Shefali Khalsa, Head – Brand and Marketing at SBI General Insurance & Flovie Martins, Head, Corporate Communications at Future Generali India Life Insurance Co, discuss the corporate communication & PR trends in the insurance industry:
Ravi Lalwani: How has the corporate communication / PR role changed in the last 12 months in your organization?
Shefali Khalsa: The environment in which we operate has undergone rapid changes including the media landscape. Traditional print media was once ruler, but now social and digital platforms are fast becoming consumers’ top choice for media and information intake. The changes in the work environment have added layers of intricacy to the communicator’s role.
Corporate communications now play a more critical role in developing and implementing strategies to control the narratives and manage the truth-trust-transparency paradigm. It has now become more and more aggressive and layered. In the current context of virtual normal, everything is in urgent demand. Digitization has scaled up the working standards resulting in the best coordination and cohesiveness. Taking cognizance of the current scenario, the need now is to interact daily with internal and external stakeholders.
Communication patterns are changing today. For instance, earned media is not limited to journalists but also extended to employees, influencers, bloggers and third-party affiliates.
Flovie Martins: The unprecedented coronavirus pandemic situation jolted and forever altered life as we knew it and lived it. Among other industries across the globe, media and PR communications were also one such industry whose entire ecosystem faced a shockwave and resulted in adapting to a new world of change. When the lockdown and social distancing norms were announced, there was an overnight adoption of digital news platforms as people wanted to be updated on the pandemic situation in real-time. Pandemic-related headlines dominated the news globally, be it any news topic. Hence, it was only logical to transform the previously adopted PR strategy to fit into, ‘the news topics of the day’. This transformation also needed to be done fast as after a point everyone would be speaking the same language. Realizing this, our organization was quick to adjust to the new environment. That meant adapting to the lockdown phase and our every media activity had an element linked to the pandemic. For example, we started with announcing the launch of a helpline number to get authentic information amidst the chaos. Complimenting this was educational articles related to varied topics on the pandemic and that was in line with our business goals, like real estate optimization, marketing and HR-related requirement for transformations and adoption to the pandemic situation.
Can you share the top 3 corporate communication / PR initiatives taken by your company?
Shefali Khalsa: I can say the top 3 initiatives undertaken by us during the lockdown were a new brand identity launch, an uninterrupted campaign and creation of insurance awareness.
New brand identity launch: We realized that there is a need to communicate that we are ready to serve not just urban India but also Bharat (rural India). We launched the new identity and the brand promise, which serves the traditionalist and modernist customers. We went ahead as per plan during the lockdown as we were confident of the trust and credibility our brand commands. Moreover, we had a comprehensive PR plan that considered all possible emergencies and exigencies. Launching the brand on the schedule was important to us because, amid all the covid-19 chaos, we wanted to assure our customers that SBI General was with them through thick and thin while also keeping ourselves updated on the changing needs of evolving times. This was a welcome change, not just for the brand’s external image but also for the company’s internal perception.
#BAUUninterrupted campaign: As soon as the lockdown was announced, it left many people confused and uncertain, and it was essential for us as a brand to assure our customers of our presence and availability. Due to a tested robust Business Continuity Plan (BCP), we were able to transition to digital modes of working seamlessly. We were making all possible efforts to communicate this to our stakeholders and thus the #BAUUninterrupted campaign was designed. With this, we announced that we have adapted newer and digital ways of working, so our day-to-day operations continue seamlessly and without inconvenience. Each function head reached out to his or her stakeholders to assure them of how that function is working smoothly.
Insurance awareness campaign: On insurance awareness day, we launched an engagement campaign on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn. We asked users to tell us their favorite movie scenes that could have been protected by general insurance and why.
We also got a piece ready by a spoken word artist and shared it on social media. It reached the youth and explained general insurance very simply. This could be easily understood by a wide section of people. We introduced the ‘GI Simplified’ section on the website. It has blogs, AVs, and FAQs on general insurance products. Through this, we aim to explain general insurance to people and thereby increase awareness.
Flovie Martins: We launched a public awareness medical helpline and a WhatsApp chat facility to dispel myths around the coronavirus and provide authentic information from verified sources. This was a significant and much-needed PR campaign at the time to help our customers and the public at large. The onset of the covid era saw a digital revolution take place at a lightning speed. Companies had to fast-forward the adoption of new technologies to stay relevant. Future Generali India Life Insurance followed the protocol and launched “Project BOLT’ for its existing customers who wanted to take another insurance policy with the company. We re-engineered our sales process to make the policy issuance process completely contactless and paperless with the policy being issued within 48 hours. Publicizing the availability of this technology to our customers and distributors was key to the business success. The PR campaign was run successfully across key regions pan India achieving the desired outcome. Another big PR campaign for us was assisting our insurance agents in going digital. Insurance is traditionally a face-to-face business, so the lockdown meant that personal contact was not possible to sell an insurance product that was most needed at the time.
We are one of the few insurance players to develop a 360-degree digital delivery platform helping our agents all over India to carry out everyday business activities. The integrated digital platform took the entire policy issuance process online. Our potential customers needed to know that this was possible while also informing them about the safety measures in place with the background underwriting checks. The PR campaign was a success in attracting attention for our 360-degree digital platforms for agents which also aided them when approaching potential customers.
How were corporate communication / PR activities helping your company during the lockdown?
Shefali Khalsa: The primary mantra for us has been to communicate, both internally and externally. We had to ensure that we reached out to every stakeholder group across the country and be very mindful of the message we are sending out. As one of the most trusted brands of the country, it was incumbent upon us as a brand to reach out and reassure.
With employees transitioning to work from home mode, staying connected with the team and maintaining meaningful engagement levels was significant. As an organization, we were sensitive to such needs in the current context and undertook some proactive steps to ensure a seamless transition to the new situational demands. We also enhanced the engagement quotient of our L&D interventions keeping in mind the work-from-home situation and the monotony that it may slowly breed.
Each function head wrote to his or her customers to make them cognizant of their availability. We spoke to the media as well to ensure our customers are aware that we are there for them. Most of our locations are spread across geographies, covering most of the mofussil towns as well. Here, we had to herald this new style of working and staying relevant in terms of individual productivity, in alignment with the organization’s overarching objectives.
Flovie Martins: For any organization to achieve PR success, it is not enough to just craft an extravagant PR plan that looks attractive on paper. Organizations must ‘walk the talk’. Ours has always been an organization that strongly believes in the power of PR communications to drive business goals. While following this belief, we make relevant investments to partner and bring in the right people and technology that aid in achieving the desired results.
During the lockdown, we used our external and internal communication mediums to full capacity to talk to our stakeholders. On the external communications front, it was vital to talk to our customers and stakeholders to help bring relief in the difficult times while also keeping them informed on what the company is doing to help them in the ongoing pandemic situation. For this, we used all available PR tools to spread the word. On our official social media platforms, we conceptualized content on social topics and about the pandemic that would help our followers cope with the situation. To communicate with our employees, we used ‘MS Teams’ which proved to be an effective tool due to its handy integrated features that tremendously helped business continuity in times of ‘work from home’.
Share some of the recent activities on evolving technology and digitalization in the corporate communication / PR activities?
Shefali Khalsa: With our digital readiness, we had the infrastructure in place for communicating seamlessly with our stakeholders. We optimally used our intranet, Catalyst Plus, for cascading various internal communications to our employees. Yammer, a social enterprise network, was launched, which helped us in keeping engaged, in touch, and in sharing thoughts with respective teams and the organization.
Flovie Martins: We launched ‘MS Teams’ to our employees early last year which came in very handy when the pandemic hit and a nationwide lockdown was announced, resulting in work from home. The inbuilt features on this platform like real-time messaging and calls, forming focussed groups, townhall capabilities, etc helped business continuity tremendously and effortlessly and seamlessly. More recently, we launched the Yammer platform for our employees, which is again a social engagement tool from Microsoft. Employees can now experience internal communications in a fun and engaging way while still being informed on organizational topics.
What changes do you expect in the PR agencies’ role in the coming times?
Shefali Khalsa: PR continues to play a larger role and going forward it will function more like a business partnership. It will now move beyond press relations. PR strategy will derive a lot of information that will be of relevance to analysts, investors, industry bodies, media and customers across traditional and new age media. The second most important role would be creating newsworthy and engaging stories for a brand’s audience to get noticed on research. All of this will eventually impact the business.
Flovie Martins: When faced with a situation, I strongly believe in evolving and adapting to it to find a new way to not only exist but thrive.
To stay relevant in covid times, PR agencies need to upskill, keeping themselves abreast of the new-age digital media requirement. PR online tools like the podcast, webinars and panel discussions, virtual PR conferences, etc, coupled with online news sites have taken precedence over ground activities and traditional PR print medium tools.
Content will continue to rule communication platforms. So, they need to onboard people with the right skillset and calibre, who not only have capabilities to ideate and create content but also are strategic thinkers and know how to get the right visibility and engagement for their client’s ready content.
Empathy when dealing with a journalist will also be key in redefining relationships. There is even more pressure than before at a journalist’s end. Due to media layoffs, a journalist would be now handling multiple beats. Here, empathy from corporate communication executives and PR agency executives, while being sensitive when dealing with a journalist, will go a long way in paving a more fruitful and productive relationship for both.