Shezami Khalil, the Head of Corporate Communications at the Japan Tobacco International (JTI), recently talked to The Business Standard about communication as a path for career development
The Business Standard (TBS): How did you join the industry?
Shezami Khalil (SK): My journey has not been a typical one. It has been quite an interesting transition from the pharmaceutical sector to consumer goods and technological startups to JTI, where I currently work.
I studied biochemistry in the US with the aim to do research after coming back to Bangladesh. However, the scope for clinical or biological research in Bangladesh was very limited back then.
I chose a product marketing role in one of the top pharmaceutical companies in Bangladesh. That was the first time I was doing something that is not related to my academic concentration.
But my knowledge in the sciences came handy as I was also learning about marketing, business and products. That was something new and exciting for me.
That was the beginning of my transition into marketing roles. From there onwards, I played core marketing roles in Reckitt Benckiser, Telenor Health and Shohoz.
I was immediately very drawn to the prospects of my current role as the Head of Corporate Communications in JTI - one where I could apply my existing skills while building my career.
TBS: What is the difference between branding and public communication?
SK: I think branding and public communication, or public relations, comes hand in hand as part of an overall strategy along with other marketing elements.
To be specific, branding involves creating a unique identity on how the brand will look, act and sound. It is giving personality to the brand. It's more than just the logo or the tagline. It is the sum total of your visual identity, story, and the messages you share.
Public relations involves a set of communication activities designed to build and strengthen relationships with its public. It is all about storytelling and it lets you authentically bring your brand story to life.
TBS: How should a communication specialist tailor a message to a target audience?
SK: First you need to discern your story and then you need to identify the various groups of your target audience. Who you engage with is just as important as what you are saying.
Then you tailor the language, content, visual and even the communication channels to fit each group of the target audience. Your audience is the key and you must put yourself in their shoes.
TBS: What does it mean to be an effective communicator?
SK: It sounds a bit contradictory when I say it, but the most important thing is to be a good listener. If you don't listen, you won't be able to understand what is being said and what is important.
When communicating complex ideas, you should be able to break down information in a way that most people can understand. This is particularly important when you're communicating to a broad spectrum of audience at the same time.
You need to identify the purpose of the communication and transmit the message to the right audience in a way that is easily understood. Not every information is for everyone, and we want to avoid cluttering the public with irrelevant information.
TBS: Which skills help you be an effective communication specialist?
SK: Skills that helped me personally be an effective communication specialist are being analytical, confident, empathetic and respectful. Being able to understand the big picture is necessary. Every company has short- and long-term goals in order to sustain. If you understand where you want to be, it's going to help you design your communication roadmap accordingly.
TBS: During a crisis, how should a communication specialist handle a public relations crisis?
SK: First and foremost, no matter which industry you are in, crises can arise. Every industry has its own risk factors and it's important to understand these risks to design contingency plans. This helps you be somewhat prepared when a public relations crisis happens.
What needs to be done during a time of crisis is to form a core team for crisis management. The strategy for navigating the crisis should be devised by this team and they should be aligned on the strategy, message and the potential outcomes.
You should closely monitor the situation, remain vigilant and update the affected parties as and when required.
TBS: What should be the focus of a communication specialist, when he or she is dealing with a journalist?
SK: I think it's very important to be prepared with the story and the message before interacting with a journalist. You should always remain focused and not deviate from the core message. For critical press coverages, a media toolkit should be circulated to all the journalists to maintain consistency.
TBS: What are the steps of the marketing research process?
SK: To keep your consumers at the heart of everything, you need to understand them inside-out.
To understand the consumers, you can follow a few simple research processes. The first step is to define the objective or problem, then develop the research design, collect data from samples, analyze the data, and lastly present the results, which should answer the problem or the objective that you have identified.
TBS: Who does usually get preference entering in the communication job?
SK: For a communication role, I think it's very important to build a resume that articulates your experience, skills and achievements succinctly as it is the first glimpse of the candidate's communication skills.
Secondly, it is crucial to display your communication skills during the interview. Speaking with confidence and clarity are the two things that I personally look for.
Last but not the least, I think it's really important for anybody who aspires to be in communication to enjoy reading and writing. Otherwise, it will be difficult for anyone to enjoy this role because it involves lots of reading, writing and analyses on what is being written.
TBS: How much can one grow if someone enters the communication sector?
SK: The world could be your oyster because opportunities in the field have grown tremendously in the last decade or so.
You can work in multinationals, banks, development organizations, media and advertising agencies. You can even move into a core marketing role if it's the right fit for you. Each role and organization provides different opportunities for your personal and career development.
You need to continuously hone your existing skills and acquire new ones to keep growing.
TBS: What do you need to study to get into the communication sector?
SK: Communication specialists come from a wide range of educational backgrounds, from technology to literature to economics. A degree in Media and Communications Studies will give you leverage if you are determined to pursue a career in the communication sector from early on.
In today's media-dominated cultural landscape, a career in the communication sector is one of the most relevant, exciting and powerful job fields.
TBS: As a woman, what is your experience of the communication sector, and overall, of the corporate world?
SK: I have been fortunate in this regard, primarily because the organizations that I have been involved with actively worked in making it an inclusive working environment. I think my confidence, determination and professionalism also helped me earn respect as an individual.
Although there is a gender imbalance in leadership roles in the corporate sector, marketing and communication roles have more diversity. I hope to see many more women in leadership roles across the corporate sector in Bangladesh.