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With changing times, it is important to rethink methods of communication: Sunanda Rao

Rao, Founder & CEO, Seraphim Communications, addressed young PR professionals during her keynote session at e4m PR and Corp Comm 30 under 30 Summit.

The PR & Corp Comm Summit & Awards were held by the exchange4media group on May 1, 2021, as the group felicitated the most illustrious minds in the realm of public relations and corporate communications.

The event witnessed some of the most astute people converging virtually to share their insights with the audience at large. One of the keynote sessions saw Sunanda Rao, Founder & CEO, Seraphim Communications speak about the importance of diversity and the role of disruption in upskilling oneself. She also congratulated the winners featuring on the eminent 30 under 30 list.

She praised the young professionals for coming up stronger and smarter than the rest by walking a path never travelled and paving the way for innovation.

She began her address by offering solidarity to everyone in these trying times and acknowledged that the pandemic has left everyone on the precipice.

She commenced by sharing a quote by Benjamin Franklin: “If passion drives you, let reason hold the reins.”

Rao shared details of her journey which started 20 years ago when her career goals did not exist but she had passion: “I identify myself as an opera singer and not a PR professional. Even today, I find a way to sing wherever I can, whenever I can. Singing is my profession and communication is my hobby.”

She attained her bachelor’s degree in English literature at Delhi after which she majored in music. She studied music at a German conservatory for 7 years. “I had to finance my education as a working student, I worked as a radio producer at Deutsche Welle, a German broadcasting company. It was a golden opportunity which opened the door to journalism.”

She went on to become an editor afterwards and her stint in Germany spanned a decade. “DW is just like BBC, which is to say it is an international media house with more than 1500 employees globally. It is a melting pot of cultures offering content in 26 languages.”

She said that she understood the value of diversity on our planet at DW. She said that in a single day she would have coffee with the editorial team in Pakistan, she would share a canteen lunch table with a Croatian and have meetings with the African desk. “They were all communicating not just by the virtue of their articles or reportages but also by their culture.”

She returned to India in 2009 after she started missing her family. She joined a Hindi newspaper Nayi Duniya as its diplomatic editor upon her return. “Until then, I did not think of PR. It was not there on my horizon. It changed suddenly when a fellow journalist from Germany asked me to join him as he was setting up the India office of Germany headquartered communications consultancy: CNC Communications.”

According to her, she experienced mind-boggling diversity at her new firm which taught her that in order to succeed as a professional and remain relevant, one has to be a maverick or a disruptor and think outside the box. One must be able to act and react at lightning speed.

She brought Seraphim into existence three years ago. As per Rao, Seraphim aims to provide tailor-made strategies to clients. People from different professional competencies come together to create communication strategies that are targeted at specific audiences.

Rao said that communications and public relations is a hotbed of activity for national and international businesses as the second wave of COVID hit the world. “It is creating an opportunity for us to explore international markets. Apart from clients in Europe and the US, Seraphim now has clients from Mauritius. We are all in the same storm but not in the same boat.”

She said that communication experts have to understand market trends and strategize purpose-driven communication models as they are faced with increasing competition for staying relevant.

“Growth strategies have taken a backseat. It is all about one thing: caring. Your heart and your mind have to be in sync just like a musical symphony. The last few years have shown the importance of social media. Corporates are being judged, acclaimed and crucified on social platforms if not careful. The days of spinning are long gone just as misrepresenting content is disappearing. Fake professionals, too, are not surviving.”

She said that it was crucial for consultants to advise businesses on the nuances while facing the media. “This is essential when handling crises or reputation issues. The brand name is as good as your reputation.”

She said that the word PR is being interchanged increasingly with the word ‘propaganda’ which is why she is using the term ‘reputation management. “We are witnessing a surge in demand as nations look to India as a potential growth market for new businesses.”

Rao said that the surge provides an exciting opportunity for communicators to understand the demands of international businesses and help support their brand goals. Therefore, young professionals must be aware of diverse cultures and languages. “India has the advantage which no country has, it is the diversity of cultures.  We need to tap into that understanding to the core.”

She said that one must remember that they are not communicating with robots. “Technology is to be used as a tool and not as a replacement. Young professionals need to understand cultural nuances early in their practice. Senior leadership should allow them space to handle aspects of relationship building especially in a cross-cultural setup.”

She revealed that the key messages of a brand often get lost in the narrative due to information overload. Young professionals can help clients stand apart against their competitors with the help of messages and activities.”

Rao advised that the new has to blend in with traditional practices or there will be a generation gap otherwise. “According to a report, 90% of experts agree pairing digital with PR is a new way forward. I am sure all of us have seen better results in an integrated communications approach.”

She explained the rationale behind hiring only women at Seraphim. According to an article in YourStory on how women leaders are making a mark in the Indian PR industry, she said that 60-85% of all PR jobs are held by women but only 30% of women are in management.

She aspires to groom young and talented women who are intelligent communicators and have the spirit of upskilling.

She wants to create a talent pool by contributing to talent building processes and encouraging young professionals to take on various challenges. “I want my colleagues to pursue their hobby and passion to the maximum level possible and carve out time for it. It will rehabilitate them and motivate them but the company will also benefit from it.”

With changing times, it is important to rethink methods of communication. “The environment calls for human interaction and firsthand knowledge from the leaders. We must shift focus on podcasts, webinars and engaging talks.”

She said that the greatest asset of communicators is not computers or artificial intelligence or data but our knowledge, maturity, everyday experiences, and relations.

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