Shifting sands – Part I

A couple of days ago I was invited to address the students of SCoRE (School for Communications & Reputation) along with a fellow colleague.

It is always interesting to share knowledge with the current generation. Honestly, it makes me nervous too. With access to all kinds of information, fake news and their savviness with social media, I think Gen Z is far ahead of us. How does one then prepare to speak with this audience?

For me, it all falls back to experiences and dipping into stories that have shaped the communications and PR world.

The world of corporate communications (CC) is different from what it was decades ago when I first entered into it. Communicators worked with PR agencies mainly for reactive press releases. Internally, it was seen as a function that generated no value but had many expenses! There was little or almost no collaboration with other businesses.

Things started to change when the communications function finally found a seat at the leadership level. This led to proactive communications taking a lead over reactive communications. It also gave birth to storytelling, as we know of it today.

It also meant the integration of communications with business strategy, and this resulted in deep involvement with the leaders. The outcome was to finally frame a strategy that was aligned and in sync with business goals.

CC departments of big organisations are now framed along these lines. We have a long way to go before each and every industry, and organisation recognises the true value of this function and the role it really plays. We still have many companies wherein CC continues to be under the bastion of HR or Marketing Function.

The changing order of things

Post the integration of communications as a critical business function, one can easily trace its growth to that being the harbinger of reputation and brand.

The changing world, impact of globalisation, the interconnectedness of political events having a rippling effect across continents; all these have played a big role in reshaping how companies position their story.

We get the best glimpse of this through the stakeholder map that has gradually evolved to showcase the change. At one time, the only stakeholder that mattered for this function was the internal employees. The intranet ruled the roost. Whatever information you wanted about the company; the intranet was the go-to medium. Needless to say, internal communications played a pivotal role and occupied almost 70% of the job profile of a communicator. The external piece was still reactive.

Circa today – an integrated function wherein 80% of the job caters to reaching out to external stakeholders and drawing up a narrative that upholds the reputation of the organisation. Within this too, the stakeholder map has expanded substantially to include social media handles – meaningful content is now the king.

Most importantly, the stakeholder map now has (besides media of course) policy makers, movers & shakers from the world of local/central politics, industry associations, consulates, academicians, universities, students, activists and general public, among others.

Today, CC is like a bouquet of flowers, representing different colours and fragrances. While the communications function will continue to be the custodian of company reputation, reputation is also everyone’s responsibility, and everyone is accountable to the organisation.

This is such a break from the past, from the way CC would function. It also calls for a whole lot of new skills and relearning on part of the communicators.

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

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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