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Archive for June 2010

Internal and External Comms: Let the Walls Come Tumbling Down

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This has been written by William Trout, director of internal communications at BBVA Compass and taken from Linked In Group – Corporate Communications posted by Alejandro Formanchuk

The artificial division between internal and external communications is crumbling. With the emergence of flatter organizations where knowledge and relationships speak as loudly as rank, and where the ‘professional’ and ‘personal’ lives of employees are increasingly blurred, communications hierarchies designed to segment or stovepipe information are losing their relevance. More than ever, employees are taking control of the channels and communicating not just with their superiors and their immediate colleagues, but with peers, friends and strangers down the hall, in the next city and across the world. The smart companies—the ones most likely to engage, empower and energize employees and companies in support of the company mission and brand—have taken note and are providing platforms to support the conversation.

“Providing platforms” in this context means more than incorporating social media into the company communications plan, it means embracing and responding to the seismic changes taking place within the communications space itself, including the ubiquity and power of technology, the desire for community and a recognition that a successful brand must be built from the inside out.

Technology

The genie has been let out of the bottle, if he was ever there in the first place. Email allows any internal message to be launched into public view with the tap of a ‘send’ button. The lesson here is simple: don’t prepare or circulate anything for internal use that you wouldn’t be comfortable seeing outside the firewall.

The inverse is also true: Technology means that employees can no more be shielded from company news reports (ever heard of Google alerts?) unpalatable to top brass than they can be shut off from information floating around the water cooler. And technology itself is of limited use when it comes to regulating the online activities of employees. That nifty filter put in place to block employees from accessing Facebook and other social media sites? It may keep the lawyers happy, but it doesn’t stop employees from accessing these sites through their (often as not company-owned) PDA’s and smart phones, which in turn can be used to blast information outside the company.

Community

But technology isn’t even the central issue. The opportunities and challenges presented by portable hardware simply underscore the cultural shifts taking place in the workplace and in society in general, and the failure of most organizations to meet them. These shifts can be summed up in terms of employees’ desire for community in an increasingly atomized world and the parallel pursuit of authenticity and meaning in work, a search largely undiluted by the effects of our most recent recession.

Jaded audiences—employees among them—are looking for sources they trust. These audiences long ago became immune to advertising, which now functions as an expensive tool with which to build a brand, and are skeptical of the news reports fed by public relations practitioners. They are seeking guidance from like-minded people they trust (virtual communities or ‘tribes’, in the parlance) which can be physical (word of mouth) or more likely, virtual (a LinkedIn group, for example). Increasingly, these virtual groups exist as proxies for the physical communities— family, friends, customer, the car-repair guy—that have long served companies as a source of customers and or potential employees.

Positioning

Positioning a company internally more often than not amounts to cursory efforts to sell a company’s brand promise (often modified for the employee audience) to employees. Traditionally, this function was left to the HR department, which often as not responded with a dreary listing of benefits and ‘employee-friendly’ policies.

Now, thanks to the gusher of information and tools at their disposal, employees can fill that vacuum and to an increasing degree, define that brand promise themselves. This requires demonstrable “proof points”: if a company defines itself as an innovator, it better not have decade-old computer systems. But the most important step for our newly emancipated employees is to take the reins of social media and other communications channels to create a culture (for example, team-focused, curious, service-oriented, optimistic) that reflects their own work spirit. To a great degree, it matters less what that culture is that that they can express it.

Savvy companies realize that employees are their best ambassadors, not an embarrassment to be hidden behind a brick wall. In this environment, companies are wise to direct increased resources (human, financial and otherwise) to their communications functions, so as to better educate and empower employees. This means building a robust, interactive communications platform led by innovative and holistic thinkers able to put social media and other 21st century channels to use in today’s communications landscape, a landscape that’s not artificially divided into traditional internal and external categories, but that is truly dynamic and integrated.

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If I was Transport Commissioner

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Enough & more has been written about traffic discipline. People don’t follow traffic rules, jump signals, talk on mobile phone while driving, drink & drive, honk at traffic signals and unnecessary and drive on wrong side as if it’s birthright. Also, we have scant respect for the men trying to implement them. Supreme Court passes strictures to wear seat belt and helmet – even this meets with resistance. We shrug this off as We are Like that Only!! 

The recent death of thespian Kota Srinivasa Rao’s son in an accident on the Outer Ring Road (ORR) is another reflection of our scant respect of rules even when  safety is in question. The government has boards displaying No Entry for 2/3 wheelers & trucks on ORR. But the thespian’s son was apparently driving a sports bike without helmet and ended in a crash. Another thespian Babu Mohan who also lost his son to a road accident six years was heard appealing again on TV to use helmets while driving motorcycles. Check these photos taken at Narsingi Junction on ORR: 

No Entry for Vehicles

 

banned vehicle movement

Banned truck

 

   

Traffic Dept are always at their wit’s end to find solutions in sorting this mess. From installing cameras at important traffic junctions, camps to instill discipline, talk shows on radio & TV requesting people to follow traffic rules and many other similar programs. All these efforts don’t cut any ice with traffic offenders and we don’t appreciate their efforts. 

DISTURBING STATISTICS: 

These figures are stark reality of impact of the above disregard. AP had one of the highest traffic fatality rates in India with 43,108 people losing their lives in 1.35 lakh accidents in the last three years. 

 

On an average 40 people died every day in road accidents on the State highways and district roads during the last three-year period, but the first three-month figures on road fatalities this year show an increase as on an average 41 people died in road mishaps.  If you look at the staggering growth in vehicles over the last 10 years – one is awestruck and wonders why we are unable to cope.   

Growth of Vehicles in Andhra Pradesh

 

Andhra Pradesh has a Road Safety Authority, but only on paper. An Indian Police Service officer of no less than the DGP rank is normally posted as chairman of this Authority but without any “authority” as such, a DG-rank officer who once served in this post observed. In fact, this is treated as a ‘punishment posting’ for a top-ranking IPS officer. 

The RTA of GoAP also runs a lot of safety campaigns under the banner – SAFAR, has been tech-savvy and uploaded number of short films on YouTube also. But the target audience has probably better videos of Waka Waka by Shakira shaking her booty for FIFA 2010 than these educative videos. For interest of others, one can watch them on http://www.aptransport.org/html/short-films.php. ARE WE REALLY BOTHERED??? 

CITIZEN INTEREST: 

My take as law-abiding conscientious citizen who follows traffic rules to the T – have the following submission to the State government and its officers. As a small child writes to the President or Prime Minister – am taking liberty to give my two cents worth inputs hoping better results. 

There needs to be BHAGIDHARI (Partnership) initiative by RTA & Traffic Cops with citizens and make them involved in this project. Merely running campaigns on radio & TV, YouTube, mango boards and billboards doesn’t connect with them and violations continue unabated. 

One needs to instill sense of pride, connect and need to partner with the department to reduce these fatalities rates and follow traffic rules and attempt to make driving pleasure again. Since corporates are always finding ways to have new CSR initiatives – many would be willing to come up only if this BHAGIDHARI initiative is implemented. It needs to be WE WILL ACHIEVE, YES WE CAN kind of approach than unidirectional as is currently the case. 

Simple Initiatives

  1. Don’t fine traffic offenders
    1. Fine collection is the simplest & smallest of reprimand for a traffic violation. There is no disincentive for him not to commit the same offence again.
    2. Make offender man the same junction/signal that he jumped on pre-specified timings – duration can be a function of type & seriousness of offence
    3. Offender needs to catch a minimum number of similar offenders to get his vehicles & driving license back
    4. His circle of friends, colleagues – college or office is notified and parents are made to appear at PS. Attempt is to instill respect for law and also shame as his name gets splashed on notice boards of the college or company
    5. Social service or community work is part of the punishment, manning traffic signals at toughest traffic junctions for a certain period subject to nature of offence committed
  2. Partnership with institutions: Corporate sector, Schools & Colleges
    1. CSR initiatives like Deloitte helping traffic police needs to be multiplied
    2. School kids need to instilled sense of pride in following traffic rules and need to inform police if they notice their parents or school bus violating rules
    3. School kids need to be shown traffic signs, short safety films, have competition for giving best suggestions to beat this mess
    4. College kids who migrate from cycles to bikes even before 16 need to given these campaign collaterals, shown safety films from Grade XII in colleges
    5. Administration & HR Department of corporate sector need to be tapped to drive this partnership drive to instill discipline and punish traffic offenders – name with photo displayed on notice boards, sent on intranet mail – they need to feel the guilt of traffic violations
    6. Work with NSS, Scouts & Guides and Reserve Police teams to help in conducting regular camps on the roads

But these need to done with OUT-OF-BOX approach & mindset if any results are to be seen. RTA & Traffic Police need to work in an integrated manner and TAKE FIRST STEP of going out and partnering than wait for people to come to them. 

Every time there is any traffic violation – the above steps keep lingering and hence thought prudent to share my thoughts. I am willing to work on this plan as a communications professional to help your teams who are doing a handsome job in their limited role to make driving easy. But we citizens have lost civic sense and pride of calling Hyderabad OURS and hence this disrespect. BUT YES WE CAN spirit can make driving a pleasure again on the broad roads with better traffic discipline…

Written by schelluri

June 25, 2010 at 8:08 pm

Hiring Communications Professionals

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Hiring Communications Professionals

If one browses advertisements (job portals and corporate websites) seeking Senior Communication Professionals in India & overseas, there is a marked difference in the approach itself compared to other sectors and professional hiring processes. This could be brushed aside as developed vs. developing economies viewpoint, but this is where the journey of communication professionals starts to change.

In India, companies & PR agencies seek communication professionals to handle the communication needs of organizations. They could be handling media relations, internal communication, events & sponsorship, CSR, designing, website, marketing communications, and stakeholder engagement etc within the framework of Corporate Communications in a typical corporate setup. This role also has touch of Branding and Advertising depending on the industry type and size of the team but at times falls into realm of Marketing.

PR agencies in India range from mom-and-pop shops run by individuals handing out simple press releases to large firms with pan-India reach offering strategic communication consulting mandates. The large PR agencies in India include Adfactors PR, Genesis Burtson Marseiller, Vaishnavi Corporate Communications, Perfect Relations, Text 100, 20:20 among others not necessarily in that order. They handle the communication mandates of large business conglomerates like Reliance Industries, Tata Group, SBI, Exide Batteries, Rajasthan Royals, L&T, CII, Apeejay group, DLF, Unitech, Jindal Steel, ICICI Bank from the corporate sector to image management of even political parties like the Congress besides celebrities & sport stars.

The Corporate Communication & PR industry is still in its nascent stage in India, but is growing fast with the onset of competition of established PR agencies from the west knocking doors of the Indian firms. The globalization of commerce – Indian firms becoming aggressive in tapping foreign shores for establishing business or acquiring firms in different geographies has led to a greater emphasis on the need for proper communications models to succeed. The spread of Internet only added more pressure to communicate as consumers across the globe seek more information on Indian corporate affairs and www.xxx.com started becoming the ideal gateway to understand the firm, prospective employer or next business target.

Against this backdrop, the explosion of Social Media into the Indian Inc storyline was expected. While the advertising world is still grappling how to tame this animal with its diverse forms spreading its tentacles at frenetic pace – the PR & Corporate Communication fraternity is still not ready to accept challenges it poses to traditional forms. While most would like to wish it away as just a passing phenomenon – the pace of growth of Face book, LinkedIn, Twitter, and You Tube among other SM tools in India is staggering and threatening to change the face of communications. However, the Indian corporate is also waking up to this phenomenon of Social Media & its implication on communication – the question most of them are wanting to ask their PR Agency & Corporate Communication team – should we start engaging with this audience or wait??

Being a small & highly networked industry – professionals are difficult to find with right skill set to deal with the above mandates. Movement within the PR agency industry is pretty rampant at the entry to mid-segment and driven more by clients and compensation. Once the professional crosses the 10-year experience mark in his career – life starts to get slightly complicated in terms of placement. Indian corporate sector would like to be with the Joneses and have a communication department but not very sure what they expect them to deliver. Professionally run firms are faced with the issue of the need for a cost-center when marketing & sales are handling business & marketing function. The promoter-led family run business that are fast gaining recognition in all industry verticals have also taken fancy to this need of having communication departments. All business now Pretend to understand that it’s very critical & important to communicate with stakeholders – whether they are business partners, vendors & suppliers, employees, polity, bureaucracy and Media besides others.

The HR fraternity spread within the firm or recruiters & consultants are now increasingly trying to connect with this community to get them placed at all levels. The senior level gets difficult to crack and hence networking plays a critical role in this relationship building attempt by them. The use of SM tools is playing an important role to bridge the gap. A LinkedIn or Face book profile user would understand me better as any communication professional on these networks gets large number of requests/invitation to connect from recruiters.

The hiring conundrum gets murkier as the seniority in the industry increases as the corporate is still unable to figure out whether he needs this department or not. This makes the task of HR managers more difficult to write/define Job Description/Desired Role of this communication professional. The advertisement speaks volumes of the clarity of role description between India and the west. However, what adds to the confusion are the poorly informed consultants & hiring managers of the communication industry and also what they would probably do in the agency or firm once joined.

Indian PR agencies are slightly better lot in terms of time taken for decision-making. If they find the candidate to be suitable (whatever that means) – decision is taken reasonably quick more often than not. The Indian Corporate recruitment story for role in Indian Corporate or MNC is completely different with lots of pregnant pauses. There are too many levels this senior communication person needs to pass to get that COVETED (r u sure??) assignment. It starts with probably a recruiter first scrutinizing the candidate and then sending his profile to the company for HR to take next call. This is then followed by the meeting different people from Marketing, Sales and CEO if it’s professionally run but with the promoters if it’s a family-run business. After going through this routine checks about his FIT to company and/or culture – there is the famous PREGNANT PAUSE. Neither the HR recruiter/consultant nor the company HR team gives any status update on his candidature. The PREGNANT Pause could lead to being still-born or premature but is left there with the candidate fuming in frustration and/or anticipation whether he/she is the chosen one. Hiring in India gets highly unprofessional at this juncture after all the meetings, discussions with so many people – LOOP IS NOT CLOSED.

I am not sure whether one should feel happy to become a senior communication professional in India or not in this confused and yet-to-grow & evolve Indian Inc. Is it a case of not wanting to take a decision or is to have consensus decision making process that companies need to interview one person for this role 5-7 times and still not know what to do. This is what beats me as a senior communication professional working in India – will the India Inc leadership wake up and understand need for communication and hence hire the right person. The entire process of hiring needs to undergo paradigm shift if we want to be seen as a strong growing economic superpower in a globally networked business and ready to meet the challenges of the Web 2.0, Social Media or any other communication tool that is likely to emerge in coming days….

India Inc & Corporate Communications

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Indian Inc. is growing fast and acquiring global scale and drawing attention worldwide. From pharmaceuticals to telecom, from IT to automobiles, from BPO to writers – India Inc is stamping its authority with uncanny regularity. Against this backdrop, communications plays a very crucial role especially as we learn to operate in networked global economies now.

Mindset of most Indian corporates towards this critical component of business is still rudimentary of sorts to say the least. While other countries where India Inc. is either setting up shop or buying companies – communications function is important & critical but most importantly not a COST Function unlike India. Communicaton professionals in mature & evolved econmies directly report to CEO or Chairman, sit in board meeting and also are part of the large decision making process, while India still looks at them distantly and required only to Manage Media. Communications Dept. is not an important or Must have dept or role but can be easily dispensed with kind-of-role, hence enough importance is not given to the role or people hired. But every corporate or CEO worth his salt, will Cry from Rooftoops how much they value role of communications for business but ground reality is starkly different from this.

The communications dept. of most Indian corporates is so focussed on media relations alone not on account of the people who work there but due to pressure or approach corporates have towards the role. Such heavily skewed media relations role of communications dept. of corporates gives a different feel or platform for the company to showcase their strength, products, services etc. Media coverage pushes their already inflated ego of the CEO or coroprate to a different league altogether which further distances them. But the same mature, evolved CEO cannot digest a single negative story even in a small local daily or TV channel. He will immediately get his Media Relations team  or PR agency to figure out who wrote that story and how to manage him. Speak of corporate maturity…

Media starts to distance from communications dept or PR agencies that handle this function for corporates as more often than not its viewed as pushing a story or press release or stopping some story. Media intelligence gathering is also on a similar footing thereby increasing this wedge even further and creating greater mistrust. Indian media and its current OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) of chasing sensation, TRP ratings and advertisement in the process are also falling into this rut. Like cash-for-question scam in Parliament, cash-for-story & cash-for-no story is also becoming endemic in Indian media.

“This is not official and off-the-record” comment so prevalent till late nineties is dead & buried now in the race against “Breaking News syndrome” “Exclusive News” and “We are first to break this news” competition that has bit all media houses. With sting operations becoming too ubiquitious, more scandals hitherto known but not exposed and corruption issues being highlighted as some startling innovation or breakthrough in science or for mankind, everybody has become wary of media.

Since communications professionals working in corporate sector or for PR agencies or running independent units offering services act like bridge between India Inc & Media – they get sandwiched between two very powerful hugely egoistic centres. Media relations becomes the only agenda for Corporate Inc while media houses are looking for that exclusive, breaking news kind of story.

The PR professionals or “Dalals” as some are unceremoniously & unfortunately called in some quarters are also reasons for this madness. They advise companies on how to Manage Media – driving this wedge even further into dubious engagements as well. This leads to a lot of deals getting done between media & corporate to cover or not cover certain type of news and this is further accentuated when corporate runs a media house – this distinction blurs even further.

In the interest of image, reputation, brand or anyother nomenclature that can be given, India Inc needs to closely look at their communications dept & professionals hired for this role. In an increasingly networked global economy, being driven by Web 2.0 and Social media – its important to understand the function and its deliverables. Hiring right people to manage this department against this backdrop assumes enormous significance and India Inc needs to look beyond Media Relations only as they go on shopping spree buying firms and increasing their geographical kingdom of influence.

God bless communications professionals and hope there is light at end of tunnel seen by all parties involved…..

Written by schelluri

June 12, 2010 at 3:54 pm

Posted in Uncategorized