Ramya Chandrasekaran | The Innovator 25 Asia-Pacific 2023

Ramya Chandrasekaran

Chief Communications Officer
QI Group


Keep your messaging simple and authentic, and keep your eyes open for new ways to communicate that message.”

Having lived in four countries and interacted with media and government across 10 in total, Ramya Chandrasekaran’s perspective across international PR and brand building has helped drive strong business growth at QI Group, where she serves as chief communications officer. Chandrasekaran oversees a team spread across Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe and has played a pivotal role in revamping QI Group’s corporate positioning, particularly in the issues-rich area of direct selling. 

How do you define innovation?
I see innovation as the art of employing creative ingenuity to address challenges and problem-solving. The Indian ‘jugaad’ approach to me is the best way to describe innovation. The ability to find creative, resourceful, and often unconventional solutions to problems, often with limited resources.

What is the most innovative PR or marketing initiative you've seen over the past 12 months?
Dove’s Cost of Beauty campaign was both powerful and heartbreaking. It used real life stories and user generated content to shine a light on the very real dangers of social media on youth mental health. The campaign's strength lies not in high-budget production, but inits raw and genuine presentation. This approach not only resonates powerfully with audiences but also aligns seamlessly with Dove's enduring commitment to authenticity and redefining conventional beauty standards.

In your opinion, which brands and/or agencies are most innovative in their approach to PR and marketing?
I’ve always been a big fan of Apple’s marketing. Starting with creating mystery and anticipation around every new product launch (after 15 iPhones what can be so mysterious…and yet!) to keeping everything simple - packaging, messaging, language, visuals- they’ve perfected the art of innovation through simplicity. Their latest sustainability report video with Octavia Spencer is the perfect example of taking something boring and turning it into storytelling gold!

Describe a moment in your career that you would consider to be innovative.
I work for a multinational conglomerate and one of our businesses operates in the perceptionally challenged industry of direct selling. Especially in emerging economies, where this industry is still in its nascent stages, there are so many challenges around misrepresentation of the business model. A few years ago, when we first entered the West Africa market, we were facing so many challenges around young people misrepresenting the business as a get-rich-quick scheme. It led to all kinds of problems for our operations and the reputation of the brand took a huge hit. My team and I knew that our usual approach to PR and crisis comms was not going to work here. This is where the power of diversity and inclusion did the trick. A group of us from Asia and Africa were on a call brainstorming and someone from the Africa team said - ‘If I ever lied about something, my mama would kick my a** no matter how old I am.’ The Asian team could immediately relate to the sentiment. And suddenly, that was our light build moment. The respected, yet feared matriarch who would not hesitate to teach you a lesson if you did something wrong. The African Mama became the face of our new awareness campaign and we rolled out a 360 campaign in Ghana with humourous radio ads and TV spots, funny memes for social media, billboards with the African Mama front and centre, holding a rolling pin in her hand, wearing a stern expression, warning the viewer - Mama is watching you! And it worked. The number of complaints came down, law enforcement and government stakeholders were appreciative of our efforts at public education, the media covered it extensively. And the campaign went on to win several awards.

Who do you admire for his/her approach to innovation?
Mary Kay Ash! She was one of the original breakers of glass ceilings. When she was passed over for promotion over a man half as good as her, back in the 60s, she quit her job and started a skin care company that utilised one of the most under utilised workforces of the time - housewives who were tired of being the perfect Stepford wives. She turned her skincare business into a successful global empire by tapping into the hunger and potential of bored housewives with a thriving social circle. And one of the most innovative marketing rewards she introduced for her top sales people is the iconic pink Cadillac that continues to be a symbol of success for Mary Kay beauty consultants till today.

How do you get out of a creativity rut?
When I find myself in a creative rut, I take a break and change the environment I am in. I switch to doing something completely different, otherwise I know I’ll find myself getting more and more stressed. Getting a workout in, going for a walk, meeting friends, reading something new…anything that will allow my brain to reset.

What advice would you give to the PR industry around embracing innovation?
PR professionals should always remember that at our core, we are storytellers. Stories have the power to evoke emotions and humanise the brands/people/entities we represent. With today's AI tools, we can tell better stories in new ways. Stay curious, try out new tools, and always look for inspiration around you. Embrace change—it's key in our fast-paced industry.

What would you be doing if you weren't doing your current job?
It would have to be something that allows me to use my imagination and play with words. I have a tattoo of a JK Rowling quote on my back that says - ‘Words are our most inexhaustible source of magic.’ I was that kid in school that was always daydreaming, making up stories, telling tall tales! Combine that with my love for traveling and exploring, maybe I could have been a tour guide! :)

Which book/movie/TV show/podcast/playlist/other cultural source has provided inspiration over the past year?
I'm totally enamoured with Ted Lasso! Its simplicity draws you in. If there's one thing I've gleaned from it, it's that 'happiness is a choice.' In our ever-divisive world, the show emerges as a bright spot of hope and positivity. It might sound like a cliche, but Ted Lasso imparts fundamental truths that every parent teaches their kids — always act with integrity, be truthful, and never cease to learn. And that in my opinion is a lesson for every PR and comms professional. Keep your messaging simple and authentic, and keep your eyes open for new ways to communicate that message.

How can the PR and communications industry harness innovation to make more progress on diversity, equity and inclusion?
The PR and communications industry holds significant sway over public narratives. To advance diversity, equity, and inclusion, we should prioritise inclusive messaging across all platforms. Today's innovative AI tools, especially those utilising natural language processing (NLP), can be harnessed to conduct sentiment analysis on our content, ensuring it's not only free from bias but also promotes inclusivity. We can also employ AI-driven content generation tools to create diverse and inclusive content that reflect diverse perspectives and experiences. As you can probably tell, I am a big fan of AI!