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Since 2013, Sujit Patil has overseen a stellar communications evolution at Indian industrial company Godrej. Under his leadership, Godrej has overhauled all aspects of its communications operation, starting with a sophisticated insights capability and encompassing an advanced approach to measurement and evaluation.
Those efforts have not escaped the attention of Patil’s peers, with Godrej winning the Diamond SABRE Award for excellence in reputation management in both South Asia and Asia- Pacific, along with Company of the Year at the former show.
All told, Patil oversees PR and communications for over 20 businesses and 40 brands across Godrej, unifying the PR process across the group and establishing a group wide strategy that links all elements of integrated communications to business objectives.
Can you share a moment in your career when you saw PR's direct impact on business performance?
There have been many wow moments of PR creating a delight for businesses. One recent PR campaign that comes to my mind is the ‘Protekt India Movement’ we did for Godrej Protekt, a brand with various products in the hygiene space. The holistic PR campaign aimed at creating awareness around right hygiene practices to beat Covid-19. This cause covered 70 cities and 25 states through various activities. With multiple alliances, three government body partnerships and a slew of initiatives, over 100m people were made aware of right hygiene practices. Godrej Protekt along with Indian Railways also championed a first-of-its-kind program to promote travel hygiene amongst passengers and rail employees. The pilot was conducted with Central Railways in 400 local and long-distance trains. With close to 1000 stories and a positive impact across multiple cities, the campaign also led to over 2X growth in demand for our liquid hand wash and other products.
What are the communications industry's biggest challenges and opportunities in the year ahead?
A few trends that I feel are challenges as well as opportunities for the communications industry are:
1. Dawn of authenticity laced with empathy – tonality of communications has become key.
2. The twilight of ‘spray and pray’ strategy of branded content. Owing to the exposure to fake news and branded content, there is a cognitive ad-blocker that switches on every time a consumer today sees content that looks like tall advertising claims. Therefore, stories you share with audiences must be factual, data-driven, and more inclusive.
3. Era of regional, hyperlocal content and micro influencers. The pandemic has made us also focus our attention on hyperlocal news. What is happening closer to home or office? Is there a night curfew or lockdown? Are cases increasing? There has also been a rise in the number of effective micro influencers who are subject matter experts and not necessarily with huge following but have a significant influence.
4. Spotlight on direct communication channels. “Being heard” has become one of the most precious aspects that audiences seek today from brands.
5. Time to listen more and engage deeper - In uncertain times, emotions run high, and brands often get caught up in the currents and counter currents. Corporate and brand behavior is being watched more closely. Not only what CEOs say, but also employee views on social media about the organization and other issues are critical.
6. Rise and rise of PR in overall communication mix. With corporate scrutiny at its peak leading to the vulnerability of coming in a crossfire of media, political parties, and trolls, the dependence on public relations and reputation management has gone up. While governments are making good strides in controlling the pandemic, I feel that the effectiveness could be higher if the planners have more psychologists, or social scientists and most importantly “communicators” on board. It would certainly help avoid a lot of chaos and confusion due to miscommunication and confusing narratives.
What have you most admired about this industry over the past year?
The way the industry has come together to support each other has been amazing. The concern for the fraternity has never been higher. Apart from knowledge sharing sessions, and online workshops for competency development, lots of communication bodies came together to raise funds for professionals who faced job cuts, closure of their organizations etc. Corporates and PR agencies honoring job commitments made to freshers just before the pandemic was such a good gesture.
What has most disappointed you about this industry over the past year?
The pandemic has been an opportunity for the industry to go back to the drawing board, redefine PR's role, define uniform metrics, measures, lay out standards for the next decade, enhance use of technology, build competencies, and capture a larger pie of the communications mix, going forward. However, I do have my own doubts on how much has been achieved out of this. Some corporates have had to take difficult calls and reduce retainer fees of agencies, but I guess that is a past story now and things are getting back to normal.
How have you switched off from work and maintained wellness in lockdown?
Being meaningfully engaged and not losing the momentum of doing good work was key. Family, close friends and colleagues have been fantastic. They kept my spirits high. My passion for weekend farming kept me connected to nature to an extent. I took up reading and watching web series on weekends. Overall, the trick was to remain positive, doing good for society and not giving oneself a dull moment.
Which book/movie/TV show/podcast/playlist/other cultural source has helped you get through this year or provided inspiration?
I did watch a lot of Bollywood movies from the 70s and 80s. Of course Amazon Prime and Netflix ensured several binge watching sessions during weekends. ‘The Family Man’, ‘Two Broke Girls’ and many others kept me entertained. I watched ‘The Bridge on The River Kwai’ and I think it had some great leadership lessons. It was truly an inspirational film.
If I wasn't working in marketing/communications, I would be...
A good sales and business development professional. The first four years of my career were as a sales engineer selling high-end instrumentation products and services to chemical, pharmaceutical, and petroleum plants.
Sum up 2021 in one word.
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