Posted: 4 years ago

Lela Kikaleishvili: "If You Have a Communication Goal and Strategy, You Can Take Your Audience Wherever Way You Want"

Interview with Lela Kikaleishvili, Head of Communications at the United Water Supply Company of Georgia, Communications Expert of EU Program for Erasmus + Youth and European Solidarity Corps in Georgia and Mass Communication Researcher at GIPA.

Tell us about how you got into the field of marketing, and what factors played an important role in choosing this profession?

My professional experience includes 5 years of working in the media, 12 years of PR, and 4 years of marketing experience, all simultaneously. Since 2009, I have been a PR consultant for EU programs, Erasmus + projects, organizer of over 60 national, regional, international conferences and training sessions, including working as Communications Manager for these projects. In 2015, I was awarded the highest award of the Supreme Council of the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia - Honorary Degree, for active participation in the regulation of Georgian-Abkhazian relations, confidence building and reconciliation.

I'll rewind back a bit to my childhood. I think that, generally, childhood reveals aspirations, interests, desires, and dreams that evolve over the years.

I remember waiting for a representative from the Ministry at school (1995-96). All night, I thought about what I was planning to do with my class, so that the guests will be happy with the visit. I took classmates to the nearby mountains, we picked plants, planted them in hand-made pots, and placed them on the school’s window shelves. Then, I remember sketching this story, bringing it to my mother to the district newspaper for print.

I have this example because relationships, organizing events, packing and delivering something, has been fun to me from the time I was a child. For the most part, it was probably my character that drove me to the field of communications.

The path through the most intense competition was not easy. It was the result of great hardships, challenges, 17 years of strenuous and busy day-to-day professional work, a lot of endless nights at work.

I am constantly looking for something new, to get familiar with foreign experiences, colleagues' practices, innovations. It has never been satisfying to move in one direction, which may be a dogma for others. I have done so much, with the utmost enthusiasm, and I am still present. Whenever someone needs my professional support, I try to help everyone get involved in many social and charitable projects, to make a professional contribution. Looking for new discoveries, making interesting contacts, constantly evolving motivates me.

I have worked in various media outlets for five years, since 2003. I took almost every step - from a news agency internship to being an editor at a magazine and a newspaper. I have been working, actively, with the Georgian, Ukraine and British Diasporas for several months in the field of television as an anchor for the morning program. However, I realized that I wanted something more than news, something that would organize a whole story, interact with people in different fields, get them involved in creating something new, planning and then delivering the finished product to the media.

In 2007, I received an offer and went to the Press Service of the Government of Abkhazia, where I worked for 8 years. At the same time, I have been involved in many projects, including the opening and closing ceremony of "Tbilisi 2015", ceremonies for public figures, artists, singers and star winners.

Here is another example - I have been in the UK for 3 months as part of an EU project in 2013. During this time, the London Film Festival happened. People who created the golden era of Georgian cinema - Kakhi Kavsadze, Givi Berikashvili, Lana Ghoghoberidze, Merab Ninidze, Eldar and Giorgi Shengelaia and others - came together for the evening. No part of the coverage of this event was organized. I asked  the diaspora to hire a cameraman, and the whole week  I was preparing materials for the Georgian media. Invited as a guest that evening, I felt it necessary not to become silent and let the public know about the success of Georgian cinema in Britain.

I have chosen an active life for myself, and I think that a communications specialist should always think about making his or her work more diverse and interesting. I create the rhythm of an exciting life for myself, and constantly strive to be active, impart new knowledge to myself, acquire additional skills to be more in demand, to be interesting and always relevant to the market.

There have been many such examples in my life. I think that with such practical examples, the time needed to do the work has grown into a kind of work by itself, and I have become a specialist in the field of communication.

Amidst the current technological changes, what challenges do you face?

The field of communication is still in the developmental stage. To address the challenges posed by technological change, we need to look more deeply into the context of how it is important to plan the right kind of communication to implement a successful corporate strategy.

There are, of course, accompanying and contingent reasons why it can be difficult to communicate effectively with all users, but it is important to know what to say, how to say it, and how to communicate it. The instinctive behavior of the target audience may not change, but a long-term, well-planned strategy alters can alter the entire consciousness.

The biggest challenge in the field of communication is the lack of a plan, which we unfortunately often face in Georgia. Basically, an organization's communication strategy is planned for a week, or spontaneously, giving us relevant feedback, and the results are clearly not going to be what we aspire to.

In many cases, the needs of the audience and their communication have not been studied, the purpose of communication is unclear. Therefore, it is difficult to put the right messages in context, so that we can see from the perspective of the user, and not the organization. Having a perspective helps us create the right context, which will make communication more effective and help you build trust in the organization.

What has changed in the field in the last 5 years, and what changes are expected?

The field of communication is in its developmental phase, and I think that a creative approach and an innovative vision in this field is crucial.

Recent technological changes have introduced new communication platforms. The evolution of communication platforms has made it easy and flexible to operate, remove geographical barriers, and connect the whole world together. It changed the fundamentals of communication, shifted priorities, and had a tangible impact on the work environment. Co-operation isn’t limited to boardrooms and offices, it has crossed the boundaries of the workplace. People can now collaborate in real time on a global scale.

As even new technologies are being replaced by emerging technologies, it has been my most flexible and easy to use chat program in recent years.

I receive dozens of emails every day, but instant messaging, social networking, sharing information this way is much more practical and comfortable. It is much easier to respond rapidly to a quick question and provide information this way. Regarding the issue or activity, the relevant services, responsible parties  are kept equally informed, you do not have to send mobile messages or emails with all of them, separately. Especially in crisis communication management, instant messaging makes information work significantly easier for a communications specialist, and much more efficiently.

Technological evolution has changed both internal and external collaboration communication platforms.

We first shifted from telephone communication to exchanging information and materials via email; in recent years, the process has become much easier through social media, chat rooms, and content groups. If, five years ago, you were reporting the story to the media by telephone to reporters, today it’s replaced by instant messages.

Years ago, press services would bring materials recorded on CDs to television stations, then this method of collaboration was done via email. Today, we work through chat.

We share files, text, video. We have an opportunity to edit, exchange ideas, video conferencing, live chat.

Technology has changed verbal communication in recent years, with people spending more time using online forms of communicating - statuses, photos, videos, sharing others' posts, and so on. There is a lot less talking on the phone, because it is faster and more comfortable to work with. Processes can be managed remotely, and we have access to information. However, we are slowly losing our verbal and face-to-face relationships.

What do you think are the most important qualities a marketing manager should have, and what is his or her role in the organization in general?

Each individual has a natural communication style, but in order to work effectively, a PR manager must identify some form of communication and approach to make the work environment comfortable for everyone.

It is important for a communications manager to have leadership skills, to be sociable, responsible, and committed to the job. It is necessary to be able to concentrate and write, simultaneously, on several topics. Over 17 years of experience have shown me that, if you possess these skills and qualities, along with theoretical knowledge and the rules you need to know, you will be able to establish yourself in this field.

PR is at a turning point, toward a correct and successful management style of organization. However, it is important for management to follow and trust it, as it largely decides a company's success and failure in planning the right communication strategy and decision making.

PR represents a company to the outside world, its role in the organization is huge, and broad. It can successfully overcome all kinds of internal misunderstandings or external crises with just a successful communication strategy. Effective communication in an organization is always important, and it does not matter on a company-wide scale.

What do you do to keep the organization from falling behind on the latest trends, and keep applying innovative approaches to marketing?

The water supply company serves more than 1 million customers throughout Georgia, and we strive to facilitate communication and access to information and their services in a variety of ways.

We periodically produce video clips to showcase the hard work and excellence of our employees - accountants, engineers, builders, operators. In many cases they have to work 24 hours a day, for several days, in difficult terrain and climates, in order to provide citizens with a stable supply of water.

Although the water supply sector is specific and, today, it is difficult to find specialists in the Georgian market. However, in recent years, there has been a growing trend, and more young people are interested. One of our goals is to introduce these young people to the community, to support the development of the field and to motivate the next generation. We tell their stories, we make video clips of these people, we organize educational tours of the facilities to make it easier for the audience to see how difficult it is for water to reach customers - it's not an easy process, and it requires enormous financial and human resources. Therefore, it is necessary to protect and take care of water resources, as a rational use of water is necessary, and this is a challenge not only for Georgia but for the world.

We want to raise awareness and civic self-awareness in this area even at the schools. We have already launched a pilot project on awareness campaigns in Gori public schools, together with international partners, and we plan to cover other regions and cities as well.

The flow of diverse information is so high in the media. If you do not constantly share your voice on the information market , you will get lost and lose relevance.

You have to follow the innovations, challenges that digital technology era is preparing for, and properly adapt to the Georgian reality. Otherwise, in a competitive war, your "voice" will not be heard.

What is needed for successful communication with the public?

Effective communication is a journey of a lifetime, and just like in your personal life, it is very important to get to know the people we are trying to influence. To know what their interest is, their usual communication style, what their level of knowledge and understanding is, what information they require, etc. We need to think about the risks, given how we respond to any possible objections. I think that the more we can understand, the more we can build the right kind of communication.

Obviously, this era of technological development has made communication very easy, fast and effective, making it easier for users and organizations to communicate, but managing information is difficult. At any time, the company's image and reputation can be compromised by sharing a text, message, video or photo from any person. Hence, the responsibility and involvement of communications specialists has increased significantly in the work of successfully managing an organization.

In my opinion, if you have the right communication goal, you can take your audience wherever you want to go.

One word that describes your job.

Rough like the sea, excitable and creative.

The most useful advice you’ve ever received in your life.

Time will pass, it will help you reevaluate everything, and you will realize that if someone made the wrong decision, and therefore did not appreciate your hard work, it is also part of your life experience, and can be necessary for your future success.

Think of a person who inspires you professionally.

People who never stop, are not happy with what they’ve already achieved, and always strive for development.