“Earning Trust in a Post-Truth Era” SPOTLIGHT Sailesh Wadhwa, CSO Malaysia & Co-Lead APAC Brand Practice, Edelman Malaysia

By The Malketeer 

The ‘Startup Mindset’ Driving Transformation

In today’s chaotic world of public relations and strategic communications, one leader stands out for his ability to drive transformation, shape the future of influence, and defy conventional practices.

Sailesh Wadhwa, the visionary CSO Malaysia & Co-Lead APAC Brand Practice of Edelman Malaysia, has harnessed the power of a “startup mindset” to reposition the agency as a formidable force in the industry.

“Any business transformation revolves around a core team that not only is aligned around a singular vision but also has both the tenacity and resilience to energise an organisation, changing the course of its business trajectory,” explains Sailesh.

“The magic lies in realising that what brought us here, will not take us where we want to be. Hence, the pursuit.”

Redefining Value for the Modern CMO

Under Sailesh’s guidance, Edelman has undergone a strategic repositioning, recognising the evolving role of the modern Chief Marketing Officer (CMO).

“Today, a CMO is expected to wear multiple hats of tech, digital, and even finance in addition to the core function of marketing,” he stresses.

This shift has led Edelman to redefine its value proposition, offering clients not just campaigns but holistic business solutions that navigate complex issues around policy, geo-politics, customer sentiments, impact, ESG, and crisis management.

“We’ve restructured and repositioned ourselves to partner with clients who believe that their brand has outgrown their marketing, and seek strategy-led integrated solutions based on horizontal expertise across the spectrum,” Sailesh continues.

Platforms for Innovation and Impact

Sailesh’s strategic thinking is exemplified in award-winning initiatives like JIRAN, Malaysia’s first hyperlocal content and commerce platform for Telekom Malaysia, and the #GetMovingChallenge, a global brand engagement platform for Sime Darby Oils.

“JIRAN was born out of the need to provide local mom and pop stores in our neighbourhood a hub or platform to tell their stories the way they see it,” Sailesh says.

“It was a true UGC content engine that curates and co-creates snackable social content, giving these neighbourhood businesses a voice of their own.”

Similarly, the #GetMovingChallenge pushed the envelope on brand culturalisation and employee engagement, creating a gamified mobile platform that encouraged Sime Darby Oils’ global workforce to live the brand’s “Culture of Care” mission.

Evolving Landscape of Business Effectiveness

As a jury member for the Global and APAC Effie Awards, Sailesh has gained deep insights into the evolving landscape of business effectiveness and impact.

“Innovation has replaced the conventional creative craft and ideation,” he observes.

“Real-world impact seems to be the new paradigm on ‘effectiveness,’ and the work from B2B and sustainability is as stunning as conventional B2C categories.”

Integrated Solutions: The Unfair Advantage

Sailesh’s role as Integrated Solutions Lead at Edelman is pivotal in delivering cohesive and impactful campaigns for clients.

“Our approach has always been anchored in strategy,” he says.

“It’s about building a holistic appreciation of a client’s business challenge and then pushing the envelope on a breakthrough solution that, in most cases, is not a campaign but manifests as an innovation platform, content engine, e-commerce playbook, ESG toolkit, or an influencer social commerce approach.”

Navigating Complex Challenges

In an industry facing unprecedented challenges, from social boycotts to the AI revolution, Sailesh’s strategic thinking and problem-solving skills have been put to the test.

“Such scenarios, where corporations and brands get caught up in sensitive situations where they have very little jurisdiction, can be tricky,” he acknowledges.

“Times where a brand’s relationship with its ecosystem gets tested, bringing back focus to how rooted the brand is in the local culture.”

Cultivating a Future-Ready Mindset

To thrive in the current landscape, Sailesh believes professionals must cultivate a deep understanding of the “business of business” before attempting to solve problems.

“A trusted advisor to a client is someone who takes pride in learning how their business ecosystem thrives,” he asserts.

Redefining the ‘Business of Brand’

As Edelman expands its ‘Business of Brand’ practice across APAC, Sailesh’s vision is to position it as a gateway to real brand-business transformation.

“Just the way the role of a CMO is transforming, a true agency partner would be one who understands that a brand is much bigger than the marketing function,” he explains.

“It’s about navigating the policy framework, geo-political sensitivities, crisis preparedness, sustainability, and continuous innovation.”

Tackling Disinformation and Disruption

In the face of increasing disinformation and disruptive narratives, Sailesh believes the PR industry must play a crucial role in promoting factual, unifying messages.

“Our philosophy remains simple: Action drives trust,” he states.

“We’ve been collaborating with clients in pre-empting and prepping for uncertainties, ensuring a unified narrative approach starting with employees to other stakeholders who serve as our active advocates and our first line of defence.”

Future-Proofing Narratives in a Post-AI World

Looking ahead, Sailesh recognises the challenges posed by AI in shaping and controlling narratives.

“At Edelman, we are collaborating with clients in future-proofing their narratives and storytelling through pre-emptive and proactive approaches such as Edelman Trust Management and Connected Crisis platforms,” he says.

In a world where trust and influence are constantly being redefined, Sailesh Wadhwa’s strategic vision and commitment to innovation position Edelman as a trailblazer, shaping the future of public relations and strategic communications.

With his “startup mindset” and unwavering pursuit of transformation, Sailesh is ensuring that the agency remains at the forefront of an industry that demands continuous reinvention.

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