Staying Relevant, Staying True – Varuni Amunugama Fernando

Varuni Amunugama Fernando, Joint Managing Director – Triad.

The power behind a number of companies in the Advertising, Media, and Leisure industries, Varuni Amunugama Fernando is a lady of many talents, the foremost of which is innovation and multi-tasking. As the Joint Managing Director of one of Sri Lanka’s leading home-grown advertising and communications agencies, Varuni leads the charge towards adapting to the ever-evolving environment of the industry.

Varuni’s love of advertising was born during the JVP Insurrection, which forced the University of Colombo, where she was studying Law, to shut down. During this period, Varuni interned at one of Sri Lanka’s foremost advertising agencies, Phoenix O&M. “It was there that my interest in the ideating and challenging convention was kindled. While in my second year at the university, we embarked on an ambitious and exciting journey to start an advertising company. What began as more of a hobby has grown to become the leading communications network in the country. We are very proud of this achievement and our growth as a team.”

According to the respected industry personality, the three characteristics that make up a successful advertiser are a constant hunger for knowledge and new ideas, the strength to multi-task under pressure, and the ability to inspire a team.

When asked about the most challenging experience of her career, Varuni replied, “I now consider myself an ‘elder’ in our industry, which is forever and constantly evolving in real time. Keeping abreast of these novelties is tough, although very exciting. There comes a time, when one must take a step back and invite young blood to take the reins. This is very challenging for a co-founder entrepreneur, because you are part of the DNA of the brand that you have been responsible for creating. However, this decision is also the most fundamental for the longevity of the brand. My true happiness today, is looking back at what we have built in our own unique way and then looking towards the future as the guardian of the youthful Triad team, where exciting opportunities await!”

Speaking of Triad’s renown as a game-changer in the Advertising industry and its contributions to the same, Varuni stated, “A reputation is built up over time with dedication, sincerity, and contribution to the nation. We are humbled by the recognition and respect our group of companies has earned over 26 years. It gives us great pride to have played a role in changing the media landscape of Sri Lanka. It is and never has been one person’s achievement, but that of a team. At Triad, we call ourselves API and believe in a shared dream. Our team members are not typically from the communication industry, but from diverse disciplines and they represent various walks of life. When we started the company in 1993, our industry was dominated by multinational companies. We believed in the credo ‘Sri Lanka Can’ and therefore ventured out to contribute our knowledge and experience towards building local brands. Today, we are Sri Lanka’s ‘Global Local’, and we are happy to have built ‘badge value’ brands in our country.”

On the topic of gender exclusivity in the Advertising industry, Varuni said, “I never saw anything as being exclusively for men or women, to be honest. As kids, we were brought up to believe that everything is possible. In my choice of education, career, or life as a whole, gender equality has been a given. To me, mutual respect, affection, and growth are the pillars of happiness. I personally experience this satisfaction whether at work or at home. Advertising is one industry around the world, which has seen strong, successful women rise to the top. Even in Sri Lanka, there have been queens of the Advertising industry representing the many eras. I genuinely believe none of them have strived to be equal to men, they’ve set their own standards; they’ve crafted their own amazing stories worth telling and the ‘Ladies of Lanka’ have rocked the show in their own inimitable style.”

The rise of social media has strengthened the impact of brand shaming. Discussing the effects of brand shaming upon the Advertising industry, Varuni expressed her views saying, “I’m not a great fan of these tags forced upon us by the West, and then propagated mostly via the social media. But brand shaming has become an issue that the Advertising industry has to grapple with, as brands have no control over social media perceptions and consumer engagement is key to brand evolvement. On the positive side however, this vulnerability compels a brand to live by its values, and refrain from engaging in unethical and unfair practices. This glasshouse style transparency creates a level playing field. Brands that are truly valued and admired are those that live by and actually deliver what they claim.”

Of the evolution of digital technology, and the best means by which advertisers and marketers can ensure that their brands/products/services are not forgotten, the leading lady had this to say, “The digital revolution is the new age breakthrough medium through which consumers engage with brands, be they products or services. Earlier this was done through conventional media like the newspaper, television, radio, magazine, outdoor, etc., where brands made a statement and that became the undisputed key message. Now, however, it is user-generated content that is shared widely, which has the optimum impact. These opinions are beyond crafted brand messages. They are the perceptions of random users who, given the social medium, generally believe that negativity creates a better viral effect than positive stories. I genuinely believe goodness prevails. Even with digital technology where darkness lurks, a brand that stays true to its positive values will be memorable. These brands may be tangible or intangible, and on a digital platform they can remain eternal.”