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Highly creative yet organized, strategic with a sharp eye for detail, and a consummate networker, Abhinav Kumar was elevated to his current role as chief marketing and communications officer for global markets at the start of 2018, after previously serving for six and a half years as Tata Consultancy Services’ CMCO for Europe. Under his leadership, TCS' brand value has risen from US$2.3bn in 2010 to US$14.9bn in 2021.
Can you share a moment in your career when you saw PR's direct impact on business performance?
I cannot over-emphasize the role and power of PR, across my career, in shaping the brand and business of our company. The work our teams have done in communications over the years is a primary contributor to the fact that TCS is recognized as the fastest growing brand in the IT industry over 2010-20 and became #1 globally in market capitalization. The most rewarding moments have been when we have leveraged PR behind a major business investment, to make inroads into markets where we historically didn't have much of a brand presence or awareness. The launching of our then new CEO in 2009 in the US and Europe, M&A / JV investments in Chile, Brazil and France, massive deals with key clients from Ecuador and Japan to Ireland and Israel, pivoting a sports sponsorships strategy towards a dominant portfolio of the world's leading marathons in 12 cities including New York, London, Amsterdam, Mumbai, Sydney and Singapore – each of these moments have helped shift the needle significantly for us inside a country, city or region. There is nothing more rewarding than knowing you have helped make a step change for your business at a ground level.
What are the communications industry's biggest challenges and opportunities in the year ahead?
Communications has had an outsized role to play in this disruptive period of the global pandemic. Most corporations have stepped up efforts towards stronger internal communications to their employees, while keeping their clients engaged through a variety of content and digital media. The industry must capitalize on its increased relevance and new capabilities developed in this period (e.g. in areas like virtual events or experiential technologies like AR/VR). In terms of near-term challenges: growing scope and expectations on the communications function (e.g. need in to manage new high priority initiatives like sustainability, ESG), the risk of burnout inside overburdened team, the need to demonstrate more direct ROI and the imperative to constantly upgrade skills/talent will keep communications leaders on their toes.
What have you most admired about this industry over the past year?
The ability to step up to what is the largest challenge of our times and yet deliver the goods. There is no denying that the period we have just lived through has been absolutely tragic, with so many of us suffering the loss of colleagues, friends and family members. Many other face significant economic and health challenges. Yet there is no doubt that things could have been far worse and led to far more chaos. A large part of the reason why we have been able to operate and continue through this period has been due to the role that technology and communications have played in helping deal with a complex situation, maintaining essential services, developing vaccines, and allowing education as well as work to operate remotely. Our ability to communicate and collaborate as a society, using the digital technologies we have developed, is what is seeing us through.
What has most disappointed you about this industry over the past year?
One of the opportunities that the pandemic presented was for companies, advised by their PR agencies, to completely redefine internal communications, assisting the wellbeing of their employees and keeping them engaged. Yet, a March 2021 Microsoft survey of 30,000 workers in 31 countries, indicated that 41% are considering leaving their employers based on their experiences during the pandemic. While this indicates a larger broad based leadership failure, clearly the increased efforts in internal communications have not created the intended mitigating impact.
How have you switched off from work and maintained wellness in lockdown?
My advice to my teams (and myself) has been to prioritize the health of their families and themselves, including mental health, and maintain a balance at work. It’s easy to lose the balance if your home is your office and your day is filled with an unending series of Zoom or Teams calls. My own coping mechanisms have been to use what had usually been my commute time in the morning and evening to take walks in nature, isolate a part of the house which is my office and not work in any other part of the house or outside work hours and also force myself to take time off, even if we can't travel anywhere and it ends up being a day long bicycle ride or trek inside Belgium with my kids.
Which book/movie/TV show/podcast/playlist/other cultural source has helped you get through this year or provided inspiration?
The big discovery for me during this period has been podcasts. The last thing I want to do after a whole day working on the screen, is to see more screen or keep sedentary reading a book, so I indulge in something I call ‘walkcasts’ – listening to podcasts while getting in my daily 10K or 15K step target. Fitness for the body and food for the mind in one go. Some of the current podcasts I am regular with are: The Tim Ferris show; The Gary Vee audio experience; WorkLife with Adam Grant; The Marketing Book podcast with Douglas Burdett; The Exponential View with Azeem Azhar. Also, I do find it quite valuable to listen to some great communicators on PRovoke Media’s podcast as well, from time to time.
If I wasn't working in marketing/communications, I would be...
An astrophysicist. It’s fascinating how little we know of the universe we inhabit. I firmly believe that humanity’s destiny lies in exploring space, finding new answers, resources and ultimately becoming a multi-planetary species.
Sum up 2021 in one word.
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