Covid-19 has completely changed the future of communication and has brought in opportunities for growth last seen in the wake of economic liberalisation in the early '90s.
In order to record the evolving shape of corporate communications post 2020, PRmoment India along with Kaizzen presents Pathfinders 10 for 2021 where 10 emerging corporate communications leaders will share their blueprint on the path head for the PR and communications sector in India.
This column will be carried twice monthly- for 5 months as part of Season 1 of the series.
In the second post, Sonia Huria, head of communications, India for Amazon Prime Video shares her views on the future of post Covid communications.
With over 18 years of experience in the entertainment and the consumer space, Sonia is the first person in this India role to report directly to the APAC and Canada Prime Video communications chief, Tobias Tringali.
PRmoment India: What is your top forecast for the future of communications in India?
Sonia Huria: Traditionally, communications has been considered an offshoot of marketing; however, over the years it has undergone a 180 degree change to becoming a strategic contributor to an organization’s business strategy and day to day operations. If you can’t communicate a strategy, you simply can’t execute it.
Today goals are set, target audiences identified, messages developed, success metrics determined at the onset of campaigns and not as an afterthought. It is essential to know what is supposed to happen to compare it to what did happen. And finally, what can we learn from it for next time?
Through a consistent, yet benefit centric message, which focusses on ‘what’s in it for the audience,’ the channels should be used basis what the stakeholder considers the most relevant source of knowledge and impact. If you see, the onset of digital platforms has made ‘know who’ is table-stakes, and catalyzed ‘know how.’ We are already seeing an uptake of data analytics and use of tools that drive insights that both create and measure the impact of communications.
Simultaneously one other change is happening - the quality of talent that is entering this function is unparalleled. We are already seeing an influx of talent from all walks of business join communication – consulting, economics, behavior sciences etc. They are ambitious and results-driven.
I see that happening in my own team, which is full of young, vibrant, goal-oriented people who know how to make the most of their empowerment. Each one of them is an achiever, ready to take tricky decisions and more importantly, stand by those decisions.
Understandably the two are connected as the communication function integrates more deeply with business, and become a strategic contributor, it attracts top talent.
PRmoment India: One sector ripe for strategic communications not related to your current industry.
Sonia Huria: Given the highly competitive and dynamic business ecosystem every sphere and from health to financial services to manufacturing, needs strategic communications. It is a business imperative.
Well before the COVID-19 pandemic, senior leaders routinely worried that their organizations are slow, or siloed, or in some cases quite complicated. What they feared has been confirmed by the pandemic.
Most companies needed to move from an era of standardization and predictability to three megatrends: enhanced connectivity, integration of technology and shift in demographics. I believe these collectively make an organization future ready. And every future ready company is ripe for communication, well beyond the sunrise sectors.
PRmoment India: One key leadership skill in the context of team building for communicators in the future?
Sonia Huria: It would be perhaps the ‘right thing to say’ that empathy is a prerequisite for leadership and team building. But then, I would not really be a good mentor if I do not call out the one underlying factor that has helped most of us who are in leadership roles reach where we are today and that is hard work and perseverance.
There are no shortcuts to success. I strongly believe that the upcoming professionals need to understand and appreciate this. It takes time to develop subject matter expertise, it takes time to foster meaningful collaborations and learn from a variety of experiences that come our way.
I encourage all young entrants to work relentlessly hard, give it their all, and believe in themselves, to earn a seat at the leadership table. To be heard and seen, to be part of the voice that carries the message of the organization to the outside world requires tenacious focus and desire to succeed. There are no shortcuts there.
PRmoment India: One biggest stumbling block for communications for realizing its potential. Within the marketing communication matrix?
Sonia Huria: Traditionally, Public Relations has always been focused ‘who do you know’ - how good are your networking skills are, as against what you really want to stand-for and advocate.
Over the years, I have met and interacted with a number of journalists. Imagine my surprise when quite a few of them groused about the fact that the majority of the pitches made to them actually do not make the cut simply because professionals do not have a clear understanding of what they are pitching, to who and how would it be relevant to them.
This really saddens me. But this really isn’t a talent issue; it’s a training one. The onus of truly harnessing the innate capabilities and talent of communication professionals lies with the managers and leaders. Time has come to create reskilling/upskilling opportunities by extensive trainings, knowledge sharing, to enable young professionals understand how they can make meaningful contributions and go from discussing volume to value.
PRmoment India: One personal epiphany during COVID-19 about the future of communications
Sonia Huria: Communications as an industry has always stood with one foot in uncertainty. While we need things to be perfect from the word go, our ability to adapt, be able to do things on the fly, be agile is what is communications is legendary for. And that is why we handled COVID-19 in a more resilient fashion as compared to other business disciplines.
While the crisis did result in change in our priorities, our strategies, we were quick to pivot and step up to ensure that communications was on top of its game.
All during the first wave and the deadlier second wave of the pandemic, dealing with the unfortunate and sad news from all fronts, we have trooped on to provide continuous and unwavering support to our leaders by offering counsel to them on provision of empathy leaves, lesser workdays in a week, being in constant touch with the affected employees and their families, amongst others.
This has helped us in creating an empathic, inclusive, people-first work culture.
PRmoment India: Your breakthrough communications moment?
Sonia Huria: I love the saying, “A tree without roots is just a piece of wood.” During the last year of lockdown and isolation
I have started to see inter-personal connections in a new light. For beautiful things to flourish, we need to nurture and heed our roots.
The steps that I’ve taken to get to where I am, have had a monumental influence on my perspective today as a communications professional. As leaders, we bear huge responsibility on behalf of the incredible brands we represent, many of which have faced testing times over the past year. To help them overcome their challenges, we owe it to them to bring our full selves, our cultural compass, an open mind, and a respect for diverse views to their challenges each and every day.
I feel very fortunate to work in an industry and in a role where the work we do matters. Just as we bring our true selves to work, we also need to guarantee that there will be safe spaces for open dialogue with our consultants, partners, and agencies so that their meaningful evolution of our ecosystem happens simultaneously.
About Sonia Huria
“I am at a place where I always wanted to be, and yet, sky is the limit.”
Sonia Huria is most inspired by the chance to building brand communication strategies, implementing them at scale, bridging internal communication across a geographically and demographically diverse workforce and crafting a humane story for an organization. These are the intrinsic challenges that interest her and keep me motivated . She says, "And all this and more is what I get to pursue in my current role as the head communications at Amazon Prime Video India."
Sonia has also worked at Weber Shandwick and Genesis Burson Marsteller. In 2008, she joined Viacom18 to launch its flagship channel COLORS.
She is also a managing committee member at The Advertising Club.
Thanks to our partner Kaizzen for their support.