Communicate India, Founder and CEO, Akshaara Lalwani has built from scratch, a 120 people strong full-service brand strategy firm in just a decade of being in action. Lalwani is a force to reckon in the industry, as she heads strategies and helms communications for global blue-chip companies, newborn startups and promising unicorns. Lalwani started Communicate India as a PR company but transformed it into a 360 communications firm offering services in marketing, PR, digital, advertising. This agency’s strong track record and CEO’s hands-on attitude earned an impressive client portfolio including Hersheys, Cipla, Gaana, Reliance Jewels, World Bank, Waaree Energies, University of South Wales to name a few.
International market entries to India, raising funding, tackling crisis, branding and rebranding, pivoting and advising on business plans, Lalwani has established herself as a trusted business partner moving beyond the role of a communications advisor.
In an interview with Medianews4u.com, Lalwani spoke about changes in the communications sector, scope of traditional PR, and more.
- From your experience, what have been the major growth factors and changes that the PR and communications sector has witnessed in the last decade?
Over the past decade, PR has been moving away from its traditional business models towards a more holistic and integrated approach. Whether it’s the shift from pure media relations to content or the migration from print to digital, there is a marked change in the way the PR industry functions. A good example of what this new-age integration looks like is the former reluctance of conventional PR professionals to not engage in the nuances of something like performance marketing, and the same was true for marketing and advertising professionals who didn’t understand the inner workings of public relations. It was almost akin to different factions of the same machinery working in silos; the landscape now is vastly different. PR professionals today understand that they are part of a larger tapestry and they have to be able to cross over into the marketing and digital aspect of things. Whether it is understanding ROI, creating quality content, knowing more about influencer engagement or calculating engagement ratios on social media, PR is now about integrating and merging all that was previously segregated. The PESO model (Paid, Earned, Shared, Owned Media) is probably the best example of the change that PR has witnessed in these last ten years; it represents a newfound way for companies to integrate communications efforts in an attempt to reach audiences in an extremely efficient manner.
- What do you think about the current industry landscape and what is the scope of traditional PR in today’s market? Do you think traditional PR is slowly getting obsolete?
The traditional PR model took decades to build and can’t just be displaced abruptly. There are still scores of BFSI clients that see immense value in having a presence in the business newspapers, and that’s not wrong because it is the kind of engagement that aligns with their goals. However, what’s happening right now is that pure old-style media relations don’t work anymore; profile pieces in a print newspaper need to be supplemented with copious amounts of online presence and digital campaigns. PR today is not just about reaching out to journalists, it’s about media management, strategizing, overall messaging, and understanding a client’s business goals. Traditional PR is not obsolete, but PR professionals who refuse to pivot and upskill to adapt to the new market are the ones that face the risk of perishing or permanent stagnation.
- Tell us more about your views on the dawn of the digital revolution in PR and succession planning?
As PR and marketing professionals working in the industry for the past decade, we are all digitally native. And as an agency, we have always been digitally-forward driven by a curiosity to learn how the marketing landscape is evolving, pivoting and changing. We’re always going to be on the cusp of one revolution or the other; whether it is the move from print to online or pure media relations to content.
As for succession planning, it is extremely important to have a next gen leadership team ready and in-place to take over. And this won’t just happen by bringing in young people and creating new titles for them. If companies would really like for Gen Z and millennials to contribute, then they have to be willing to give them a real seat at the table. The old guard must be urged to do more than just pay lip service to the idea of bringing in young blood. The next generation of young business leaders must be given business objectives to achieve and they should be trusted with actual responsibility in order for succession planning to happen.
- What is the future of PR in India? What according to you are the driving forces behind its growth? Do you think marketing collaterals are involved?
The future of PR in India is bright considering we are home to the world’s third largest startup ecosystem. From unicorns to IPOs, the future for India Inc is vibrant and thriving. Thus, PR is here to stay and it will play a much more strategic role in the future. Erasing the demarcation between digital, PR, marketing and advertising is the hallmark of the new business model. Agencies and clients that are able to understand this new landscape and its need for integrated communications, are the ones who will survive.
- What according to you are the importance of purposeful communication and the importance of Content Social Responsibility or in other terms, purposeful content/ effective communication?
Responsible communication is more important than ever before because we’re in an age where the rapid spread of misinformation and disinformation campaigns are commonplace. This is also exacerbated by the urgent issues of climate change and blackswan events like the pandemic. Hence, businesses today need to prioritise responsible communication over inherently capitalistic desires of business growth.
As an agency, we’ve had scores of clients come to us with products that claimed to be rapid cures for Covid-19. However, a lot of them were still in the developmental phase or weren’t really rooted in scientific research. As PR and marketing professionals, we need to be able to look beyond what is being touted as the truth and ask the hard questions, and this is never an easy task. At the end of the day, it is unethical to sell pipe dreams to people.
We don’t have to look far to see what happens when companies let go of integrity and intend to deceive through communication. Whether its Volkswagen’s “clean diesel” cars claim and animal testing fiasco explored in the popular Netflix series ‘Dirty Money’ or the 2019 film ‘Dark Waters’ that highlights the DuPont corporation’s criminal acts of contaminating a town’s water sources, movies and TV shows are full such examples.
The bottom line is that each and every claim needs to be validated for responsible content to make it to the public forum. It should not and cannot always come down to the consciousness of a sole whistle-blower to expose corruption and lies – we have to strive to do better than that.
- Do you think social media has become the new place to window shop for brands?
Yes, with the pandemic still lingering, people have replaced outdoor shopping trips with online scrolling. The physical window shop has now morphed into an online avatar, and discovery ads hold the potential that was once the domain of physical stores. Also, social media is far more cost effective for brands to advertise their products and it helps to create targeted ad campaigns. It is also the place to garner millennial attention as they are the ones who have higher spending power. With real estate and retail logistical costs soaring, brands have been leveraging technology to boost business, and this strategy has worked. Scores of brands have exclusive online stores that are seeing soaring and steady sales. However, it is important to remember that discovery ads can help to grab eyeballs and even translate into first-time sales, however, if a product claims to be something it isn’t it won’t lead to repeat customers or future sales, as the modern day digitally native consumer is discerning and knows how to see through untrustworthy messaging.