The next generation of corporate communications leads speak out on India’s future PR challenges

Suddenly, as it can seem sometimes, a fresh group of corporate communications leads have emerged who are 35 and under. Surprisingly, these are not just professionals in start-ups but occupy the top PR job in both new age and brick and mortar industries as diverse as food, tech, legal services, transport and banking. PRmoment India spoke to these young leaders to get their take on #PR2018.

Himanshu Raj, senior manager- PR and Communications, Zeta India, 31, Bengaluru

The tattooed PR lead at the fin-tech start-up focused on digitised employee benefits, Zeta India, says the biggest challenge for PR in 2018 is keep yourself updated with technology to stay relevant in PR.

Says Raj, “Digital media has changed the way people consume news. We all have been taught in classrooms that ‘Time, Tide and News Wait for None’, it has become more relevant in the digital era we live in. We see how crisis unfolds on social media and a slight delay can cause huge embarrassment for brands. Communication professionals need to be pro-active in this digital age.”

My mantra: Learn, unlearn and re-learn-keep repeating it.
Himanshu Raj

Natasha Tandon, head – corporate communication and CSR, Philips Lighting South Asia, 32, Gurgaon

An Indian Institute of Mass Communications alumni, Natasha Tandon says 2018 will be all about, “Defining a communication strategy that encompasses all 4 channels – paid, earned, shared and owned. In the coming year, owned media like blogs, company websites and social media pages will gain more relevance in a company’s communication mix, as they will become the first source for breaking important news and announcements about the company. “

Ravi Kumar, chief manager – corporate communications, Max Life Insurance Co. Ltd, 34, Gurgaon

A believer in planning to handle the work life challenge in PR, former TV journalist Ravi Kumar, leads the PR function at Max  Life.

Kumar flags off, “The blurring line between editorial content and advertising as something which most PR professionals are dealing with in 2018.”

Agreeing with Phillip Lighting’s Natasha Tandon on what will occupy PR in the coming year, he says, “The question of paid vs. earned looms large, specially looking at the way content consumption has seen a paradigm shift in recent times. The fundamental issue that lies in advertising is the lack of credibility, however adopting it to an extent is important as the definition of traditional PR is fast disappearing.”

Prasidha Menon, head of communications, India and South Asia for Uber, 34, Gurgaon

Prasidha Menon loves her daily yoga routine, a sure help with what has to be one of the most demanding PR jobs in the country. For Menon, in today’s ‘uber’ paced environment, prioritisation is the key, “In a dynamic business environment like ours, it is always hard to prioritise. The best way to work around this will be to start with a SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely) plan, and have clear checkpoints to map progress and course correct as and when required.”

Menon reiterates this point with her pro tip for young PR professionals,”One of my mentors once told me, one should learn to be 'comfortable with being uncomfortable' that is when you will be able to truly step out of your comfort zone, learn (and sometimes unlearn), explore new opportunities and thrive professionally. This advice has stood the test of time and I'm certain will go a long way in helping young guns in the profession scale new heights.”

Rishi Kudale, lead -marketing and PR, Reverie Language Technologies, 32 years, Bengaluru

A digital ninja, Rishi Kudale leads both marketing and PR at Reverie, a firm offering services to make content accessible in multiple Indian languages.
For Kudale, the challenge for 2018 is keeping pace with communications in a fast-growing firm. He says, “This holds true for all the companies which are in the fast lane. The team is expanding and there are more engagements with the government and industry bodies.

Adds Kudale, “With a series of new products and launches in the pipeline, ensuring that each new announcement is given its due, involves thorough planning. In addition, selecting the right platform is essential for reaching the right audience for the announcement.”

Jhankar Khemka, head of marketing communications, Notion Press, 30, Hyderabad

Working with an ‘accelerator for self publishing’, Notion Press, Jhankar Khemka believes that online handling of customers is PR’s biggest challenge.

 Khemka elaborates that, “Today’s situation demands that corporates have someone with experience who is always available to handle the escalations, complaint and issues; and deal with them in a way to stop them to get it out of control.”

She adds, “ A ready Red Book of basic dos and don’ts’, with emergency contact numbers and checklist before you proceed with an action in times of crisis will help the team to save the day.”

Kshitiz Ahuja, manager - marketing communications at Foodpanda, 28, Gurgaon

With the evolution of integrated PR mandates, Foodpanda’s Kshitiz Ahuja says that his,“ Biggest challenge is collaboration between the PR and marketing function where it is not seen as marketing finally gobbling up PR or PR in itself as a redundant function that survived this long without merit.”

Ena Chakravorty, head PR & corporate communications, Lakshmikumaran & Sridharan attorneys, 35, New Delhi

Former TV journalist, Ena Chakravorty leads corporate communications at corporate law firm, Lakshmikumaran & Sridharan.

For her, “The evolution of client expectation is still a challenge. Even though India is fast embracing the digital media and preparing to hit the bulls eye, the print media still remains ultra-crucial for almost 90% of the clients.”

Adds Chakravorty that this presents a huge challenge as, “Achieving targets is still classified by representation in tier one publications but the stories written in print today are more news oriented and transactional. Features, long-format stories, Q&As now find limited space. Same is the case with electronic media. The only rescue to in-depth storytelling lies with various genre of online media. Hence, explaining clients and helping them to shift perspectives will be a priority in 2018.”

Devaashish S. Savant,  global marketing & communication manager, Altimetrik India P. Ltd and head of marketing & communication, Davinta Technologies, 28, Bengaluru

At 28, Devaashish Savant, handles marketing and PR for two sister companies. A self confessed social media junkie and movie buff, Savant, shares that, “What will distinguish PR in this paradigm is how it is leveraged with consistency across channels to tell stories and amplify similar if not the same narratives. Not only will this help curtail the impact of a crisis but also effectively combat fake news and if done right, could go on to contribute to virality of PR.”

For Savant a personal favourite of viral PR is, “When Adobe took on the big-boys like Google, Salesforce, with their “Metrics, not Myths" campaign. It attracted close to a 100 million video impressions, witnessed an inquiry spike of 45% in direct sales and garnered loads of media-mileage including an organic full-pager in the New York Times. A 2013 initiative, the campaign gave and continues to give Adobe a distinguished voice of its own despite the recent noise around marketing cloud services.

Shreya Krishnan, VP, marketing and communications with Anviti Insurance Brokers Pvt. Ltd, 32, Bengaluru

A trained dancer, theatre actor and poet, Shreya Krishnan will be occupied with helping communicate differentiators about insurance broking firm, Anviti.

Krishnan, believes in a certain gut feel while navigating stakeholders. She says, “Being intuitive and in sync with what is happening with your clients and the industry helps and goes a long way, execution will happen well when you understand the finer details of the idea or what you want to get done.”

Ritesh Mehta, assistant vice president communications, State Bank of India, 32, Mumbai

Former TV journalist with Zee News, Ritesh Mehta, now leads the corporate communications function at the world’s largest bank, State Bank of India, says his biggest PR challenge in 2018 will be handling the shift in communications for traditional to digital media.

Says Mehta, “I plan to increase engagement with the digital media from time to time. The initial thrust on traditional media and digital media needs to undergo a tectonic shift in favour of digital media. Increase engagement with social media influencers on a regular basis, using more videos, pictures, infographics for posting in website and social media platforms are couple of steps we need to take.”

Tinky Ningombam, marketing head, POPxo, 31, New Delhi

A post graduate in advertising and PR from the 'Indian Institute of Mass Communications', this former Perfect Relations staffer, now leads marketing for online community for women, POPxo.

Tinky Ningombam’s focus for 2018 is “Equipping each employee to be a spokesperson. In today's day and age, every employee is a brand ambassador and it's about time we start treating it that way. At POPxo, that is what we are aiming at in 2018, to create strong ambassadors, to think glocal and to create hyper-personalized communication, one that doesn't just fade away with a swipe.”

“Connections are everything - learn to respect them early on.”

Connections are everything - learn to respect them early on.
Tinky Ningombam

Siddhartha Varma, manager -brand communications for India, Triumph Motorcycles Limited, 34, New Delhi

In his role as head of brand marketing and PR at Triumph Motorcycles, Varma gets to plan PR for an iconic motorcycle company whose Thunderbird 6T, Marlon Brando rode in ‘The Wild One’.

For Varma, “The biggest challenge for 2018 is to solve the influencer puzzle. It is very important for brands to understand the importance of new age media.”

Sreedhanya Shanmughan, head- corporate communications and CSR for Lowe's India, 33, Bengaluru

Sreedhanya Shanmughan leads corporate communications for the global in-house centre for home improvement retail chain Lowe’s Companies. Lowe’s is a Fortune 40 firm.

For Shanmughan what matters is “Taking a keen interest in keeping up with the trends in not just communication, but the industry, competition and market scenarios relating to the business they support. The lines are blurring and a good corporate communication person also has to have a strong perceptive business acumen.“

Pooja Choudhary, manager corporate communications-18th Parallel, , 26,  Pune

Pooja Choudhary heads corporate communications at 18th Parallel, a firm that operates in the exciting world of android based console gaming.

For Choudhary the key to success at a PR job is, “Do not panic, be patient enough to tackle hurdles and crisis and keep trying. The PR industry has one basic mantra ‘Never Give Up’ and eventually your time will come. The first conversion is always the most important one. The right Pitch to the right person on right time will surely bring you success."

Aman Dhall, group AVP and head of corporate communications,, 34, Gurgaon 

For marathon runner Aman Dhall, PR in 2018 will have the clear challenge of new media.

 Says Dhall, who handles PolicyBazaar’s PR without an external agency,  Since the new media is a two-way process, far more lethal and instant in ruining reputations, it requires immediate and appropriate responses. PR professionals will have to equip themselves with new technologies such as artificial intelligence which can help predict what kind of communication will elicit what response from customers, and even identifying a potential crisis and finding its solution before letting the brand suffer damage. Moreover, they will have to learn how to use new tools such as intelligent chatbots to achieve PR goals."

Dhall also adds that, "Handling management’s expectations is a continuing challenge. Company management’s expectation of coverage in leading newspapers and TV channels is going to persist. This is notwithstanding the fact that leading papers and channels have not only gone regional but have started tier two/tier three city-based editions, thereby posing a big challenge for PR professionals to get national or even state-wide coverage. The challenge will also be to convince them about desirability of online coverage.“

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