SOME busy people may wear two hats at work. If you’re On-Uma Vattanasuk Rerkpattanapipat you can add a third. But On-Uma is used to juggling roles in her hectic schedule at dtac. The former journalist is the senior vice president for corporate communications and sustainability at the mobile telecommunications operator.
While On-Uma, also known as Oum, is responsible for handling corporate communications at the company, her duties are divided into three strands: when she is not on the front line of the company’s interactions with reporters, she is managing the in-house communications and guiding its corporate social responsibility programme (CSR).
On-Uma says dtac - like its peers in the telecommunications sector - is confronting digital disruption, but is determined to seize opportunities amid the challenges.
The role of the corporate communications team is not only to help strengthen the corporate culture but to communicate the company’s core values to the stakeholders while seeking ways to boost the company’s business.
“Corporate communications is a job to that entails creating and strengthening the corporate culture every day,” On-Uma says.
On her role in managing the internal communications at dtac, she says the employees are the key stakeholders, and she regards this side of her work as the most difficult.
“Since the staff know in details about the issues and encounter the problems that may arise, their input is vital, and they are also receiving information from each other,” says On-Uma.
“And, of course, they are direct stakeholders in the company.”
As for the practical skills required in her work, the public relations chief says excellence in written ability can only get you so far. Good internal communication requires many skills, including understanding the company’s core business and having the ability to produce strategic communications. A social media mindset is also required, along with a hefty dollop of creativity.
In On-Uma’s case you can also throw in plenty of experience.
She had been a journalist at Channel 7 before moving on to work in the communications unit of IBM Thailand and then following a fork in the road to BMW Group. She had moved back to IBM Thailand before joining dtac.
In a 20-year career she has drawn heavily on her journalistic skills.
“Not a day goes by when I don’t use these skills. They are a must for everyone who works in the communication field,” On-Uma says. “My jobs have always been about communication. Corporate communications requires journalistic skills as a key aspect of the job.”
Back at the coalface, On-Uma sends corporate strategic messages to the 4,000 employees nationwide across all formats and media.
Her thinking for employee communications is to equip the workers with enough information to get them understand the company’s strategy. With this achieved, the employees can help drive the organisation forwards.
“For internal communications, the team has to work with all business units in order to get the right information out to the workers,” On-Uma says.
Among the initiatives on this front is a link between dtac and A Day for a joint editorial team between dtac’s in-house magazine and A Day Magazine. Under this venture, corporate stories are put out using what is called an external point of view. There is also a blog and employees can participate in this by indicating likes and sharing the posts as well as leaving comments.
“We have really modernised the way we communicate together inside the company. Most of the staff are aged between 26 and 40, with the majority being women,” On-Uma says.
She says one of her missions is to improve the ways of storytelling, especially on what is known as data visualisation. She and her team of 13 have taken courses on data visualisation in order to have the ability to create a new means of internal communications. This approaches encourages greater employee engagement.
“Employees are the best ambassadors of the company, so we needs to encourage them to be well-informed employees,” On-Uma says.
She is particularly proud of what the company calls its Flip It Challenge. She initiated the concept to encourage employees to “flip”, or change, the way they work and how they deliver service to customers in order to improve the service offerings.
“We have challenged all the 4,000 employees to flip it in order to initiate new projects. We put this challenge out to the group heads of all business units to get their all staff to participate in it,” On-Uma says.
Greater employee collaboration is one of the most successful outcomes from this communications initiative. She says that some 2,000 employees have been engaging in this challenge regularly.
In yet another idea, On-Uma’s corporate affairs team proposed a campaign called Plik Thai, under which people across Thailand are invited to submit projects and join the campaign. She received proposals for 500 projects and whittled this down to the 10 best ones.
One such project is called “Police Noi”, or Little Cop. It uses artificial intelligence for a chatbot that helps victims of domestic violence to gain easier access to the justice system. They can also receive counselling. The company supports such projects, On-Uma says, as it wants to empower disadvantaged people with the use of digital technology.
As for the concepts behind the company’s external communications, On-Uma speaks about happy PR and strategic PR. The former, she says, relates to the delivery of good news. But when a company needs to put out news “that can be interpreted in many ways according to market sentiment”, it requires strategic PR, she says. On-Uma cites the example of when dtac did not join in the bidding for 1800MHz spectrum in an auction by the regulator.
“We prepared communication messages and planned when would deliver the message and how to deliver it to each group of stakeholders. We always practise strategic communications in every kind of situation,” says On-Uma.
Strategic PR, she says, is about managing market expectations. “Most of our work is about strategic communication. We need to manage all the expectations of stakeholders with a good strategic message. We always use strategic communications in both normal situations and in periods of crisis,” says On-Uma.
“We need to take action once a crisis occurs,” she says. “We focus on the collaboration with online marketing, the call centre team, and dtac’s social media team as well as dtac’ s pantip.com team. The relationship among the teams within the company is the key to dealing with a crisis.”
She recalls that the time of greatest pressure during her tenure at the company came two years ago when dtac lost out in auctions for 1800MHz and 900 MHz spectra.
“We had 15 days lead time, after we failed in the 1800 MHz auction, and needed to do our best in the 900 MHz auction in order to manage the expectations of our stakeholders,” On-Uma says.
“It was a different scenario when we failed in the 1800 MHz auction and then failed in 900 MHz auction. Once we ensured that our employees were well informed and we effectively managed the expectations of our stakeholders, then that helped us to minimise the fallout from the failure at the 900 MHz auction. At that time, we learnt a lot about crisis communication management.”
More broadly, she says the task of getting the management’s message out to employees is helped by the company’s work culture of openness.
On the CSR front, On-Uma says the company makes use of its competencies in digital technology and can draw on its huge customer base. By doing so, it can bring benefits to Thai society.
She says dtac plays a constructive role in the industry and clearly states its opinions on government regulations. This kind of role requires what she calls advocacy communication, a relatively new field.
“We focus on advocacy communication because we want to take part in formulating policies and in driving social values,” On-Uma says. “For example, we built a campaign called Stop Cyberbullying, which is a part of dtac’s Safe Internet initiative. This approach forms part of our advocacy communications.”
More broadly in the company’s communications regarding sustainability issues, the content marketing is the key strategy for On-Uma’s corporate communications team.
She cites the example of dtac joining with the National Electronics and Computer Technology Centre (Nectec) to offer Internet-of-Things sensor technologies to 30 farms. This was carried out under what she calls a CSR to CSV business model, the latter referring to “create shared value” between business and society.
“Digital technology helps evolve our way of working. We need to have an open mind, to embrace the reality of the digital disruption,” says On-Uma.
When she is not plotting strategies at the office, On-Uma fits an at least an hour each night with a good book.
Her favourite works are about business, biographies, and life and work principles. She believes in self-learning and self-improvement – and that reading is the key to ensuring this.
“I always tell my daughters that the classroom gives you only 30 per cent of the knowledge you need. Books, communication and action make up the rest,” the PR chief says.
On the family front, she says time management is the key to ensuring she always has enough time for her two daughters and family life.
“I am lucky that I have landed what is my favourite job at dtac,” she says. “dtac offers freedom to employees and that is what I love the most about working for the company.”
In terms of gender, she says that women need to have three attributes to get ahead: ambition, attitude and ability.
“Everyday morning after I wake up, I go into the office and enjoy my working life and that creates a good benefit for society. Every day, we talk together about the initiatives for helping people to get better lives and that creates energy in our work,” On-Uma says.
And there is one key supporter she wants to credit for her success. “My husband is the wind beneath my wings,” On-Uma says with pride.