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Ad Land’s Young Guns: Bob John, Corporate Communications, Tata Trusts

Bob John leads and manages Public Relations and Corporate Communications at Tata Trusts, India’s oldest philanthropic entity, in existence since 1892.

Having an experience of over eight years in internal and external communications, crisis communications, product launches, culture transformation, processes and teams, position value-based services, development performance/reputation metrics, partnerships, stakeholder management with leadership across the spectrum, John has carried all the responsibilities in each area.

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In his current role, he has been working with Tata Trusts for over three years and is responsible for driving pan-India communications for Tata Trusts’ priority programmes in Health, Nutrition, Technology, Social Justice, and Inclusion, ESG, and Skills development.

John has also worked with top PR agencies, including Edelman, MSL, Perfect Relations in different capacities and is also a long-form writer and a professional musician.

Find out from Bob John about what it takes to succeed in one’s career, how important it is to go beyond the defined boundaries of duties and to build a strong network in the industry, and more. 

What particular skill sets do you think you bring to the table?

The much understated consultative selling and storytelling.

Reportage on solutions in social interventions is hard to get by, because the interest is, by-and-large, only in the problem side of socio-economic indicators. In such cases, identifying reportable and credible news points, converting them into narratives worth reporting and keeping abreast with trends becomes crucial. 

How did you join your current organisation?

My association with Tata Trusts began with Edelman in 2016. While interviewing at Edelman, the opening question was – “Would you want to work for a Tata organisation?” I, of course, said, yes!

Moving from technology to the development sector, at the outset, seemed easy. It was only after a few months in that I realised how deeply immersive and moving the work can be.

After a rewarding stint of nearly two years at Edelman (2016-17), I decided to move on – even though the desire was to continue working on the Trusts.

As Friedrich Nietzsche once said, ‘Amor Fati’ (love your fate), everything happens for a reason, and so, one day, about 4 months after I’d moved on, Tata Trusts offered me a role. Till date, this remains one of the best moments of my life. 

Icons in this field you look up to and how they have influenced you and your work?

Yes, I do have mentors, who have been life coaches in the truest sense. One of the things that stands out for me about all of them is the stellar work-place ethics and values they hold. Be it an intern, a manager, housekeeping or any CXO, their ability to make one feel cared for, heard, and respected, makes them some of the most reliable and loved people at work.

All devoted, personable, and intuitive leaders, they have only ever encouraged me to ‘always do the right thing’ – even if it meant going against conventional norms. It is they who have truly embodied the true spirit of leaders communicating with purpose.

I hope to stay connected with and reach out to them, for guidance and inspiration. 

What are the five most productive things that you do in your everyday routine?

Following a 5/20 routine every morning, especially, in these times: 5 km walk; 20 km cycling. One of the best ways to move away from a sedentary lifestyle is to keep moving.

Writing: Being a firm believer of finding one’s flow, one’s ‘Ikigai’, writing comes naturally to me; it could be a simple short story, or a long-form article on almost anything. As a communicator, writing on a regular basis has certainly sharpened my understanding of what may make for a good story to tell.

Making Music: Growing up, music was an integral part of my household – this culture has sustained. More so now, music has become a means to staying connected with friends, band-mates, and creating new material.

Reading, at the very least one chapter of a book daily, is something that I do without fail.

Engaging young students of communications: One of the best ways to understand the pulse of the next-gen is to keep engaging them on a regular basis on topics they find interesting. Thanks to my alma-mater – SIMC (PG), Pune – I get to do that on a regular basis. 

Do you think a career in this field is a viable one in the long term?

Yes, without a shadow of a doubt. The communications landscape is evolving by the second. In a highly competitive, dynamic environment aided by technology, where complexities are at its peak, there is tremendous scope for communicators to evolve and explore the tools available. More specifically, communications based on advanced sentiment analysis on traditional and social media, driven by AI, will provide for newer avenues to explore. 

What does it take to succeed in a career?

To begin with, find and work with a mentor who understands you and your core competencies. Map your competencies to that of your mentor’s and work on one aspect at a time. To fully develop into a versatile communicator, one requires consistent efforts and patience. The other aspect, which everyone is privy to, is purpose-driven networking. 

What would your advice be to youngsters planning to enter this industry?

I always counsel my peers and colleagues to focus on three things, among a plethora of skills required to excel here. One, understanding and establishing of the context; two, content (contextualised); and three, quickness of the mind – in handling any potential crisis that may arise – as time is of essence. All these elements require consistency, a whole lot of practice, and a good understanding of the sector you wish to delve in. 

Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?

The desire is to be surrounded by curious minds, new problems to solve, and explore tech-enabled solutions. 

Is there any organisation that you would like to work with in the future?

Working at Tata Trusts with eminent leaders from different sectors is a dream-come-true. The work here is certainly cerebral; nothing short of rich and effulgent. For one, it isn’t restricted to a particular field. Although a philanthropy, the work spans several sectors, such as health, nutrition, water, sanitation & hygiene, migration and urban habitat, education, social justice and inclusion, ESG, etc.

These are sectors where change wouldn’t be visible overnight. So, it there’s tremendous scope to explore and devise content and campaign-led communications (PSAs), policy and advocacy, and pilot models.

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