Sujit Patil | Influence 100
Charting the future of public relations
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Sujit Patil

Vice President & Head of Corporate Brand & Communications
Godrej Industries & Associate Companies
India, Asia-Pacific

 

After a brief detour to Vedanta, Sujit Patil returned to Godrej in late 2017. Few would begrudge that decision, given the stellar communications evolution that Patil has overseen at the Indian industrial company since 2013. Under his leadership, Godrej has overhauled all aspects of its communications operation, starting with a sophisticated insights capability and encompassing an advanced approach to measurement and evaluation. 

Those efforts have not escaped the attention of Patil’s peers, with Godrej winning the Diamond SABRE Award for excellence in reputation management in both South Asia and Asia- Pacific, along with Company of the Year at the former show. All told, Patil oversees PR and communications for over 20 businesses and 40 brands across Godrej, unifying the PR process across the group and establishing a group wide strategy that links all elements of integrated communications to business objectives.

Can you share a moment in your career when you saw PR's direct impact on business performance
Out of the many successful cases, PR for Godrej Nature's Basket (then positioned as a world food store) stands out as a classic example of a brand built on PR. Long before we started the paid digital outreach and contextual advertising, the route used to establish it as a brand was predominantly PR. It involved engagement with chefs, innovative PR activations at the stores, cook offs, tasting sessions, profiling in relevant magazines, barters and alliances with lifestyle brands and many other PR gigs with an objective of increasing foot falls, trials and sales at the stores. Today the brand is a well-known established player in the retail space and traditional/digital PR, Influencer engagement and many other PR led owned media platforms continue to fuel its growth.

What do you love about this industry?
PR and communications as a practice, for me, is an energiser. Working on multiple Godrej brands every day brings new excitement and demands fresh thinking, engagement, conversations and planning. Technology has enabled newer modes of doing PR and the possibilities that exists today to build brands and enhance the Godrej group reputation using PR are immense! Of course the industry has a bunch of talented professionals in our agency partners and the opportunity to work with them and learn is an icing on the cake.

What most frustrates you about this industry?
Had heard someone say that corporate communications is the neglected stepchild of the C Suite and is remembered only when a crisis hits! Although an extreme view, the industry still finds itself fumbling when it comes to establishing universally accepted measures which translates into the larger question of how do we also demonstrate value add towards an organization’s growth. Hence it is just a pity that most of the time the ROI of millions of dollars spent on advertising is  never questioned the way ROI on a fraction of that amount spent on PR is. We do have ways to demonstrate effectiveness but the measurement conundrum still exists. I guess the industry has also not presented itself in the true holistic form and educated organizational stakeholders the way some of the other functions have. A bit of PR for PR could be useful!

What are the communications industry's biggest challenges and opportunities?
The biggest challenge for the communications industry would be to manage organizational reputation and build brands in the prevailing ambience of increased fake news, minimal public attention spans, reduced trust on media/governments, and inauthentic influencers in the social media space. This also provides immense opportunities for the industry to raise its bar on tracking, using insights, and data to understand public behaviour, respond in real time using technology based platforms and engage with consumers directly.

How do you relax or change pace when you're not at work?
I am a weekend farmer. Connecting with nature energises me and a good weekend at my farm with my green friends prepares me well for the week ahead. Meeting friends for a constructive banter and spending time with my family are other ways of relaxation, that I cherish.

Can you share a book/movie/TV show/podcast that teaches a valuable lesson about PR?
“The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR” by Al Rise and Laura Rise. Brilliant book. Must read!

If I wasn't working in marketing/communications, I would be...
A job rotation early on in my career provided me an opportunity to move from a sales engineer role to marketing communications. One thing led to another and I was lucky to get stints in branding, advertising, strategy and finally chose corporate communications as a long-term career. So if not for that opportunity I would have been rocking it in the sales function at some good organization!