It was 18 years ago that Yohan Thilakaratne joined DIMO as a Management Trainee. Having served the organisation in different capacities from Mercedes-Benz Sales to Group Business Development to Marketing Communications, he is currently the Deputy General Manager – Corporate Communications at DIMO.
As the Head of Corporate Communications, his primary role is to design and implement strategic communication initiatives to promote visibility and the desired positioning of the corporate brand among the stakeholders. Yohan says, “It carries the responsibilities of anticipating and managing reputational risks and issues, and identifying and maximising opportunities to grow DIMO’s brand equity.”
Corporate Communications, a lesser understood area of the corporate world, came about as a separate discipline in the 19th century with the industrial revolution and continued to gain ground during the First World War with the publicity campaigns of the U.S. Today, it is one of the key disciplines that determine how an organisation’s reputation is managed.
“The role of Corporate Communications has been evolving. Traditionally in some organisations, Corporate Communications is more about internal communications. Currently a greater percentage of organisations has engaged Corporate Communications as a means to execute a focused PR strategy to proactively communicate with stakeholders,” said Yohan
“Until recently it was more a functional requirement than a strategic one. I believe that globally as well as locally, only a few companies use the full potential of Corporate Communications to play a strategic role in developing, enhancing and protecting the corporate identity by leveraging the total strength of the communications,” he further added.
An effective Corporate Communications entity should give input to the leadership and the business about trends in the external environment, how the organisation is being perceived in the outside world, how that affects the organisation and what needs to be done in a sustained manner.
An effective corporate communications strategy identifies the gaps between how the organisation wants to be perceived and how it is actually perceived, by measuring the reputation internally and externally.
However, Yohan also points out that some companies have misperceived ‘Corporate Communications’ as company’s communications, thus referring to Marketing Communications. “I believe that every organisation, especially companies having multiple brands under them, need a Corporate Communications lead. It is imperative to have a competent individual whose primary interest will be the wellbeing of the corporate brand.”
Citing an example with his experience, Yohan states, “We tend to forget to leverage the total strength of a Group’s communications. Business cards, letterheads, brochures, launches, integrated marketing campaigns, especially digital activities, presentations, videos and even speeches all allow an organisation to position the corporate brand. For example, at DIMO, Corporate Communications is responsible to ensure that the corporate identity is communicated uniformly in a standardised manner, every time. These adherences are not limited to visual representation but also cover legal, ethical and other considerations of the message, keeping abreast of pre-conceived standards and DIMO’s values.”
On the topic of how digitalisation is affecting Corporate Communications, Yohan stated, “Digitalisation has made the biggest impact on Corporate Communications and will continue to drive it further. The digital landscape offers a gamut of opportunities and some concerns for Corporate Communications. The level of interactivity and engagement offered by two-way communication is unparalleled. Similarly, there can be various negative sentiments on digital platforms which need prompt and careful attention.”
He went on to emphasise, “I would like to highlight the promising role of digital PR in Corporate Communications. Digital PR is a powerful strategy which can improve a brand’s online presence and visibility. In some ways it is similar to traditional PR but offers greater opportunity to reach a broader audience which cannot be achieved only through offline methods. Static information is transformed into conversations, and organisations can speak directly to their target audience at any time, day or night. Moreover, the audiences can be reached faster and with a better ROI than conventional PR.”
“I truly believe that social media will change the way we practise Corporate Communications, and that the relationship between social media and Corporate Communications will grow further. This will bring in opportunities and even new job roles in the Marketing field,” he continued.
Speaking about crisis management, Yohan said, “Communication is foundational to crisis management. It provides clarity and direction for all stakeholders in an otherwise uncertain and confusing time. The key role of Corporate Communications during a crisis is to stabilise and advance the organisation by inspiring confidence, earning trust and engaging stakeholders. Clear, consistent and prompt communication is vital to successfully minimise the impact on the corporate reputation, maintain business continuity, and to recover.”
“In the age of social media and the web, news goes viral almost instantly. For example, there’s no such thing as a local crisis if you’re an international brand. You need experts to handle a situation, if not, their actions will convert it into a disaster,” he commented.
Yohan described three essential actions an organisation should take during a crisis, “First you need to lead the crisis, not manage it. The behaviours and actions of the leadership prove critical here. Then you need to build muscle into your crisis management. Using simulations, training, vulnerability assessments and developing competent teams come under this. Next is knowing your environment. It’s about building healthy relationships with media personnel, working with key messengers and understanding your audience.”
Speaking about Corporate Communications as a career, Yohan said, “The disadvantage with Corporate Communications as a discipline is the lack of resources to gain knowledge. I was fortunate to have had several knowledge sharing sessions abroad with some key experts – Heads of Corporate Communications of Siemens, Tata Motors, and MRF Tyres. Their guidance was very useful at the start of my career.”
“I’ve also participated in Daimler AG Digital Conferences and in ‘Engage’ events organised by Socialbakers, where I learnt about strategic social media management with emphasis on reputation management,” he added.
As a Corporate Communications professional, Yohan mentioned that DIMO’s brand refresh project was one of the most challenging projects he has undertaken. “DIMO’s visual identity stood unchanged for many decades. DIMO partnered with Interbrand (a division of Omnicom), one of the most respected and leading marketing consultancy agencies in the world, to study the future course for the corporate identity. Corporate Communications executed this 2½ yearlong strenuous brand refresh exercise with Interbrand and worked continuously with the leadership of DIMO to successfully complete it.”
“The outcome was not a mere visual change. It was a completely new identity supported by a new set of values and leadership behaviours which facilitate the employees to deliver the best customer experience. It is an internal cultural change that facilitates external perception change. We are moving DIMO from the concept of ‘House of Brands’ to the ‘Branded House’ concept. Working with a world class entity such as Interbrand was very insightful and we continue to get their advice as we move forward with the brand refresh project, where DIMO’s new purpose is “Fuelling Dreams and Aspirations,” he stated.
Yohan firmly believes that Corporate Communications will become a high-demand discipline in the next few years. “The near shutdown of our society due to the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting consequences to many organisations in many ways has underscored the crucial importance of strong Corporate Communications,” he concluded.