We got in conversation with Sabiana Anandaraj, Head- Corporate Communications, Aircel. Sabiana is a communications expert with over 30 years of work experience across reputed international and Indian PR firms & corporate houses. Currently she heads Corporate Communications for Aircel with responsibilities across Digital PR, Corporate PR, Marketing PR, Trade PR and Corporate Social Responsibility. In her free time she loves travelling, reading, poetry and painting. She is married to Trivikram Thakore and has two children Aria who is 14 and Kaira who is 7 years old. Today she shares her insights about the PR scenario in India and how she keeps a work life balance while working in job where crisis can happen anytime! Thanks Sabiana for sharing your thoughts and working style with us. It is truly inspiring and makes one believe that if one is on top of things then it is not that difficult balance career and personal life.
Tell us something about yourself?
My strength is the experience I have gathered over 30 years of working across various industries. I was fortunate to work with different types of companies, both big and small – Indian and multinationals as well. Some extremely proficient and few difficult to work with, but the important thing was to keep the spirit of professionalism and work hard on all of them. The type of company or professional did not matter to me; what would keep me engaged is the content of work. The trait in me which has helped the most is my methodical approach to doing things, without which things would seem like a sea of confusion. I value every single working year of my life as it has taught me so much, which I often apply to my current job at times.
How did you get into Public Relations? How has the journey been?
It happened by chance. I went to visit a friend of mine who worked at India’s then leading PR agency. His boss sold the concept of PR to me while we chatted in the corridor of his office waiting for my friend to wind up his work for the day. The next thing I knew, I was handling one of India’s first large scale celebrity event. The journey from there has been awesome. PR as a profession has evolved. It’s been a journey from chasing column centimetre space to playing a strategic role in the board room. Personally for me I took every PR job head-on. It takes all types to make this world and the corporate world is no different. You had some who believed in the strength of PR and some who were far from even understanding what PR meant. In retrospect, I guess all the teaching I provided brings out the professor type of person in me. Lessons were also learnt on this side. For example, unless one has the backing/belief in what PR can contribute, there are strong chances for the PR campaign to fall flat on its face. I worked hard at making CXO levels see sense in investing in PR and then getting a buy-in wasn’t tough. I saw my role grow big at the companies I worked for and I think the reason for that is my restless nature to do more and do more of things differently. The belief clubbed with passion and hard work is what helped many a successful communication campaigns across companies I worked with. It’s that simple! And as long as one keeps it that way, there is a rare chance of things going awry!!
While it’s great to start ones journey working for a PR firm I believe that the opportunities a corporate can offer is far more. One can explore by working across various industries in a PR firm and then eventually zero in on the industry of choice. Also the culture at a PR firm is very giving to one’s growth. It’s often young and vibrant and therefore lends to a wide scope of learning’s and experiences. Often than not one gets to hear the phrase “he is such an agency person” or “she is such a corporate person” and this according to me is the demeanour one demonstrates while interacting with people. It’s also a matter or surviving that environment. An agency often works late hours as they are at the beck and call of their clients, well at least most times ;-) but on a more serious note my experience of working with corporates has been far more fruitful than working with an agency. And the reasons I would state for that are many. A successful PR campaign stands on good in-depth information and understanding gathered from that information. When one is in the thick of things the information flow is that much faster and also accurate. A corporate also offers the luxury of subscribing to reports and other forms of information, which PR agencies don’t often do, which if they did could be of great help to their staff. Then on the other side the media which is an integral part of a successful campaign would at times rather deal with the corporate directly as they see agencies as an added step to sourcing information especially when they are faced with tight deadlines.
The media scene is quite dynamic these days and one has to be accessible round the clock. How do you ensure a balance between your personal and professional life in such a scenario?
It’s simple. As long as one understands and respects deadlines of the other, it is manageable. Media has never been a challenge for me across the many years I have worked with in the industry. Breaking news doesn’t happen every day and it doesn’t happen post 5pm every day either. While working with one another, in this case the media – it is over time that working styles are established. Unless it is crucial to get a bite the media doesn’t bother you. Also it is necessary to be in constant touch and not only when there is news that one would want to be carried. Knowledge sharing both ways defines the strength of the relationship between the media and the PR professional.
Is there a gender bias in the industry? If yes, how have you managed to overcome it in your career?
PR being largely seen as a support function it was important for me to learn, earlier in my career, that my approach should not just be towards pure work but also towards the people who one needs to work with. Unless and until there is a buy-in from the opposite party towards what one is trying to achieve through PR, it will not work out the way it should. And it doesn’t matter whether that party is male or female. There has to be belief and trust in the strategy recommended. Having worked across industries some which have been very male led, my interpersonal dealings have stood on the same principal of getting a buy-in to the objective that had to be achieved by both parties. Once that understanding comes in the rest is easy.
Are corporates becoming more conscious of the need for public relations in India or is it still in a nascent stage?
Corporates in India have come a long way in the way PR is seen and applied across their companies. While I would say that PR has always existed in our country the approach to PR these days is different and more effective. Companies are applying different vehicles of communication to reach out to their audiences. PR is extending beyond just conventional media to adopt newer ways to influence their stakeholders. The results are far more scientifically measured to help further investment in PR as a strategic business need to success.
According to you, what are the changes required in the media environment in India today?
Like most industries across the country, media too is in a rat race of sorts. It’s all about breaking news which gets them their TRP ratings/circulation figures. Pressures are high; due to which attracting and retaining talent becomes an overall industry challenge. New hires are expected to report big stories without sufficient training etc. Often it becomes embarrassing for both the senior corporate professional and a freshly brought in journalist to interact with each other leaving both disappointed. The other thing that needs to change is the way Television hosts/anchors hold a discussion. I see absolutely no panache in the way they carry out an interview or a panel discussion – it’s a put off to the viewer most times. As mentioned earlier content is key – strangely enough most newspapers have lost complete focus on content. Often one reads old news in a newspaper and to top it all with numerous grammatical and typographical errors.
What is one advice that you will give to young girls out there who are thinking of taking up Public Relations as a career?
PR today is a great opportunity to not only work across industries or brands, but also to work alongside various functions of any organisation. Every industry, company or function needs to communicate and therefore PR is never going to run out of opportunities. Most importantly this profession gives one a sea of opportunity to wisdom and knowledge. It all depends on how it is adapted and used.
Lastly, how do you like to unwind after a major crisis at work?
The size of any crisis depends on one’s preparedness and control of it. It can be work as usual if approached in a right manner. So for me life after work is coming home and spending time with my family. After which I still have time to go for a little run, read, catch up on my mails and have a good night’s sleep.