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What matters in PR? With Nishanthi Palani, Sime Darby Plantation

“What Matters in PR” shines the spotlight on PR leaders in the industry. We speak with Nishanthi Palani, Head of Strategic & Digital Communications at Sime Darby Plantation. In our conversation, we understand how she navigated a hierarchical industry as a young leader, the lessons learnt from her mentor, and her working style.

What are you looking forward to achieving this year?

Taking on the Group’s communications strategy is an exciting and challenging opportunity for me. The strategy itself is pretty straightforward but the underlying execution plans are incredibly complex, with numerous channels and platforms to coordinate, and multiple stakeholder groups with diverse needs and interests to address. However, I’m eager to rise to the challenge and implement our approach that effectively conveys our message and strengthens our reputation.

One of the most critical aspects of this challenge will be ensuring that the strategy aligns with every level of employee. Achieving this alignment is essential for building employee buy-in and engagement, as well as fostering a cohesive organisational culture. By working collaboratively with the various Departments and Business Units, I’m confident that we can successfully implement the strategy and achieve our communication goals.

What are some of the hardest obstacles you’ve faced in your career?

As I progressed in my career, particularly as a young leader, I faced challenges that could be divided into two categories: my age and acceptance of my views.

There is a general consensus that older leaders form better views and opinions.

My mentor, Leela Barrock, was instrumental in shaping my growth. She positioned me in the corporate world and provided me with exposure and opportunities to be involved in decisions beyond PR. She trusted me, allowed me to fail and learn from my own mistakes, and believed in me.

With Leela’s support, I continued to speak up and established strong foundational relationships with people in the industry and within the organisation, which helped me win their trust. I gradually learned how to manage upwards and earned my reputation by giving my undivided attention and honest opinion.

“I adapt my communication style to different stakeholders to build trust and deliver results. Despite the hierarchy in my industry, I engage effectively at all levels and am known for my go-getter attitude.”

Nishanthi on how she turns stakeholders into advocates

How do you demonstrate the value of your work?

We used to rely on PR value, which was just a dollar amount. However, this metric is outdated and not useful to us. While some marketing professionals still use it, it is challenging to accurately quantify the value of PR in a data-driven world.

Ultimately, PR efforts should showcase impact, and we need to define our goals, agree on a measurement, determine success criteria, and report on the results. We have moved away from traditional PR value and fully embraced favourability ratings.

I find these reports to be effective (today) in showing where our efforts are succeeding and where we need to improve. The favourability ratings also highlight areas where third-party individuals are writing about us, which provides actionable items to enhance our PR.

“Execution requires a clear end goal. Without it, I lack motivation. I prioritise mapping out the objective, desired outcome, and broad goal from the outset to ensure purposeful action.”

Nishanthi on her working style

How has PR evolved over the years?

Two things shape the world we live in today: society and technology, and it’s hard to say which one takes priority. We’re in an age where we’re more integrated than ever before, with numerous platforms available at our fingertips. Twitter, for example, can be an incredibly noisy space, with a vast array of opinions and voices clamouring for attention.

When it comes to society, we’re seeing a shift in how influence is wielded. Just over a decade ago, journalists and the press were the primary influencers, and the rules were more structured. However, today’s world is far more fluid, allowing us the flexibility to manoeuvre and discover what works for us and leave aside what doesn’t.

What should every PR person read?

When it comes to being successful in the corporate world, one thing I learned from Leela is to read everything. As a former journalist, Leela had an insatiable appetite for reading and writing, But for me, at the beginning of my journey, I absolutely hated reading. It felt like a chore.

While I initially struggled with the idea of reading everything, I now realize the significance of staying informed on a wide range of topics, from current events and social media to issues that directly impact our work, such as climate change and industry trends.

Although the constant flow of information can be overwhelming, it’s crucial to prioritize what we consume, remain attentive, and seek out the most valuable sources of knowledge. By doing so, we can better understand our place in the world and the opportunities we have to effect positive change.

Read other What Matters in PR? interviews here.

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