The new normal in a world where Covid-19 unfortunately is becoming a part of our life, it will bring about many changes in the way businesses will be conducted, and more importantly the way we live our life. The recent outbreak of the COVID –19 is also seeing a tectonic shift in most people’s lives.
We decided to speak to Women Entrepreneurs in the PR business. Their plans and strategies to their clients during this period of crisis as businesses and brands are limping back to the new normal. How they are going about planning their communication plans for a new world post the covid-19 lockdown, keeping a note of some of the new buzz words such as ‘social distancing’, ‘work from home’ and the latest one; ‘atmanirbhar’
At an age when most 20-year olds are still undecided over what career to choose, a 23- year-old Akshaara founded Communicate India as a home-grown Indian public relations agency. Her journey began with a mere INR 10000, of which half the amount were gift vouchers for a printer, given to her by friends. Since then, over the last seven years, Akshaara has built an agency that is a force to reckon with. Today she has over 112 plus employees and works with MNCs and Blue-Chip companies including Hershey’s, Mindshare, SKF Bearings and The World Bank, among others.
During the last year, Akshaara took Communicate India a notch higher as she moved the company away from a traditional PR firm, to a digitally transformed, new-age agency. In an industry where few home-grown Indian PR agencies exist, to be spearheading one is no mean feat. A proud 30-year-old woman, Akshaara considers herself a modern-day David in the world of media Goliaths.
Akshaara Lalwani Founder & CEO, Communicate India speaks to Medianews4u on the growth of the agency, the new innovations to be relevant in the New Normal and the way forward.
COVID-19 has ushered in a new normal, how will the PR industry re-look and re-define communication for their clients?
The entire PR landscape has obviously undergone a transformational change in the past year. We are now seeing a move away from classic media relations that used to be very important, towards a more holistic media approach that includes content creation, strategy, reputation and crisis management etc. There is a definite need to understand the entire marketing ecosystem in its totality. Also, as corporate communication teams get leaner, their bandwidth to focus on content and strategy decreases, and they are in need of more support. This means that PR agencies can step in and become equal partners. This has obviously translated into huge opportunities waiting to be tapped. Agencies need to be able to seize these opportunities and execute ideas effectively. Relationships have become more performance-based, one has to move out of their comfort zone and be far more strategic than ever before. Overall, the room for mediocre work has become very slim.
As a PR expert, how do you think clients’ messaging is during a crisis? Is it necessary to use the crisis as a talking point in their communication?
The pandemic is obviously omnipresent and no one can ignore talking about it. But the degree to which a company includes it in its communication depends on the sector they function in. For those working in the pharmaceutical or healthcare space, the messaging will obviously revolve around Covid-19.
Due to the pandemic the world is moving towards a faster digital revolution, how is the PR industry coping with it?
The world was hurtling towards aggressive digitisation even before the pandemic hit us. The pandemic has just accelerated this and now each and every industry, no matter how big or small, has been pushed towards digitisation. The PR industry has coped really well with this move. At Communicate India, we have constantly been investing in digital tools and we’ve made sure to create a savvy digital ecosystem.
As a woman entrepreneur in the PR business what have been the challenges in your journey and how have you coped with them?
Any working woman in any industry is constantly combating traditional mind-sets that slot women as primary caregivers and judge them for choosing between a career and raising a family. Women need to feel that they are equal and do not require to justify themselves. Look around, most women leaders today are extremely gifted, equally capable and resilient to run any business as they should be – logically, ambitiously and with the necessary means required or adapt to strategy to swim in the face of a crisis. As a woman, dealing with stereotypes is the biggest challenge we face every day. We still have to put all that opinionated judgment and criticism coming our way aside and do our job as we must. It is also imperative that we remain constantly mindful of volatility, especially in terms of management expectations. Hence, I feel it is necessary to have the conviction to walk the talk even when you hit a roadblock.
The PR business has seen many paradigm shifts, how are you seeing the industry today?
The industry today is driven by data insights and clients demand an upward trajectory in terms of the ROI involving costly investments. In order to provide such appealing results, PR specialists need to understand that marketing in the modern era is rapidly moving towards an integrated and customer-centric environment.
What are some of the post-lockdown business strategies that you will use to bring your business back on track?
Working and growing as a company through the pandemic was in itself an insurmountable challenge. We were constantly innovating and identifying new business opportunities and strategies to cope with one of the most challenging phases in our lives. Continuing on this growth trajectory despite all the obstacles thrown at us would be my post-Covid business strategy.
Today communication is all about storytelling and in most cases using influencers how does this play out?
The advent of the influencer avenue had filled companies with immense enthusiasm, and rightly so as it was something completely unique and game-changing. However, this enthusiasm sort of plateaued and now there is a need to assess the true value that any influencer brings to the table. We need to be cognisant of the returns received from such initiatives because popularity does not necessarily mean that real influence is not created nor does it give assurance that the purchase decisions have been affected as desired. Having said that, influencers continue to hold a huge sway in the PR and Marketing space because they can connect with a large number of people and their storytelling formats are unique.
What are the tools PR is using for effective communication in the time of such colossal crisis?
Everything that is available in the digital toolkit. Amplifying messaging through online modes of communication is what every agency and PR professional is doing right now as it compensates for the lack of in-person communication.
Where do you see Communicate India 3 years from now?
Ha-ha! I see Communicate India on the Moon or Mars! Humour aside, the Moon and Mars are metaphors to scale to new heights and achieve more success. And of course, growing my business and going international is a goal I am permanently fixated on achieving.