function new opportunities to drive advocacy amongst consumers. Social media enables us to have greater and potentially deeper relationships with more consumers in more parts of the world. We are very engaged in all areas of digital communications from mobile to what have become more traditional sites such as Facebook.
Shweta Shukla is Head, External Relations at P&G, India’s fastest growing FMCG company with a turnover of Rs 5,000 crore and market leadership in most categories it operates in.

Probably the youngest Country Head of Corporate Communications and PR, Shukla completes 12 years with P&G in May 2012. She reports to P&G India CEO Shantanu Khosla and as member of the P&G India Leadership Team wears multiple hats of Corporate Trainer on Leadership & Gender Diversity, member of P&G’s cross functional campus recruitment panel and member of key industry associations such as FICCI, CII, ISA, among others.

She is a topper and gold medalist MBA in Communications from Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies, where she was recruited by P&G in May 2000 as Associate Manager, Brand PR.

In conversation with exchange4media’s Shanta Saikia, Shukla speaks at length about P&G’s corporate communications policies, corporate social responsibility and environment sustainability, how social media is changing communications dynamics and more...

Q. When was the External Relations team formed at P&G India? What is this team’s function?
External Relations was established in 2000. I took on leadership for the brand PR effective in 2003, followed by CCR in 2006, Regulatory and Govt Relations in 2010, thus becoming External Relations Country Head effective January 2010. The P&G India In-House External Relations team is responsible for protecting and building the P&G business and earning advocacy for its brands. The 11–member team brings unique capabilities to the business in leveraging superior stakeholder relationships that earn advocacy for P&G and its brands, across three focus areas:

Corporate Communication and Reputation (CC&R): This team builds and protects P&G’s corporate reputation by driving the company’s purpose of touching and improving the lives of consumers. This team conceptualised and led the creation of P&G flagship cause-related marketing programme Shiksha. This programme, now in its eighth year, has not only empowered 280,000 under-privileged children with access to education but has also built trial and equity for P&G brands. The team has also delivered superior media communication to build P&G reputation, across top business media in India.

Brand PR & influencer marketing: This discipline within the External Relations team focuses on earning advocacy for P&G brands amongst influencers and consumers. Campaigns such as The Gillette Shave India Movement and Oral-B Smile India Movement are examples of the same. The team also drives third-party credentialing for P&G brands, thus raising their credibility and equity amongst consumers.

Government and regulatory relations: This team protects and accelerates P&G access to the Indian market by ensuring zero business disruption within the legal, regulatory and political framework in India. The Government Relations team pioneered the Public-Private Partnership between P&G, Ministry of Health at the central level and several state governments, including Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Delhi, to build awareness on women and child development and make sanitary napkins and diapers more accessible.

Q. What are the major challenges in handling corporate communications for a group the size of P&G?
I see two prominent challenges:

Firstly, superior issues and crisis management for a company which is on a fast growth trajectory – When a company grows so fast with a robust and consistent growth of 20-30 per cent year-on-year, and business growing 10 times over in the last eight years, it also brings along a lot of unanticipated challenges. As the custodians and guardians of the company’s reputation, it is crucial for the team to anticipate crisis, regulate changes and take necessary action to pre-empt or manage them better. Towards this goal, the team is proactively building superior stakeholder relationships by keeping track of what is happening in the market and bringing the outside in at the right time to ensure that business plans and growth goes uninterrupted.

Secondly, connecting individual brands to the company brand and talking in one voice – For a company the size of P&G, with a wide range of categories and products – from diapers to beauty care to batteries, it is crucial to ensure that we talk in one voice to all stakeholders, and the CC&R team is able to achieve this with multi-brand initiatives such as Shiksha.

Q. You have been with P&G for 12 years, what have been the key changes in the Group’s corporate communications functions?
When I joined the company in 2000, PR was considered to be more of a support function. Since 2004, PR has become a core pillar and is become indispensable for brand leadership. The two areas of evolution are:

Business integration: The External Relations team now has an important seat on the management table and is now catering to the stakeholder management needs of each and every of P&G India’s 13 brands, be it Regulatory & Technical Relations role in new product and variant launches, Government Relations’ role in impacting the company’s bottom-line via cost savings, Brand PR’s role in driving word-of-mouth, consumer engagement and equity and credibility for P&G’s brands or Corporate Communications and Reputation Management.

Manage reputations in a flat world enabled by online news media and social media in real-time: Over the last few years, news is available via TV but also more accessible real-time through online news media, which means we as PR managers need to be ‘always on’. But what has really changed the game is news via consumers through social media, which is not only readily available for public consumption but is also not regulated. As communication experts, we recognise this opportunity as well as challenge early on and have made social media a core responsibility of brand PR and external relations through superior community management of our brands.

Q. Social media is changing the way an organisation interacts with its various stakeholders. How is P&G leveraging social media to build connect?
Social media enables us to have greater and potentially deeper relationships with more consumers in more parts of the world. We are very engaged in all areas of digital communications from mobile to what have become more traditional sites such as Facebook. As PR experts, influencing external stakeholders to engage and share information about us is integral to our DNA. So social media, where the external stakeholder is our consumer, allows us the right platform and opportunity to leverage these innate skills to encourage consumer conversations and participation.

Archives: Interviews
 
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Pete Pedersen
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Anthony A Rose
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Anthony A Rose
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<b>Olivier Fleurot</b>
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Shweta Shukla
Country Head – External Relations, Procter & Gamble India
<b>Shweta Shukla</b>
The explosion of new media touch-points such as social media and mobile phones has given the External Relations function new opportunities to drive advocacy amongst consumers. Social media enables us to have greater and potentially deeper relationships with more consumers in more parts of the world. We are very engaged in all areas of digital communications from mobile to what have become more traditional sites such as Facebook.
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