Insights from a panel with corporate communicators

Last week I had the fortune of moderating an all-women panel of communicators.

As part of the Corporate Communications Boot Camp 2019 organised by Transformance Business Media, we had the hot seat and certainly the hottest topic with us: ‘What CEOs are looking for from Corporate Communications’

With me on the panel were Shravani Dang – Advisor, Avantha Group, Minari Shah – Director, Public Relations, Amazon, Dimple Kapur – Group Head – Corporate Communications, Piramal Group and Anindita Mookerjee Sinha, Head Corporate Communication – L&T Metro Rail Hyderabad.

L-R: Anindita Mookerjee Sinha, Minari Shah, Sarita Bahl, Shravani Dang, Dimple Kapur (Pic Source – Transformance Forums)

What happens when you have such strong women together voicing their thoughts and sharing their experiences? As the panel moderator, I can tell you one thing – it is tough to stop a communicator from talking!

We had a very insightful session. The audience was an eclectic  mix comprising of those who report into the CEOs, those who will do so in the future and finally those, who aspire to be CEOs! You can well imagine then that there was never a dull moment!

Two fundamental mantras

Corporate Communicators (CC) who hold leadership positions and report directly into the CEOs have an enviable task of upholding the company’s reputation and at the same time strategically aligning with the business leaders on the best outcomes.

Knowing fully well that there are no second chances here, a CC leader should be a knowledge powerhouse. Two fundamental mantras emerged in our conversation – understand the business and understand your CEO. What is the vision of each department? What are the CEO’s challenges and goals? As CC, we often tend to view things from our lens. However, we need to widen our horizon and have a regular peep at the bigger picture. Once you get this insight, a CC leader should strive to be on the same wavelength with her/his CEO. Understanding your CEO does not come in a day. It is hard work. CC leaders have to be the confidante. They need to build a trustful relationship with the CEO and with other business leaders as well.

How can CC leaders get a buy in for their ideas from their CEO?

Do you recall when you had this great PR/communication idea and went to discuss it with your CEO? You knew your idea was a smart one. You knew it was the most appropriate one. But then, your CEO thought otherwise. Almost all of us in this field face this challenge of getting a buy in for our ideas from our CEO and other business leaders.

The audience in the boot camp seemed to agree on this one. This was certainly the most interesting part of the conversation. What works? What does not?

Here are some tips from the panelists –

  • Go prepared – there are no second chances!
  • Know the pros and cons of what you are suggesting
  • Voice your disagreement – be brave!
  • Master the art of saying No as a YES
  • Follow you gut instinct
  • Do not compromise on integrity and honesty
  • Use data to back up your thought and plan
  • Anticipate the outcome
  • Don’t shy away from asking for resources but be cost conscious as well
  • Use your knowledge of the industry, business and media landscape to push your point across
  • Be precise and concise
  • Cultivate a collaborative mindset

When push comes to shove…

Nevertheless, what happens when despite the best of our intentions, our ideas do not find acceptance? Some sage advice from the panelists – learn to agree to disagree and then work on executing the plan that the CEO finally approves. There is nothing wrong in taking a push back, when required. As CC professionals and leaders, we need to be flexible with outcomes and results. The final execution that CC professionals drive really sets the tone and consolidates the relationship with the CEO. So, in the end, why not focus on ensuring that the execution is perfect!

Remember, as communicators we are the custodians of the brand and uphold the reputation of the organisation. Equip yourself continuously with knowledge, new technologies, and diverse skills and continue to be the best in your role.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Reputation Today.

Sarita Bahl
Country Group Head CSR at Bayer - South Asia
Sarita Bahl leads the Corporate Social Responsibility function for Bayer South Asia and is also the Director – Bayer Prayas Association. Prior to this, she successfully oversaw the communications and public affairs function for Bayer South Asia. Over her three decades of professional experience, Sarita has held multiple roles across diverse industries, public sector, trade associations, MNCs and the Not-for-profit sector. An alumnus of Tata Institute of Social Science and the Swedish Institute of Management Program, Sarita specializes in stakeholder engagement, sustainability and communications. She is passionate about animals (is mother to a female cat), books and movies.

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