‘An accidental entrepreneur’ is how Ruby Sinha, Managing Director, Kommune Brand Communications chooses to describe herself. Interestingly, what one can perceive in her track record is true passion. And passion is an all-pervasive narrative to identify an entrepreneur at heart.
That’s exactly what led this communications professional, with over 20 years of experience to launch her communications consultancy firm – Kommune Brand Communications in 2012. Prior to this, she was Branch Director heading Consumer Practice at 20:20 MSL and at GCI – Grey Global Group, WPP Network she was Director- North India.
Backed by a Master’s degree in Journalism and Mass Communication and a Diploma in Film Making from Eastern India’s oldest film institute – Chitrabani, she kicked off her career as a journalist with the Indian Express Group; she also worked as an Assistant Director with India’s leading regional channel ETV and was also in-charge of a regular program on AIR titled “World of Science.”
In a free-wheeling conversation with Shree Lahiri, she talks about how she stepped into the world of PR and later entrepreneurship, how important it is to create a difference in business, how PR has evolved, building a work-life balance, her love for writing, travel and more…
RT: As a Founder of Kommune Brand Solutions, what is it that you are doing differently?
Interestingly, the idea of Kommune essentially sparked off after I took a break from work, post-pregnancy. It so happened that I got together a team, so different – it was a group of work-from-home mothers. This was the first ‘difference’ – our focus on women, especially moms in sabbatical. Incidentally, we also started off with a crèche in our office initially to encourage more such women to come out and work!
We are an integrated communications consultancy and clients come to us because they want more quality engagement. Being a boutique firm, we are selective about the clients we work with and try to ensure our complete involvement in the strategy and implementation of communication programs. We, at Kommune also believe that increasingly digital is becoming all pervasive and digital is exciting. We recently unveiled the 1st edition of TechKomms – a Report on Public Relations and Communication Trends for the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) domain in association with our research and insights partner techARC.
RT: How has the profession of Public Relations evolved over the years?
I remember when I had initially joined the profession, the focus was entirely on media relations. But now over the years, though in India media visibility is still important but creating interesting, well-researched content which can be taken forward across mediums is a key priority. Today, PR goes beyond the act of just writing a press release or coordinating some good media stories. A communication professional in the digital age is expected to manage communications with all stakeholders and even with the end consumer in many cases.
As such, a PR professional today is like a skilled juggler who is expected to be a social media expert, target industry engagements, write award applications and speaking abstracts as well as use analytics to decipher trends. He/She is expected to be a multi-tasker who can also think like a marketing professional and take the business messaging forward. This is also leading to more and more vertical specialists entering the profession.
RT: What were some of the key findings of the 1st edition of the TechKomms report unveiled by Kommune recently on Public Relations and Communication trends in the ICT domain?
Experiential Communication, enhanced social media engagement, emergence of Research-Online-Purchase-Anywhere (ROPA) from Research-Online-Purchase-Offline (ROPO), multi-domain expertise, data analytics, Guerrilla PR and micro-influencers are some of the key trends highlighted in the 1st edition of TechKomms.
According to the report, technology is transformative in nature; however, PR can bring about the change in behaviour of stakeholders. It highlights the changing role of PR in the ICT sector as a brand building tool overlapping greatly with the marketing function. It talks about the need to repurpose social media beyond a channel of communication to a medium of user-generated case studies. Since technology has its usage across multiple sectors, PR partners are required to acquire multi-disciplinary expertise and domain networking to showcase how technology can transform a particular sector. With youth becoming the central figure in the technology era, either as decision makers or influencers, creating immersive content is also becoming essential. The day is not far when some forward-looking PR firms would have their immersive studios where other than videos, clients could have AR/VR based content to engage with potential audiences.
RT: Tell us about your journey of getting into the world of Public Relations?
After pursuing my Masters in Journalism and Mass Communication, I started my career as a journalist with the Indian Express Group of Newspapers and honestly shifted to PR thinking I will have more time during the weekends to pursue a film making course I had got selected for as well to take out time to pursue my interests as an Assistant Director on some docu-fiction shows with a local television channel. But it has been a learning experience over the years working with the advertising genius Ram Ray’s PR Division in Response Advertising, mentors like Mohua Chinappa at GCI – Grey Global Group and experienced seniors like Amrit Ahuja in 20:20 MSL. Having been a part of both advertising agency set-ups as well as regular PR firms, I had a good exposure to the concept of 360-degree communication campaigns.
Even my sabbatical after my second baby in 2011 was a blessing in disguise wherein a former client and well-wisher motivated me to become an independent PR consultant. It seemed a good solution for me to be in touch with the profession with working flexibility – so I took up the offer. Soon a former colleague and mom-on-sabbatical Rinu Jha also joined me and with some interesting clients like OPPO which was just starting its journey in India at that time, Kommune took off. A majority of our initial team comprised of former colleagues like Pallavi Subramaniam, Mitali Prakash who were on a sabbatical, post motherhood but we had no doubts about their abilities or commitment to work.
We have always been particular about the clients we wanted to work with instead of just focusing on number of clients. Today our employees are a fair mix of efficient professionals of both sexes though we always welcome working mothers. I always say that I am an accidental entrepreneur but, since I am well into this journey, I believe that we have covered some significant landmarks, and still have a long way to go. It has been a challenging journey especially as an entrepreneur but a very fruitful one. Alvin Toffler’s quote – “You’ve got to think about big things while you’re doing small things, so that all the small things go in the right direction,” always drives me to think positively and not get intimated by adverse situations.
RT: You had written in an article that entrepreneurship in India has largely been “an urban, big city phenomenon”. Why is it important to encourage women entrepreneurship in smaller towns and how can that be done?
I feel that entrepreneurship is all about creating an ecosystem, where you can flourish together with a bunch of talented minds, together contributing to an economically strong society. And, the resources of women should be tapped, especially in the smaller towns. Even if they are limited to the confines of their homes, if their talent is tapped, they can create a new ecosystem, that can make a difference. Women in the interiors, need to tap their talent in this area.
Talent and creativity is not limited in a country like India. And one may say that entrepreneurship is alive and kicking. Starting from Ola Cabs, Flipkart, Oyo Rooms to Zomato – each startup idea has become a reality, thanks to the dream to succeed, fostered by passionate, talented entrepreneurs. It may seem to be an urban, big city phenomenon, but I knew in the depths of my heart, that this spirit is alive in Regional India too. This was what urged me to launch “sheatwork.com”.
RT: After launching sheatwork.com, a “one-stop knowledge hub” for any aspiring woman entrepreneur, what are your plans for reaching out to women entrepreneurs across boundaries?
After becoming an entrepreneur, I experienced the challenges most entrepreneurs, especially women face in their entrepreneurship journey. This motivated me to launch sheatwork.com, a one-stop knowledge portal for women entrepreneurs. Our objective is also to reach out to small women entrepreneurs beyond the metros across sectors and empowering them through training and mentorship programs. It is our endeavour to enable them to become a part of the mainstream entrepreneurship ecosystem.
RT: What do you do to ensure work-life balance?
I believe in the concept of work-life integration. Our personal and professional lives have to co-exist in today’s digital age. For instance, I might be attending my child’s school PTM or might be on a vacation but am available on WhatsApp for anything important which needs my attention. Whilst having a successful career is important, we as women also have to learn that professional commitment cannot be a second option always. Men, especially husbands and families have to come forward and support a working mother or wife in achieving her professional goals the same way women stand by their spouses. Also, any working mother has to understand that if an individual doesn’t respect the flexibility she gets at work and is not accountable and responsible enough, she literally closes the doors for deserving working moms in the future.
I try to create realistic boundaries between what is ‘work’ and ‘non-work’ and I try to prioritise my to-do list with achievable goals for myself and Kommune. Plus, importantly, I believe it’s important to learn to say ‘no’ and keep achievable goals.
RT: You love to travel the world and have a taste for good things. How does one manage to keep up with these interests in a fast-paced world?
I love to take out some time to travel with my family, specially my two daughters who are indeed growing up fast and will soon be getting busy with higher studies etc. Travel is so much more than an adventure; it’s an opportunity to spend quality time with the family, grow personally and all the learnings you imbibe can be applied to your daily life too, enriching your relationships. Travel is also an opportunity for an entrepreneur like me to introspect and plan for the journey ahead.
RT: What are the tips you would share with aspiring PR professionals?
Build your knowledge base by reading anything interesting you can lay your hands on, sharpen your thinking, writing and digital skills. Be focused and work really, really hard. And, work smart. There is no excuse to wriggle out of this!