In Conversation with Purnima Sahni Mohanty

In these times, where ‘digital’ has become the new normal, Purnima Sahni Mohanty, Director – Communications, Microsoft India firmly believes that “a strong online presence helps to generate awareness, establish credibility and develop interactive ways of audience engagement”.

In her current role, she is responsible for shaping Microsoft’s communication strategy and corporate brand reputation across audiences.

Purnima is a senior communications leader with over 27 years of experience in the business. Her vast experience weaves around a unique advantage of setting up and being the driving force behind many world class communications programs. She has also received recognition for her contribution to the evolving domains of communications and CSR.

Prior to this role, she was Director & Head of Communications & CSR at DuPont. Tracing her professional journey, she has also served stints at Samsung, GE, Alcatel and Oracle.

In this dialogue with Shree Lahiri, she opens up on her long, eventful journey, the growth of PR, the role of digital media, the rapidly changing communication landscape, achieving work-life balance, her leisure time preoccupation and more…

RT: With over 25 years of experience as a communications professional, how has the journey in communications been?

PSM: My journey as a communications professional has been interesting and enriching. I have been fortunate to have worked with several leading brands, helped to shape their reputations and been a part of their growth story. As a communications leader, I have worked closely with business and function teams while crafting reputation strategies, focusing on employee advocacy and brand perception. Communicators drive strong value for the organisation by being connected to business priorities and as ambassadors of organisational culture. The strategic role of communications as a key skill for leadership success was an important learning during the early phase of my career.

More recently, as the world has been navigating the pandemic over the last few months, strategy playbooks are changing and communications has an increasingly significant role to keep both employees as well as external audiences connected and engaged while working remotely.

RT: How has Public Relations evolved over the years?

PSM: The public relations business has evolved in a myriad of ways over the past decade. Growth of content along with changing consumption patterns, rise of digital media, increasing consumer awareness as well as citizen journalism have reshaped the communications landscape. Public relations spans a broad array of strategies and tactics, it often requires an interesting mix of skills and competencies to create successful outcomes. Storytelling through innovative digital formats is a meaningful way to connect with audiences. We are now in an era where integrated communications strategies will take centerstage, as new platforms of engagement emerge.

RT: What is the role that you see digital media playing in enhancing brand reputation?

PSM: Digital media is central to communications strategies as social and owned media platforms are becoming preferred sources of information. A strong online presence helps to generate awareness, establish credibility and develop interactive ways of audience engagement.

RT: In addition to Microsoft, you have worked at DuPont, GE, Samsung, Alcatel, and Oracle. What are your key learnings from these jobs

PSM: Spearheading the communications function at these leading organisations provided me with a unique opportunity to lead by influence. A collaborative approach and a learning mindset are crucial for growth as communications is all about collaborating with diverse stakeholders within the organisation as well as across the external ecosystem. Investing in building teams is vital as that establishes strong relationships and builds trust, key attributes of successful teams.

RT: Name two PR campaigns from any brand other than the ones you worked at that have stood out for you.

PSM: The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge was one of the most impactful viral video campaigns. It was started by The ALS Association and raised an incredible level of awareness around the need to find a cure for an extremely serious illness. It gave people a noble cause to support. While social media was the medium it used, its goals were rooted in PR.

Project Shakti campaign by HUL was distinctive as an innovative rural distribution model led by women’s self-help groups. It’s a stellar example of how an entrepreneurial programme has enabled 1.20 lakh women generate income and has created a phenomenal impact on their livelihoods.

RT: The world of communication is rapidly changing. How do you see it shaping five years from now?

PSM: The communications industry is adapting itself to the changing demands and information consumption habits of various audiences. Brands will need to invest more towards a stronger digital presence to build a deeper connect with their stakeholders. Narratives will become crisper to strike the right chord with a tone of empathy. Integrated communications strategies that combine both traditional and novel techniques will drive brand building in the future.

RT: How do you manage to achieve a balance between work and family life?

PSM: A career in communications is very demanding and one has to practice self-discipline to take care of both professional and personal priorities. I have realised that managing one’s energy is as crucial as managing one’s time.

RT: What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

PSM: Being with family, nature, music, exercise, reading

RT: What word of advice do you have for the new generation as they step into their career?

PSM: Ask questions and listen well, a commitment to keep learning along with a creative approach to adding value with communications will help drive impact and enable growth.

The responses above are from to Purnima Sahni Mohanty, Director – Communications, Microsoft India

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Shree Lahiri
Shree is the Senior Editor at Reputation Today and hopes to move from one focus area to another in the editions that will be released this year. Having worked in Corporate Communications teams, she has experience of advertising, public relations, investor and employee communications, after which she moved to the other side – journalism. She enjoys writing and believes the power of the pen is indeed mighty. Covering the entertainment beat and the media business, she has been involved in a wide range of activities that have thrown open storytelling opportunities.

She can be reached at: @shree_la on twitter

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