The Thought Leader's Voice Podcast

The Key to Successful Corporate Communications

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We are thrilled to be in conversation with Puneet Pal Singh, Director of Communications, Asia-Pacific, Japan and China at Cisco, on our The Thought Leader’s Voice podcast series.

Puneet leads Cisco’s thought leadership and oversees corporate communications, crisis management, content creation, and public relations campaigns across Asia Pacific, Japan, and China. He is a strategic advisor to C-Suite executives and has a proven track record of conceptualizing and implementing campaigns.

Puneet has extensive experience in media and communications and has worked with prominent technology and professional services firms on their communication programs. He is a former journalist, having worked with BBC News as a reporter and ESPN Star Sports as a TV host.

Join us as Puneet discusses the elements integral to a successful communications campaign, strategies for implementing authentic and compelling thought leadership programs and evaluates how the media and communications industries are evolving.

Key Takeaways

  • What factors do B2B marketing and communications professionals need to consider to ensure they deliver the best value to business?
  • Almost 95% of executives who engage with thought leadership say it informs or leads their decision-making process, according to our latest research. It is therefore a valuable tool to connect and build credibility with this audience. What are the benefits of a compelling and successful thought leadership program?
  • What are the most important elements of a successful B2B communications campaign?
  • How crucial and valuable creativity can be to B2B business marketing efforts.
  • What does best practice look like when it comes to dealing with a business crisis?
  • What do brands need to consider when planning their content strategy and distribution to achieve their business goals and differentiate from the competition?
  • What are the implications of generative AI for the media and communications industries?

Full Transcript of Podcast with Puneet Pal Singh

Shabnam Gangar: Hi, and welcome to The Thought Leaders Voice. I’m Shabnam Gangar, Vice President of Marketing at iResearch Services and your host today. In today’s episode, we’re discussing the key to successful corporate communications. We’re super excited to welcome our guest speaker, Puneet Pal Singh. Puneet Pal Singh is Cisco’s Director of Communications for Asia Pacific, Japan, and China. He has extensive experience in media and communications and is a strategic advisor to C-suite executives.

Puneet has worked with prominent technology and professional services firms on their communication programs and is a former journalist, having worked with BBC News as a reporter and ESPN Star Sports as a TV host. He has a proven track record of conceptualizing and implementing communications programs and thought leadership campaigns to help companies raise their profile, engage with key stakeholders and meet business objectives. Puneet’s team at Cisco recently won an award for the best insights-driven campaign for their campaign aimed at raising cybersecurity awareness for small and medium enterprises. He leads Cisco’s thought leadership across Asia-Pacific, Japan, and China, and oversees, corporate communications, crisis management, content creation, and public and media relations campaigns. Thank you for joining us today, Puneet, and a very warm welcome to you.

Puneet Pal Singh: Thank you, Shabnam, for having me and I’m excited to be here.

Shabnam Gangar: Right. I’m looking forward to our conversation on this topic, especially as innovation and research is so crucial to corporate communication. So let me dive straight into the first question. You’ve successfully led and worked on many thought leadership and communications campaigns. How can B2B marketing teams ensure that corporate communications deliver the best value to business?

Puneet Pal Singh: I think there are a few key elements that corporate communications teams and leaders in particular should look at when they think about what’s the best way to deliver value to business. I think number one, and this is probably absolutely crucial in the foundation of everything communications teams do, is being a partner and enabler of business rather than seeing ourselves as communicators as basically task doers. And to do that, I think communications teams, one needs to inherently take a keen interest in business, not just knowing about okay you are in the business of let’s say in Cisco’s case selling switches and routers and cybersecurity solutions and collaboration solutions and so on and so forth, But an FMCG company in the business of selling fast moving consumer goods, consumer tech, doing blah, blah.

What they need to understand is what goes behind achieving success on all of those areas. So what are the opportunities for business in a particular market? And likewise, what are the challenges for business in that market? And then you overlay that with an understanding of what’s happening in the industry sector overall. Where does the company that you represent or you do communications for either as an in-house practitioner or as a PR agency person, where does that company fit into the overall sector narrative? And then finally, within the markets that you operate in, where does it fit into the broader economic impact story?

It’s when you start to combine these things together and when you start to join the various dots and kind of pull a thread through, that’s where you can start to find the nuggets on where the best impact lies, how you deliver that best impact, and how you raise the profile of the business in a way that it can leverage the opportunities fully that exist and overcome the challenges where they are in that particular market.

So to do that, I think communications professionals need to think beyond our own bubble of, I work for Company X, I think it’s looking at the broader narrative of the industry, broader impact on the economic side of things in the country and the market that they operate in. And I think that’s the best way to look at it.

Shabnam Gangar: I agree and great insights, Puneet. I think it’s really important for also with businesses to work in collaboration with each other. I think that corporate communications and sharing insights, whether it’s from a sales team or whether it’s from a marketing team, or an editorial team, can really help provide key findings. And as you said, looking at the ecosystems of what’s happening globally, I think very good insights and looking at how that can also lead to future communications and better collaboration.

Puneet Pal Singh: And if I may add just one more thing to that Shabnam. I think once that understanding is built, the next step, obviously, is knowing the audiences that you need to reach. And I think one of the key things for communications practitioners to understand is that for right or wrong reasons, while a lot of the measurement and KPIs that we all get measured on in terms of our success or failure are around media impact, what’s your share of voice in the media or how many feature or signature stories have you done, each company classifies and brands them differently, but more or less they talk about the same thing, how many broadcast interviews did you do? How many events, and how many journalists did you end up engaging in? How many pieces of coverage did a particular thought leadership campaign, kind of drive? Those are the key metrics that I think every communicator gets measured on.

But I think to be truly successful in terms of the impact, comms practitioners should look beyond the media landscape as well that media is a very important part, but not the only part. How are you delivering impact when it comes to engaging regulators and policymakers? And how are you working along with your government affairs teams? How are you delivering impact and engagement across social media platforms? Do you own them or does the marketing team own them, depending on the company you work in? How are you driving engagement on that particular topic and awareness on that particular topic amongst the employee base? And then what are the other stakeholders that you kind of need to reach to? And what are the mediums that you need to use to reach to them? Is it just your media? Is it through social? Is it through owned channels? So, all of that is becoming a really important part of delivering value.

Shabnam Gangar: You know, that’s really, really good insights there. And I think it’s great for our listeners today because I think some people don’t realize that you have to work in collaboration and go beyond what’s happening right now in the landscape and we can really deep dive into this. But I’m conscious of time, so I will move on to the next one. But fantastic insights there. Thank you.

Almost 95% of executives who engage with thought leadership say that thought leadership informs or leads their decision-making process. According to our latest research taken from our new report, Leading Lights: Harnessing Thought Leadership Superpowers for Commercial and Cultural Success, it is therefore a valuable tool to connect and build credibility with this audience. What according to you, are the benefits of a compelling and successful thought leadership program? How can thought leadership help businesses connect with their audience better as opposed to other marketing strategies?

Puneet Pal Singh: I think it’s incredibly important to have a really well thought through thought leadership campaigns. As you probably can tell, it is an area of deep passion for me personally. I think what makes a compelling thought leadership campaign in the first place before we get into the benefits, I think communicators need to take a step back and look at what would make it relevant to the audiences that you want to reach out to. And if it is all around your company, your product and your service saying we are the best in the world, it loses its edge, it loses its impact because at the end of the day, it becomes very self-serving.

When you think of some of the best thought leadership campaigns in any sector, you look at those campaigns, you see a common thread. Those campaigns hit on areas that are top of mind for business leaders in that industry sector. They provide insights into what’s happening in those areas. They provide analysis on what that particular data kind of shows. And then they also provide guidance on what business leaders can actually do to address those issues that campaign is kind of highlighting.

And very rarely would you see really good campaigns talk about specific products or specific services that the company that roll them out is associated with. Because when you do that, when you have that kind of a view that we are going to bring forward a very pertinent point of view on a topic that matters, that’s when you have got the attention of the executives. As you said in your question, executives that engage with thought leadership campaigns, they are going to engage with it if it is going to give them something that relates to what’s top of mind. And when they see the impartiality of the campaign, then it becomes really easy to then use that campaign and initiate the next step of using it as a marketing or sales tool. But that cannot be the first step.

Shabnam Gangar: I agree. I feel you’ve touched on some fantastic points there, and it is really about that sort of systematic approach of new ideas or even existing topics or themes that are happening but then overlaying it with what’s currently happening in the industries or core sectors. And then really those content pieces with the thought leadership insights can then provide compelling solutions for prospects and customers, as you said, through the sales and marketing activations. So it’s really interesting that you just touched upon those points.

Moving on to the next question. What in your opinion are the most important elements of a successful B2B communications campaign? I know we’ve already touched upon a few things, but I think it would be really good to just touch point on what you feel are the most important elements.

Puneet Pal Singh: I think three or four key things come to mind, Shabnam,when I kind of think of campaigns and when we sit down as a team and when we start to bring ideas to life and say, okay, if you have an idea X, how do we bring this to life? I think for a campaign to be successful, it has to have a few key elements, like the impartiality and all we’ve already discussed.

I think, number one, it has to be data-driven. And when I say data driven, there has to be some element of quantifying what you’re talking about because that’s what makes it of interest to almost every audience. Second, there has to be local relevance and local relevance to the extent that, let’s say if you’re running a campaign across Asia-Pacific and you look at some of the biggest markets, for almost every company, you could count about 14 markets across Asia as the big ones, right; Australia, India, Japan, China, the six Southeast Asian economies, then you have Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea and New Zealand: most companies operate in those 14 markets as the primary Asia-Pac markets.

Now, to make a campaign really successful, you can’t take regional data and then just roll out with it in every market because the reality is that journalists in those markets are not interested if you don’t have data for their particular markets. So having data, then having localized data, and then comparative analysis between how a particular market is doing compared to the rest of the region, that helps. And I think the most crucial part then is when you have the data, when you have the story, is then the question that we asked, right, so what and then what? Right. So, you have the story, you’ve got to then analyze and showcase what it actually means for businesses in that country, what it actually means for business leaders in that market, and what it actually means for the impact on the overall sector on the consumer, whatever that campaign is targeted to. If you can bring that to life, that would make it a really compelling and successful campaign.

And finally, I think it is all about the longevity of the campaign. Is it something where you’ve just done market research, collected a bunch of data and you’ve put out a white paper and then you’ve forgotten about it? Or is it a campaign where you’ve talked through the questions and the survey to such intricate detail that you have done one piece of survey and you pulled out three different campaigns from it? One gets launched at stage one, second at stage two, third at stage three, and then you’re covering the entire ecosystem of paid and social channels.

Shabnam Gangar: No, I think that’s really interesting and especially an interesting insight from yourself and for our listeners. I know you mentioned a lot of things there that I think different departments can take home because with thought leadership, there’s so many ways people go to market, but as you said, where’s the longevity in that too?

And an interesting fact that we’ve got from our Leading Lights study, we interviewed executives and asked them what makes them want to engage with thought leadership, research and insight came at 53% and informed opinions came at 48% as a merging top two factors. So, it’s quite interesting with your insight that the research, the insight, the statistics is really, really important as it has come up quite high. And how do you then utilize that moving forward with your campaigns with different teams? So really interesting. Thank you for that.

Puneet Pal Singh: I’ll just share an example on that, Shabnam,if you have a couple of minutes more. And this is not about Cisco, but it’s a very recent thing so I can just share as an example. We recently launched the Cybersecurity Readiness Index. It’s a campaign where we benchmarked the readiness of companies from a cybersecurity perspective and their ability to tackle the security risks in today’s hybrid world that we all operate in, right?

And one of the things that made it really successful for us, it’s one of the most successful campaigns we’ve launched in recent years, one of the things that kind of stood out as we built this was, so the headline figure of that campaign was that only 15% companies globally have a mature enough technology posture to tackle the cybersecurity risks of the modern world, right. But what made it really compelling for the media and what got us really good feedback from the journalists that we kind of openly asked for, okay, what did you think was nice in this, what would you have liked to see different? What they fed back to us was that we contextualized it for them. We didn’t leave it at saying only 15% are mature enough. We explained how that 15% was first calculated.

But then we contextualized that by saying this is alarming because of the respondents and we had 6700 business security leaders respond to the survey. 82% had come and said that they actually expect a cybersecurity incident to disrupt their business in the next 12-24 months. And then they had also highlighted the cost of what would be the cost of those incidents. So that was the story, that companies are not ready, but they know that there’s an incident coming that’s going to disrupt their business and they know the costs that is going to have on their operations, right. So that helps of contextualizing the insight for the executive, that is what gets them engaged with the campaign.

Shabnam Gangar: That’s really interesting. And I think the fact that you’ve deep dived and you’re already saying what’s happening and then you’re giving insights, and this sort of leads me into the next question, but I feel like you’ve already answered it. How can insights be leveraged the best way? And I think how you’ve sort of tallied that up to say, well, actually, this is the cost and this is the time frame, that’s kind of an insight that can be leveraged by anyone in the industry. Is there anything else that you’d want to add to that?

Puneet Pal Singh: I think just one more thing I would say, it’s in the way that you then use the data that has been given to you. Again, now just use the same example because we’re talking about it. What we’ve done with this campaign is that there’s a landing page on which anybody and everybody can go, and they can kind of look at the global results. But what you can do is then there’s a dropdown menu and you can pick the country you are from or the market you are based in and say, okay, I want to see how companies in Singapore are doing, for example. And it builds a parallel graph to the global line, which shows you the readiness of companies in Singapore. It then shows you the comparison between global and Singapore and it also then breaks down the readiness across different metrics.

So, for example, the way we build the readiness was across five pillars. How are company is doing on readiness and identity verification? How are they doing on readiness in protecting the devices and protecting the network and protecting the applications and finally safeguarding the data that they have? So, it breaks it down on each pillar and gives them an analysis of each pillar and how they are doing compared to global.

So, there is data, there is the insight, there’s the analysis of what they are doing, and then the text provides the insight on what companies should be looking at when they look at readiness in terms of their ability to safeguard data or application. And it doesn’t talk about Cisco’s products. It just says areas that companies should look at are A, B, C,& D, and we don’t say Cisco sells these products. That’s how we built this campaign. And I think that’s what’s gotten a lot of people engaged with it.

Shabnam Gangar: It’s very authentic as well. When we do campaigns in general and any business out there doing thought leadership, I think it’s really important to ensure that when you have provided these insights, it’s very accessible and it’s also very real-time. And I think from the way that you’ve talked about how you got a landing page and you’ve got insights, but actually, it’s insights giving you that data at the forefront is really handy. And that’s, I think, how the world is transitioning right now, and we have to be ahead of the game.

And I think that’s really good insights going back to anyone listening today, that they can do these type of things and implement it in a way where that customer journey is quite easy and seamless and you just get what you need and you can use it to your best advantage, whether that’s quoting those statistics or whether that’s using that for any PR or comms. So, it’s quite interesting that you’ve had this successful campaign and definitely I think the listeners will be quite interested too.

Moving on to the next question. What value can creativity bring to B2B business marketing efforts?

Puneet Pal Singh: One word, Shabnam, huge. B2B can be very boring for the average consumer because you’ve got to remember a lot of the B2B stuff people don’t even see. It all happens in the background. If you have a B2C, those are things that you use on a day-to-day basis, you see them in your household or you see them in your office, you see them in your car. You can relate to them. But when it’s B2B, especially for companies like us, everything we make is hidden.

When was the last time you went to, for example, the Changi Airport in Singapore and you saw a WiFi access point? You’ll never see it because it’s hidden. It’s hidden in plain sight because of just the aesthetics of the place. But there are hundreds of them which you never see. So, creativity and the ability to tell that story in a creative manner brings huge amount of engagement and interaction. I’ll show an example of something our social team did.

We worked with a cybersecurity influencer, so we had to kind of do a campaign around awareness, that just having the awareness is not enough. You need to have awareness plus the right tools and technology to protect yourself from the cybersecurity risks. And what we decided to do was we decided to do it as a silent video. And when we were briefing the influencer, who’s done some work with us and the agency who we engaged her through, and when I was briefing them and I told the influencer, I said, I actually don’t want you to say anything, and I wish I could have taken a photo of her facial expression at that time, like she just looked at me and her face said it all that look, you’ve completely lost it in your head dude, what is this. So, she didn’t say a word. It was all animated. She just sat on a chair and she looked at her phone, she used her hand to kind of ward off as if you were swatting off a fly from your face. And then she took a wand and she waved the wand on top of her head.

And while all these actions were happening, we animated in things. And the engagement that video drew was mind-boggling because we made it relatable to people, because the animation made it relatable. The animation showed she was doing different things, sending out emails, putting out tweets, putting out posts on Facebook or LinkedIn. And the animation showed while she was doing this, there was malware, ransomware, everything else, trying to attack her phone and then kind of playing around with words.

But that was just being creative. No one would have thought a silent video would work. She didn’t provide an overview. One of the most highly engaged videos she’s done for us. So, a very long way of answering your question. But creativity is absolutely crucial to B2B.

Shabnam Gangar: Yeah, absolutely. I think what you’ve done as well is gone beyond the typical way of promoting on-sales, you mentioned social platforms. And social platforms and channels are so pivotal, is such a high demand, everyone’s constantly on there and you need to sort of make sure that when you do post anything or you have some sort of campaign running or a social post, that it is highly engaging, but it’s giving you those insights very quick. Because I’m pretty sure there’s a statistic out there with the sort of timeframe somebody actually has, I think it’s within seconds of that attention-grabbing before they scroll.

Puneet Pal Singh: That is debatable, Shabnam. We may have an attention span of 7 minutes, yet the whole board of the binge watches seven episodes of a really nice TV series in one night. So that, I would say, is debatable.

Shabnam Gangar: I think it’s more about that when you’re on so many different platforms, there’s so much content that everyone’s consuming. And I think how you’ve said about the creativity and having that silence and then having it really animated I think is amazing. And I think the way social videos is really engaging and especially with longform content, for example, you have to disseminate that and really make it quite exciting.

So, I think driving that emotion and ensuring that you’re getting the right information out to your audience in the best way, and as you said, it’s been your longest successful sort of social campaign that you run, I think that’s great. And I think people do need to take a little bit more from when they are reviewing their socials rather than looking at every single social platform. It’s good to see that actually this is really a strong platform for us but let’s try something completely that hasn’t been done before. And I’ll be quite intrigued to actually see that social campaign myself.

Puneet Pal Singh: I will send across the link to you.

Shabnam Gangar: Thank you. Moving on to the next question. You’ve led crisis training for individuals and advise clients on how to prepare, respond and recover from a crisis, could you share a few examples of best practices with our audience on how they can deal with a business crisis if faced with one?

Puneet Pal Singh: I think it’s pretty simple. I mean, crisis can be daunting. I’m not saying it’s simple to handle crisis. When they happen, they can really test you. I love the occasional one personally, because that’s what tests you as a communicator,  that’s what pushes you into a corner and sees how you come back out of it, not run of the mill. But not one every day, thank God.

But I think for communicators, the one advice I give to our executives, currently the one advice I gave when I was at the agency site for all the clients, I think it’s the 3Rs that you need to look at, and to me, those are very simple.

Number one is readiness. As a communications team, all teams should always look at what are the potential things that could impact a particular company. What are the internal ones? What are the external ones? What are the geopolitical happenings? There things that are out of your control and that just come as an absolute utter surprise. But there are things that you can look into and say, this could happen to our company. And then being ready for those from every single aspect, looking at the severity of each of those, how big it could be or how small it could be, looking at the severity of impact of each of those, looking at the stakeholders you would need to engage when that happens.

And to the extent I mean, we used to run crisis simulation exercises for so many clients and we would get real-time journalists, we would get camera crews, we would barge into their offices without them knowing this was happening, just to record their reactions. And it helped. It made them uncomfortable at that point, but it helped them understand that when this happens, it will be real, and it will be tough to handle. So, readiness, number one, understanding every single risk, preparing for that eventuality at every level, from messaging to understanding who the spokespeople are and having them trained. So that’s number one.

Number two is the response how you respond, how quickly you respond, how truthfully you respond, how quickly you disseminate the information you have at hand, how open you are with it. Sometimes you cannot be open because of legal reasons, but sometimes you just have to front it up and say, okay, this is what we know, this is what has happened, and this is what we are doing. So, the response of the part.

And I think the last part a lot of people tend to often ignore is the recovery aspect of it. Once the news cycle has died down around a crisis, which it eventually does, that’s how the world lives, that is how the world moves on. Some cycles live for 24 hours, some live for a week, some maybe slightly longer, but eventually, they die out. I think a lot of teams stop paying attention once the number of articles and your media monitoring report say there have been no reports in the last 24 hours, and then it becomes 48, and then becomes 72, and so on and so forth. And you go, okay, this is done. It’s never done at that time. That’s the time when the real work starts because you’ve got to then come up with a plan on how you change the narrative around that crisis that you’ve just come across and come out of. How do you build the narrative back up? So those are the three things: readiness, response, and then not to forget, the recovery.

Shabnam Gangar: I think that’s great, great, really insightful, and really of value. I think you’re absolutely right with the latter. I think people react very quick and then they forget there is it all really about that. I think that the 3Rs that you’ve mentioned are really important for teams to really think about and implement it in their own strategies or how they might deal with a crisis. Thank you.

Puneet Pal Singh: Most welcome.

Shabnam Gangar: Given the highly competitive tech and media landscape that we live in, what do brands need to consider when planning their content strategy to ensure effective distribution of their thought leadership, especially when targeting a C-suite audience?

Puneet Pal Singh: I think it’s similar to what we’ve discussed earlier. I think the number one thing to remember, Shabnam,is when you look at a particular sector and you could pick out any sector. I’ll talk about technology, for example, because that’s my bread and butter around, if you look at the narrative around technology, majority of the companies end up saying the same thing, like you would be hard pressed to find a technology company that doesn’t say digital transformation is not just for business, it’s great for consumers and it’s fantastic for the economy and fantastic for inclusion and everything else.

Every company will say the same thing. You would be hard-pressed to find a company that says cybersecurity is not foundational to digital transformation, that it is the absolute rock on which digital transformation should be built. You would find anyone saying skilled talent is an issue for the industry and will dominate for a long time. All the companies say the same thing. So, I think when companies think about their content strategy, I think a certain element of originality of thought. And that’s what thought leadership is. It’s not doing the same thing that everybody else is doing because that’s what sells. If everyone else is doing a research on how many cyber-attacks happen in a year and you’ve done the same, then that’s not thought leadership, right? So looking at giving it some originality of thought, I think the age of the intellectual is back in thought leadership in this AI-driven world. So that’s number one.

Number two, I think planning of content distribution, having great content is half the battle won. But in today’s digital-first or digital-only world, the ability to disseminate it across the right channels at the right time targeting the right audience is equally important. You can have fantastic content, but if no one reads it as well, it’s nothing. So the combination of those two.

And third, is basically why should someone read it? That’s what I think all communicators should think about. What makes their content different? Why is it worth a C-suite executives time? Because they don’t. If there’s one thing C-suite executives don’t have, it’s time.

Shabnam Gangar: I agree. And it’s very interesting that you actually touched upon those things. We have an interesting statistic from our latest report, Leading Lights. What we found, the main channels where B2B executives are digesting thought leadership are digital media at 59%, online events at 49%, and social media at 34%. And I really champion what you say where you have to think if you’re writing thought leadership and the insights are there and you’re looking at those sectors. But why would somebody want to read it, especially when they are limited with time, and we are digital-first and online?

So, it’s really interesting as to what you said and how you distribute that. I mean, do you have any thoughts on those statistics, you know, digital media at 59%, online events, 49% and social media at 34%?

Puneet Pal Singh: Not surprised at all. Absolutely. I mean, it’s where everybody is going.

Shabnam Gangar: Yeah, I agree. I agree. Moving on to the next question. I thank you for that. In the same context, today’s marketing teams want to ensure they stand out against their competitors while being true to their own brand, how can be to be marketing and communications teams create a more effective content strategy to ensure they achieve their business goals? How do you decide what content to create and when to publish? Is there something that you are seeing that organizations are getting wrong?

Puneet Pal Singh: This is an interesting one, because if you want to stand out from the competition, you need to have a few key things and boils down to the first thing you and I discuss, Shabnam, right. First, is the understanding beyond your own company. You have to understand what’s happening in the sector. Where are the white spaces? Because if you’re only talking about your own selves and living in your own comfortable bubble, no matter how large or small it is, it’s comfortable, then your chain of thought is limited by what you’re seeing in the bubble. So, you’ve got to come out of it. You’ve got to look at what’s happening in the industry. You’ve got to look at what’s happening around the industry, in the particular market, and what’s happening across the globe. Where are the areas where you want to take the lead and have something to say? So that’s number one. Just a wider context.

I think second is around being a little bit more bold, and saying are there topics which are dominating conversations but nobody is coming first out of the gates to kind of talk about it or having a point of view or flipping the conversation on that topic, right. That’s number two.

And I think number three, the effective content strategy is, again, boils down to the last thing you and I discussed. Once you’ve decided what that differentiated point of view is, how do you then ensure that it’s distributed in a way that it achieves the desired outcome? I’ll give you a quick example.

At some time last year, there was this whole tension around hybrid work. As we started to come out of COVID and the pandemic in many of the countries, you could hear rumblings of leaders saying,  people need to start coming back to the office and employees saying, no, not happening. I like the independence that I’ve had in the last three years. I want my life to be like this. And I think all of us want it. I don’t want to be back in the office five days a week and I don’t think anyone in my team ever wants to come back to the office five days a week.

Shabnam Gangar: I agree. I second this.

Puneet Pal Singh: But there was this tension. And at the same time, there was a lot of chatter around what does remote and hybrid work actually mean for people’s overall well-being? Are people becoming reclusive? Is their social life getting affected? Because a lot of our social life revolves around work as well, right, post-work drinks, post-work catch-ups, lunch, meetups, etc., etc. And is this impacting people?

So, we actually did a whole research on it just to flip the conversation where we did a research, we didn’t know what the end result will be. But our focus on the research was let’s look at the overall well-being of people in this hybrid world. So financial well-being, physical well-being, social well-being, emotional well-being, and mental well-being. And we asked very direct questions in the survey, and the results were amazing. People told us they are happier, healthier, fitter and richer. They are saving money, they’re exercising more, they’re spending more time with family and friends because they are a lot more productive in a hybrid environment and they’re happy. They want to stick to their jobs.

So, our research, we flipped the conversation in the industry by saying your employees are ready for hybrid work, are you? That was aimed completely at the C-suite, saying you want people back, your people don’t want to come back. Read this. And again, a huge amount of engagement with C-suite customers, with executives, with media, completely different take on a topic. Everyone was worried about well-being and we said worry about well-being, but not negatively. People are actually doing much better than you think they are because they themselves told us. That’s what I mean, just being a little bit more bold in trying to do something different.

Shabnam Gangar: I agree. I think that’s really important to consider because I really think those insights from your real research and study are quite shocking actually, because I would have thought that there’s some that feel like they’ve got a work-life balance and there’s some that feel like they don’t. But I guess it’s dependent on sector. So I mean, deep diving in, that would be great to explore.

But I do think being bold and actually standing out from the crowd, it’s not you have to be a bit provocative in a sense because that’s what thought leadership can be at times, where you have to get your users or at least give insight to users to say, did you know this? You may think this, but this is actually what the case is. And I think that can also really stand out from the crowd. So, I think absolutely.

Is there anything that you want to add to that in terms of with organizations that may be getting anything wrong? Have you ever come across anything that you’ve seen anything like this isn’t the right way or this could have been done in a different way?

Puneet Pal Singh: I don’t think, Shabnam, it would be right for me to pass judgment on other people’s work. I don’t think it would be right. I think there are organizations that do a fantastic job at it and you kind of look at them and you admire what they do. There are organizations who don’t do a really good job. But look, it’s for their teams and their executives… Maybe that’s their mandate, so I’d be second guessing what they’ve been told to do.

Shabnam Gangar: Thank you so much for your insights, Puneet. It’s really interesting. Finally, this is our last question, how do you think B2B marketing and communications will evolve in the next few years? What according to you is the future of thought leadership?

Puneet Pal Singh: Wow. If I knew that, Shabnam, where would I be?

Shabnam Gangar: Where would we all be?

Puneet Pal Singh: I don’t know where would I be? I would be a consultant to every communications leader in the world doing a very different job. But I would hazard a guess here. I think the future is filled with a lot of opportunity. That’s what I would say. But it is not going to be the way it is today. And I think there are two or three things, communications teams and leaders especially should be paying attention to. I’m intrigued by it. I don’t have answers. But here’s my thought.

I think, number one, we are underestimating the short-term impact of the advancement in technology on our jobs. I think all of us have seen the absolute mind-boggling power of generative AI. If you haven’t tried it, go try ChatGPT and you’ll be blown away with what it can do. Even with very rudimentary typing skills, you can get it to do a lot of stuff. And I think that’s something every communications person will have to deal with. Now, there are multiple impacts of that.

Ithink the number one impact on teams, I think there will be a huge amount of reduction in the time teams spend on basic tasks. I would not say these are not important tasks, but these are basics of the job: writing a press release, putting together a media monitoring report, searching for context on something, whether you do it in-house, whether your agency does it for you. But the amount of time spent on these things will be reduced significantly in the very near term. I think we are underestimating how quickly this is going to happen. So, what that means is it will free up the time for a lot of people internally and externally.

And you have now, as leadership teams and as communications team, the opportunity of utilizing that time to do high impact, high-quality work and come up with campaigns that can actually deliver a real value for the business. So, I think that is number one.

Number two, within the same AI-driven models, you will see that the need for intellect and intellectual thinking will become a lot more crucial. The demand for people who can intellectually think original things will become a lot more crucial because everyone is going to go to the same engine and ask for things.

I mean, I know of a former colleague who now does my job at a competitor of ours, and he and I are still very good friends. And he and I were talking the other day and he’s the one who actually told me to try ChatGPT. So he said, have you tried it? I said, not yet. He said, just go. Just do this. I said, what’s the most fascinating thing you have had in your experience? He said, a lot of people are telling the engine to write articles for them and write press releases. He said, I fell in the command stage, you will act as my agency and come on, give me ideas on how I can do different storytelling on cybersecurity. And I won’t tell you the ideas it gave because he’s developing those, I don’t want to give them out to others listening.

But the idea that the engine gave him was so good, like so, so good. And he’s developing it. They are going to make some noise in the media and probably take a bit of share of voice from us. But it’s not powered by human. It’s powered by an AI engine. So, the ability to out-think that, and that’s why I keep going back to my first point, Shabnam,communicators will have to broaden their lens. We need to start reading more. We need to start talking more to people. We need to be more aware of socioeconomic developments, the geopolitical developments. Where do our brands fit in? Where is the story that we need to tell? Because the AI engine has all that context because it’s being fed millions and millions of pages to read. It’s a large language model. The language is being fed in terms of books and articles that it is reading to learn more and it remembers. So those are the two.

And I think the third would be people talk about how everyone’s become a publisher because now there’s a medium available to publish. That’s been true, I think, for some years now. But what hasn’t been is that everyone’s a good writer. Now you have an engine that writes for you. So not only is everyone a publisher, everybody else is going to be a good writer. And not many people right now wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between what’s written by human vis-à-vis what’s written by an engine. So, I think these things will have a profound impact.

And the last thing is the agency-client relationship. How do those evolve on every single aspect I have? Number one, PR agencies. Averagely, an agency bills you X number of hours to do a press release. You can now literally get it done on ChatGPT in 30 seconds. I’ve tried it with the same Cybersecurity Readiness Index. I just wanted to see what it would do. I fed in three paragraphs of data. I said, write me a press release. This is what our research has shown. Research focused on this. And this is why it is important. It wrote me a press release with a suggested quote from a Cisco spokesperson, which was a very good quote, by the way. We didn’t use it. I still wrote my own release but happened in 30 seconds of feeding the content. So, the agency can’t bill you for 8 hours of work now.

So what does that relationship look like? How do you utilize your agencies? And same with agencies like yourself that we kind of sometimes work with to do research and collect data and analyze, and a lot of money is spent on analysis. What if you could just take the same data and dump it into an engine and it throw the analysis back at you in a matter of few minutes? Would everyone spend that kind of money?

Again, we don’t have the answers to that, but I think it’s a lot of change, but a lot of opportunity within that change, that’s what I would say. Very quickly, I think we are underestimating that this is going to happen three years down the lane. It’s happening as you and I speak.

Shabnam Gangar: Yeah, it’s happening now, I was just about to say and I think it’s a very interesting point. And I think everyone is talking so heavily about ChatGPT. And I’m the same. I’ve said to my teams, and I think people do need to embrace it because it’s going to, as you said, help save time. You can really get some insights from that and use those, from that framework, create your own content. It will sort of save that time and effort. And a lot of people do need to think how does this weave in? But there is that other element and I guess people will question, you can’t replace human factors in certain ways.

I think the other thing with the ChatGPT is I think the data that is being put in, statistics-wise, everything isn’t exactly on point. But I think it’s really important we have to look at from the time and productivity and efficiency standpoint and especially other agencies, as you mentioned, it’s really important that… I mean, for example, I spoke to a branding agency regarding a project and during the process of having conversations with them, they actually did you know, we mentioned about ChatGPT, some were dead against it, and some were saying actually we embraced it and we only took one idea because the rest is from us. So, I guess it really depends.

But I do feel like it is evolving and that is disrupting the market. And we have to, as someone in marketing and communications, editorial or even in any sort of creative role, we have to factor that in now. And how do we weave that and what do we extract that we could use if it is of interest? But I think that is definitely something in terms of future of thought leadership or just in terms of the future of working will have a massive impact. I absolutely agree. I think there’s going to be a lot of conversation around ChatGPT moving forward in the future.

Puneet Pal Singh: And I think one last thing to add to that, Shabnam, I think the one part that I don’t think is getting discussed enough is what’s the impact of these AI-powered generative AI models on the media? So if the media outlets, I don’t even think it’s a question of if, we should say when, when the media outlets realize the power of this and start using it, if some of them already aren’t and they decide that any press release that comes to them gets put through this engine and it generates a slightly different article and a headline, and that gets published, then as a communication practitioner, you’re sitting there and thinking, okay, who do I pitch to? Who are the journalists I’m building relationships with from now on? So, we don’t have the answers for that. But these are things that I think communications leaders and teams should be sitting and discussing and thinking through.

Shabnam Gangar: And also, just to add to that as well, and I think it’s in recent conversations and just what I’ve been listening to in the industry. With the way ChatGPT is working, there’s a lot of industries as well from a GDPR standpoint where the use of information or collating information or distributing information, they are looking at how certain countries, they want to ban it, they don’t want to use it. They want that authenticity. They want the creativity coming from agencies and communication and professionals etc.

So, there was a lot happening in the industry at the moment around it. But I think it’s important that you say about those relations and how strongly you keep those media relations is really important to factor and see whether or not is this something that will become a big issue in the future?

Puneet Pal Singh: To add another layer of complexity to this conversation, who owns the copyright?

Shabnam Gangar: Yes, correct. Absolutely!

Puneet Pal Singh: Let’s say we engaged an agency, like your company does a lot of research, if someone engaged you, they paid you for research, the data, depending on the contractual agreements, either the data belongs to you or it belongs to the company or the brand that commissioned it, if someone wrote a white paper based on that data, that white paper belongs to Cisco. So take our Cybersecurity Readiness Index that we launched, the data belongs to us, the copyright of the index is to us. But if that research was done through AI-powered engines and the whole paper was written by an AI-powered bot, who owns the copyright?

Shabnam Gangar:  Correct. I think it’s interesting. No, it is.And I think it’s also the capabilities of industries out there or organizations, if they have that resource. We at iResearch, we do the research and we do really deep dive into the analytics and qual and quant. But we also have the editorial system where we actually have authentic information ourselves. But there are a lot of industries out there that are actually work  in colab with other organizations.

So it is really quite an interesting insight to sort of look into and see what will happen, who owns it, how do you split this? And is there authenticity with it? Can you still have brand credibility? How does it put out for industries and your business? What will happen? And I guess it’s not something people have really thought about because they’re so intrigued with, look how quick this AI is and how it’s churning information. But as you said, there’s so many different layers on this. I think it’s not a conversation that will stop any time soon there.

Puneet Pal Singh: Yeah.

Shabnam Gangar: Great. No, really interesting. Thank you so much, Puneet. I really feel like today’s conversation has been super insightful and some fantastic key takeaways for our listeners today. Ones which we hopefully those can be implemented or considered, as like I said, iResearch Services, we’re now in a new financial year and with that, we’ve got to consider our strategies, I’m planning on doing it with my team. How are these content pieces and campaigns going to really drive business goals but also deep diveit further.And I totally understand that everyone is in that boat right now. And I think these insights are really going to help a lot of businesses and listeners. Is there anything else? Sorry?

Puneet Pal Singh: No, I said, thank you for having me. I really enjoyed the conversation.

Shabnam Gangar: Thank you. Is there anything else you wanted to mention while we have you here?

Puneet Pal Singh: No. All good. That’s just, I think, really exciting times ahead for communications. The role of communications has never been more important for businesses, the impact it can deliver. So, I’m excited about the future.

Shabnam Gangar: Absolutely. Me, too.Puneet, it was wonderful speaking with you. And thanks once again for the time that you’ve taken out with sharing the insights with me and our listeners. And to our listeners, thank you for listening to our podcast today. Please don’t forget to like, share, subscribe, and give us your feedback. We look forward to you joining us on our future podcasts.

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