Masterstroke Interview with Kavita Lakhani President-LinOpinion GH

Kavita1PR is definitely the strongest communications discipline for the 24/7 live brief that needs both instant turnaround of ideas and the ability to handle issues and customer reaction in real time, opines Kavita Lakhani,President-LinOpinion GH, Executive VP-Lowe Lintas & Partners, Co-Chair India, IPG Women’s Leadership Network. In an exclusive and candid interview with Richa Seth, Kavita who has over 20 years of experience in the communications industry talks about her vision for the PR industry. Excerpts enclosed below:

1. Tell us about your career journey spanning over 20 years in the communications
industry, highlights and key achievements?

I am a post graduate in Finance and have honed my Strategic Management skills at IIM Calcutta. I entered into communications, more by accident than by design. Life in the global media and communications industry is incredibly fast-paced and dynamic. This is what keeps me going.

I am proud to have contributed in making LinOpinion GH a firm where exceptionally talented people do the best work of their lives. Creativity differentiates PR firms from one another. Ideas come from and reside in people. My biggest achievement is that I have managed to make LinOpinion GH a firm that has an ‘always learning’ people-centric, fun culture.

At LinOpinion GH, we measure success in a simple manner. How happy are our people? Do they love coming to work? Do we offer them unparalleled opportunities for professional growth and personal success? How happy are our clients? Have we been able to deliver outstanding creative value and measurable results to them?

2. In your current role at LinOpinion GH, could you share with us a brief about any interesting campaigns/any inventions done in the recent past?

We have won accolades for many of our campaigns…these include awards for Tourism Victoria, Asset Reconstruction Company of India. This year we have had a rich haul of 2 Golds & 1 Silver at PRWeek Awards Asia 2015.

As a huge leap for the Indian PR industry, we have pioneered and use The Bridge™, our award-winning global network of real-time, digital media engagement centers for some of our key global clients who believe in the evolving new media landscape and the impact this can have on their brand.

Teams on The Bridge™ not only engage in social listening during an issue/crisis, but also focus on creating hyper-relevant content based on real-time insights. The Bridge™ in Mumbai is connected to Bridges present across five continents.

3. How would you compare LinOpinion before and after the JV with the IPG Group PR agency Golin?

LinOpinion GH was established in 1996 and has grown successfully year on year to become one of India’s most respected PR agencies. It is today a significant contributor to Lowe Lintas India’s overall revenue. Over the years we have chosen steady, profitable growth and invested considerably in best practices and training, as the industry has evolved.

The JV with Golin has been fantastic. We are focused on the future. We continuously study the trends that are impacting our clients – this is where we are investing our resources and our imagination. We are restructuring our talent in line with the g4 model –from a hierarchy of generalists to communities of specialists to address the dramatic changes in the communications industry. Our revolutionary g4 model comprises of specialists in 4 areas viz. Explorers, Connectors, Catalysts and Creators. We recognize the world is changing at an unprecedented pace, and we intend to stay ahead of the curve.

4. What is the next cool thing expected at LinOpinion GH?

This year has brought stupendous success to LinOpinion GH. We won 25 new businesses in the last 3 quarters. We are growing exponentially and hope we continue the momentum.

I think there is serious action happening and an accentuated learning curve for most staff. We are in the process of migrating into the g4 model, ramping up knowledge levels on Social Media for across levels, scaling up The Bridge team, introducing Planners, Analysts and Creative staff into the talent mix. So LinOpinion GH will be the go-to agency for communication (PR, Digital and Advertising) professionals who are looking to move beyond the mundane to become their creative best!

5. Where do you see the Indian PR industry heading in the next 5 yrs?

In the west, PR agencies are consultative, strategic and creative. They offer clients integrated communications, backed up with serious measurement of output and outcomes. This is where we are headed too.

In comparison, the public relations business in India is fairly young. Most firms trace their origin to the years following economic reforms. Public relations until recently has largely been equated to media relations. Thanks to the entry of international PR firms, there is a clear and deliberate shift to bring in a more professional, data-driven and pro-active approach to everything that was earlier in the fuzzy space.

PR is definitely the strongest communications discipline for the 24/7 live brief that needs both instant turnaround of ideas and the ability to handle issues and customer reaction in real time.

6. What advice will you give to youngsters planning to enter the profession?

Think about what sort of PR you want to specialize in. PR is now a very specialized business. LinOpinion GH works with clients across 30 industry verticals including hospitality, media, lifestyle, wellness, education, telecom, among others, who are leaders in their businesses.

Secondly, be prepared to demonstrate a real interest in the media and the world around you. Public Relations is a serious business. We craft smart communication and impactful campaigns that help companies/brands stand out and protect them in an increasingly competitive market. PR professionals need to keep themselves abreast of latest developments and trends in the corporate world. Reading of business papers like the Economic Times, Financial Times and Wall Street Journal is suggested. In addition, I highly recommend industry research papers by McKinsey, Harvard Business School and MIT. All of these are available at the click of a mouse.

Thirdly, live the digital lifestyle. Knowledge and use of social media tools and platforms is no longer optional. It is a must-have component of any PR plan. So do what it takes to upskill yourself.

Fourthly, be prepared to work hard. Be honest with yourself and those around you. Open yourself up to challenging situations. Showing that you are quietly and efficiently effective will take you a long way. The rest will follow.

7. What are the key skills that you think the PR professionals will need to acquire to stay relevant in the industry?

I recruit new employees at all levels – junior, mid management and senior. Across levels, I look for work ethics, stability, drive, enthusiasm, a person who does his/her homework. Someone who communicates confidently (writes and speaks well) and has done something substantive in their last couple of jobs. PR is an intellect-driven industry, so if you read a lot, are creative and like to use your grey cells, this is the place to be. Appearance is very important too. If you show up at an interview in jeans and a t-shirt or anything less than business professional attire…you will not be taken seriously at all.

8. Is there a glass ceiling in our industry? Why aren’t many women on the leadership positions?

The communications industry in India has been very male dominated for so long. It has undergone a huge transition in the past few years and I personally think we are a lot better off for it. So I’ve started to become quite interested in the dynamics of more senior women at the top of organisations, and embedded right throughout as well, as the role that they play is in making the workplace more nurturing, welcoming and a more creative environment.

I am a firm believer in gender equality and the role women and feminine values have to play in the workplace. It is something that I am actively pursuing as an area of interest in my capacity as Co-Chair India of Interpublic Group’s Women Leadership Network (WLN).

At LinOpinion GH, more and more of the leaders are female, some of them mothers. I see the PR and media industry workplace becoming much more accepting of the need for flexibility and of parents both male and female. Ultimately it’s been proven time and time again that if you create the right culture and environment for people to succeed the numbers will follow.

9. What would you be if not a PR professional?

I would have been a brain surgeon. It is a profession of great skill and patience. The discoveries in the medical field continuously fascinate me!

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