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Digital-first employee engagement & advocacy the need of the hourJanuary 4, 2023

In today’s Epilogue 2022 series, Deepshikha Dharmaraj, Chief Executive Officer, BCW India Group, talks about the 'three P’s' that their clients focused on in 2022

The year has ushered in 356 days to be filled with achievements, success stories, and thoughts and ideas. This is also the time to stop and reminisce about the year that was – rethink our learnings, be grateful for our triumphs, imbibe wisdom from our mistakes, all the while preparing ourselves for the days ahead.

As we pause to reflect on 2022 and what it has left us with, we present 'Epilogue 2022', a year-ender series from e4m PR & Corp Comm that will feature stalwarts from the Indian PR fraternity. Today, we have Deepshikha Dharmaraj, chief executive officer, BCW India Group, who shares her thoughts about the year that was and the global PR practices he would like to see the Indian PR fraternity adopt.

What are the changes you have seen in the industry this year (2022)?

It may not seem like it, but 2022 was a year of big shifts. Here are some of them:

  • Return to normalcy: I think the biggest change, if I can call it that, was in how we came out (to a large extent) from under the constant, debilitating shadow of Covid to reach a reasonably high level of normalcy. When we began the year, we were all taking the first steps in hybrid ways of working. Today, the choice isn’t between remote working versus hybrid but hybrid versus in-person. Virtual and digital-first communication is still relevant, though, but the focus for that is not just connect, but active collaboration and two-way communication.
  • Shifting expectations at work: The other big shift is the change in employees’ expectations and the need to engage with them in new and different ways. BCW partnered with leading global research agencies – m Mercury Analytics and PSB Insights LLC – to deliver the 2022 Expectations at Work study, where it surveyed over 13,000 people from across the world, including India. The study didn’t just cover expectations from across geographies and industries but also across generations. In India, six out of the top ten expectations employees have are to do with workplace culture — and that is something that can be addressed with communications.
  • Higher need for policy advocacy and public affairs: As the regulatory environment gets more and more complex, there is an increasing need for policy advocacy and public affairs, both in terms of educating our clients on the changes to the landscape and how to adapt to them, as well as engaging with the government to let them know what the industry needs for its growth. In addition, rising consumer activism, emphasis on ESG and other geopolitical issues have also led to a need to understand the changing global environment and communicate it to their stakeholders. All this has meant a higher need for experts to help companies navigate these changes.

What are the trends that have yielded optimum results this year? Are there any global trend practices that you would like the Indian PR/ Corp Comm fraternity to adopt?

In my opinion, there were three P’s that our clients focused on this year —people, purpose and planet.

People: Concern over hiring, retaining and growing talent is not new but this year, it took on an added urgency. As things returned to normal, the movement of talent also increased. And their expectations from the workplace have also changed. As I mentioned, BCW’s Expectations at Work 2022 study shows that many of these expectations are to do with culture and vision of the organisation. To address them, digital-first employee engagement and advocacy is the need of the hour.

Purpose: When we spoke to our clients about what the next big thing on their agenda was, most of them said they wanted to talk about purpose. Purpose is the reason for a company or a brand’s existence. However, purpose is seldom understood beyond the C-suite. It needs to be part of the corporate strategy, yes, but that strategy can only come alive if all the stakeholders are aligned to it. That is where we come in, to support our clients in engaging with their stakeholders and helping them understand and get behind their purpose.

Planet: Climate change is one of the biggest crises that we are all facing and businesses have to put in as much, if not more, effort than governments and civil society to address it. There has to be action and also accountability. On the one hand, there are regulatory mandates like ESG reporting and on the other hand, there is a reputation and perception aspect to it. Businesses need to demonstrate their willingness and ability to partner government as well as citizens in the fight against climate change.

We are rapidly moving ahead in the area of digital communications and will do more so in the new year. Do you feel that new technology can co-exist harmoniously with the traditional ways of PR and corporate communications?

Not just co-exist, I think they complement each other quite well. Technology is giving traditional PR and corporate communications a wider reach and making it accessible to more people. In the last three years, we saw a major upheaval in the media landscape. Several media outlets went digital, many closed down regional editions and some even shut down their physical editions. But that also meant that the reach of those publications went far beyond the regions they were being published in. PR and communications strategies obviously had to be adapted to that.

There is also a broadening of the entire scope of ‘traditional’ PR. Bloggers, influencers and other content creators were earlier a digital-only intervention. Today, they are an integral part of the PR plan.

Technologies like Web3, AR/VR and AI are adding another dimension, of course, but instead of replacing, they are complimenting traditional PR. Take the example of Volvo, which created Volvoverse, with an immersive platform to experience its new car on the one hand, and on the other, also invited a journalist to conduct the first-ever Metaverse media interview.

Most importantly, the fundamentals of communications — messaging, insight-based creativity, execution and measurement—all continue to remain, even as formats and mediums continue to evolve.

As we reach full-time normalcy, there has been a fresh revival in talent acquisition and salary restoration. What are the other areas that you are expecting a full revival of?

As I mentioned above, we are also seeing a revival in in-person interactions. Whether it is events or meetings, people are eager to re-connect with others in the real world. Press conferences, on-ground activations, industry events, media round tables and interactions — it’s all happening as it did before.

The article was first published in the exchange4media