PR firms can be conscience keepers, mirror of organisations: Nestlé India CMD Suresh Narayanan at Spectra

Commenting on a range of topics on how companies define purpose and what it means in everyday corporate behaviour Suresh Narayanan, chairman and managing director of Nestlé India, spoke to economist and thought leader Rama Bijapurkar at #RTSPECTRA, the online version of Praxis.


The six T's of a company's reputation 

Narayanan laid out a six point agenda that define a company's reputation agenda. These include building trust, building transparency, transmission (right communication), teammates and transcending time (maintaining core values over time).

Narayanan believes these all apply as much to PR firms.

Responding to a question from Bijapurkar on whether PR firms can play a role in a company staying on track for its purpose goals, Narayanan said for a PR firm plays a role especially in transmission.

He said. "A PR expert can say this kind of communication is not for you, you don't have the kind of trust, the kind of transparency and the kind of credibility to be talking about this."

PR, conscious keeper, mirror, corporate cardiologist of a company

Laying out his expectations from a PR firm, Suresh Narayanan said, "I see the role of the PR company as not just executing what the company is saying. If they are doing their job right they have to be the conscious keepers and the mirror to the organisation. Like the relationship you have with advertising, where they say no to endorsing a terrible campaign or storyboard.

Similarly a PR agency should be capable of saying 'No', that this phrasing or word is not going to work. They should be able to say that with conviction to the management, this is what a company pays a PR firm for."

Elaborating on his view on the role of a PR firm, Narayanan added that, "If a PR agency is worth its salt it should be able to look into the inner workings of a firm ( its values and core purpose) like a cardiologist and take a corporate ECG saying you are in good health."

Defining your purpose as a business 

Commenting on how purpose is being defined post COVID-19, Suresh Narayanan said, "Today no company can say a straight face that my purpose is generating profit day after day, in double digits or whatever digits I am looking at. Your purpose is shown in not just the profit or the dazzle you show in the stock market or to your shareholders, the realisation is also coming for bringing in aspects such as ESG, trying to take the underlying profit model and making it more inclusive. This trend is happening."

Narayanan further said that, "Even if a firm is not doing too well, the leader can, depending on the building blocks he has because he can't go in blind, revive purpose in the interests of the business. I don't believe that with purpose you are sacrificing your future, but you are securing your future."

Keep it simple, what's the price of purposeful corporate behavior

Urging a simple approach to defining purpose Narayanan said purpose for a firm is as simple as "My reason to be. There is a Japanese word for it 'Ikigai' which means reason for being. True purpose is what you are, your reason to be.  And the simpler, the clearer, the pithier you are about your purpose the better."

Answering a question from Rama Bijapurkar on whether there is a price to purpose Narayanan said, "Purpose does come with a price. It tags onto it a certain set of values, behaviours and outcomes that are a corollary of that. It doesn't happen unless you are really serious. 

It's like that picture of your grandfather in the living room that keeps reminding you when you are trying a trick to keep on the right track."