OM Kotak Mahindra Life corporate communications manager Lubna Markar believes at times of crises it is necessary to maintain a steady flow of information
Lubna Markar, 29, is the corporate communications manager of OM Kotak Mahindra Life Insurance Company. She is a psychology graduate with a diploma in mass communications.
She first joined GCI, the PR division of Grey Worldwide, and worked there for five years before moving on to her current assignment. Markar likes to teach; she lectures at NM College, Mumbai. Markar has also taught creative thinking to school kids as part of the Erewhon programme. Markar loves reading and travelling.
Excerpts from an interview:
You were earlier with a PR agency. What are the differences between the two roles you handled?
As regards the job profile, fundamentally there isn't much difference between the two; the scope of work for both these roles is similar. But there is one major difference: the crux of any difference that could occur in both these roles. In an agency scenario you work as a partner with your client, yet because you are still an outside entity it has implications on the functioning of the job. Plus, usually one team works on more than one client. This is a business reality no matter how large the team is and this does effect the workload and sometimes the 'comeback time' on jobs besides the debateable priority of clients issue.
As opposed to that, a corporate communication person is a 'in-house' person with one exclusive client to service, with access to most if not all information, turn around time for most jobs become faster and since you are the person responsible for communication the 'owning of the brand' is that much more stronger. However, today some companies are taking these points into considerations and are asking for their agency to become more committed partners.
Can you narrate any specific experience in your previous job that has helped you tackle a specific challenge here?
Fortunately I have a long history of working with the Kotak group from the agency side and that experience has been most useful in my shift here. I am familiar with the working of the company, its culture, places where there could be a bottleneck, and also knowledge of how things were done in times of crises.
What is your job mandate - or the goal you have set for yourself - for your present assignment?
As I mentioned earlier, life has not changed much in terms of the job mandate. Yes, I do have some additional responsibilities (internal newsletters, to name one) but then they are not that huge. But being part of the company does help in planning better. Communication is essential for both marketing and sales and this being privy to their targets helps me in setting my goals. And that is what I am doing this year - being the common support that runs through the marketing effort and the sales requirements.
Do you think communications managers in India are able to play their role effectively? What are the impediments they face in India?
I think we have a long way to go before communication managers will be able to play their role effectively. Even today communication is seen as a periphery function / department rather than among the core functions. Although today there is a positive change in this attitude and more companies are beginning to become serious about using their communication function effectively, it's still a long way.
Like the 5 Ws and 1 H for news report (What, When, Where, Who, Why and How) is there any set PR formula for corporates to attract different target segments like the media, institutional shareholders, individual shareholders, employees, vendors, customers, and the public?
There is no set formula. If the audience is different then the messages are different depending on what needs to be communicated. Each target audience requires information that is unique to itself over and above the general information. For example, a shareholder is more concerned about how the management of the company is managing the business whereas a customer might want to know more about products and services. The cardinal rule is not to club messages for the sake of convenience but rather to custom-make the message to make it relevant to the person who is receiving the messages.
How important are image audits for corporate and other organisations? How frequently should companies conduct image audits?
Image audits are important; they help you gauge if the communication is working. How often they should be conducted is a matter of choice; again thumb-rule is before, during and after any major activity. A periodic audit helps you to decide on the course of action as well as points out issues that needs attention.
How do you go about conducting image audits?
We have not done any since I joined here in May 2003. Earlier the PR agency use to conduct an audit.
How is PR different from reputation management? It is said that PR/communication is just one aspect of reputation management.
Reputation management is just one aspect of PR rather than the other way round. Managing the reputation is among the many things that a PR person needs to do - like building the reputation in the first place. Today there are agencies that work only in the field of reputation management especially in the entertainment industry just as there are agencies that look specifically into financial industry or the IT industry. It is just a way of creating a niche for oneself in the market place by owning an area of expertise.
What's your view of companies that concentrate on PR without making it part of an overall advertising enterprise? What is OM Kotak's strategy?
Companies that do not utilise all channels of communication in a synergetic manner are short-changing themselves. When communication works in a synergetic manner they act as supports to each other, increasing the number of times a target audience receives your message through different channels. If communication plans are in synergy with marketing efforts and sales goals there is a definite win-win situation for the concerned company. We try and follow this at OM Kotak.
About cardinal rules to be followed by PR firms/professionals in times of crisis, what are the dos and don'ts? Can you cite some real examples that your company experienced?
The most important thing at times of crises is to maintain a steady flow of information. The worst thing that you can do at times such as this is to close down communication channels. The next most important thing to do is to be honest and forthright - take a stand because it helps in preventing assumptions that get floated as facts.
As a PR professional do you find dealing with the media a challenge? There is a view that the media is not professional, is corrupt and adopts a holier-than-thou attitude. Do you agree?
I have been in the industry for more than five years. I have had a very professional relationship with the media. I have treated them with respect and have got respect in return. I don't think dealing with media is a challenge if what you have to say is worth writing about. I think the challenge for most PR people is, how to make what they have to say worthwhile and media can not be blamed if some people find that a 'challenge that is difficult to meet'.
The media has a definite role of providing newsworthy information and the role of the PR person is to give newsworthy information about their company to the media. If this aspect is taken care of then there is no problem. However, I am not saying that there is absolutely no 'other kind'; all I am saying is that I have the fortune of not crossing my path with the other kind.
How do you see the PR profession evolving in the future, particularly in India?
The future is bright for the people in this industry. People are realising the potential of this discipline and organisations are becoming serious about using PR to their benefit. There is a degree of professionalism that is increasingly being noticed and from here the move can only be upwards.