‘The new decade will be one of digital revolution with advancements in communication tech’

Ajey Maharaj, Group Head, Corporate Communications and PR at Fortis, talks about the changing PR and Corp Comm landscape, the future trends of the industry and more

e4m by exchange4media Staff
Published: Jun 17, 2022 8:22 AM  | 5 min read
Ajey Maharaj

With over three decades in the public relations and corporate affairs industry, Ajey Maharaj, Group Head, Corporate Communications and PR at Fortis, is no stranger to evolving trends, effective messaging and crisis management, especially when tides have flown over a pandemic.

In this interview, Maharaj opens up about his journey, how he has seen the PR and Corp Comm landscape transforming, his “accidental” entry into the field and the trends he expects the industry to face in the coming years.

Excerpts:

You have been in the corporate communications industry for close to three decades now. How has the journey been and how have you seen the industry evolve/ transform in all these years?

Corporate communications, as a concept and an industry, has gradually evolved in the past two decades. Earlier, it meant more to do with external and internal communications and media relations but many aspects have undergone a transformation. Today, organisations want to do more than just communicate about their initiatives and growth to benefit the business. Today an organisation drives purpose, is empathetic and how much it relates to the public interest and its key stakeholders. Employee morale and integration is also a key part of corporate communications. Plus, the expansion of digital health services and growth in social media has completely changed the way communication professionals navigate through business communications today and has led to a recalibration of the communications industry.

Today corporate communication has to be seen as integrated with media relations, brand communications, traditional and digital marketing. It has become much more creative and is a highly recognized space today.

Today, Internal Communications has become an integral and crucial part of the Corporate Communications function. In the healthcare industry for instance, Internal Communications played a pivotal role during COVD-19 as organisations needed to keep the frontline staff regularly updated with the rapidly-changing protocols, share personal safety information and emerging best practices whilst keeping them motivated by recognising the good work. COVID-19 has also played a very critical role in shaping the PR and communications industry in the past two years with brands relying on corporate communications in the absence of traditional, on-ground marketing activities. Information reassures when emotions are running high. During the pandemic, corporate communications launched an effective multi-media outreach, ensuring that scientifically-accurate information from experts were shared with the people and fears were allayed.

Before healthcare, you have worked in the power and telecommunications sector. What were the changes you had to embrace when you shifted between diverse sectors?

Power and telecommunications are two diverse sectors but strong beckoners of the country’s infrastructure. Though there wasn’t much diversification in terms of work, the media connect and brand narrative for both the sectors were strong. Back in the 1990s, India was an evolving economy with all the major sectors undergoing privatisation. It was imperative to have a sustained media outreach to convey the brand messaging with regards to privatisation of the power sector and how it would benefit the Indian economy in terms of AT&C losses, reduced power thefts and eventually build a stronger economy.

You have a Master's degree in business administration yet you chose the field of Corporate Communications. Tell us about your decision of venturing into corp comm at a time when the term was probably at its nascent stages.

PR and Communications happened to me by accident. While working with SAIL, I was part of the Sports Cell, being a National Level Basketball player. The Cell was under the Public Relations Department in the organisation. SAIL used to organise and sponsor national and international level tournaments on a regular basis. I was responsible for communication with the media and getting news published in the print media around the tournaments. I enjoyed the process and the outcomes, and later started regularly contributing for the internal newsletters and other relevant communications, since then there has been no looking back.

Where do you see the Indian Corp Comm industry in the next five to 10 years and what are the trends that this industry can expect in the coming years?

Corporate communication will become more and more significant as it will influence how a brand communicates with the public, industry partners and also policymakers. Communication is less about being business-driven today and more about consumer experience. The messages a brand gives out and the way it is perceived are key to building customer support and loyalty.

Transparency, accountability are higher now to win patient and customer support as things are increasingly going digital. In times of crisis, timely, fast communication and redressal mechanisms are crucial.

If we talk about media, then newsrooms are shrinking constantly and the digital world continues to expand, changing the way the world consumes news and information. Communication professionals need to evolve, think out of the box and deliver robust integrated campaigns. The new decade will be one of digital revolution with advancements in communication technology especially podcasts, Twitter spaces and clubhouse will pave the way brands communicate. There will be a shift in the influencer paradigm with the rise of micro influencers. PR Measurement Matrix with quantifying business impact from PR will become an important task.

What would your advice be to the young generation?

Change is the only constant in life. Everyone needs to engage in the continual process of upskilling to keep up with the demands of the ever-evolving communication industry. It is important to not only have analytical and creative skills but also soft skills. Sharing of insights and knowledge, stronger integration with the business, teamwork and problem-solving attitude, patience backed by strong interpersonal skills will be instrumental in achieving success.

The content in this section is curated by the PR and Communications team. For any feedback kindly write to karan.bhatia@exchange4media.com.

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Amrita Ray joins Taj Hotels as Associate Director – PR

She was associated with JW Marriott Hotel, Kolkata as Marketing Manager before

By exchange4media Staff | Jan 19, 2023 12:11 PM   |   1 min read

AM

Amrita Ray has joined Taj Hotels as Associate Director – Public Relations. She will be based in Kolkata, West Bengal.

Prior to this, she was associated with JW Marriott Hotel, Kolkata as Marketing Manager.

Ray is an experienced marketing communications manager with a demonstrated history of working in the hospitality industry. She is also skilled in public and media relations, corporate social responsibility, content writing, crisis communications, event management and editing.

Ray has worked with notable media houses and corporates namely TV Today, TV South Asia, NDTV, Hindustan times, Nextgen Communication, The Park Hotels, The Lalit Suri Hospitality Group, BMW India, Marriott International and The Leela Palaces, Hotels and Resorts.

The content in this section is curated by the PR and Communications team. For any feedback kindly write to karan.bhatia@exchange4media.com.

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Vaishnavi Ramakrishnan joins Apollo Hospitals Group as SVP – Communications

She was previously associated with Ola as Head of Communications

By exchange4media Staff | Jan 17, 2023 3:15 PM   |   1 min read

vaishnavi

Vaishnavi Ramakrishnan has joined Apollo Hospitals Group as SVP – Communications. Here, she will be responsible to build the group’s communication strategy across businesses and manage leadership communication.

Previously, she spearheaded communications for Ola in both their riding hailing and electric business. Prior to that she held a position as Director of Communications with Flipkart.

Spanning a career in journalism and communications consultant with Edelman India, Ramakrishnan has worked for several brands and companies spanning varied sectors. She has worked with reputed media organisations such as ET Now, UTVi and Times Now.

Apollo Hospitals is India’s leading healthcare service provider that is known for clinical excellence, its hospitals, pharmacies and online health services.

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e4m PR & Corp Comm 40 Under 40: Jurors pick the best from 120+ entries

The winners will be unveiled and felicitated at the summit and awards ceremony on February 1, 2023

By exchange4media Staff | Jan 16, 2023 8:40 AM   |   2 min read

e4m PR & Corp Comm

The jury meet for the fourth edition of ‘e4m PR and Corp Comm 40 under 40’ took place virtually on Friday, January 13, 2023. The e4m PR and Corporate Communication 40 under 40 summit and awards will identify the generation PR and Communication leaders, who are shaping the industry through their forward-looking vision. The awards will honour those brightest professionals, entrepreneurs, game-changers, achievers of the industry under the age 40. The panel examined on the aspects of communication along with agility, technology, human interface and mentorship.

This year, Atul Ahluwalia, founding partner, First Partners and Dr Annurag Batra, Chairman and Editor-in-Chief, exchange4media and BW Businessworld, will grace the jury chair. The other members of the grand jury are: Atipriya Sarawat, vice president – brand, communication & corporate citizenship, Fiserv; Arpana Kumar Ahuja, head corporate communications and brand, Shell India; Chhavi Leekha, vice president – corporate communications and brand reputation, Indigo; Dimple Raisurana Kapur, vice president and head of corporate communications, Pernod Ricard India; Kinshuk Gupta, senior vice president and head – corporate communications, Airtel; Lovina Gujral, COO, Candour Communications; Pradeep Wadhwa, founder and principal, Kritical Edge Consulting Pvt. Ltd.; Pramuch Goel, VP and head – corporate communications, Mahindra Rise; Rachana Panda, country group head, communication and public affairs, India, Bayer; Rishi Seth, independent consultant; Subramaniam M, practice lead – technology, Hill+Knowlton Strategies; Trupti Vasudev, director, Actimedia PR and Digital; Vivek Satya Mitram, director – communications, Bobble AI and Varghese M Thomas, independent consultant.

The grand jury looked into the nominations on several criterion, including leadership, accomplishments, future potential, and contribution to the industry. Jury members independently inspected each entry and evaluated them based on their respective judging parameters. These best minds in the public relations and corporate communications industry talked on who should make the final cut with discussions that lasted for over five hours.

The jury members were fascinated by entrants who had a clear vision of their work, their presentation, nature of articulation of their work and accomplishments. Nominations that showcased a relevant and niche PR and communications approach and conceptualized something distinctive received close attention. The winners will be unveiled and felicitated on the day of the summit and awards ceremony on February 1, 2023.

The content in this section is curated by the PR and Communications team. For any feedback kindly write to karan.bhatia@exchange4media.com.

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'Campaigns with human experiences and storytelling at their hearts are often memorable'

In today’s Epilogue 2022 series, Shashikant Someshwar, MD, Current Global, The Weber Shandwick Collective, talks about how technology plays a big role in driving the evolution of PR and corp comm

By Ruchika Jha | Jan 13, 2023 12:04 PM   |   4 min read

Shashikant Someshwar

As we enter into the new year, it's time to reflect on our learnings, triumphs and mistakes of the year gone by. With this in mind, we present 'Epilogue 2022', a year-ender series from e4m PR & Corp Comm that will feature stalwarts from the Indian PR fraternity.

Today, we have Shashikant Someshwar, MD, Current Global, The Weber Shandwick Collective. In a career spanning around two decades, Someshwar has led many successful, high-profile communications campaigns across a diverse blue-chip client set. He was previously vice president at Perfect Relations and has deep experience of developing and managing high-growth operations.

Excerpts:

What are the changes you have seen in the industry this year (2022)?

I’ve noticed three significant shifts in the space this year.

Since podcasts are engaging, versatile, and very convenient for the audience to follow, it is no surprise that their popularity has seen a steadfast rise. With easily curated content formats like reels entering the space, targeting niche audiences and developing deeper connections with them has been the way to go when it comes to building brand affinity and loyalty.

Secondly, influencer marketing is coming of age, as content creators are becoming more creative with their expressions, and the kind of influence they enjoy regarding their followers is the real pot of gold for brands. Influencer marketing aids brands in expanding their target group and reaching a wider audience while growing their social media presence, following, as well as traffic on their site, at the same time converting leads and driving sales.

Lastly, there has been a major transformation in how corporates are embracing and promoting Diversity Equality and Inclusion (DEI) and exuding empathy in the workplace. The changing policies have made for many interesting storylines. The routinisation of remote work and the career shuffle set off by the Great Resignation have intensified DEI issues, as employees now survey their career options and evaluate softer factors alongside location and compensation.

What are the trends that have yielded optimum results this year? Are there any global trend practices that you would like the Indian PR/ Corp Comm fraternity to adopt?

Campaigns that put human experiences and storytelling at the heart of their messaging are often memorable ones. As data-driven as we are, we also realise that the secret is to look deeper when planning your next campaign. After all, campaign results rely on human cognition and the countless micro-decisions people often make without even realising it, and that’s the aspect that the human element of a campaign can influence. Creating that magic is possible only when all marketing departments collaborate in the creation of the campaign. These collaborative campaigns, equipped with the perfect balance of a data-driven and human-centric approach, are emerging more often in global markets and are an aspect that homegrown PR space should consider embodying.

We are rapidly moving ahead in the area of digital communications and will do more of it in the new year. Do you feel that new technology can co-exist harmoniously with the traditional ways of PR and corporate communications?

Technology is already playing a significant role in driving the evolution of PR and corporate communications. With the rapid digitisation of the world triggered by the pandemic, a substantial part of our audience exists on digital platforms, and it is only by leveraging technology that communicators can reach those audiences.

From a communicator’s point of view, it’s made us more productive with our time, which is a scarce commodity given our 24X7 jobs. Communicators have benefited immensely in areas such as monitoring, discovery, measurement, and tackling crises with the enablement that comes with technological advancements. Tracking results of work done, as well as foreseeing the probable outcomes of work to be done, has been made possible through technological advancements; and as a bonus, it helps justify and quantify the return on investments for our clients as well.

As we reach full-time normalcy, there has been a fresh revival in talent acquisition and salary restoration. What are the other areas that you are expecting a full revival in?

I reckon in-person events will make a comeback. In many aspects, in-person events are irreplaceable, and attendees are eager to return to face-to-face interactions. Over the past three years, event organisers have found innovative ways to utilise virtual events. And, to begin with, it was never a question of replacing live events per se. In-person events have been on the rise with the ending of the pandemic and will grow further in the coming year. However, with that, we will also need to rethink our story-pitching strategy. Customisation will win over mass pitches and embargos.

The content in this section is curated by the PR and Communications team. For any feedback kindly write to karan.bhatia@exchange4media.com.

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e4m PR & Corp Comm 40 Under 40: Jurors to shortlist from 120+ entries

The candidates will be selected on the basis of leadership, accomplishment, future potential, and contribution to the industry

By exchange4media Staff | Jan 13, 2023 8:30 AM   |   2 min read

PR and Corporate Communication

The jury meet for the fourth edition of ‘e4m PR and Corp Comm 40 under 40’ will take place virtually on Friday, January 13, 2023. Out of 120+ entries received, the shortlisted ones will be showcased at the grand event. The e4m PR and Corporate Communication 40 under 40 summit and awards will identify the generation PR and Communication leaders, who are shaping the industry through their forward-looking vision. The awards will honour the brightest professionals, entrepreneurs, game-changers, achievers of the industry under the age of 40. The panel will examine on the aspects of communication along with agility, technology, human interface and mentorship.

This year, Atul Ahluwalia, founding partner, First Partners and Dr Annurag Batra, Chairman and Editor-in-Chief, exchange4media and BW Businessworld, will grace the jury chair. The other members of the grand jury are: Atipriya Sarawat, vice president – brand, communication & corporate citizenship, Fiserv; Arpana Kumar Ahuja, head corporate communications and brand, Shell India; Chhavi Leekha, vice president – corporate communications and brand reputation, Indigo; Dimple Raisurana Kapur, vice president and head of corporate communications, Pernod Ricard India; Kinshuk Gupta, senior vice president and head – corporate communications, Airtel; Lovina Gujral, COO, Candour Communications; Pradeep Wadhwa, founder and principal, Kritical Edge Consulting Pvt. Ltd.; Pramuch Goel,  VP and head – corporate communications, Mahindra Rise; Rachana Panda, country group head, communication and public affairs, India, Bayer; Rishi Seth, independent consultant; Subramaniam M, practice lead – technology, Hill+Knowlton Strategies; Trupti Vasudev, director, Actimedia PR and Digital; Vivek Satya Mitram, director – communications, Bobble AI and Varghese M Thomas, independent consultant.

The grand jury will look into the nominations on several aspects like leadership, accomplishments, future potential, and contribution to the industry. For the virtual jury process, the grand jury will be divided into two groups - Group A and Group B - with one jury chair in each virtual room to judge all the nominations diligently.

The final awardees will be unveiled and felicitated on the day of the summit and awards ceremony on February 1, 2023.

The content in this section is curated by the PR and Communications team. For any feedback kindly write to karan.bhatia@exchange4media.com.

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On Purpose teams up with Rebuild India Fund to provide pro-bono support to 500 NGOs

The consultancy has signed an MoU to provide communications capacity-building support for the NGOs over the next five years

By exchange4media Staff | Jan 10, 2023 12:32 PM   |   3 min read

rebuild india fund

ON PURPOSE, a creative communications consultancy with a mission to use communications for social change in India, has signed an MoU with The Rebuild India Fund to provide communications capacity-building support for 500 NGOs over the next five years on a pro-bono basis. The collaboration is focussed at achieving self-sufficiency within the organisations to be able to tell their story effectively and raise visibility for the causes they champion.

As part of the collaboration, ON PURPOSE will co-design training modules to deliver to multiple cohorts from across India on a quarterly basis. The design of these workshops will be tailored to the needs of the cohort and include areas such as Communications Planning Framework, Goal Setting and Measurement, Media and Digital Storytelling, the Power of Owned Media and How to Raise Founder visibility to generate goodwill and funds for these organisations.

The Rebuild India Fund was created to help marginalised communities overcome the negative impacts of COVID-19. It is dedicated to connecting the funding community with grassroots NGOs to empower the underserved communities to be more crisis-ready, resilient, and striding towards success, even in the face of setbacks. The Rebuild India Fund has been conceptualised and is managed by Dasra, globally recognized as one of India’s most trusted strategic philanthropy organizations. Dasra has a deep understanding of the Indian social sector, and has channelized more than $300 million to social causes, touching the lives of over 100 million Indians across the country.
Deval Sanghavi, Co-founder & Partner, Dasra, said, “In the last two decades, we have supported thousands of NGO leaders to scale their programs and create a lasting impact in the communities they serve. At this juncture, we are highly motivated to develop their internal capacity for effective communication to get them noticed and recognized for their commendable work. We are confident that ON PURPOSE with its extensive experience and remarkable work in the sector we operate in, is the right partner for this mission of enhancing, calibrating and amplifying grassroots NGOs’ self-sufficiency efforts.”

Girish Balachandran, Founder & Managing Director ON PURPOSE, said, “As we turned five years old earlier this year, this commitment is a reiteration of our mission to use the power of communications to drive social change in India. It’s why we started in the first place and our reason to exist. Partnering with The Rebuild India Fund allows us to scale our annual property, The Purpose Project (where we select a single NGO to provide pro bono communications capacity building every year), into something much bigger than we’d ever imagined, to be able to help the most vulnerable communities build resilience by supporting a vibrant group of locally led, community rooted NGOs across the country.”

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Measurement on a Budget

Guest Column: Durgesh Garg, VP – Operations, Impact Research & Measurement, shares tips on how to get started on the measurement journey while keeping costs in check

By Durgesh Garg | Jan 10, 2023 12:39 PM   |   5 min read

PR

It wasn’t uncommon for PR professionals to ignore measurement a few years ago. However, things are changing now. Today, despite calling for a monitoring discussion, PR professionals bring up measurement questions also in the same discussion. Still, most measurement discussions do not convert into measurement projects for many reasons. Budget is often one of the factors. The good news is you do not have to have deep pockets to incorporate media measurement into your PR programs. Measuring does not have to be expensive if we keep in mind certain basic principles while designing our measurement programs.

When PR professionals understand the power and potential of measurement, they get carried away. They expand the scope to cover issues, regions and players which may or may not be required for their first measurement effort. All this adds to the cost of measurement. Here are some tips on how to get started on your measurement journey while keeping the costs in check. 

First and foremost, we need to be clear about our organizational objectives and accordingly communication objectives. We also need to identify the right (target) audience whom we want to communicate with. This will in turn help us scope our measurement approach. The very first principle of the Barcelona Principles 3.0 also recommends the same. 

Although outputs alone are directional and not absolute measures, they offer a budget-friendly way to start your measurement journey. In Barcelona Principles 3.0, Principle 2 clearly states that organizations should measure outputs, outcomes and potential impact. But for the purpose of this article, and for organizations who have not yet started their measurement journey, let's start with output measurement with few examples:

Example 1:

A new company, Company X, is entering the gold loan market, which already has established players such as Muthoot and others. The PR campaign's goal is to raise public awareness of the company and its services. Also, the company’s focus is currently on Southern markets. If we were to translate the same into objectives* for measurement, they may look like the following: 

  • Increase in number of articles by 25% on a quarterly basis
  • 75% of the articles in Target Media
  • 80% of the articles in Southern Editions 

As you can see, all the above parameters are quantitative and can be easily measured with Quantitative Analysis without spending a lot of money. 

Points to remember:

Measuring only the above parameters should be sufficient. Adding more variables like sentiment, messaging, etc., which increase the measurement effort and the cost, may be unnecessary at this stage. Sometimes, quantitative measurement is sufficient for short-term campaigns with simple objectives.

Example 2:

Company Y is a well-established company in the Consultancy space. PR's primary objective here is to establish the company and its partners as thought leaders, and most of their efforts are directed towards that goal. If we were to convert the same into SMART Output objectives*, they may look like the following:

  • 35% Share of Voice Vis-à-vis Competition (basis no. of articles)
  • 15% increase in Thought Leadership pieces (Opinion Pieces/Interviews/Quotes) Vs Competition
  • Highest number of articles on Surveys/Reports Vs Competition

Since the articles would have to be scrutinized in depth and qualified based on these parameters, this is a qualitative analysis that requires more effort. This will also have to be done for all articles appearing on client and competition in all publications. Thus, we would have to analyse a large number of articles. All this will make the effort expensive. 

However, to accomplish this analysis within budget, we may take the following approaches: 

  • Only include the competitors who are direct competitors of our firm in the analysis and not all companies operating in the space by carefully reviewing their names. Adding additional competitors will increase the cost unnecessarily and may not serve any purpose. Therefore, we should measure our direct competitors only. 
  • The target media universe is another important consideration. Considering the company is in the consulting business, their target audience may typically be readers of Business Newspapers, Business Magazines and Top English Mainlines. For that reason, coverage appearing only in this target media should be examined. Analysis of any article appearing in any other publication outside of this universe would be a waste of time and money. 
  • Sampling Approach is an industry standard practice taken by companies where the volume of coverage is high, and budget is a challenge. For this, we may take various approaches such as:
    • Reviewing only coverage appearing in top publications within the Target Media Universe
    • Analyzing only prominent coverage (Headline Mentions / 2-3 mentions within article, etc.) by identifying such coverage with the help of technology thus reducing the manual effort and cost.

In my experience, the results of the sampling approach are almost as good as those obtained from the analysis of all articles. Due to the significant cost savings that are achieved with this approach, it is highly recommended for companies that receive a lot of media attention. 

By using these methods, we are able to incorporate measurement into our PR campaigns within our budget constraints without burning a hole in our pocket. Rather than presenting a laundry list of what we want to measure and later complaining that measurement is expensive, we need to be clear about our objectives and accordingly what needs to be measured.

As mentioned earlier, the above are few examples of Output Measurement. In a similar manner, we may plan to measure Outtakes and Outcomes within our budget. 

Wishing you a very happy measurement journey! 

Durgesh Garg has 24 years’ experience in Media Measurement and Evaluation. He also holds an International Certificate in Measurement and Evaluation with Distinction from AMEC. 

(The views expressed here are solely those of the authors and do not in any way represent the views of exchange4media.com)

The content in this section is curated by the PR and Communications team. For any feedback kindly write to karan.bhatia@exchange4media.com.

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