WHO ARE PR FIRMS RACING WITH?

Taking on video, content marketing, social media management, creative work et al - once the exclusive domain of creative and digital agencies - PR agencies today compete not just with one another but creative and digital specialists too

10 Sep, 2018 by NEETA NAIR

Every once in a while, we see a thoughtful ad and fall in love with the creativity of the creators, who more often than not are sitting in an ad agency, thinking about the next big idea. That’s where the big ideas have traditionally come from, right? But nowadays, the geniuses behind such ideas might well be sitting in a Public Relations agency, which are customarily expected to just circulate these ads to the media. For example, the viral digital video for Oyo Rooms featuring Manoj Bajpayee and Raveena Tandon was not created by Oyo’s creative agency, but by a PR agency called Boring Brands. It is an eye-opener on the fast expanding universe of Public Relations firms and how more and more advertisers are seeking solutions from them in formats which were not the norm earlier.

Nitin Mantri, Group CEO, Avian WE and also the President of Public Relations Consultants Association of India (PRCAI) says, “Today, with the advent of social media and Internet penetration, PR agencies are not restricted to working with traditional media. PR has moved way beyond just getting coverage for a client in five big publications. The need of the hour is integrated campaigns - on social media, on digital, creating good content through story-telling, etc. It includes the effective use of multimedia, videos, infographics, creative, etc. If we have to do all that, then we have to have people with those skillsets within the agency itself.”

So, it is not surprising that PR firms like Avian WE today have added a host of new verticals to include designers, website developers, creative heads, digital experts, people who do social media management and in some cases even media planners to manage the online space.

Rakesh Thukral, MD, Edelman India, whose company gets 15%-20% of its business from non-traditional PR, says, “Nowadays, a good or bad brand experience is shared instantly by people on social media which has become the new channel of communication; and technology has enabled direct engagement with consumers. Voice, creative and video have thus become important and it is imperative that companies like ours use these new channels. So, we are curating a talent pool with these skills and to help us do the story-telling with these new elements. Today, about 20%-25% of our workforce is from these new domains, like creative, digital, planning, research experts, content specialists and sector experts. Our offering is earned-centric at the core, and social by design. For our corporate work as well, digital reputation goes hand in hand with media relations.” So the need of the hour in PR firms is a workforce which understands the new business and can do the story-telling using these new elements well.

CHALLENGE OR OPPORTUNITY?
In an era where Game of Thrones is the most awaited series and 70 million viewers watched the FIFA World Cup on SonyLiv, traditional media alone is not equipped to push the boundaries of the PR industry which is estimated to grow to a size of Rs 2000 crore by 2020. The question is, has the digital push made the PR agencies much more important in the marketing ecosystem today, or has it just added to its challenges?

Amit Misra, CEO, MSL Group says, “We are competing with the whole bunch of non-traditional PR players as opposed to the past. This includes content marketing firms, digital marketing firms and even creative firms. I think the boundaries of creativity are definitely blurring and nobody can say that only one profession has the right to create, broadcast or amplify a story. For instance, we have a 25-member creative team and 100-plus people in Digital. We are perhaps the first PR agency to have invested in a super-specialized skillset like a Chief Video Officer two years ago. Today, that part of our business is growing by leaps and bounds. We want to own conversations, and conversations are driven by visual content today as opposed to just the old traditional long form content, because nobody has time for that.”

Giving an example of a video made by a PR agency which became quite popular, Tejal Daftary, Founder & CEO, Alphabet Media says, “We ran a ‘Colours of life’ campaign for our client Tangerine, which was entering the textile market. To highlight their expertise in colours, we identified eight social media influencers in different fields and shot their take. This digital campaign was completely handled by us, from strategy to scripting to video direction, execution and finally putting it up on social media. And it really went viral.”

Kunal Kishore, Founder, Value 360 Communications, one of the younger and successful agencies of today, says, “When we started off, we worked with small companies who through the course of the journey became big – examples are Snapdeal, Shopclues and Paytm. Once our work was out in the open for everyone to see, even the bigger companies wanted to work with us. Something similar will happen when the big companies realize that a PR firm is doing some phenomenal work on the video side. The initial experimentation and investment will be done by start-ups, but the bigger ones are bound to follow when they see that a certain PR agency has given a brand a viral video and earned so much popularity for them without spending a penny.”

THE LINES ARE BLURRING
Earlier, PR was a connect between an organization with its public through media. Back then, an agency just had to get a handful of journalists to write about a particular brand to influence millions of consumers, but today, even consumers are creating opinions about those brands through Twitter, Facebook, etc. Media can no more control the narrative; it is a lot more democratized and thus PR agencies need to rework their strategies. For example, create relatable stories on social media to get the consumer to share the content. That way, he/she becomes not just a reader but also a distributor of the content. So the big task for the PR industry today is to spin the right stories by investing in verticals that were earlier considered territories of digital and creative agencies.

Nikhil Dey, President, Genesis Burson-Marsteller says, “We do lots of videos for social media. We even make television commercials for our clients like Dalda, Ford Figo, Kohler, etc. But I am not trying to get into the advertising business. My job is to help a client in story-telling. Now, if that particular client has worked with my team and finds their creativity and their capabilities interesting, and want them to create an ad, I am not going to say no. But, am I trying to build an advertising agency? The answer is ‘no’.”

At most award functions today, it is the advertising agencies that are sending maximum entries under the PR category, so much so that last year, the definition of PR was changed at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity as communication agencies – read PR firms - were being overshadowed by creative shops in nearly every category in 2016. The revised definition brings the spotlight on ‘building trust’ and ‘earned media’.

Amit Misra says he may consider giving that a spin by entering categories meant for creative agencies this year, especially now that boundaries are overlapping, with many PR agencies doing the work of a creative agency for advertisers.

Public Relations veteran Dilip Cherian, Founding Partner & Group Chairman, Perfect Relations says, “Today, if a story demands some video content, we shall no more blindly assign it to the creative agency if it is going as part of earned media, which is less stylized usually. I have a large design team today that can create it for me. For example, a company may have a creative/digital agency on board and we the PR agency may have to work on a Twitter campaign for the client which may or may not be linked with what the creative agency is running. In such an event, we would much rather get our own team to put together something and not run to the creative agency for the video. However, it would be wrong to say that we are doing the work of a creative agency here.”

While asserting that videos created by PR agencies have not yet reached the level of sophistication seen in those done by creative agencies, Archana Jain, MD, PR Pundit says, “While we may be bringing in the idea, not many clients may be keen on letting a PR firm execute it completely. We could pull off a base level or a simple campaign. But, if it requires very high quality, it is best that a creative agency does it. We are happy to partner them in this. It is Digital where the lines have blurred majorly. We are definitely competing with them.”

COMPETING WITH AD AGENCIES
Many PR agencies want to build their video capabilities to provide an option to their advertiser-client. Many of them are catering to smaller advertisers who, unlike big brands, do not have specialized agencies to do different work; they rely solely on a PR agency to execute their ads as well as the publicity later. Then it falls on the PR agencies to either work on their video projects in-house or outsource it to a smaller creative agency. More and more PR agencies are rising up to the challenge today. However, others believe that PR agencies should just stick to their core expertise and leave the task of making videos to experts within creative and digital agencies and production houses.

Says Kunal Kishore, “PR firms doing quality work can start competing with all the bigger advertising firms, which usually create the campaign and then outsource the filming bit to a production house. Why can’t PR agencies do the same - ideate and then outsource the production to a company like Chrome Films? Slowly, the agency will be able to actually drive strategic intervention in the conversation with the brand marketer, that will take the lead.” Value 360 Communications independently worked on creating a music video for the launch of Tiger Shroff’s new clothing brand Prowl, without the help of a creative agency.

NEXT CHALLENGE: MEDIA BUYING?
With the universe of PR expanding, it will be interesting to see if PR agencies move from earned media to also own paid media soon. Industry experts say that it is happening at some levels now, but largely the focus has continued to be in the earned space. Earlier, when PR agencies were only working around traditional media, they would write advertorials, but rely on their ad agency partner to buy it for them. Today, more and more agencies are coming forward to say that they are willing to buy online space, online media for an advertiser; some others are doing content partnerships with newspapers and their digital versions and also negotiating the costs for it.

Nitin Mantri says, “Running a digital or social campaign is not just organic, but also inorganic to some level. We buy media on channels like Facebook, Google and Times of India. The client needs to be progressive to think about it and some of them are, there has also been a cultural shift.” Kunal Kishore adds, “We are not buying spots on Times Now or Star Plus, but engaging with influencers and even paying them. Earlier, we never paid writers for content as PR firms took pride in earning media. But in today’s noisy world, sometimes you need to shout for people to hear. And that shouting is that initial paid push that you want to do. So PR firms buying media in a big way is going to become a reality soon.”

WHO GETS THE UPPER HAND?
The bottomline is, today most PR agencies have a creative specialist or a creative leader and departments that can do the job of thinking up creative ideas for their client or even executing them, while production units make videos and social media cells effectively circulate content on social media. But the big question is, why would a brand come to a PR agency for work which creative agencies have been doing for decades, and where they have already established their supremacy?

Jaideep Shergill, Co-founder, Pitchfork Partners says, “While it’s true that ad agencies have historically produced videos, in the digital age developing such content has become easier due to tools that are cost-effective and easy to access. The focus has shifted to creating targeted messages for different audiences, and the key to success is telling stories that compel audiences to pay attention and to share. In that context, PR agencies have the edge. It’s about who can tell the story the best. This is why many agencies have invested in video talent, studios, writers, etc.”

Says Prema Sagar, Founder of Genesis & Vice Chairman of Genesis Burson-Marsteller, “It’s not about having an edge. It is about creativity, that can be present anywhere, and not just in a creative or digital agency. It is also about who understands your brand story better and can deliver persuasive story-telling for you. Story-telling has been the domain of the PR agency. Earlier, the mediums for story-telling were limited, so expectations from the firm were also limited. With time, several mediums have been added to the spectrum, so the scope of work has increased.”

Valerie Pinto, CEO, Weber Shandwick, a company which gets 40% of its business from non-traditional PR, also feels PR firms are better equipped to make videos today “Because the videos we do are to tell the story of a company from a third party lens which PR has been the custodians of forever, unlike what an ad agency does; i.e., just create an ad. An ad talks about the product, but our work will talk about relevance of that product in the consumer’s life. An ad is created by the brand. Advertising firms make brand stories while we make real stories. Today, we are adding a creative lens and tools are available to help us do better and generate targeted outcomes impacting business results.”

Nitin Mantri elaborates, “We have won pitches against digital arms of creative agencies and gone on to win awards for that work. Right now, I am running a social media digital campaign for an FMCG company that had approached us for a pitch. When I went for the pitch, I had a digital and advertising agency pitching against me, because they are doing the same thing. So, we are competing against them. We are working together with them, where we manage a lot of influencer relations but the advertising agencies still manage the creative part of the social outreach. Only in some cases do we compete because we can also do the same thing today.”

Mantri adds, “Digital firms are great at technology; advertising firms are good at creative while PR firms are great at engagement. And what do you need in the online world today – engagement. If you get the right engagement, the rest will follow. So, we are doing engagement, that’s our key focus. And if we can add a creative element and a tech element to us, we are complete. We have everything.”

WHAT ABOUT THE MONEY, HONEY?
Media, ad agencies and then PR – this has been the pecking order as far as an advertiser’s budget allocation is concerned for a long time. But while the PR industry has taken it upon itself not to restrict work to their traditional ways and enter newer territories, are they being rewarded for it by advertisers, by increasing the budgets allocated to them? Prema Sagar responds, “It depends on the scope of work being managed by the agency. Since the scope of work has increased, so has the remuneration to match it.” But whether it will end up cannibalizing other agencies’ share or create space of its own, only time will tell.
‘Our video revenue touches $1 million’‘Budgets have grown where advertisers rely on PR agencies for digital promotion’
Madan Bahal, MD, Adfactors PR, the biggest PR agency in the country today, tells Neeta Nair that the digital push has not only redefined the PR space, but also managed to increase the budget allocations for the industry, with the video unit being a top grosser

Q] The PR industry has a lot more on its plate than what it had five years ago, but along with the responsibilities, has the budget allocated to PR by advertisers also increased over time?
When you talk of PR, it is not a homogenous thing. PR is a very complex science unlike advertising, and digital promotions. A business deals with multiple constituencies that can impact its future. You deal with customers, employees, with the communities you operate in, vendors, capital market, share-holders, investors, bankers and lenders. You deal with the civil society which is observing what you do as also with the Government and regulators. And therefore public relations is not a single idea, it’s a complex idea. So in certain cases, the budget allocations have been somewhat inelastic. In certain other cases, the budgets have really grown. It depends on how critical that part of PR is to that organization or that company. And on the reputation side, on the issue management side, on the crisis side, budgets have shown a huge growth. Where the clients have started trusting the PR agency for digital promotions or digital marketing, there also the budgets have grown. But, in certain areas of traditional PR, the budgets have not grown.

Q] So, traditional PR is still lagging and Digital has gone up?
Budgets have gone up in Digital, reputation, issues and crisis management.

Q] Keeping that in mind, how many new verticals have emerged at Adfactors?
Multiple teams have evolved. Of course, Digital itself has given rise to a host of things. So, we have a data and analytics team for just finding out what’s happening before we make a recommendation. Creative is another function that has come into existence. Digital crisis management is a third function that has cropped up. Video has become a full-fledged business; our video revenue is now touching nearly one million dollars. Also, the disruptions in the market have opened up many new segments and opportunities. In five minutes, I could easily count 50 new emerging areas of work. And each one of them is a small market by itself.

Q] PR is in some ways getting into the domains of creative and digital agencies; is the reverse also happening, for example, in areas such as crisis management, traditionally a PR stronghold?
The advertising agency does not have any clue of what happens in the world. And the marketing guys are fairly myopic in their understanding of the role and importance of PR, or the applications of PR. So, an ad agency does not understand the complexities of society and the complexities of how the business environment works. They know a single tool, a single audience, a single creative, whereas crisis management or issues management is a multi-faceted body of work. Therefore, the PR agency will always remain the most reliable partner to counsel a client there. Nearly one-third of the work that we do is related to crises and issues.

Q] What are the biggest challenges faced by the PR industry today?
The universal challenge is talent shortage. The same challenge is much bigger in India because at the senior level, good talent is not available. By and large, the junior talent in the industry is superior to the senior talent, because the large part of the senior talent has migrated to other industries, corporate communication functions, etc. The second problem is that there is a huge gap between service cost inflation and fee inflation. So, the service cost goes up by an average 12%-15% per annum. The salary cost, for example, goes up by 12%-15% per annum. Salary is an important part of the cost structure. I don’t have a control on that. If I do not give that much salary hike, the talent will migrate. But, the client is sometimes unreasonably rigid and doesn’t increase the fee. So for doing the same work, my cost keeps on increasing. The average fee hike of most agencies is 3%, from the same client. The average service delivery cost is increasing at 12%. That is why most agencies that were probably not making a profit and not growing had to sell out. Having said that, Public Relations is at a very opportune time in its evolution and its history. There is a lot of room for growth. And it should keep growing at about 15%-25% per annum. That growth may not entirely come to the large agencies, because much of it is happening at the bottom of the pyramid, where hundreds of new agencies are mushrooming and getting their own share of pie. So, those of us who respond to these challenges well, will have a good future.Madan Bahal, MD, Adfactors PR, tells Neeta Nair that the digital push has not only redefined the PR space, but also managed to increase the budget allocations for the industry, though fees for PR agencies do not cover inflation in service cost

Q] The PR industry has a lot more on its plate than what it had five years ago, but along with the respoy advertisers also increased over time?
When you talk of PR, it is not a homogenous thing. PR is a very complex science unlike advertising, and digital promotions. A business deals with multiple constituencies that can impact its future. You deal with customers, employees, with the communities you operate in, vendors, capital market, share-holders, investors, bankers and lenders. You deal with the civil society which is observing what you do as also with the Government and regulators. And therefore public relations is not a single idea, it’s a complex idea. So in certain cases, the budget allocations have been somewhat inelastic. In certain other cases, the budgets have really grown. It depends on how critical that part of PR is to that organization or that company. And on the reputation side, on the issue management side, on the crisis side, budgets have shown a huge growth. Where the clients have started trusting the PR agency for digital promotions or digital marketing, there also the budgets have grown. But, in certain areas of traditional PR, the budgets have not grown.

Q] So, traditional PR is still lagging and Digital has gone up?
Budgets have gone up in Digital, reputation, issues and crisis management.

Q] Keeping that in mind, how many new verticals have emerged at Adfactors?
Multiple teams have evolved. Of course, Digital itself has given rise to a host of things. So, we have a data and analytics team for just finding out what’s happening before we make a recommendation. Creative is another function that has come into existence. Digital crisis management is a third function that has cropped up. Video has become a full-fledged business; our video revenue is now touching nearly one million dollars. Also, the disruptions in the market have opened up many new segments and opportunities. In five minutes, I could easily count 50 new emerging areas of work. And each one of them is a small market by itself.

Q] PR is in some ways getting into the domains of creative and digital agencies; is the reverse also happening, for example, in areas such as crisis management, traditionally a PR stronghold?
The advertising agency does not have any clue of what happens in the world. And the marketing guys are fairly myopic in their understanding of the role and importance of PR, or the applications of PR. So, an ad agency does not understand the complexities of society and the complexities of how the business environment works. They know a single tool, a single audience, a single creative, whereas crisis management or issues management is a multi-faceted body of work. Therefore, the PR agency will always remain the most reliable partner to counsel a client there. Nearly one-third of the work that we do is related to crises and issues.

Q] What are the biggest challenges faced by the PR industry today?
The universal challenge is talent shortage. The same challenge is much bigger in India because at the senior level, good talent is not available. By and large, the junior talent in the industry is superior to the senior talent, because the large part of the senior talent has migrated to other industries, corporate communication functions, etc. The second problem is that there is a huge gap between service cost inflation and fee inflation. So, the service cost goes up by an average 12%-15% per annum. The salary cost, for example, goes up by 12%-15% per annum. Salary is an important part of the cost structure. I don’t have a control on that. If I do not give that much salary hike, the talent will migrate. But, the client is sometimes unreasonably rigid and doesn’t increase the fee. So for doing the same work, my cost keeps on increasing. The average fee hike of most agencies is 3%, from the same client. The average service delivery cost is increasing at 12%. That is why most agencies that were probably not making a profit and not growing had to sell out. Having said that, Public Relations is at a very opportune time in its evolution and its history. There is a lot of room for growth. And it should keep growing at about 15%-25% per annum. That growth may not entirely come to the large agencies, because much of it is happening at the bottom of the pyramid, where hundreds of new agencies are mushrooming and getting their own share of pie. So, those of us who respond to these challenges well, will have a good future.

COLLABORATION, RATHER THAN COMPETITION
While it makes sense for independent PR agencies to build their creative and video capabilities, do PR firms that are part of network agencies also need to do so? Kavita Rao, CEO, Hill+Knowlton Strategieswhich is part of the WPP Group, says, “Investing in creative and social media agencies is not as expensive as it used to be many years ago and many firms have done that, but you don’t need to invest a lot to build a capability that somebody already has. You can collaborate with them, and yet the client gets the best out of whichever agencies he is working with. I believe in collaboration rather than competition. For instance, for a large enough pitch, we choose the partners we want to work with, say Mirum in the digital space. That way, I am not spending time thinking about how I will execute that particular video or that particular design because I know there is an expert partner who is well equipped to deal with it. More and more clients are anyway looking for an integrated approach.”

PR Consultant Anup Sharma has an example to support the above argument: “Last year, the Savlon Healthy Hands Chalk Sticks campaign won at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. The concept was thought of by an ad agency professional at Ogilvy but the execution of that idea was done entirely by the PR agency- PR Pundit- through the unpaid form. The strategy on how to take it forward was cracked by the PR agency and it was just supported by advertising. That’s why the entry was sent under the PR category. So, PR is not competing with ad agencies, more correlating or co-opting. One of the big PR trends is where PR’s earned media is multiplied through advertising’s paid media, owned media and even shared media.”

Going forward, one may see a communication firm functionally united, and not operating separately as an advertising agency and a PR agency. Today, PR firms are hiring senior advertising professionals. Every top PR agency in the country today has creative capabilities and teams. Interpublic Group’s PR agency Golin had even acquired a creative agency, The Brooklyn Brothers. Likewise, Golinopinion falls under the PointNine Lintas cluster, which is an omni-channel agency. So the silos are being broken.

Explaining the thought, Ameer Ismail, President, GolinOpinion & Chief Growth Officer, PointNine Lintas says, “With people and talent moving around, and PR agencies getting financially stronger (we are dealing with the C-Suite and not just marketing heads), we today have the ability to craft creative campaigns as well and extend to other related offerings. For example, we have a decade-old PR relationship with Rio Tinto diamonds. When the client needed a unique campaign for uncut diamonds, there was a pitch fronted by Golinopinion, but behind it was the strength of Point Nine Lintas creative resources, which we have at our disposal. We came up with a campaign called ‘As real as you’ which was unveiled a couple of months ago in Mumbai. It’s just a thought on how we as a PR agency can extend relationships with creative and other disciplines. You are going to see the lines blurring even further and that trend getting stronger.”

WHAT DO ADVERTISERS WANT?
R firms have shifted their goalpost to take on many more responsibilities; but is that reflecting in the advertiser’s expectation from them? Rajesh Ramakrishnan, MD, Perfetti Van Melle says, “Boundaries are blurring increasingly. A lot of companies now have people who listen to chatter and pick up conversations on social media. Now, it’s tough to attribute this job to one particular firm or person. Whose job is it really, the digital agency’s or PR’s? It is very critical for every organization and everybody is in the process of figuring out. But roles are clearly evolving and so are expectations. If a PR agency has made a creative that has gone viral, it means it is really working well which means the brand would obviously go back to them. Then what happens to the conventional advertising agency?”

Speaking from the perspective of the PR agency, Vivek Rana, CEO, The Practice, a company whose in-house production team has done videos for its clients like Oracle, Adobe, Samsung says, “We have been in the process of building additional capabilities for the past three years. For different types of agencies, yes it’s going to be turf war, but I think that’s part of the industry, and the industry is maturing, I think Public Relations has been in a lull for almost 20 years. It’s now that everyone has woken up. So, for me it’s a great thing that’s happening because it will give us greater opportunities to do more interesting things, and may the best man win really! From the client’s perspective, I think it’s even better, because they are going to get more value for money and the best solutions, how does it matter where it came from?”

Another perspective comes from Oliver Mirza, MD & CEO, Dr Oetker India, who says, “When it comes to Digital, we have an agency in place. We don’t believe there is any agency, not just our PR agency, which has all talents in one place. There are specialists for every function. The question is, what do I want to achieve? Before we start a relationship, we write down the KPIs on which I measure the agency. Ideas over and above that are welcome obviously, but it’s not that I expect it from them.”

Ramakrishnan offers a solution to avoid confusion in roles: “Earlier, we would give a brief to the creative agency and they would come up with a creative, then we approached the media agency, then there would be a discussion on what paid media can do and lastly what earned media can do, that’s where the PR agency came in. Today, it’s about talking to all three together ‘Okay, here is the brief for the brand. This is how I would like to take the brand forward, please come up with an integrated strategy’. And then the dissemination of that strategy could be about giving certain agencies certain responsibilities within that, that kind of approach is what would work better in the current context. Therefore, one of the implications is also that a brand and multiple agencies today don’t work in the compartmentalized way that they used to earlier.”

REIMAGINING CORPORATE COMMUNICATIONS
Ruhail Amin outlines how the sector has undergone a cultural and contextual shift to be more involved in brand-building and strategic communication over the years

Traditionally, the role of Corporate Communications has been all about managing media releases, employee management and forging media relations. Corporate Communication in its re-imagined form is not just about media relations and employee communication, but is being used increasingly for customer relations, strategic communication, crisis management and brand-building. It has now evolved into a high-level management profession that deals with the core values of an organization.

We speak to some communications professionals who have seen the industry go through a cultural and contextual shift to understand the way the communications industry has evolved over the years.

Says Sonia Huria, Head-Corporate Marketing, Communications & Sustainability, Viacom18, “Over the years, the Corporate Communications industry in India has seen quite a drastic shift, both in ways that it functions and is perceived. Now, Corporate Communications teams have started driving the brand-building process in many organizations. Brands are now focusing on unifying and consolidating Digital, ATL and traditional PR functions, thereby creating synergies and harnessing their collective power. Rather than being in silos, communication and marketing experts are now collaborating. At Viacom18, our brand promise is to ‘open new worlds’. As a central function, communications plays a very significant role in imbibing this message in every network-level project while at the same time weaving in this message in every corporate brand marketing campaign.”

Reena Bhattacharya, Corporate Communication Lead-Cargill India, says, “In the era of Digital conversations, one needs to be as innovative and as contextual as possible. Now the challenge is to ensure a seamless experience across all communication channels. This is critical to being seen as a company with one voice. It’s critical to curate the right kind of content for the target customers as channels have multiplied and the audience is now much more empowered and consuming news from various mediums. End-to-end customer experience has gained weight within organizations.”

Speaking about this shift, Abhishek Mahapatra, Vice President and Head of Communications, Corporate Affairs at Nissan India says, “The Communications domain has evolved in various ways over the years. If we break the Communications space into three parts, it is essentially based on people, processes and product. The advent of technology has played a huge role in this evolution and everything is now 24x7. Moreover, media relations used to be the core of PR firms and Corporate Communications functions, and now it is just one of the many things that we do.”

Sunalini Singh, Assistant General Manager, Livpure Private Limited, thinks that due to the change in organizational culture that the Indian business scenario has seen, co-ordination and integration of communication has become more relevant. “Smart mobility and the increased usage of Digital have disrupted the communication space intensely. This has resulted in change vis-à-vis the way organizations are managing their reputation and brand image with their stakeholders and beyond. Swiftness is of utmost importance in various corporate dealings with individuals and other businesses - not just in crises but also for routine day-to-day tasks,” she says.

According to Siddharth Singh, Head Corporate Affairs, Communications and Administration, Tata Power - DDL, “While earlier, the Corporate Communication function primarily focused on Media Management and Internal Communications, it now encompasses Analyst Relations, Digital Communication, Brand Communication et al. Also, it has become imperative to dish out content that is both relevant and compelling, giving a uniform and unique brand experience. This also makes it critical for the incumbent to work closely with the agencies - be it Creative, Public Relations or Digital. With new technologies driving the Industrial Revolution 4.0, the Communication domain will witness changes at a much faster pace.”
Speaking about the challenges that communications professional are facing currently, Singh says, “The three challenges which I foresee the Communication fraternity have are reputation management, cross functional expertise and coherence with the external environment.”

Supriya Saxena, Corporate Communications Head, Network 18 admits that Corporate Communications has gained much more importance in the eyes of a CEO. “The role of the officer has broadened, there are greater responsibilities and reporting structures have changed, thereby instilling greater trust. Today’s communications officer ought to advise and educate the management. One can clearly see a shift of the function as an independent domain rather than being grouped under marketing. Having said that, there is still a long way to go as many CEOs still treat the function as a step child. At an individual level, a communications practitioner in today’s time needs to be emotionally intelligent.”

Nidhi Malik, Head Corporate Communications at Home Credit says, “There is an interesting analogy of our lives to evolution of Corporate Communication. One such analogy can be drawn through evolution of shopping from brick and mortar, physical model to the online marketplace. Similarly, Corporate Communication evolved from being a trading tool to being a strategy tool, working closely with the C-Suite. Elements like Short Span Memory Syndrome, Digitization, Social Media, SEO, Web Traffic, Conversions have changed the story-telling to experiential, instant, adaptable and engaging. Corporate communication is no longer viewed as a ‘spent’ but an investment to strengthen the topline, hence it is getting a seat in the C suite.”


SHOULD PR FIRMS HAVE MORE ON THEIR PLATE?
How are the Corporate Communication teams of big brands viewing the new roles of their external PR teams, people they have traditionally worked very closely with? Neeta Nair finds out from Meenu Handa, Corporate Communications Director, Google India and Minari Shah, Director, Corporate Communications, Amazon India

Q] Would you prefer your PR agency over your ad agency to create videos, now that even the former has started showing capabilities in the stream?
When it comes to story-telling, the PR teams are the best equipped. No matter who creates a video, the PR team would probably think a lot more about how to make it go viral organically, find the touch-points of that story. A social media agency may go beyond creating that story, by doing a lot of digital marketing around that post, or that video. That’s something which may be the PR teams don’t do as much today.

Q] What are your expectations from the PR agency of Google?
In some countries, we have a social team and in some countries we don’t, in those places the PR team takes responsibility for social media marketing. For instance, in India we have a social team, so my PR team works more closely with me in terms of getting the message and positioning right, along with working with influencers. But, in a country like Thailand where there isn’t a social team, our PR team not only engages with influencers but also goes on to create organic and viral content.

Q] Kunal Kishore of Value 360 Communications mentioned that the Corporate Communication teams of big companies are today bigger than the strength of some boutique PR agencies. Is that another level of competition opening up for PR firms?
As far as Google is concerned, it is decent, but it can always be bigger. It’s up to the brand. Our relationship with the PR agency is not that of a vendor. It is a very close-knit, very aligned relationship. So if I have to say how many resources I have, I would count their numbers in it too and count them too as my team.

Q] You have been part of the PR industry for around 30 years, what are the biggest challenges and yours too on the Corporate Communications side?
It’s very difficult to generalize because in India still there are very different levels of usage of PR by companies. Overall, it’s very important for PR professionals to remember that they are not an extension of marketing. And their role is not just media engagement. If they can rise above that and have a seat at the leadership table, we are okay. So, it’s about having the aspiration to actually be a valued business partner to the leadership team.

Q] In today’s fast evolving world, what is the most crucial role of PR, according to you, and what are your expectations from your PR team?
PR teams are essential for bringing in an outsider’s logic, I would want my agency to offer strategic consultancy in terms of what’s the overall larger picture. So, I expect them to be able to literally be my arms to reach out to editors, to key reporters and understand how my company is being perceived. The second best important piece is that while I can have the in-house team understand the business best in terms of what’s needed, PR team should play an important role in shaping that messaging for external consumption.

Q] Does your agency come up with ideas beyond the traditional role of the PR, like making videos, handle digital work, social media, etc?
I would like them to come up with those ideas. Agencies don’t often do that. Also sometimes in most companies it’s a very thin line between what’s handled by marketing and what’s handled by Corporate Communications. I would love it if they give me ideas on making videos which can go viral. Would I give them the mandate to execute it after they come up with the idea? Well they need to prove their capability in executing creative content. The biggest thing about social media and viral videos is that there can’t be a very direct marketing of the brand and that’s why I think PR firms get it a lot better because PR is always used to more subtle messaging.

Q] Do you see that happening in a big way in the industry, at Amazon in particular?
For a big project that we are working on, Valerie (Pinto) and I got talking and she came up with some great ideas. But, I am not just talking about Amazon and our agency, as an industry I don’t think we have built the mechanisms of interaction between agencies and companies that allow these to happen on a systematic basis. We are all still making the transition from the old world PR where we say, okay, let’s issue a press release, do a press conference and line up an interview to saying that hey I am launching something big, come back to me with a 360-degree idea, should we have a video for social media etc. That’s a transition we are seeing in the industry.

Feedback: neeta.nair@exchange4media.com Category: Cover Story Volume No: 15 Issue No: 14

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