Rupen Desai | Influence 100
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Rupen Desai 

Global CMO 
Dole Packaged Foods 
Singapore

 

 

Urbane, curious and fiercely passionate about the role of brands, Rupen Desai’s unique blend of experience includes more than two decades at advertising powerhouse Lowe Lintas, followed by two years as part of Edelman’s transformation. All of which adds up to his self-described role as an ‘accidental marketer’ at Dole, where he has promptly set about reshaping the company’s role in society, via an ambitious brand promise to make nutritious foods accessible for 1 billion people, move towards zero fruit loss and zero fossil-based plastic packaging by 2025, as well as net zero carbon emissions by 2030.

Desai’s progress at Dole, where he serves as one of the few global CMOs based in Asia, is worth watching, not least because he harbours few illusions about the importance of brands. “I come from a world where attention could be bought, where we discussed deep brand engagement, fans and loyalty, even though none of that connects with consumers in the top-down model,” Desai told delegates at Provoke’s Asia-Pacific Summit in 2017. “Consumers don’t really care about brands.”

Can you share a moment in your career when you saw PR's direct impact on business performance?
The meaningful currencies for brands – trust, authenticity, earning attention – all come from the heartland of the PR world. Brands that embrace these currencies are doing the best work out there. KFC's cheeky 'FCK' is a fantastic example of PR's direct impact on business and corporate performance.

What are the comms industry's biggest challenges and opportunities in the year ahead?
Our ability to connect the Impact and effectiveness of the output we generate to the outcomes, beyond impressions and views.

What have you most admired about this industry in 2020?
Purposeful brands proving that through action (not words) their utilitarian value for consumers. The pandemic is separating brands that are truly purposeful vs. those that (ab)use purpose as the next advertising brief.

What has most disappointed you about this industry in 2020?
Our ability to unleash real collaboration and partnerships. Imagine hundreds of brands, all together, to solve one real challenge. Could the marketing and communications community supercharge creativity with scale and collaboration, to help make a real impact?

How have you switched off from work and maintained wellness in lockdown?
Jumping into the pool between Zoom calls and meditation, though there are days I am getting this right and days, where I am still, not.

Which book/movie/TV show/podcast/playlist/other cultural source has helped you get through this year or provided inspiration?
The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. What has been really inspirational is the freedom that comes with what Miguel writes about: always do your best, be impeccable with your words, don't take anything personally and don't make assumptions. I am learning around these areas, on a day by day basis.

If I wasn't working in marketing/communications, I would be...
Unemployed and still learning how to sail.

Sum up 2020 in one word.
Existential.