In Conversation with Sunayna Malik

In today’s constantly changing, ever-connected business world, you are one up if you have mastered the art of communication. We work in highly volatile environments which demand effective communication in order to adapt to change. And, for Sunayna Malik, Managing Director – India & Senior Vice President – APAC, Archetype – communication is certainly her forte.

A versatile communications professional, Sunayna has a composite understanding of all its disciplines including Advertising, Direct Marketing, Film Making, PR, Digital Marketing, Content Marketing, Brand Positioning and Influencer Relations. Backed by over two and a half decades of experience, she has been with Archetype (formerly Text100) for over 13 years now and in her capacity as the Managing Director, and she holds responsibility for the overall leadership, strategy and direction of the organisation in India. Prior to joining Archetype, she was the General Manager, Corporate Communications at HCL Technologies where she worked for almost eight years.

She opens up to Shree Lahiri, about her incredible journey, the evolution of PR, the promise of Archetype, highs and lows of her leadership stint, striking a work-life balance and more …

RT: Text100 began operations in 1996 in India. How has the India journey been?

It’s been an incredible journey and although I’ve only been part of it for the last 13 odd years, I think my predecessors would probably vouch for the same.

23 years ago, we started off as Text100 – India’s first MNC consultancy, with a single-minded focus on technology. This differentiated proposition set us apart for many years and we worked with the Who’s Who of the IT and telecom sector and grew by leaps and bounds. Around a decade ago, we took a conscious decision to diversify into select new verticals – primarily those that leveraged technology for their competitive advantage. This gave us the opportunity to not only apply our in-depth understanding and experience of technology to newer domains, but also helped us broaden our client portfolio, brought in new perspectives to our thinking & approach and of course, an infusion of some great talent.

Recently, we rebranded ourselves as Archetype with the merger of Text100 and Bite, another Next Fifteen group consultancy with a strong play amongst new-age brands. As the name indicates, our intention is to set the standards for the next generation of global firms – where marketing and communications converge seamlessly, where technology is at the core and where being global means being finely tuned to local markets. We see this as an extraordinary opportunity to try and build something new, at a scale that honors and retains the best parts of two strong consultancies.

RT: The universe of Public Relations has evolved through the decades. How do you see the growth including at your organisation?

PR has definitely evolved with the explosion of digital, social, creative and integrated solutions. As a business, our perspective has been shifting from a pure play communications standpoint to that of a marketer’s. At Archetype, our purpose is to partner with category creators and industry leaders to build a portfolio that is composed of exciting, impactful companies with heaps of current (and future) potential – indeed, the world’s most magnetic brands which have both, a unique position and a really strong brand pull.

We’re living in a new world, rich with new opportunities and challenges and the way business is conducted is undergoing a sea change with the proliferation of digital technologies. Given this context, we are making significant investments in building up our capabilities across tools, software as well as a host of specialised offerings which equip us to offer creative solutions to our clients. We started our creative and content group last year and today this team, is delivering some amazing work – beyond PR to several of our clients.

We are also focused on scaling up and upskilling our talent pool, as they really are at the heart of our business. It is crucial to be relevant in today’s digital age – therefore nurturing our talent to equip them with pertinent skills that strengthen their understanding of the changing dynamics is an increasing priority.

I believe the profession is poised for strong growth and by constantly redefining our proposition in line with market forces and trends, we’re becoming more relevant and honest every day.

RT: What is the promise of Archetype?

By definition, Archetype means an original model or prototype that others imitate. With our strategy of “best people, best work, best clients”, we will be the archetype for the reimagined global consultancy – a communications & marketing organisation where each office around the world is a pioneer in its local market, finely tuned to the region in which they operate, but supported by consistent client standards globally.

We’re committed to building a portfolio stacked with brands that will help us attract other exciting clients, bring new candidates into the fold, and most importantly – make each of us proud.

RT: Having spent over a decade at the firm, what are the highs and lows of your leadership stint?

Every journey has its set of highs and lows and mine is no exception. I think the transition from being a pure play technology consultancy to one with a diversified portfolio, was a hugely challenging time for us, as non-technology clients weren’t always willing to give us a chance to prove ourselves, despite being impressed with our approach, our ideas and our people. We knew this was an absolute imperative for our continued growth and were equally determined to crack through, but it took a lot of patience, huge, huge effort and there were days when our frustration knew no bounds. I’m really glad that period is history now and we’re well established across select verticals including Healthcare, Pharma, Auto, Education, Entertainment, Travel, FMCG, Insurance and a few others.

In recent times, as a business we’ve all been grappling with major changes as integrated communication has become the norm, necessitating investments in new skills, processes, talent and tools. All of a sudden, we’ve found ourselves confronting a different reality and there was so much that needed to be unlearnt and cast afresh. Big, loud and beautiful found few takers; small, snackable and “real for me” became the mantra; differently-skilled people were required, who came at a premium and affected cost structures; teams needed to be realigned, new processes and workflows  were required to be introduced etc. etc. – it’s been disruption and transformation on so many fronts.

RT: What are the challenges that PR consultancy leadership face today and will do in the near future?

I think our biggest challenge today is around talent. There is a dearth of good talent, attitudes are blasé and the passion to learn and excel is relatively limited. Those who are motivated and keen, are always looking for the next big thing and hence the pressure to keep them engaged and motivated is immense.

Secondly, when it comes to PR budgets, they continue to be relatively small. Clients are willing to spend huge amounts on marketing and advertising, but somehow flinch when it comes to PR. In that sense we’ve failed to elevate the value of PR in their eyes and equate it to the other disciplines.

RT: How do you motivate your teams to deliver their best?

We have always been known for our work culture and are really proud of the work environment in our offices. There’s a distinct vibe – people feel empowered and equal. We have a fairly flat, apolitical structure and an open office, so there’s a lot of engagement and cross learning. We encourage our staff to learn new skills and experiment with new genres, so they feel updated. This coupled with recognition, rewards and incentives has helped us keep our people motivated.

RT: What does it take for a woman to strike a work-life balance?

In one line – knowing your priorities and staying true to your commitments – both at work and at home. It’s important to prioritise “me time” and have the maturity to differentiate between urgent and important vs important but not urgent.

A strong, supportive ecosystem at home obviously helps but in nuclear families, staying connected with your children and family 24×7 in today’s digital age is a reality. It’s an advantage we did not have when I was a young mother so I think today’s women are more fortunate.

However, I have a different take on this. Why would you ask this question of a woman only? A work life balance is gender neutral.

RT: You had a stint in corporate communications. How is the consultancy life different?

Corporate communications seems a lifetime away now. It was a great experience and some of my best learning happened then, as I worked with some truly incredible people, many of whom are legends in their own right. Working on a single brand and delving deep to realise the brand’s potential and promise is an amazing, eye-opening experience especially when you’re working with stalwarts.

Consultancy by contrast, is a variegated experience which exposes you to multiple genres, domains, clients and experiences all at the same time and I find that really energising. Never a dull moment in this avatar. Every day brings new challenges and decision making literally needs to happen real time, so I think one is much more involved and engaged here.

In my role, managing the business well is a priority so the canvas is much larger here – focussing on our talent pool, coaching and mentoring promising youngsters, consulting clients on their business, driving for new business, opening up new opportunities, investing for growth – it’s a heady mix. But what I enjoy the most in consultancy life is working with so many young and enthusiastic people – it not only makes me feel more youthful, but I think has also made me a better Mom!

RT: What is your advice for youngsters who are entering the PR world?

I think anyone who makes their career in PR should enjoy reading. It’s such an enriching discipline and every day brings new learnings and ideas. So, if you’re naturally curious and knowledge hungry, it’s the best place to be in. Every brand you work for teaches you something new and the wealth of information we unwittingly collect, is amazing.

Also, ask questions – lots of them. Don’t take things at face value – try and understand the logic behind. Be inquisitive, practice curiosity.

Last, but not least, respect yourself, because then you’ll deliver work you are proud of. Our best comes from the passion to excel, to exceed – so treat every task with the respect it deserves.

Shree Lahiri on EmailShree Lahiri on LinkedinShree Lahiri on Twitter
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

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.