Sunanda Rao, Founder and CEO, Seraphim Communications LLP, has more than two decades of experience as a communications professional. She has an extensive network of strategic experts, top media, and influencers in India and Europe. Rao’s core expertise is in defence, energy and industrial sectors with a strong focus on crisis and strategic communications. Prior to founding Seraphim, she was the Managing Director of CNC Communications. She also has experience as an International Affairs journalist, having worked as an Editor at the German Public Broadcaster Deutsche Welle and India’s leading Hindi daily – Nai Dunia, for more than a decade.
In an exclusive interview with exchange4media, Rao talks about her journey as CEO at Seraphim, the roadblocks she had to overcome, women’s role in the industry and mentoring them, and more.
Seraphim Communications LLP was founded with the aim to interact, consult and address the international aspects of reputation management and consultancy. We are now an accomplished strategic communications consultancy catering to international organisations that wish to build and manage their reputation in India. Its key expertise includes Corporate Communications, Issues and Crisis Management, Corporate Affairs & Public Advocacy, and Digital Communications.
With decades of experience gathered by the firm’s senior consultants, it is based on a solid foundation of honesty, credibility, hard work, and efficiency. Seraphim has also successfully diversified to include clients in new business sectors (like beverages, media broadcasting, etc.) and geographies – we have worked with different clients who want to raise profiles in countries such as Sri Lanka, Mauritius, Africa, etc.
Seraphim has worked for some of the global leaders who have a prominent presence in India as well. And we’ve grown with the experiences of working for each one of them. In the short span, Seraphim has made a name for itself and is often a partner of choice for international organisations, individuals, corporates, and NGOs.
Another cap Seraphim proudly adorns is of being an ‘all-women niche consultancy’- this was not by design but is something that the woman in me is proud to acknowledge.
What were the roadblocks you have had to overcome?
Seraphim has overcome its fair share of challenges since its inception in 2018- a small team, gaining the trust of pre-existing clients and getting the paperwork in order. On the administrative side, the founding team of Seraphim worked its way around a number of regulatory and administrative requirements.
The second was to find talent that could enhance Seraphim’s approach and add value to our team. With this, it was necessary for us to be able to bring together brilliant minds who can understand how international businesses work, what their expectations are and how to navigate through the complexities of each business that we represent. Seraphim has always encouraged diversity of thought and innovation, so driving its team to pursue different thought processes and skills became a crucial learning curve.
Third, one of the biggest challenges and one we continue to fight every day, is to change and challenge common notions about women consultants in the communications industry. We have seen and overcome numerous instances of gender bias as a team of women. Be it from industry counterparts, potential clients, journalists, or target audiences, gender bias is prevalent in varied forms all over the industry. However, Seraphim has always proven that knowledge, sector expertise, and an unmatched level of professionalism will always stand out and be respected in any area of work. This is where our team has succeeded in turning its challenge into our biggest strength.
Our aim is to become thought leaders via purpose-driven communications across the right channels. In this mission, the team regularly has been focused on attaining the best knowledge and practices across sectors.
What was the thought that went behind the inception of this consulting firm?
I was the former Managing Director of an European consultancy, a journalist, and a musician before the thought of forming a company actually came up. I came with my own share of confidence and apprehensions about running a business. But more importantly, it was the confidence entrusted by my colleagues and clients that went behind taking this massive step. My vision behind this organization was to contribute toward bringing India and the world closer by exploring the world of corporate communications for international businesses in India. It leans on its team of driven women professionals who are encouraged to understand client requirements with vigor and a sense of belonging, and to deep-dive into audience perception with empathy and agility.
The PR sector was also majorly affected by the pandemic, just like any other industry. How did you cope with the crisis?
Every industry was affected by the pandemic. Companies across the globe have been experiencing a slowdown and are trying to survive even now with conflicts in Europe, the feeling of caution is more prevalent than ever before. The PR industry is no exception, especially because of the fact that it is dependent on other industries. Media and PR go hand-in-hand and people started buying fewer newspapers and it became difficult for news outlets to function. But then, social media emerged as the biggest avenue for exploring creative PR and influencer engagement. It meant only one thing- We had to reinvent ourselves- be it a home office or cutting through the clutter of information. We understood the importance of virtual meetings, especially media relations, most of the interviews have now shifted to virtual, and the role of social media has grown immensely during the pandemic. Accessibility as a whole has decreased because there is an information deluge that even journalists find hard to navigate through.
Tell us about the role of women in the Indian PR industry.
Working for over two decades as an editor in an international broadcasting channel, a journalist in the Hindi language daily and as the MD of a German consulting firm in India, I got the opportunity to share newsrooms and boardrooms alike with many ambitious professionals from all over the world. However, I also noticed the lack of women’s representation in important roles despite the passion and hard work being put forth by them. Hence, when I got the opportunity to open up my own communications firm in 2018, I encouraged and strove to present opportunities that would bring talented women to the forefront within the PR sector.
Seraphim leans on its team of driven women professionals who are encouraged to understand client requirements with vigor and a sense of belonging, and to deep dive into audience perception with empathy and agility. These aspects, which are prone to be stronger in women, have been instrumental in Seraphim’s success as a communications partner for some of the leading global organizations in fields such as tech, pharma, education, international relations, etc.
I envision Seraphim to be recognised as one of the best employers in the PR industry – especially for women professionals. I also foresee Seraphim growing its clients’ list to include more organisations that require specialised communications strategies in their respective fields of business. Seraphim has also committed to supporting other women start-ups, organisations, or leaders by raising their profile in the media and bringing forth overall topics of women empowerment. While the communications landscape tends to center women on luxury and lifestyle, Seraphim strives to put forward a talented team of women who can change that perception and present an international insight into dealing with communications challenges across diverse sectors.
What message would you like to give to the young generation?
I feel that the upcoming generation has a lot of options as compared to our times, options in terms of career paths and courses, and I’d like to tell them to take advantage of this and encourage them to explore. My career is an example of such exploration- I am a trained Opera Singer, who transitioned to being a journalist, who then went on to working in a communications consultancy and now owns my own PR firm. If I can do it, so can you. Do not limit yourself to your educational qualification, learn from your experiences, adapt to them, and let life take you on a wonderful journey.