How to future proof the corporate communication function in India

With the PR business evolving at an exponential rate, what are the specific challenges being faced by India's corporate communications business to change the expectations from the function? To keep it thriving in the digital economy.

Some of India's leading corporate communications speak to PRmoment India about their challenges, suggestions and recommendations for future proofing corporate communications.

The evolving world of communication  

Abhishek Mahapatra
Abhishek says to focus on share of influence, not voice

Abhishek Mahapatra, vice president & head of communications, corporate affairs, CSR at Nissan India, believes that in the ever-evolving dynamic business scenario what matters most is our deep understanding and insights of our customers - internal and external.

Which is why he adds, that we need to measure and evaluate SoI (share of influence) over SoV (share of voice). Abhishek points out that the communications function is fundamentally about engagement with internal and external customers and reputation.

He agrees that, however, there is a perception challenge among companies about communications function role and deliverables.

Abhishek asks, "At a functional level are we creating value and being recognised for it? This is an important point that reflects how the function is perceived, treated and evaluated in terms of remunerations budgets, team size and composition.

"I think some functions do a wonderful job in packaging how they impact the business. The communications function need to learn the same and that will eventually lead the way for creating value, solid team structure for delivery and better recognition."

Deepa Dey
How can prove last mile attribution to PR asks Deepa Dey

Deepa Dey, head communications & CSR at GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare agrees that as the entire communication profession is evolving rapidly there is no doubt that corporate communications is moving closer to business. 

Deepa argues while it is not all about understanding digital, all communication professionals must remain open to learning. She says, "Senior professionals should not rest on past glory, as it is limiting to the task at hand. One must constantly reinvent oneself and be more aware of what you bring to the table."

Deepa explains that "Today all businesses are under severe pressure to perform. Everyone is looking at their spends much more carefully. Therefore It's only natural that companies would look at the efficacy of the support they receive from communication including advertising. At the end of the day, if you are not supporting the business either with support on product uptake, employee retention & engagement, reputation gain or policy changes, you are really not doing your job."

Senior corporate communication professional Anita* (name changed) agrees saying bluntly that, "Mediocrity is the order of the day in today’s corporate communications industry in India. But stakeholders expectations are also depressed. The senior corporate communications professionals in the industry need to invest more in educating business leaders about what they can get out of corporate communications. Unless they consciously do that we will remain a part of the vicious cycle where low expectations are fed by mediocrity and that leads to even lower expectations."

Adds Anita*, "The corporate communication professionals need to come together to address this issue. We need to develop a set of tangible skills that are valued by organisations e.g. a measurable influence program"

She also says, "And by the way, PR consultancy professionals and leaders (who are active in the industry in India) cannot solve this issue for corporate communications professionals." 

Measures to show the impact of corporate communication?

Deepa says unequivocally that, "We do not measure AVEs – in the absence of any industry agnostic measurement tool, we measure tonality and impact. Has the work increased our reputation scores or our engagement scores? As for product uptake, we have deployed a Market Mix Modelling tool to understand the impact of all inputs into the campaign mix including PR. My suggestion to all – in today's world, if you can’t measure it, don’t do it. Because otherwise convincing the internal stakeholders will be a challenge. "

Deepa admits that such methods are still nascent, as the last mile attribution of a sale or revenue to communications is difficult. But she says we need to make a start. She also adds that companies do not necessarily have the budget to take advantage of some of the very good measurement work being done in India.

Deepa also adds that " Till an industry-wide acceptable tool is created and embedded within consultancies and corporates alike, you should find your ways to present your work better. To give a simple example, when presenting a case on how well you have managed a crisis, add the reputation score from the last year/ quarter and this one – if it is the same – you are a winner. Any crisis that has a direct correlation to sales, should be assess by a set of numbers that shows how issue management has helped in minimizing business loss. Internal employee satisfaction survey scores are a good way of assessing internal comms and engagement which many in house teams drive."

Return on experience and Share of Influence 

Abhishek says the solution is to look at ROX or 'Return on Experience' as a measure of the value of corporate communications.

 He opines, "ROI is passé and very 2000 and I believe the 'SOV', the share of voice metric has done a lot of damage, by encouraging a basic head count of positive vs. negative articles with qualitative analysis."

Instead, he suggests mapping the 'SOI' or share of influence combined with detailed mapping of the target audience to measure the true impact of PR. This means looking at a PR campaign with a sharp data eye. 

Abhishek shares the example of Nissan's recent '#HaveYouClickedToday?' CSR campaign that addressed concerns of customers sitting in the rear seats of cars that wearing a seat belt would crumple their clothes. This was based on an insight that emerged post commissioning India's first rear seat belt survey by Nissan India and SaveLIFE Foundation.

Upskilling must haves

Prasidha Menon
OYO's Prasidha Menon believes in learning from cross-functional roles

Prasidha Menon, head of communications for OYO in India and other markets, says the corporate communication role is, "Demanding, challenging and often dynamic, but the opportunity is huge. 

"Yes, this requires up-skilling, but before that one must establish the importance of the role and function itself so that people understand how business problems can soon turn into PR issues. I learned a lot by just investing in building relationships with cross-functional teams and learning how they look at a certain business situation or problem, before figuring the communications led solution to it.

Himanshu Raj, India lead-PR & marketing communications-Zeta and global communications lead-Flock recommends networking, online courses and most importantly finding a mentor. He says, "One of the best ways to up-skill yourself at work is to find a mentor. A great mentor will help you grow both professionally and personally. You can skip a lot of steps and avoid mistakes if you learn from someone who is already where you want to be. They can be your manager or senior colleague or someone senior from a different function."

Anita* says, "My advice to others would be to ask yourself- do you understand your organisation’s business as well as your CEO? If not, invest in getting that understanding. It will go a long way in making you a true communications partner to your CEO and your leadership team. The days of using soft skills and interpersonal rapport to build that partnership may be over."

Archana Muthappa, head, corporate communications at Bangalore International Airport Ltd says, " Corporate Communications must, perforce, be the ‘moral compass’ of the organisation, simply because they have access to put out messages that influence and impact a larger ecosystem. A senior CorpComm professional must have the ability to stand up for accuracy in reporting facts, the ‘requirement’ notwithstanding."

Archana adds that "It is generally assumed that people in corporate communications functions are articulate and able to manage people. However, a lot of us are introverted and not necessarily articulate, and could benefit from some up-skilling in this area."

 Archana admits that corporate communications are often left to fend for themselves where training is concerned but adds that, "As the role of a CorpComm professional evolves, and more organisations consider giving us a seat at the table, this profession will also benefit from re/ upskilling, especially with a global perspective."

Impact on salaries

Have all these changes in communication impacted salaries for corporate communication professionals? The start-up culture is sometimes cited as the cause of driving both salaries and age groups down.

Himanshu does not agree. He says, "Well-funded startups pay much more (to the right candidate) these days as compared to the established brands. However, the age group of executives heading the communications and marketing function in startups is much lower than their counterparts in legacy brands."

That said younger professionals in leadership roles may well be an economy-wide trend not specific to corporate communication. 

Archana adds, "An experienced, seasoned professional is always able to command a salary and position. However, given the scenario that corporate communication is a largely ‘misunderstood’ function, where even a lot of senior management have very little insight into how it can be used effectively, salaries tend to be lower than other similar roles."

The corporate communications function is at a crossroads today. With due apologies for misquoting Charles Dickens, "It was the worst of times, it was the best of times, it was the age of foolishness", but may well still be the season of light, the age of wisdom." 

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