Global Newsmaker: Mahindra's Roma Balwani

Mahindra & Mahindra head of comms Roma Balwani speaks to PRWeek Global ahead of a critical 12 month period for the Indian automotive giant's international ambitions.

Roma Balwani
Roma Balwani

Mahindra & Mahindra was recently recognised as Brand Communicator of the Year at the Asia-Pacific PR Awards 2009. Its comms chief Roma Balwani catches up with PRWeek Global after a hectic week at the Delhi Auto Show.

How was the week?

The expo was very good, but it was very tiring. The biggest PR challenge comes from working for Mahindra which is a federation of companies with diverse products. It's always a challenge to have a cohesive comms plan to articulate one message for the group while also allowing the sectors to do what they need to. Keeping a balance between the two is always the challenge for me. This week was more focused on the largest sector (entire automotive division) of the organisation - it's a sector that is always in the news. It was about the group's vision of being a global brand.

What is the biggest comms challenge you forecast facing in 2010?

The automotive industry is  coming out of the recession and we will soon launch our products in the US, which will be very challenging. This will be the first made-in-India automotive product released into the US. We are getting into the market at a time when others feel it is not the right time. We always feel if you can survive in the US market, you can survive anywhere.

Being a foreign company, are you expecting any kind of backlash?

We are preparing for a backlash - we have got an international agency (Burson-Marsteller) working with us - ensuring we are bringing the brand in the right way, and we've been working on it for almost a year. We have to introduce the Mahindra Automotive brand as well as the product designed for the US. It was a good decision to have the same agency in India (Genesis B-M) and have the same international agency working with us in international markets. For the last one year, we have steadily been communicating to the American market - and customers are eager to see our product. The big vehicles are no longer the flavour of the day, its smaller compact vehicles which are more fuel-efficient. We are going to cater to what their current needs are. We won't overplay the 'Indianness'. We must understand the local needs and local requirements.

What is the one thing Indian PR agencies could do better?

They should not just be process-oriented. They should be much more strategic in the way they work with their clients. There are some agencies here who do that, and we need more such agencies who work in a strategic way to build the whole comms plan and support the client's comms needs. The proactive strategic thinking is what seems to be lacking.

Which media channels can't you live without?

The WSJ online and the FT and the Economic Times of India. CNBC and NDTV Profit are also my favourite business channels.

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