Subhrangshu Neogi is clearly passionate about brands. Over a career spanning 17 years, Neogi has assumed leadership positions across diverse industries and verticals – where he has honed a true understanding of brand strategy, marketing, and communication. Currently, the Director-Brand and Communication at Religare, a leading diversified financial services group, Neogi is focused on implementing a truly integrated marketing and communications strategy to grow the Religare brand.
For Neogi, integrated is not merely a convenient buzzword, but rather a concrete, tangible plan that underscores his marketing and communications efforts. During our engaging conversation, he opened up about Religare’s communications strategy, how Indian corporates should engage with social media, and why communications professionals need to be connected 24/7.
Q. What is Religare’s Communications strategy for 2013?
In 2013 and beyond, at the corporate brand level, we want to reinforce our position of being a one stop shop in financial services.
Today, Religare is a financial services brand that includes multiple businesses and categories in financial services. Other than a bank, we straddle almost all asset classes and financial services. Our objective is to communicate that we can cater A to Z of financial services, which essentially means that we are an integrated diversified financial services group.
We will underpin our strategy with relevant communication and positioning stances for each of our businesses and products, be it our retail broking business; SME- focused lending business or our newly launched Health Insurance.
All our marketing decisions will be ROI driven and will be focused on business throughput and acquisitions.
Q. Do you think freshers entering financial journalism lack understanding of the intricacies of finance?
Financial service is not an easy category to understand, be it for a journalist or any other individual. Unlike any other product or service, financial service is not something which is consumed on a daily basis. I won’t say it is limiting, but the awareness needs to be built up. The understanding of complexities remains a challenge.
Q. A lot of Indian corporates are slightly unsure about how to engage on social media. How would you describe the role of social media in promoting the Religare brand?
Social media has become increasingly important. If it is not part of a marketer’s integrated marketing strategy, the overall picture is incomplete because social media plays a key role in customers’ decision making in today’s day and age. While many have taken the social media route, it is just a tick in the box for them. One has to be sure about the messaging that needs to go out. We as an organization are also keen to take the social media route. We have taken small but meaningful steps and we want to build up on the same in future.
Q. How would you describe the role of using influencers or evangelists to counter negative news trends?
I think evangelists are critical. Therefore, one of the key target groups for us is opinion leaders. They are very important because if one has a robust model, which is easily understood and a third party thought leader endorses it, the credibility increases manifold.
During a crisis or even during steady days, it is very important to have third party industry voices resonate the company’s point of view, but it is not easy. Besides, each person has his/her own capability and their reputation as a responsible corporate citizen. People judge on the basis of various filters, various criteria and if a third party deems fit in those criterion and supports a company’s take, it is very helpful.
One cannot identify such people proactively. But one needs to seek them eventually, because advocacy is very important.
Q. What do you look for before partnering with a PR agency?
To partner with anybody, a PR agency or an Ad agency etc, I would want to treat them as my partner and they would have to work with me as my partner. They need to understand my business, live my passion and objectives. It should not be superficial. It is very important that they understand my customer, needs and sector.
My partner should have understanding of my industry and offer good insight driven advice. And obviously the way they work. They have to work with the spirit of partnership rather than a clinical approach. There has to be marriage between mind and heart of the two organizations.
Q. Talent continues to be a big challenge for the industry. A lot of the problem lies in external factors, but how much blame would you put on the PR industry itself for not effectively training, rewarding, and retaining talent?
Traditionally PR firms have been seen as media fixers, which is unfortunate because it is not true- nobody can fix the media; it has got a mind of its own.
Contrary to popular belief, the talent in PR industry is not mediocre. Their role is very critical these days. The PR professionals today need to have integrated thought process and not just media relations.
It is true that sometimes the quality of talent in PR is disappointing. Therefore, ideally, the agencies and clients who have large in-house communication teams should go out there and engage with institutions and colleges proactively to spot and pick talent, and nurture them.
Q. Do you think the average PR retainer in India needs to increase? What do you think will drive this change?
There is a gap between average advertising firm retainer and PR firm retainer, but that is simply because of the kind of services they render.
The day PR firms graduate to the next level that is from a media relations people to integrated and strategic communication consultants; I don’t see why a client wouldn’t pay the same amount. There are some people and some firms who have evolved in this manner, and they effortlessly command premium over plain vanilla media relations people.
If the services PR firm dishes out add value to the client’s purpose, they will happily pay for those services. As of now, advertising firms are not just doing creatives, their tasks include internal communication, electronic communications etc. and, therefore the gap in retainers.
Q. In our hyper-connected world, there is a growing need to be available around the clock. How would you describe your availability to the media?
Media is a key constituency for us and we are proactively connected with them. When people see that proactive engagement and quick reaction time, it builds relationships and that is very important for media relations. We endeavor to do so either through our internal team or our external partners. Having said that, it is important to strike a healthy work- life balance even though it may be difficult sometimes, given the occupational hazard of staying connected imperatively. With smart phones etc, people are connected on things in real time. Telecom has empowered us to deliver better and more effectively with quicker response time.
Interviewed by Kunal Pal for Image Management