‘Diverse team is huge comms asset,’ Lord Bilimoria tells Maggie Nally Lecture

Wednesday evening was infused with the spirit of the the past and the future as the Maggie Nally Memorial Lecture gathered at the House of Commons to hear from Lord Bilimoria.

While making your way up the stairs to Committee Room 10 you pass statues of Gladstone, Robert Peel, Pitt the Younger and the whole host of Titans from British political history. You wait in an antechamber adorned with frescos depicting scenes from Chaucer, Shakespeare and Byron – all the while glared at by stone statues of men with crowns on their heads and swords in their hands.

In this historic setting Lord Balimoria started his speech with a quick history lessons of his own, outlining his upbringing in India and how he came to the UK as a young man and founded Cobra Beer with Arjun Reddy.

Times have changed since the two of them were ferrying cases of beer around in a beat-up old car and his insights in to those changes that provided the most stimulating part of his 30-minute talk.

Not so long ago, Bilimoria recalled, entrepreneurs were viewed as wheeler-dealer Del Boy types and India was a “backward looking, closed economy”. Now the Indian economic powerhouse has been “unleashed” and the UK has gone from the sick man of Europe to “the envy of Europe”.

On how the business world has changed Bilimoria commented: “You have to think globally from day one these days.”

This means a diverse workforce is key, something that the PR industry is still coming to terms with. “There is no shortcut to the understanding of different cultures,” said Bilimoria. “When you have diversity in your team it is a huge asset in the ability to communicate.”

India, in fact, makes a perfect example of this – being one of the most diverse and complex nations on earth.

Public relations plays a key role for Cobra on the subcontinent as direct advertising of alcoholic products is against the law – PR is the only way. But it’s not just through necessity that Bilimoria sees the value of our industry. “Implemented effectively, PR is probably the best value part of any company’s marketing mix,” he said. A lesson he learned early on in the Cobra story when some earned media in the Times marked a turning point in the brand.

A fine, interesting evening in good company and a fitting event to hold the name of one of the CIPR’s most historically important members. Margaret Nally was the first female President of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations in 1976.

Maggie was also instrumental in the formation of CIPR International Group, where she remained active until 2001, the annual lecture in her honour has been running since 2003. You can find out more here.

Rob Smith is the editor of Influence. He's a reporter with a background in business journalism.

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