ITL #364 - The industry evolution train: will we catch it?

2 months, 1 week ago


Strategic communications must evolve to become better partners to the CEO and business. By Sukanti Ghosh

When was the last time you sat back and tried to make sense of the world around us?

As I look back over the past 25 years of my professional career, I think of the world that has passed us by and try to make sense of the world around me, all in the hope of catching a glimpse of what may lie ahead. And, I realize, often to my chagrin that, had I been more mindful of the changes taking place at the time, and the challenges and opportunities they provided, I could have made an even more significant impact on the people and organizations that I have had the privilege to be a part of.  

Let me explain. Stop for a moment and think about the iconic brands that were once an integral part of each of our lives growing up, and which today, are no longer to be seen; the legacy technology driven products (and internet services platforms) that were once considered cutting edge or fashionable, and have now vanished into oblivion; the large global corporations that each one of us would have given an arm and a leg to be a part of at some point of our careers, only to see them lose their sheen and fade from public memory as a result of poor management decisions, increased competition, or strong economic headwinds?

Change, truly, is the only constant. So, can we, as a profession and as professionals, really afford not to be mindful of these changes, and purposeful in our desire to evolve?

While it can be argued that the challenges outlined above are those that every CEO and global corporation has had to face as long as one can remember, what perhaps makes the past 40 years relatively unique – and consequently, disconcerting – is the rate, pace and discontinuous nature of these changes.

Winds of globalization

On one hand, the winds of globalization that swept through the global economy in the 80’s, 90’s and early 2000’s, and rising income levels across many developing and developed markets, resulted in significant swings in consumer consumption patterns. Additionally, the rise of and rapid strides made in technology worldwide made obsolescence and ‘leap-frogging’ of technologies, particularly in the developing world, a very real catalyst for substantial non-incremental change. 

However, after several decades of progress along an identified path, the global economy seems to be once more at the crossroads. Economic nationalism is today disrupting longstanding trade (and security) agreements in several parts of the world, and providing strong headwinds to the mantra of globalization, disaggregated teams, and global supply chains, which dominated much of our youth.

Tariff and non-tariff barriers, and even physical barriers appear to be coming up in places where they didn’t earlier exist and will impede the free flow of goods and services, and human resources, going forward. And, by all indications, these trends are only likely to deepen in the foreseeable future.

Multiple vectors

These trends also need to be viewed in the context of the multiple vectors that today underlie and shape the operating environment for global organizations and make it seriously challenging: pressures arising out of foreign policy and international trade relations, the concerted efforts made by governments to woo investment (DI and FDI) to their shores so as to boost economic activity and job creation, the often stringent, and arguably punishing scrutiny by national regulators who often end up playing catch up with advancements in technological innovation, the mindful fickleness of the global investor and analyst community in relation to corporate performance and industry behaviors, widescale technology-led disruptions that are shaping global commerce and consumer buying behavior, and the greater intolerance of stakeholders – both within and outside an organization - toward issues like global warming, extended producer responsibility, diversity & inclusion, sustainability and plastic waste.

I am sure you will agree that, the job of the CEO has never been harder!

So, how has our role – as partners to the CEO and the business – evolved through these troubled times? I would unfortunately wager, in most cases, not adequately enough.

I find it seriously disappointing to still walk into conferences and meeting rooms around the world to find the average head of communications still mired in the minutiae of wining and dining friends from the media, fretting and fuming over a headline gone wrong, or the poor pick up of what s/he believed was a path-breaking press release. I am equally appalled to see how so few of our fellow professionals try to periodically upgrade their skill sets or have made any real progress in playing an increasingly meaningful role in helping organizations and their leadership teams ‘negotiate’ these changes. I wonder if they truly realize how their studied complacence ends up marginalizing both themselves and the very function they represent within their organizations.   

The future for each one of us, and for strategic communications as a profession, lies in our ability to evolve and align with the priorities of today; to become indispensable to the organizations and the causes that they represent, and we seek to serve. And, this is unlikely to happen till we can collectively take a good, hard look at our own supply chains as an industry: the way our academic programs are structured and staffed for people stepping into the profession, in our making a concerted effort to broaden, deepen and retain the shallow pool of talent that we all struggle to contend with, by structuring and socializing professional development and mentoring pathways for mid-career and senior level industry professionals, and by our championing and celebrating the need for rich cross-disciplinary, multi-cultural experience at leadership levels, so that organizations can truly appreciate how we can aggregate the strengths of strategic communications, journalism, economics, finance, law, management, public policy, international affairs and business, in a thoughtful, intentional and mission critical way when required.  

The question each one of us needs to answer is, are we ready to jump onto this evolution train, or watch it pass us by?

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The Author

Sukanti Ghosh

Sukanti Ghosh, Senior Vice President & Lead South Asia Practice, Albright Stonebridge Group.

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