Mastercard Chief Marketing and Comms Officer on Integrating Communications

The blurring of lines between marketing and communications functions continues to be a top industry trend for 2024. To shed light on how that plays out inside one of the world’s most well-known brands, PRNEWS spoke to Mastercard's Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, Raja Rajamannar, on how the disciplines overlap, integrate and collaborate.

PRNEWS: How does the overlap between marketing and public relations functions play out at your brand? Do you see the two functions further blurring together in some ways? How are you seeing this dynamic play out industry-wide?

Raja Rajamannar, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer at Mastercard

Raja Rajamannar, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer at Mastercard: There’s no doubt that public relations and marketing are becoming increasingly intertwined. Whether you are focused on reaching consumers, B2B customers or employees, brands need to construct a unified messaging approach across paid, earned and owned channels. In our organization, we created one Integrated Marketing and Communications team that ensures close collaboration—from ideation and planning to day-to-day program execution to measurement and analysis.

While collaboration is key, it’s also important to recognize the unique skills and perspectives each team brings. There are some areas where communications leads and marketing follows, and vice versa. For instance, employee relations is more critical now than ever. While communications leads on our employee relations strategy, we understand that marketing brings assets and strengths to the table to enrich the employee experience. Truly, we are stronger together.

Industry-wide, I'm seeing a similar trend towards closer alignment between marketing and communications, as well as with other areas of the business, such as customer management, public policy and human resources. Given the risks and opportunities companies navigate every day, operating in a silo is no longer a viable option. More and more companies are recognizing the value of a unified strategy.

PRNEWS: How do you benefit from having oversight for both marketing and communications?

Rajamannar: Our goal is to approach every objective with a holistic marketing and communications mindset, which is made far more seamless given our reporting structure. The fact is that people are bombarded with more than 3,000 media messages a day and only retain one or two. Attention spans are short. To break through and engage people in a meaningful way, we need to be consistent and compelling. We need to be able to assess and deploy paid and earned strategies in tandem for greater amplification and impact. The synergy between marketing and communications is crucial.

Take our work at the GRAMMY Awards, for example. We brought a new meaning to the commercial spot, turning passive viewers into passionate advocates. Instead of the typical brand message, we collaborated with award-winning artist SZA to debut her song Saturn as a seamless extension of the broadcast. To supercharge social sharing, we gave fans the opportunity to win seeds from SZA’s outfit to plant at home, reinforcing the call to action of signing up with partners in support of the Priceless Planet Coalition.

This initiative not only brought us closer to music enthusiasts but resulted in a range of reputational benefits, supported by excellent influencer engagement and coverage across lifestyle, business, marketing and music outlets. This wouldn’t have been feasible without thoughtful partnership and consideration of all possible opportunities, across all possible channels.

PRNEWS: Do you see more communications professionals taking on marketing tasks? Are there particular aspects of marketing that would absolutely benefit PR pros to learn? 

Rajamannar: At the end of the day, every role and function at a company has one unifying goal: to move the business forward. As our environment evolves due to emerging technologies, it dramatically affects the tactics we use to reach our shared goals. To stay ahead, we’re seeing a need for marketing and communications professionals to have a wider set of skills to keep up with the changing demand.

For instance, communications and marketing professionals alike need to know the implications of GenAI, understanding how it can assist them to be more effective and efficient and to do it in an ethical and responsible way. They should also be analytically minded, understanding how to leverage data and measurement to showcase the impact of what we do.

We’re also seeing the growing impact of experiential storytelling, which is what I like to call “story making.” Instead of telling people about our brand, we show them. And they tell their own stories to their communities and network of people. With that in mind, our communications teams are more and more integrated in events and live activations to show our message. Our teams are doing an incredible job of leveraging key moments and making them memorable to people and impactful for our brand.

PRNEWS: Since communications has a seat at the table at Mastercard, how does that function within the company? How integrated is communications across company departments and divisions?

Rajamannar: The importance of communications—and the role it plays at our company and others—is clearer each day. At Mastercard, the communications team is a critical strategic partner to every single business unit and has a strong presence at the management level. I sit on the company’s Management Committee, as does our executive vice president of Global Communications, demonstrating the value placed on the function. Close collaboration with our business partners, both globally and within the regions, strengthens our 360-degree storytelling efforts and allows for seamless messaging that resonates with our many audiences.

PRNEWS: From a CCO perspective, what are your top business challenges? 

Rajamannar: We are living through a time of low trust. That is one of the biggest challenges every business is facing right now. People are skeptical of each other, of public institutions, of companies. But I firmly believe that brands that are authentic and forthright can effectively navigate through this challenging time—and even help improve trust in the ecosystem.

Credibility is crucial. Part of how we drive credibility is partnering in meaningful ways with likeminded organizations, such as Conservation International and the Royal National Institute of Blind People, and another way is by carefully considering the channels to disseminate our messages. Longstanding traditional media outlets are an important and trusted source of information, while other stakeholders, including influencers and employees, are also voices increasingly driving great influence. All this combines to make the communications function more important than ever.

PRNEWS: As a CMO and CCO, what are the top three trends you are focused on right now?

Rajamannar: The three trends all communications and marketing professionals should consider are the influx of emerging technologies, like GenAI, the power of personalization and the impact of purpose. When we harness tech and data in a purposeful way, we build deeper connections with people, increase efficiencies and make our brand stronger.

Kaylee Hultgren is Content Director at PRNEWS.