If an opinion poll were to be held to decide which is the most media-friendly group in India, there is a huge possibility that the Pune-based Kinetic group would win hands down. Scour through the Indian newspapers, magazines and websites, and one would be amused to find that a major chunk of it is devoted to the Kinetic group and the people who run the company.
Don't get it wrong. The group doesn't splurge money on advertising so that the media gives them better news-spread. On the contrary, it is the proactive attitude towards the media that does the trick. Surprisingly, such an attitude flows directly from the promoter's family.
The 28-year-old Vismaya Firodia, vice-president, heading corporate communications, apart from human resource and marketing support functions, at the Kinetic group, proves that she too is adept in public relations like her elder sister and group joint-managing director Sulajja Firodia Motwani.
The younger Firodia, who of course belongs to the promoter family, is busy promoting the group's image in the public eye. An engineering graduate (she majored in operations research from Princeton University, USA), Firodia, before joining the family group, had a three-year stint as a strategy consultant with the Mitchell Madison group, USA, which is a spin-off of McKinsey & Co.
She has set herself the goal of projecting a positive and accurate image of the group - to the shareholders, to the media, employees, customers and other business associates. "To me, corporate communications is everything - from owners' manuals that are handed out to the corporate website," she says. Incidentally, the Kinetic group is one of the few industrial groups in the country to have a group website (www.kineticindia.com). Excerpts from an interview:
Being part of the promoter's family, how do you feel heading the Kinetic group's communications department?
We take our communications quite seriously. The company's image is strongly linked to our public communications and we think it is critical that we maintain a high level of integrity and accessibility in this regard. Our management and board of directors thought that I had the qualification and skill required to handling this successfully, and hence was given the responsibility. As part of the promoter family, naturally, I want to contribute in the best way possible for Kinetic - and it's a good feeling to be part of the family business.
What are the strategies that you have devised to target the stakeholders (institutional and individual shareholders, employees, dealers, vendors, customers and the general public) of different companies in the group?
For our dealers, we have a regular, specialised newsletter as well as a dedicated website. For the shareholders and the general public, we rely on regular press conferences, press releases and communication elements such as annual reports. I also organise regular one-on-one interviews with various media and analysts across the country. I manage our website content and relationships with specialised automobile-related media. For employees, we have a monthly newsletter and an intranet. Also various forums are organised throughout the year to announce the important developments and facilities are made to interact with the top management.
Do you think communications managers in India are able to play their role effectively? What are the impediments they face in India today?
I cannot speak for others, but in my experience one impediment is that if you designate others as media spokespersons then you have to invest a lot of time and effort in training and coaching them on effective media-handling. Lots of Indians haven't had much experience in public speaking, thus lacking poise, and often fumble when put on the spot. Then there is this language complexity - the diversity of languages across India has to be always thought about.
There is a growing realisation about the importance of conducting image audits at regular intervals. Has Kinetic group conducted any such audit?
We haven't, but we are soon planning to conduct one. We do think it is important.
There is a view that the Indian media is not professional, is corrupt and adopts a holier-than-thou attitude. Do you agree?
By and large, I have found the media in India to be professional and fair. The instances of misquoting etc have been few, and most media have been good to us.
Do you find dealing with the media challenging?
Not really. But sometimes it is hard to meet their deadlines. Journalists always seek information, interviews and quotes at short notice and it becomes a little tricky sometimes to fulfil those expectations. But, overall, dealing with the media has been a positive experience.
In these days of globalisation and open-market economy what are the challenges a corporate communications manager face? And how do you overcome those?
I think in the two-wheeler industry, the pace of change is quite swift. So, information and knowledge have to be regularly updated. Also, in our business, complexity is very high, and it is difficult but important to always be on top of things. I manage this by being very organised and by talking a lot with people - within and outside the company.
A good website actually enhances the image of an industrial group. How do you plan to do that for your group?
I take our website very seriously. I take responsibility for it, personally. It is updated regularly and we try to keep it as current as possible. We also use it as a two-way communication method with the world - we encourage people to email us through it and have a system where all emails are sorted, forwarded and tracked. I think the website is crucial for the image of a group, as a critical point of information dissemination.