Interviewee : Sameek Bhattacharya, Senior Manager, Corporate Communications, Air India
Interviewer : Sreetama Karmakar, Intern and Student Member, PRSI
Date: 16th July, 2014
Venue: Office of Indian Airlines
“WE WERE NEVER DEPENDANT ON THE GOVERNMENT FOR OUR SURVIVAL TILL 2007”
1. Tell us something about your entire journey and who was your driving force?
Ans: Driving force, it has to be self propelled. I started off with the Statesman, as a sub editor. I was there for a short while. Then I worked with The Telegraph as a journalist and editor for slightly more than 5 years. And I should add a point to it, The Telegraph is a very good launching pad, it prepares you 360 degrees. Then I decided to go to the other side of the table, from hardcore journalist to a corporate communicator. I thought I had left journalism, but journalism and journalist never left me.
2. What is your concept of Public relations?
Ans: I know I would be sounding cliché but it is a deliberate, planned and sustained exercise to establish or maintain a good relation with an organization and its publics, both internal and external, to protect and project the image of an organization. Though the definition of PR would be, “Good work. Well told”. And corporate communications is a specialized branch of public relations.
3. Can we put it like this that The Telegraph had an upper hand in your life?
Ans: Absolutely. I can always say so. Telegraph is a wonderful organization to create your foundation rock. The nuances of communication, the nuances of media, how news should be prepared and communicated. I learnt everything from Telegraph. I will always remain grateful to the exposure Telegraph has given to me, reporting, editorial, bringing out the pages, because I am bringing out my house journal, Magic Carpet and also my in-flight magazine. So this is all courtesy my experience in the Media Fraternity. Had I not been in the hardcore media, definitely I feel I would have been left handicapped.
4. Have you worked as an intern in any of the companies?
Ans: I did a very short stint with an ad agency called Concept Communications. I was always fascinated with copywriting.
5. What is the speciality of corporate communications in Air India, a central government undertaken company?
Ans: See, any transport industry is a 24×7 industry. And when you’re flying with 55000 passengers per day all over the world, and now after getting into the pact with star alliance, we are connecting 1398 destinations per day to 193 countries, so you can well imagine. But yes, when going gets tough, tough gets going. Being in a service sector where you are catering to a whole segment of passengers and potential passengers, you’re dealing with all sorts of publics.
6. Who are your major publics?
Ans: Our major publics would be the passengers, potential passengers, travel houses, travel agencies, tour operators, all the states of India..we fly to every nook and corner of the country and to 193 international destinations, through star alliance.
7. So we can say Star Alliance has been a milestone achievement for Air India?
Ans: Of course it is. Air India is the only airline from the subcontinent to have joined the Star Alliance. It is a group of 26 leading airlines all over the world previously it was 27 but now US Airways have left the Star Alliance and merged with continental and continental has already been into one world alliance.
8. How will you convert this achievement into business revenue?
Ans: Well the revenue is supposed to go up. And hopefully will cover up the expenses that had stroke us a few years back.
9. Airline companies are nowadays running under funds deficit. How does Air India manage this crisis garnering support from the Central Government?
Ans: No. we were never dependant on the Government for our survival till 2007. In the said year, the Government had ordained us to acquire 111 aircrafts and because of this humongous number that we were asked to purchase and we purchased, for the first time in 2008 we started getting some equity infusion from the Government. This was not a monetary support, because the quantum of our operation, we are basically 18 thousand crore turn over company, the equity of which was a mere 325 crore which was a horrible kind of mismatch. So now the government has started infusing equity funds so the debt equity ratio of our company has improved and we are doing commercially very well. We are enjoying a market share of about 21% now behind Indigo. And the government had laid down a turnaround strategy for us. We have got properties all over the world, being carriers since 1932. We are trying to monitise the assets which are idle.
10. We all know about the strikes and the appeals from the employees the appeals of Air India. We have also heard about the milestone achievements and the turnarounds, equity infusions of Government. Knowing it all, was it at all necessary to introduce 27 mid legged aircrafts to fly all across the country, occupying more space and demanding for more fuel consumption?
Ans: Ah well, this is against the policy of our company, so I would not be able to talk about the topic.
11. And the reason behind the crash of the Air India flight, Kanishka 182 and the missing of the Malaysian airline?
Ans: Since, I have no profound knowledge on the topic, it would not be wise enough from my end to talk about it.
12. Tell us something about Air India’s CSR activities.
Ans: Well our company is continuing with various CSR projects involving Environment, Education, Sports and is in the process of signing MoU with Tata Institute of Social Sciences for working on the project of CSR in Andaman and Nicobar Islands.