5 Qs With Shailja Joshi On Crisis Communication

It is important to remain honest, open and transparent while truthfully and empathetically communicating with all stakeholders


Communication remains to be the linchpin to crisis management. It works as an excellent tool for clarity, consistency and direction to all- consumers, partners and employees, in an uncertain time. It is the prime responsibility of company leaders to ensure stability and inject confidence and trust amongst their associates, to successfully maintain business continuity and recovery. 

As a “landscape scale” event, the coronavirus has created great uncertainty, elevated stress and anxiety, and prompted tunnel vision, where people are focussing only on present. In an interaction with BW Marketing World, Shailja Joshi, Associate Director, Potato Chips Category, PepsiCo India explains how a leader’s words and actions can allay fear, comfort the people around and help them draw meaning from their experience. 


Q. How would you describe your communication mix pre and post Covid?

There has been a significant change in consumer behavior that is here to stay, and it demands every brand to catch up and address it. Currently, brands need to communicate to etch greater trust in the minds of the consumer. Communication that is insight driven and led by purpose holds greater importance to the consumer. At PepsiCo, our communication remains empathetic at the heart while applying innovative formats to engage with consumers in the tone of each brand.

Q. How did the brand build trust by engaging with employees and consumers?

Consumers are on the lookout for brands that communicate empathetically while offering greater value to their lives. Brands that maintain a positive balance between both these aspects are the ones that garner more trust from consumers. Consumers develop trust towards brands that play an active role in the small, nuanced moments of their lives. Consumers want brands to ‘Solve and not Sell’ – According to reports, globally, 85% of people want brands to "solve my problems". Brands need to bring context, personalization and awareness to their marketing activities with the consumer at the center so they don’t appear tone deaf or insensitive.

Employees also represent the brands they work with. In recent times, companies are actively stepping up for their employees, be it taking simple preventive measures like sanitizing the workspace, implementing a work-from-home strategy, or updating their sick leave policy, or finding creative ways for boosting morale. Brands should remain proactive in communicating care, concern, and commitment to the safety of their employees.

Q. Your comments on choosing candor over charisma during such times.

Candor always holds precedence over charisma. It is important to remain honest, open and transparent while truthfully and empathetically communicating with all stakeholders. Companies with greater transparency build greater trust.

Q. Any examples of brands that were as effective in their communication during this testing time?

We’ve witnessed that consumers trust brands that are actively involved in bringing a positive change in the society. Last year, LAY’S launched the Heartwork initiative that expressed gratitude to thousands of frontline workers who worked relentlessly against all odds, bringing joy to millions across the country. LAY’S became the harbinger of optimism and positivity with the Heartwork that brought and continues to bring numerous communities together for the unsung heroes.

Q. Owing to your expertise and experience, what would be a few do's and don'ts that marketers must follow during crisis communication?

For marketers, it’s always important to continuously listen to the consumer. It’s best to remain preemptive in such scenarios and map potential issues and crisis probabilities. The next stage is action – whether its determining the right proactive strategies for the issues within the brand’s control or reactive strategies for issue outside the brand’s control. In each scenario it’s important to assess the situation, collect facts and accordingly develop the strategy.

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