Scomi Group’s Kanesan Veluppillai on the role of PR in helping infrastructure firms increase consumer awareness

“Drumbeats of infrastructure are gradually getting louder and in the next few years their rumble will be felt all over” said the header of the Union Budget 2012, underlining the increasing importance that the infrastructure sector of India holds today. Hopefully, this will be a trend that will continue for 2013's Union Budget as well, due to be presented in the ongoing budget session.

The significance of infrastructure development in India can hardly be overlooked. But what is equally imperative is the need to gain an overall acceptance of the sector among all those who effect and are affected by its services. Despite the strong fundamentals of infrastructure as a sector in India and its exponential growth over the last few years, the companies working in this sector experience a conceptual restriction of being a core business that hardly involves end users in its domain of operations.

As said by Lowell D’souza, a branding expert, “Unlike consumer goods, mass advertising cannot build a brand for a $250K service contract that one business enters into with another business.” So, it takes a greater effort to garner recognition for a company that falls in the category of B2B. Branding for them is not simply the promise that an organisation makes about what it will deliver and the manner in which it will do so. Such a company calls for extensive communications function and an articulate PR mandate to create awareness and understanding among consumers and in turn procure goodwill and acceptance.

The same was our central objective while entering India four years back. When Scomi Engineering secured the contract for the Mumbai monorail in 2008, the first ever in the country with our consortium partner Larsen and Toubro, all that we had in our minds was the zeal to present monorail as the “must have” MRTS in the country and furthermore to establish Scomi as the forerunner in the infrastructural map of India.

We visualised a communications and marketing strategy along with our PR agency partner that would back our initiative of bringing into India the biggest ever technological innovation in urban transportation in the times to come. Monorail had already been an international trendsetter but to set up the perceptual framework of it in India, where developments in urban infrastructure is a hard-earned and time taking exercise, the task called for striving commitment and long term efforts.

With renowned brands like Hitachi and Bombardier existing in the market, brand building through PR and communications was the need of the hour for a lesser known company like Scomi Group. We, along with our PR partner, took on the challenge with a determined fervor, aiming to make Scomi synonymous with infrastructural innovation in India. Through insight and a well-knit approach, Scomi kept its best foot forward to earn optimum media leverage and a heavy weight recall value for being a company that made India witness a revolution in transportation history by bringing the monorail, the first of its kind MRTS in the country.

But this was not easy. Scomi was a new brand to India and the product that we were offering to the masses was a completely unknown one. So the focus was a firm positioning in the industry. As a first step to put our communication strategy in place, we undertook an extensive stakeholder mapping for the company. Further to which, we put together a stakeholder engagement programme to create brand awareness and to educate them about the new mode of transport system in India.

Keeping in mind the magnitude of apprehension that people possess towards a new infrastructure/transport project in an urban city, we stressed on formulating a stakeholder education programme to inform our business associates, urban planners, state infrastructure and transportation authorities and last but not the least the masses about the advantages of monorail as a daily commuting option, its need in busy cities like Mumbai and alike and what makes monorail different from every other mode of travel that’s existent in India. This proved to be really imperative to the communication campaign that was shaping up for Scomi.

The result was an all encompassing media plan that underlined "who to communicate with" and more importantly "how to communicate"; to make aware the masses about the latest urban transport solution in a city like Mumbai. We put the various media platforms to optimum use to ensure that the key messages reach the end consumers clear and complete who are going to be actually benefitted by the monorail.

There were two key areas that needed to be addressed. First was the safety issue that commuters attach to any Infrastructure project especially when it comes to transport and second was a perennial concern on the environmental downside of a project in India that is undeniable. So building the trust of the passengers in the mechanics of the monorail as a preferred and safe mode of travel was the talking point.

Thus, to create a proper perception about monorail and its operations in India we generated adequate brand awareness activities to build and retain the credibility for the brand. Through well timed media relations in the form of interactions, authored articles, industry stories and such others, our communications partner managed to make Scomi, a potential participant in the infrastructural forum of the country.

The secret to success of our PR objectives lied in the ability to go beyond the conventional domains of PR practice, to innovate newer methods of brand recognition, market engagement and industry knowledge for maintaining an ever-changing and never ending communications exercise.

Today, the residents of Mumbai await a wave in urban transit. A sustainable and safe mode of transport is to be at their service very soon. Infrastructure is not a trendy business sector that people are familiar with but a distinct PR and communication mandate have made sure that Scomi is discussed today, monorail is anticipated and transport is a concern. What I penned above is the noticeable change that a communications campaign can bring to the growth of a company, like Scomi evolved from being a beginner to an international infrastructure brand, a pioneer of change in India.

Kanesan Veluppillai is Group Chief Operating Officer of Transport Solutions at Scomi Group Berhad

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