Hi, welcome to this episode of CommSpeak on founder India. Today we have a guest with us who’s a veteran of communications for close to two decades. We have with us Sameer Bajaj head of corporate communications CSR and Corporate Affairs at Discovery networks. Thank you, Samir, and welcome to CommSpeak.
Samir – Thanks so much. pleasure being here.
Amith – So we’ll start by asking you about how you got into PR. I know you began as a sales officer at Jet Airways, an airline which most Indians who traveled loved at one point of time, sadly, we don’t have that airline today, weathers, you began at jet and then you move to public relations consulting. Tell us about your journey and the start of your story in the world of work.
Sameer – So basically, I think I spent about a year and a half at Jet corporate sales
You know, because Jet was then the emerging airline and everybody, like you said, wanting to travel by jet. But what I realized in my tenure was that the job wasn’t challenging enough and I was, you know, I was always wondering, What will I do next week? And I started exploring what I should do from here on, you know, in the sense I had always interesting communications. And I think met a lot of people and then finally applied at I-Pan.
And that’s how my journey for PR corpcomm started.
Amith – And did you miss your Jet Airways job when you began at I – Pan or you were completely fine and you began to go with the flow?
Sameer – I think I think I took PR
I took to PR like a duck to water, never missed.
Amith – We’ll catch two years later. So we spent a year year and a half at I-Pan, another year at PR. And then moved into the world of corporate communications on the client side with ESPN, which then became a ESPN Star Sports in Star Sports. Tell us about that. How it happen. How do you move at a young age with this two years of PR experience back in the late 90s, early 2000s, to a corporate communications job.
Sameer – So I’m a cricket nerd, a cricket maniac, I can consume any kind of cricket. So therefore, you know, there’s a natural repository, which builds up of knowledge. And so my, you know, my senior at I-Pan, Meenu met with the Corpcom head of ESPN, and they actually requested for an PR individual who’s mad about cricket. So I was a natural name given by Meenu. That’s how I got into it.
Amith – Right, and then you spent almost a decade, the company changed its avatar in different ways. So tell us about your close to 10 years in the ESPN Star Sports family. How did that go about? Tell us about your various interesting things you did there as a corporate communications leader.
Sameer – You know, ESPN and you know in that era, again, India’s number one sports broadcaster cable TV industry was booming. We practically had all the rights available. So we were in the news, always on the front page, whether for the right reason or for the wrong reason. So it was, you know, it was challenged on a daily basis, which was fun. One of the early learnings for me when I joined when I shifted from the agency side to the in-house comms team was that it’s easy to suggest, but, you know, when you’re sitting internally, you need to implement whatever you’re suggesting the onus lies on you, right? And therefore, the responsibility of whatever you’re suggesting is far deeper. And, you know, it, it was good fun. I mean, being part of a growing organization, which was practically changing the way India consumed cricket. Right, and
we were, you know, looking at skimming, you know, from a cost perspective scanning what ESPN star was trying to do in trying to impress upon the media how and what we’re trying to deliver. So huge, you know, because the money I would say requisition rights escalated the cost escalated over the year and sorted the pressure on assets. So the pressure on different things we’re trying to monetize so did the pressure on us. Because, you know, they were always naysayers in the media saying cricket is gonna go to sell, it has plateaued. nobody’s interested, blah, blah, blah, and you need to bring in your own narrative, you need to convince that this is what is happening on the business side. So I would say ESPN was brought two broad sites to ESPN site, which was one was the corporate narrative from how cricket is doing, how do you control that? The second was, how do you build a particular property? How do you make it fun, for example, and you know, I’ll give you a very interesting example. So the World Cup was happening. After the IPL, right immediately after the IPl in 2011, and there was pressure on us because the media was not talking about right. Everybody was only reporting IPL, and therefore the market was not heating up for exits. So what we did was a press conference, or I would say media reach out, in which we got now Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan, Kapil Dev Arjun Ranatunga and sir Vivian Richards, so four key players who played important role in helping their countries when a particular Worldcup all the four and won Worldcup combined, and that was our thesis for this reach out. And in my briefing to the four gentlemen, I just told them one thing I’m nobody to talk to you talk you or teach you cricket, you know, I just wanted to say one line. If there is a query on IPL
just replied back saying we only talk
We only talk when teams are representing their countries.
Just stick to this brief and rest whatever you like. It’s Your Game. And, you know that press conference was a major pivot in terms of how the media lapped up and how the coverage altered for the World Cup that year and that helped, you know, the Ad sales to reach out.
Amith – So 10 years in one organization, I know the organization changed its, its name and got acquired and things like that. But 10 years is a long time and operation in today’s time. We don’t see too many people lasting close to 10 years in a corporate communication job and that’s phenomenal. What happened then how did your move from Star Sports to Amway happen? Tell us about that?
Sameer – I think at ESPN star and later at Star
broadly speaking, the job still was supporting marketing. Right. I would say it was I was also reporting into a marketing head right? And I want you to get into an avatar which in which the core of Corpcom comes in crisis
and which is why when I heard of this position at Amway, I lapped up And frankly, God was very nice because the managing director of MBA was arrested within a week of me joining. So, I mean, I landed it practically landed in a crisis, which is what I was actually looking at in my career. So, I mean, I look at that those 35,40 days when the then MD of this organization was under police arrest as, as probably one of the best days of my professional life when I felt sorry for the individual. But if keeping that aside, when the learning side through the experiences that you gain by working in such a crisis, you know, position
practically alter your mindset for life.
Amith – Right. What else were your key learnings both in your first job at Star Sports in Corpcomm and Amway that still stand out for you, we come to talking about your learnings in your current job later. But what were your couple of key learnings in your comm jobs. And if you want to go back to your first years in PR as a consulting, you can share those two or three learnings that really stand out for you in help people watching the show. gather some ideas, insights from those learnings of yours.
Sameer – I think, you know, sometimes we have this optics of looking at stories from a technical perspective. You know, we can do 20, 30,40 seats, 50 stories. But what happens over time I’ve realized is that, you know, there needs to be a strategy.
if you you know, if the strategy is not clear, this tactical interjections don’t help in the long run. So you might be able to achieve a tactical objective by doing a particular story, but it needs to season into a broader framework that you’ve created for the brand that you work for. So a lot of times I’ve realized, people jump straight into stories now I look at everything from a framework perspective, is this story fitting in my framework? If it doesn’t, then can I ignore it? Can I now with social media, there are so many other ways of, you know, leveraging stuff, or communicating your perspective on a particular point. So that that framework setting to me it’s very, very critical that becomes the base for everything you do in life.
Amtith – Right. And then what led to you moving from Amway to discovery.
Sameer – Discovery, again, a very rivard brand, the top most I would say real, real life entertainment brand in the world. It You know, it extends so much of opportunities, you know, the role in itself was bigger here. So I was looking at communications, Corporate affairs and CSR. Discovery lends you the power to influence the future. This power is something I was looking for, you know, because ultimately, you know, when Look at with my gray hairs now, I need to leave something behind for people to remember right and that will not happen with myopic business lead objectives alone, they have to be met Mind you, can you do something deeper? Can you do something for the society? Can you change benchmarks on how businesses are looked at? You know, I mean I look at Discovery as a very purpose-driven brand. Right?
Look at Animal Planet,
you know, just a small data. India is 2.3% of land share in this 2.3% of landshare globally 17.75% of population lives with this population and this explosion of population in India. We still have 10% of global wildlife. India has 70% of tigers, 81% of rhinos, I can go in this beautiful country that we have can make people more aware of their purpose towards wildlife. How can I make people
live their passion? This opportunity is what excited me.
Amith – Nice. Sounds interesting. So over your 15,20 years of working on corp comm jobs your PR jobs, tell us, couple of people who stood out for you as leaders, mentors, people who you learned and what we learn from them as well.
Sameer – Actually, I’ll name three of them and all of them actually in my own formative years because I think that’s when you get to your grind it and you know, how are you shaping up? So at I-Pan my immediate boss, Rakesh Thukral who is now heading Edelman very committed, you know, he would, he would make you think differently. Commitment is something which stood out passion and commitment for occasion, something I deeply indebted to him for that. Meenu Handa now, now with Google,
Meenu again, very, very strong individual strong personality will speak her mind will present a point of view and a very strong point of view, you know, in those age in my, you know, in those initial years, sometimes you reluctant you know, but on the agency side, should I say something which is, which will be could be true, but maybe it’s not not nice to hear. Meenu had the power. She had the gumption and the audacity, and I would say, the respect she earned from the clients that she could say, what she wanted to do, and that, that thing I, I really admired in her and I wanted to, you know, ingrain and it’s something I adopt internally very frequently. I speak my mind. The third person is Vivek Sen Gupta. Again, senior, editorial individual, former editor telecom And you walk into his room with a paper with your draft and he with his red pen will, you know this, come out with the paper looking completely red and in my about year and a half at I-Pan, the first six months, I was always working late because my drafts never approved. So, I learned to start my draft a week early so that I could hit time you know in time, but the power of writing is what he inculcated me the power of detailing He inculcated me.
Amith – So you were out in Delhi boy born raised went to school college in Delhi, you lived there most of your life. Two things come to mind from that one is typically corp comm has always been a profession that is more Bombay centric and public Public Affairs, Delhi. So in this kind of scenario, how did you I mean, you, you always had interesting jobs realized sports discovery or both TV channels with interesting jobs as and Amway at this interesting controversies. So how have you evolved as a person who has spent years in one city one market Delhi, doing several different things over the years from database, which is a small thing?
Sameer – It actually doesn’t matter. In these days. I mean, we are so connected. Right?
Right. So I mean, I’m practically in Bombay every second week. And it’s a city I admire Bombay because of you know, the discipline.
Amith – I asked this question mainly because of your youngsters who asked me this question, which is a better city to start working in PR, really a Mumbai I said, Either is fine, whatever you’re comfortable with, but I think this insight will help them yeah.
Sameer – Either is for me totally. You need to find your standard. You need to find your calling. You need to find what is it you want to do in life? Right? If you’re clear about that, cities don’t matter. True.
Amith – So tell us we’ll just move away from work for a moment. Tell us about what you do to unwind What do you do for leisure time? How do you spend time beyond work?
Sameer – A lot, like I mentioned, cricket is one so cricket, whether India or non? I can do everything. So and then I think the second passion I have in my life is my kids. So my son is himself a cricketer. 10 years a leg spinner. So a lot of time goes into that. I mean, on weekends, I’m always. always busy watching matches, driving him around. My daughter, she’s into music, again, is even trying, trying to make her explore herself more deeply. So primarily this and I do a lot of reading as well.
Amith – Do you also travel a lot on work within India or outside.
Sameer – Primarily India. Yes, there’s a lot of travel. I mean, and my travel is also very interesting because I handle CSR for discovery. So we have a project called Project cat which is conserving acres for tigers. And we are implementing it in Manas National Park. We are implementing it in Sundarbans. So a long time. I mean, I travel at least two to three times a year to these national parks to oversee what we are doing on the ground and we try and protect our tiger.
Amith – Coming back to your current job discovery. Tell us one or two things that stand out for you as unique initiatives that happened in your tenant int that couple of years in discovery and talk about them as well, please.
Sameer – I think the most important one probably is what we call the TV event of the year. The Bear Grill show with Prime Minister Modi proud to be part of that. I mean,
I thought a very interesting initiative and because I handle Corporate affairs hat as well. So you know, the engagement with the PMO very interesting stuff. I mean, it’s something which I carry for the rest of my life, a lot of learnings to be made.
Amith – Right I mean, that was an event that had a lot of buzz and hype before it was aired on television and then on the days that followed as well I think if you enter that working on an event for awards, I’m sure there are a lot of awards you can win
consider doing that as well. But could anything else that stands out for you in your
current and previous organizations that you work for as campaigns that really made a mark and are cases that people can look up read learn from.
Sameer – So you know it Amway we are setting the CSR wing as well? One of the important considerations I had in my mind was that whatever we do, has to be loved. We will not do CSR for the sake of it. And the orientation has to be how do we deliver impact on the ground and we actually delivered a project
working with an NGO in Missouri, wherein we created a BPO which is run and manned by visually impaired, it’s a profitable BPO still running, making money, and it employs 80. You know, visually impaired, that project gave me a lot of satisfaction, because, I mean, this is what you want to do in life, right? So can you do something which is
self sustainable? Right, and
you’re, you’re empowering people in that sense. So it’s a cycle that BPO has created because these 80 people who work they gain confidence, right, because they support in Tamil language, you know, support for certain telecom players and the native people they gain confidence there. Apply for government jobs, they get a new job in this, the vacancy left behind it filled by another visually impaired. So it’s a cycle, but your cycle that you’ve created, which is self-sustaining, which is so much fun. So, you know, always keen to explore and see how we can do interesting projects on growing.
Amith – So many, many of the guests on this show have been people who have only worked in corp comm jobs. You’re the first one we have, who’s also had a stint couple of stints in a PR consulting in job. So for younger people who, who watch the show and want to make curious and compare, is there a difference or an advantage of having started in PR consulting and then moving to corp comm? Because you’ve done that versus your friends and connections you know who just stayed away from college or some other job move to corp comm? Is there a difference? Does having a PR consulting assignment before your current job have an added edge or advantage in something.
Sameer – It does because I can, I can actually help. I mean I can understand what my team is thinking. So if there is a constraint which is put forward, I know I’ve done it I faced that constraint myself. So it makes me more empathetic in one sense also makes you more analytical because you know that this is something which can be done. Right? This is something which is probably far too far fetched. So, you know, from a team perspective, it gives you that deeper understanding of how to manage, right? And one of my learnings of working being on the agency side initially, they were clients who weren’t as nice so, that learning estate from a team.
Amith – So what are you look for us some images look for in a team member? If you were to hire a couple of people in your team, what are the besides the skill set that they have to bring for sure? What are the things that you look for in terms of attitude and other things in that team member team player?
Sameer – What I look for, very importantly is one never say no, very open attitude towards life and somebody who can accept mistakes Because once you accept your mistakes, you will not repeat it next time. Right. So, you know, but that openness of what I inculcate in my team is speak honest, be abrasive. And let’s, you know, analyze, what are the good things we have done? What are the badthings? we have done. How do we improve? The orientation has to be positive, ultimately, true.
Amith – Thanks. You’ve been observing the PR business in India grow in the last 15,20 years? What do you think in the Indian PR fraternity community do differently do better to evolve to the next level? I mean, like we spoke a little while ago, offline, there are a lot of things that people still do, which is very in the 90s. What can I do to completely evolve to make it more impactful? Make a better impression on clients if you’re a client servicing person on bosses and organizations if you are in houses? Well, please share your thoughts on that.
Sameer – I think we need to, you know, a lot has changed actually, over the last 10 years. I see us I see a major progressive force. Coming into our industry, but a lot, a lot needs to be done still. One only I think in my view, just a media mindset has to change. I look at corp comm as the brand custodian, right? We are somebody who can we provide the third party optics to the management. Right. So the role therefore is very critical. You are the knowledge manager, you are the brand consultant, not from a marketing perspective because marketing looks at from a sales angle. You’re looking at it from a corporate angle, how is my corporate or my plan going to be looked upon by the public signed engagement, the role therefore, you know, it’s much beyond media. I see a lot of times, you know, a lot of focus being given on just purely media, which is something we need to look review and maybe explore other areas. To ensure that we leverage the full power that you know that cop comm gives to you. There is so much we can do.
Amith – Tell us about your childhood and your growing up. Yes, I know you said you cricket was your love, which is one thing we heard tell us about the school you went to the family you grew up with which part of Delhi you grew up in. Tell us more about that as well.
Sameer – Born and brought up in Delhi,
the son of a government servant, very, I would say
very ethical, very proud,
common servant. You know, an individual I think I sometimes miss those individuals, the yesteryears, My father is now 85 I really admired him because of his straight forward attitude towards life. And it’s something I, I gained a lot from him.
Amith – I mean, back to today’s time, where do you see yourself five years from now? You’ve been in three interesting companies before the three other PR firms and an airline?
Sameer – I like to explore
myself deeper and see how I can contribute to the society. I think there’s a lot of learning which has gone in the last 20 years. And I want to now see how I can go deeper.
You know, and
I am not keen on doing tactical stuff anymore. It’s about now creating impact and giving, giving it back to the community of work.
Amith Right, If you have one piece of advice for younger viewers, younger professionals getting into the profession of just began their careers. What would that advice be?
Sameer – I think one of the biggest concerns I have is a very I’ll start or very base level, I think,
in a communication professional, I look at things
based on base writing.
skills. And when I say media skills, it doesn’t mean necessarily media relationship, that one part of it. It’s about understanding what can be shared in the media, how it is to be pitched, how we need to skin it, and guiding the internal forces, so that they know that this needs to be done to create. So it’s both outward and inward. And once you’ve got a good mix, then you go out, because you cannot go and prepare to the media. Let’s, let’s respect that third pitch. third piece. The third thing is strategy. So, how are you shaping the brand? So read a lot. Read five newspapers every day. And write a lot. Because ultimately, you know what, you know, it’s we are communicators, right? We need to have the power to compel to influence to change the direction of an organization.
Amith – Thank you so much. I mean, it was great chatting with you. Before we end, I want to let you go only after we do a quick rapid fire. I have about seven or eight questions for you. We have three seconds to answer each other’s questions and then we will call it day. Yeah.
Amith – What’s the most trusted brand of yours?
Sameer – Tata
Amith – What’s your favorite book?
Sameer – Abhinav Bindra gold medal chase.
Amith – What’s your favorite holiday destination?
Sameer – I think any destination you rode probably is better. It’s
part of the world.
Amith – Name one person in this world who gets communications right, who you think Wow, he or she knows what communications is and gets it right banged on all the time.
Sameer – You know,
on Twitter, there’s only one corporate individual. I follow
Mahendra and Anand Mahendra. I think he’s not communicating from profit metrics. He’s communicating from an impact metrics. And that is where he is diffrent.
Amith – Describes Sameer Bajaj in three words.
Sameer – Intense, passionate, loving.
Thank you. I think we’ll end on that note, intense, passionate and loving is very easy to share. Thank you so much for your time, and I hope you enjoyed this as much as well. I’m sure a lot of people will learn new things from you and see your career growth and trajectory in a different light. I mean, I was surprised when I was researching about , you began your career in Jet Airways. Is that our thank you so much for your time and all the rest for what you do. I hope all your dreams keep coming through and you have a great life ahead. Thank you. So thank you.
Sameer – Thank you. Pleasure being here.