A good story can communicate a subtle yet strong message, influence people and shape perceptions, just what businesses need !
Manasi Sakpal, our next pathbreaker, Public Relations Manager at Gartner, creates more visibility for the brand by conceptualizing story ideas, sharing relevant content with key media influencers and ensuring that it reaches relevant decision makers.
Manasi talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from the Interview Portal about being in awe of how public relations shapes opinions, drives political campaigns, protects brand reputation and simplifies a business story for someone who does not know a company’s business.
For students, storytelling is not just a hobby, it can it be developed into something more powerful, as a tool to promote businesses.
Manasi, your background?
I was academically strong and was pursuing varied interests – emceeing for school functions, plays, debates, etc. I also had deep rooted love for literature from an early age. I enjoyed reading.
I realized that my love for stories could be developed into something more than merely a hobby. As a child, I wanted to explore various paths – novelist, academic writer, news anchor, journalist. The options were too many.
What did you do for graduation/post-graduation?
After my 10th grade, I took up science for two years only to give myself two more years to think through all the options available. There was a common misconception that one could switch to any stream (arts or even commerce) after science but could not do so the other way around.
During those two years of junior college, I was pretty sure that I did not want to pursue anything beyond journalism. I got admission for Bachelor of Mass Media degree, with a specialization in journalism. In these three years, I did part-time courses in photography, design and public relations from various other institutes. I wanted to put the three years of graduation to thorough use, because of which I also pursued internships during the summer breaks.
Post my graduation I went to Symbiosis Institute of Media and Communication (Pune) to pursue an MBA degree in Communication Management. It was a full-time residential course, where I specialized in Public Relations in my second year.
What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and uncommon career?
While I was pursuing graduation, I was introduced to the subject of public relations. I was in awe of how public relations shaped opinions, drove political campaigns, protected brand reputation, etc. It seemed like a very exciting field.
I wanted to explore this further to understand if I had the skills required to create a career in the public relations industry. I did a part-time diploma with EMDI Institute in Mumbai. During this time, I met several PR professionals, learned more about the nuances of communication and came to the realization that it was something I would enjoy doing for the rest of my life.
I had to build a strong case for myself with my parents when I took this decision. This was an unheard career path for my parents, and they were apprehensive at first, but my grit and dedication gathered me all the support I could ask for.
How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? Tell us about your career path
My career started as a client servicing executive at a US-based PR agency Fleishman Hillard. The experience was very different from the theoretical knowledge gathered during the one year of MBA degree. I was working on PR accounts of corporates in the manufacturing and technology sector.
My mentor during the three-month internship ensured that I got exposure across verticals in the agency. During this time, I understood that within PR, I liked technology brands more. This understanding helped me make an informed decision when applying for campus job offers later.
One of the key demands of PR is a strong understanding of the media landscape in the country. You have to start with understanding the publications, what they cover, who writes on which topic and how (style). You have to be comfortable with tedious tasks such as cold-calling journalists to pitch story ideas for your client, keeping the media database up-to-date and networking with media representatives is very important in the starting years of your career. During my internship with FleishmanHillard (FH) I dedicated a lot of time developing these skills. I had to maintain a thorough repository of journalists/ influencers who covered the beats relevant to my clients.
One particular project for the launch of ‘car safes’ sealed the deal for me. I was part of the team creating campaign ideas, drawing media contacts and finally executing the plan. It was my first ever PR project and I was more than thrilled to see our product making it to newspapers and magazines.
When I started working as a Senior Account Executive at FH, the role transitioned from managing media relations to a more strategic one. I was given the opportunity to make PR campaign plans for my clients’. This included some foundational work such as mapping what the client’s competitors were upto, which publications were writing for them, understanding what was the tone of news reports (positive, negative, neutral) for my clients’ industry. Mining these insights is utmost important to making a fool-proof PR campaign. As a PR professional, YOU are the brand that you represent. In this capacity, there are responsibilities such as drafting responses for media interviews on behalf of the client. Writing speeches, newsletters, etc. is an important element. I had to develop my writing skills to suit the needs of the brand I was representing as a senior account executive.
In PR, you have to be a good storyteller. You have to be able to tell about your client to media or influencers in a way that is most interesting and relevant to them. I worked on building these skills – how to simplify a business story for someone who does not know your business, was my mantra.
During this time, social platforms such as Instagram were gaining momentum in India. I was given the responsibility to work with a team to launch an adventure-based camera brand in India. We moved beyond the realms of traditional media platforms (newspapers, news channels and magazines) and started exploring Instagram. That project was one of my first experiments with social platforms where I explored beyond ‘witty content’. From understanding how the medium works to charting how to measure the efforts – it was a long journey and I am still learning.
The next big turn in my career came with my next role at a reputation advisory consultancy. I was a reputation consultant, advising my client in an in-house capacity. This was the first time I was sitting in the client office instead of the agency. I was part of the client’s corporate communication team and was working on day-to-day deliverables for crisis management, media relations for the business executives and business communication. The reputation campaign entailed more than only media relations. It also include understanding the key influencers in government and bureaucracy, understand the policies that would have an impact on my clients’ business and communicate the policy changes to the client along with the potential impact they can have. So, in this role I could widen my scope as a communicator from handling media to understanding influence.
This was a first step in feeling comfortable in a corporate set-up. I got a chance to work more closely with business representatives and not only the corporate communicators. This furthered my knowledge to find the sweet spot between what the business wants, and what it should be communicating to its external audience.
How did you get your first break?
SIMC had an amazing campus recruitment program. Being one of the few colleges in the country that offered a full-time management degree in communication, all the leading PR agencies were on campus to recruit.
I was placed as an Account Coordinator in the Technology Vertical of The PRactice Strategic Communications. I was fortunate to be assigned leading technology brands such as Adobe and Xiaomi. I started exploring social media along with traditional PR during this time.
Where do you work now?
I am the Public Relations Manager for Gartner, a US-based research and advisory firm providing information, advice, and tools for leaders in IT.
I lead the PR program for the IT Practice in India and Dubai. By managing a responsive press office; producing articles and press announcements; managing press for Gartner Events; managing local PR projects with Gartner Research, and working with the India and Dubai’s external PR agency to meet their PR objectives outlined in the plan.
My main goal as a PR Manager is to create maximum positive media exposures for brand Gartner in India and Dubai and raise brand awareness. I also support the brand’s reputation management by providing crisis communication support, as and when necessary.
A clear understanding of the business objectives is critical to be successful in PR. On the basis of what action you desire from your audience, you decide what you would like to communicate and how. For example, if the objective is to create awareness around fresh research launched by Gartner, I’d pick the most news-worthy elements from the research, craft the message in a way that’s most relevant to the audience (say, a business newspaper) and write a press release highlighting the key messages.
As a PR professional, seeing my brand’s name flashed in the newspaper is extremely satisfying. No matter how many years you work in the field, seeing your brand’s article published in the front page of an Economic Times is exciting any day.
I also oversee the work of two PR agencies (one in India and other in Dubai) – working with a team of talented and dedicated PR professionals.
How does your work benefit the society?
Gartner research is aimed at helping business leaders make informed decisions. Be it the top strategic technology trends that will influence businesses in the coming year or key concern areas for technology leaders, Gartner research aims to answer these tough but critical questions.
As a PR manager, I create more visibility for the research by sharing it with key media influencers and ensuring that it reaches the decision makers.
Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!
In the last one year that I have been at Gartner, I was able to create more than 500 positive media articles for the brand in top publications in the country. The most memorable part of the year-long campaign was the Gartner Goa IT Symposium/Xpo 2019, a flagship event for the organization.
The objective was to gain maximum visibility for the event in traditional press and cover the event live on Gartner’s official social media platforms, single handedly. Through the four-day event, I was juggling myself between media interviews and social media coverage. In the end, the event generated 300+ positive articles in national media outlets and the Twitter reach was over 1 million.
Your advice to students based on your experience?
Do not be afraid to pursue the road less travelled. Make the most of three years of graduation – network, speak to people from diverse backgrounds, learn new skills, push the boundaries.
Continue to be a mindful, empathetic and business-oriented communication advisor. I would like to keep contributing to Gartner’s success in becoming the advisory of choice for businesses that are aiming for growth.