PRmoment-Kaizzen Pathfinders 10 for 2021: In Conversation with Tata Motors' Annesha Deb

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.

In the fourth post of this column, Annesha Deb, corporate communications at Tata Motors shares her views on the future of post Covid communications. And on why ROI and budgets are the biggest hurdles in the growth of the corporate communication function.

PRmoment India: Your top forecast for the future of communications regarding communication budgets?

Annesha Deb: With digitization playing a big role, corporate communications, has broken the shackles that separated it from marketing. Gone are the days when marketing and PR were as separate as church and state. Now, the difference between the two is just a thin sheet of glass. The only way to break this is to give us communicators an equal share in budgets.

It may not be true for all, but every year we must be witnessing the death of great ideas only because of monetary constraints, so some leeway there is expected in the future, which would definitely benefit the PR community.

PRmoment India: Is the corporate sector showing more uptake of owned media?

Annesha Deb: We are all familiar with the trifecta of communications – Owned, Earned and Paid. While the latter two have been optimally used, ‘Owned media’ for long, has been left to work on auto pilot mode, without tapping its full potential of innovation. Each one of these communication tools can be effectively used to drive engagement, it is only when the three meet, a winning team is formed, like no other.

    Digital has led the way in carving out a route on the usage of owned media, however, it is time we all start incorporating the same in our overall strategy, proactively. After all, it is not only the best way to promote your brand, but, it the best way to tell your story in your own words by taking charge of your brand’s message and growth. Furthermore, it is a great tool to reach out to people effectively who may be uninitiated towards your brand.

    PRmoment India: How should communicators navigate the rise of the influencer and creator economy?

    Annesha Deb The one question that often arises with influencer marketing is ‘Trade or Paid’. While both the forms co-exist, the former is where PR is headed and with a focused approach, this nut is ready to be cracked. Customers are now highly evolved and are well aware of what they are investing in. 

    With more and more norms coming out on disclosure of paid promotions, viewers are now able to make even clearer distinctions between paid and editorial. 

    While the ratio between paid and barter/ editorial would weigh more towards paid, the art lies in carefully choosing the hinge you want to base your entire campaign on. Having said the above, not all promotions can be editorial. We as brands have to be conscious about giving these influencers their due, as digital content creation is their bread and butter.

    Two simple steps that would work for influencer marketing, editorially, are:

    • Create narratives so strong, that you are able to convince your targeted influencer to carry it without any commercials involved
    • Tap influencers who are in equal need of your support and build a story around the requirement that benefits both parties

    As hard as this may sound, this is absolutely possible!

    PRmoment India: One sector ripe for strategic communications not related to your current industry?

    Annesha Deb: The ongoing pandemic has changed the way businesses work, making PR an essential aspect. With controlled cash flow and minimized budgets, companies have started looking solely at PR, to drive their narrative and perception.

    From the above realization, I would say that all sectors are currently ripe for PR.

    However, if I were to name just one sector that is at top of the line keeping in mind future growth perspectives, it would most certainly be the OTT platforms. Amidst intermittent lockdowns, OTT platforms have arguably become the only source of entertainment at home. And that’s how important a role they play today. We are consuming gigabytes of content on a daily basis and are hungry for more. 

    These platforms have the largest growing community base with a plethora of options encouraging players to adopt aggressive distribution and pricing strategies. Apart from the nationally known platforms, we are witnessing a surge in hyperlocal content creation and hosting, with each platform catering to the audience of the local region only. With a fast expanding user base, marketers too are engaging with these content creators and platforms for brand visibility – changing the trajectory in business of content collaboration.

    PRmoment India: One key leader skill in the context of team building for communicators in the future?

    Annesha Deb: The skill of listening is much underrated. One should listen to each member of their team. Do not restrict communication only to the team members directly reporting to you. Listening not only creates a bond but also helps cultivate ideas, understand perspectives and elevates learning. Great campaigns require some serious ideation and the single most important skill for that is ‘listening’. Having said the above, a leader should also be empathetic. Communicating with compassion makes you approachable, in turn leading to a close-knit team.

    PRmoment India: One biggest stumbling block for communications for realizing its potential. Within the marketing communication matrix? 

    Annesha Deb: ROI Measurement – While we all follow some or other matrix to calculate the ROI generated, there still does not exist a full proof  method to do so. 

    PR is more value and relationship driven, which makes it difficult to quantify in numbers and furthermore explainable to the business. However, we have made some progress on this road, but there is still a long way to go.

    On co-related terms, in addition to ROI, and as mentioned above, budgets would feature next on this list. The difficulty to express your work in numbers makes it harder to demand for higher budgets.

    PRmoment India: One personal epiphany during Covid about the future of communications.

    Annesha Deb: When change accelerates, so does the need to learn. As put rightly in a recent report by McKinsey – ‘The one constant throughout this turbulent era is the need to learn, adapt, and change. This era of accelerated change and adaptability not only can, but must be nurtured.’ 

    This entire shockwave of COVID that ran through the spine of the world increased the speed of tapping newer mediums multifold. While digital was already on a growth path, the pandemic acted as a catalyst and made sure we adapt to it in all fields.

    For us in Communications, a visible rise in social media lives, podcasts and other forms of video content creation preceded the older ways of communication. Visible decline in print and the growing urge to be present online in all forms has set the tone for a digitally ‘lit’ future ahead.

    PRmoment India: Your break out communications moment.

    Annesha Deb: I have always stuck by the norm that one should pull off at least one differentiated idea in a year, if not more, that would become a highlight for the company. The automobile segment has always worked on the larger than life sentiment and that is something, which is hugely visible in the kind of activities we do. Most of them, as a thumb rule, required large gatherings, but, with COVID in the play, we had to come up with something, which would still keep the sentiment alive but in a safer environment.

    PRmoment India: Your take on media engagement while work from home?  

    Annesha Deb: Media first drives are a must for any auto player as it sets the tone for any new launch. An event where all the crème la crème of the auto media universe gather to experience a new product first hand, even before its launch to give their initial reviews on the product, which can make or break the excitement around it.

    Due to the sheer size of the event and the need to travel outstation like in pre COVID times, we knew it was time to put our avant-garde hats on. We came up with a drive concept revolving around the most common theme in today’s times of ‘work from home’.

    This included, a first of its kind media drive event, where the entire experience was brought to the journalist’s home. The entire virtual unveil concluded with a  a specially curated 4-course family dinner home delivered – ~400 guests all over India savoured it while virtually interacting with the team behind the product.

    Media also received the car at their residence wrapped in a safety bubble (fully sanitized), test drove it for a full-day, sharing their experience on video followed by scheduled interactions with the tech team to clarify doubts, if any.

        All these resulted in 11 magazine cover stories, 140 print reviews, 145 Video & online reviews plus presence in 9 leading auto shows and over  1.5 hours of dedicated air time - 100% positive tonality.

          An idea, which owes its genesis to a pandemic, has now turned out be more viable and an option of choice going forward. Campaigns like these fuel my hunger to keep doing better and churn out great work year after year.

          Thanks to our partner Kaizzen for their support.