‘Progressive organizations create an enabling and supportive environment for women’
Ophira Bhatia, Director, Corporate & Government Affairs (CGA), India and Lead, AMEA, Mondelēz International, asserts that the yardstick of success for any programme is when it meets a business need
‘I love what I do every day’, says Ophira Bhatia over a candid conversation with exchange4media, as part of the latest feature in the ongoing 2nd edition of ‘Women Achievers Series’. Ophira’s inclination and fondness towards creativity and communication landed her in the world of PR. She has been in the corporate communications industry in India for over 23 years now, and has consulted and worked with a range of both Indian and multinational clients and in multiple markets in Asia Pacific.
Ophira has wide–ranging expertise across key industries and sectors, including infrastructure, information technology, food, media and entertainment, financial services, government, and trade promotion and has been a part of both sides of the table; the agency side as well as the corporate side. In her current role, Ophira is the Director, Corporate & Government Affairs (CGA), India and Lead, CGA, Asia Pacific, Middle East & Africa (AMEA), Mondelēz International, where she oversees the company’s corporate reputation programme, government relations, internal communications, CSR, corporate PR and issues and crisis management in India.
In this latest feature, Ophira Bhatia takes a walk down memory lane and talks about her journey in the communication industry, the pandemic, inclusion and more.
How did you enter the comms industry? How has been your journey ever since? What was the defining moment in your career?
I stumbled into communications! Over 23 years ago, I wanted to enter the field of advertising based on my short internship at an advertising agency. I recall spending my internship logging beta tapes but was nevertheless fascinated by the environment – both the creative and the business process. And that is when I met Roger Pereira, a doyen of the PR industry and an advertising guru, for guidance on how I should plan my career in advertising. He instantly offered me a job at Roger Pereira Communications, and I started working on an interim basis - until I found a good opening in advertising. The rest is history – I spent the next 16 years with the firm. I cannot imagine another profession for myself today. All my foundational learnings were at this agency, combined with our international partnerships that gave me an opportunity to work on global mandates.
My move from the agency to join the erstwhile Cadbury India (now Mondelez India) nine years ago was clearly a turning point in my career. As I jumped ship to the other side, my learning grew exponentially. The deep involvement we have as in-house corporate affairs teams with the business and its reputation, its risks and opportunities are unparalleled and the learning is immense. Transitioning from a PR and communications agency to driving all aspects of reputation - including internal communications, public affairs, community, and sustainability, all linked to business outcomes has been a journey of tremendous learning.
2020 was a different year. What major changes did it bring into your life both professionally and personally? What were the major challenges faced?
2020 was a year of significant learning – black swan events like Covid often accelerate learning. As communications professionals, we have all tackled crises of different kinds – but never one like this. Besides working from home and remote ways of connecting with colleagues, I think the biggest opportunity was for our function to be at the front and center of leading this crisis – external communications, internal communications and engagement, social media, public and government affairs, crisis management - everything we do came together all at once. And of course, the way we worked as a function had to change – virtual media conferences and events, a greater focus on visual storytelling, and the use of creative tools to connect with stakeholders.
If I were to pick one challenge (or opportunity) it would be on driving effective internal communications for a remote work environment. How does one build culture, connect teams and drive our values and purpose to a remote workforce.
From a more personal perspective, I think this year has given all of us an opportunity to step back and evaluate what is important in our lives – personally and professionally – and take up forgotten hobbies and activities that make you happy.
What has been your biggest inspiration to serve the industry?
Over the years the role of the communicator has evolved – today it is a leadership role and in many organizations like Mondelēz International, it sits within the country leadership team. This underscores that reputation and trust among stakeholders are critical to do business and drive the freedom of businesses to operate. The magic of driving the narrative, crafting the story, and engaging a wide spectrum of audiences through programmes and platforms has always been fascinating to me. This has become more complex (and exciting) in the social media world where we all have had to challenge our own assumptions on what works or what doesn’t. And for me, the yardstick of success for any programme, however creative, is when it meets a business need.
Who has been your inspiration?
There have been several people who have shaped the professional in me, and Roger Pereira is the one whom I worked with for 15 years. People like Allwyn Fernandes and Ashoke Bijapurkar were all inspirations and leaders who made a significant impact on my career and my approach to this business. The one big learning was – how can I shift the needle of the business (either promote or protect it) with the work I do.
What are the three adjectives that define you as a communicator?
I would say resourceful, creative, and empathetic. And I love what I do every day.
Why do we witness attrition in women leadership as we go high above the ladder?
As with any industry or professional environment, the pressures of balancing home and work – especially in critical life stages like marriage or parenting or looking after older parents takes a toll on careers. Progressive organizations create an enabling and supportive environment for women during these times. At Mondelēz India for example, we have flexible working policies, support services for young mothers, healthcare, and wellness designed for women. In the PR industry in India, it is heartening to see so many women in leadership positions both at agencies and in-house.
How did you convert a crisis into an opportunity for yourself, professionally?
At the heart of being a corporate communicator is that you learn to manage crisis! That’s our learning ground. I have always viewed every crisis that my clients or the company I work for now as an opportunity to learn – and every time, even after all these years, a crisis always teaches me something new. My learning mantra is always to dissect a crisis after we are done and see what could have been better and what went well. The crisis also tests you as a leader and individual – how you perform under pressure and drive performance in your team and partners. So, never let a crisis go to waste.
What are the steps that you would take to support other women in the industry at large?
The biggest support I can provide is to share my experiences, and coach and mentor young women in the industry. Besides speaking at various forums and to groups of young professionals, I have had the opportunity to mentor young PR professionals. And I constantly seek reverse mentoring – because, in today’s fast-changing VUCA world, it is critical to stay abreast with trends and evolving communication tools like Social Media, Influencer Engagement, Visual Storytelling, etc.
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