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‘The future of communication is undoubtedly digital’

Jaffar Ali is a seasoned professional with expertise in digital marketing, strategic communications, and corporate leadership. Currently, he serves as the Manager of Digital Marketing and Communications at Sapphire Finishing Mills Limited, where he oversees a dynamic team and leads strategic initiatives across social media platforms and external partnerships. With previous experience as the Director of Strategic Communications at Lotus Client Management and Public Relations, Jaffar has spearheaded campaigns for renowned brands like Coca-Cola, Khaadi, WhatsApp, Malala Fund, and FIFA. He has also worked with countries like Porte Montenegro, offering diverse experience across industries including banking, insurance, FMCG, tech, fashion, textile, retail, and art. Jaffar’s educational background includes an MBA in Banking and Finance from the Lahore School of Economics. Following are the edited excerpts of a recent conversation BR Research had with him:

BR Research: Can you give an overview of your journey in communication, spanning across diverse industries?

Jaffar Ali: My journey in the field of communication began after completing my MBA from Lahore School of Economics in 2009. I started my career in Corporate Sales and Customer Servicing, gaining valuable experience in client interactions and relationship management. In 2012, I transitioned into the realm of Public Relations by joining Lotus Client Management and Public Relations as a Junior Publicist.

Despite being new to the field of PR and Communication, I accepted the challenge and spent the next 10 years at Lotus, where I had the opportunity to work with a diverse range of industries. From Banking to Retail Fashion, Immigration to Entertainment, I immersed myself in crafting strategic communication and PR plans for renowned brands such as Coca-Cola, WhatsApp, Malala Fund, WhatsApp and FIFA, among others. Currently, I am heading communication and digital marketing for Sapphire Mills, part of the largest textile group in Pakistan, The Sapphire Group. This journey has given me precious insights and experiences, ready to take on new challenges in communication.

BRR: How do you approach crafting communication strategies for industries as varied as fashion, banking, and technology?

JA: When crafting communication strategies for diverse industries like fashion, banking, and technology, one must adopt a tailored approach that considers each sector’s unique characteristics and requirements. Firstly, thorough research is conducted to understand the target audience, market trends, and industry-specific challenges. Then, collaboration with stakeholders is essential to align communication goals with business objectives. In the fashion industry, for instance, the focus is on storytelling and visual content to engage with the audience and showcase brand identity. In banking, the strategy emphasizes trust, reliability, and financial expertise, utilizing clear and brief messaging to convey complex information. For technology, highlighting innovation, problem-solving, and the benefits of cutting-edge solutions through interactive and tech-savvy platforms is crucial. Overall, the approach combines creativity, strategic thinking, and industry knowledge to develop communication strategies that resonate with diverse audiences and drive quantifiable results across different sectors. However, it’s important to remember that the main objective of any communication strategy is, at the end of the day, connecting with your audience.

BRR: How do you navigate the complexities of communication in highly regulated industries such as banking and insurance?

JA: In highly regulated industries like banking and insurance, one must recognize the paramount importance of clear and precise communication channels. Effective communication in these sectors goes beyond mere information exchange; it serves as the key player for building trust, ensuring compliance, and development transparent interactions. Given the multifaceted nature of the banking industry, where responsiveness and accuracy are non-negotiable, crafting communication strategies requires a thorough approach that aligns with regulatory requirements while meeting the diverse needs of stakeholders. The foundation of success lies in understanding the nuances of banking communication, from customer-facing interactions to internal collaboration and regulatory compliance. By embracing comprehensive training programs, leveraging data analytics for customer insights, and prioritizing cybersecurity education, banks can navigate the intricate landscape of communication with confidence and resilience.

Ultimately, the main objective of any communication strategy in these industries is to connect with the audience effectively, instilling confidence, and ensuring seamless interactions amongst the regulatory complexities and evolving customer expectations.

BRR: Can you share an example of a successful communication/PR campaign you’ve led, and what made it effective?

JA: One campaign that stands out is the 2022 FIFA World Cup Trophy Tour, which presented a unique set of challenges and opportunities. Collaborating with diverse stakeholders both domestically and internationally, the campaign aimed to ignite national pride as the trophy toured Pakistan for the second time. Despite the fleeting nature of the event, meticulous planning spanning over several months ensured its success. With a packed schedule of 3-4 consecutive events per day, the campaign showcased the trophy to a wide audience, including international footballers, celebrities, and prominent figures from various industries. From intense planning to moments of joy and camaraderie, the campaign epitomized the spirit of dedication and teamwork. Looking back, the hard work and dedication paid off, leaving a lasting impact on all involved. As summarized by the campaign tagline, #BelievingisMagic, it was a testament to the power of collective effort and shared belief in creating memorable experiences. Additionally, the tour held significant importance as Pakistan was facing a FIFA ban, making its success crucial for the federation’s future.

BRR: How do you stay updated on the latest trends and developments in the ever-evolving field of communication?

JA: One effective method is to follow key influencers who are shaping the industry through their insights, experiences, and perspectives shared on platforms like LinkedIn. Engaging with their content provides valuable insights and fosters meaningful connections. Additionally, joining professional networks and communities relevant to your field offers opportunities to exchange information, participate in discussions, and access resources.

Attending webinars and events, whether online or offline, enables learning from experts and staying abreast of the latest developments is also important. There’s a plethora of free or low-cost webinars and podcasts available daily, including on LinkedIn Live and audio events.

Reading industry-specific publications, reports, and research papers provides in-depth analysis and valuable insights is also critical.

Last but not the least, experimenting and learning from experiences, whether your own or those of your team, customers, and partners, allows for testing assumptions, validating ideas, and fostering innovation.

BRR: In your experience, what are some common challenges faced by communication professionals across different industries?

JA: Communication professionals across industries face common challenges such as adapting to evolving technology, maintaining brand consistency, managing crises, and addressing stakeholder expectations.

Convincing organizations of the importance of transparency remains a significant hurdle, as the term “Give it a PR spin” persists. In today’s landscape, honesty and accountability are crucial, as stakeholders easily detect deception. Transparent communication and willingness to apologize often prove most effective in steering difficult situations.

BRR: How do you approach crisis communication in industries prone to volatility, such as technology and finance?

JA: In navigating crisis situations within volatile industries like technology and finance, transparency and speed of communication play crucial roles. Establishing pre-planned scenarios and their potential outcomes enables swift decision-making and communication strategies. Transparency ensures stakeholders receive accurate information promptly, fostering trust and credibility amid uncertainty. Moreover, crisis communication involves adeptly defending the organization’s position rather than confronting challenges head-on. By leveraging various communication channels and adhering to predefined crisis protocols, communication professionals can effectively navigate volatile situations while maintaining organizational integrity and stakeholder confidence.

BRR: With the rise of digital media, how do you integrate traditional and digital communication channels in your strategies?

JA: Staying flexible with technology is crucial in today’s communication landscape. A successful communication strategy adapts to the changing technological landscape, leveraging a mix of traditional and digital means based on the audience and objectives. While traditional methods still hold value for certain demographics and scenarios, the trend is clearly shifting towards digital channels, which offer greater reach, interactivity, and quantifiability. As digital platforms continue to evolve and gain fame, communication professionals must remain agile, continually exploring new tools and tactics to effectively engage audiences and achieve communication goals.

BRR: What roles do storytelling and narrative-building play in communication strategies across different industries?

JA: Storytelling and narrative-building are essential across industries, creating emotional connections and shaping brand identity. A well-crafted story resonates deeply, leaving lasting impressions that endure beyond trends or promotions. Unlike advertising, where messages may fade over time, PR stories have the potential to endure, creating enduring bonds and fostering brand loyalty when they are genuinely crafted and emotionally connect. Thus, storytelling stands as a foundation of effective communication strategies.

BRR: What are some key differences in communication strategies between B2B and B2C industries, and how do you tailor your approach accordingly?

JA: In B2B industries, communication strategies often focus on rational arguments, emphasizing value propositions, ROI, and long-term partnerships. Conversely, B2C strategies tend to evoke emotions, focusing on brand experience, lifestyle, and immediate benefits. Tailoring the approach involves understanding the target audience’s motivations, pain points, and decision-making processes. However, the boundaries between B2B and B2C strategies are fading as B2B brands increasingly recognize the importance of storytelling and emotional connections. With competitors offering similar products and services, B2B businesses are leaning towards a more brand-experience approach to differentiate themselves in the market.

BRR: In your experience, what are some common challenges faced in B2B communication, and how do you overcome them?

JA: Absolutely, standing out from competitors is indeed a significant challenge in B2B communication today. With products and services becoming increasingly commoditized, companies must find unique ways to differentiate themselves and articulate their value proposition effectively.

This can involve highlighting specific features or benefits that set them apart, showcasing their expertise or innovative solutions, or emphasizing their commitment to customer success and satisfaction. Crafting a compelling brand narrative and consistently delivering on brand promises can also help B2B companies distinguish themselves in a crowded marketplace.

BRR: With sustainability becoming increasingly important to consumers, how do you integrate sustainability messaging into communication strategies across industries?

JA: Integrating sustainability into communication strategies demands a multi-layered approach, aligning with consumer and stakeholder values. This includes embedding sustainability into product development, supply chains, and governance, communicated transparently. Highlighting environmental and social impacts, showcasing sustainable practices, and engaging stakeholders fosters trust. t’s crucial to recognize that sustainability is no longer a buzzword; it’s a fundamental aspect of business operations that resonates with both B2B and B2C markets. In manufacturing industries, the demand for traceability and transparency in supply chains is at an all-time high, driving organizations to prioritize sustainability and incorporate it into their communication strategies as a core value proposition.

BRR: Can you provide an example of a crisis communication situation you’ve managed, and what strategies did you implement to mitigate the impact?

JA: In my experience, the most effective crisis management involves preventing a crisis before it escalates. However, I’ve encountered various instances where timely intervention helped avoid crisis situations with different clients. As communication and PR professionals, we typically have standard operating procedures (SOPs) to handle crisis scenarios, such as fires, accidents, harassment allegations, or disgruntled former employees voicing grievances on social media. However, the COVID-19 pandemic presented an unprecedented challenge that required innovative solutions. Without divulging specific organizational names, some challenges included managing COVID-19 cases among employees, addressing allegations of negligence, and navigating the closure of bank branches and subsequent employee layoffs, which led to online backlash. Initially, our strategy was defensive, but we soon realized the opportunity amidst the chaos. By focusing on internal communication within organizations, we devised strategies to encourage introspection and employee engagement during the crisis. This proactive approach helped mitigate the impact and turned a challenging situation into an opportunity for growth and resilience.

BRR: Looking ahead, what do you envision as the future of communication, and how do you anticipate communication strategies will continue to evolve to meet changing needs and preferences?

JA: The future of communication is undoubtedly digital, with an increasing emphasis on personalized, interactive, and multimedia content. As technology continues to advance, communication strategies will evolve to leverage emerging platforms such as augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and artificial intelligence (AI) to create immersive and engaging experiences.

Additionally, sustainability and ethical considerations will play a pivotal role in shaping communication strategies, with organizations expected to demonstrate transparency, accountability, and social responsibility in their messaging.

Moreover, the blurring lines between B2B and B2C communication will require a more holistic and integrated approach that transcends traditional boundaries and embraces a customer-centric mindset.

BRR: How do you see the communication and PR evolution in the country over the last decade?

JA: Over the last decade, the communication and PR landscape in Pakistan has undergone significant evolution, driven by advancements in technology, changing consumer behaviors, and shifting market dynamics. One notable trend has been the increasing prominence of digital media, with social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram becoming integral channels for communication and brand promotion.

Moreover, the role of PR professionals has expanded beyond traditional media relations to encompass influencer marketing, content creation, and crisis management in the digital age.

But more importantly, it’s indeed heartening to witness the growing recognition of communication and PR as distinct and essential fields in Pakistan. In the past, there was often a misconception that PR and communication were synonymous with event management, overlooking their broader scope and strategic significance. However, as businesses and organizations increasingly understand the value of effective communication in building brand reputation, managing crises, and engaging stakeholders, there has been a paradigm shift in perception.

Today, communication and PR are recognized as specialized disciplines that require strategic thinking, creativity, and expertise in navigating complex media landscapes and stakeholder dynamics

BRR: As a seasoned communication professional, what advice would you offer to aspiring communicators looking to enter diverse industries?

JA: For aspiring communicators looking to enter diverse industries, several key pieces of advice can pave the way for success. Firstly, mastering the fundamentals is paramount; strong writing, speaking, and interpersonal communication skills serve as the base for effective communication, irrespective of the industry.

Secondly, maintain a mindset of continuous learning, staying curious, and actively seeking opportunities to expand knowledge and expertise.

Thirdly, embrace versatility, being open to adapting communication styles and strategies to suit the unique demands of different sectors.

Additionally, being digitally savvy is crucial in today’s landscape, where technology plays an increasingly significant role.

Lastly, uphold integrity and ethics, prioritizing honesty, transparency, and integrity in all communications to foster trust and credibility

Comments

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Cakome Mar 01, 2024 10:12am
China ka Jason Momoa!
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