The Indian PR industry has the opportunity to offer integrated solutions because of an explosion in media
Clients in India will eventually look to their agencies for strategic communications, not simply for media relations. This is already happening. Companies such as Wipro ask their agencies to help them understand how best to communicate their messages and present them in a context that is meaningful for clients, analysts, investors and journalists.
Since the Indian PR industry is still nascent, there is an opportunity to offer integrated solutions, especially as the line between public relations, advertising and digital is already starting to blur.
As a result, many agencies have invested in creative and digital arms. Cost-effective communications plans — that span advertising, PR and digital media — make sense to clients too.
With the growing adoption of social media, there is a combination of options available. Social media is catching up fast with traditional media and is becoming part of many companies’ communications approach. PR professionals can create tailored communications strategies and content to reach audiences and monitor the landscape for stakeholder sentiment.
The approach would, of course, vary from client to client depending on their communications. For instance, a fast moving consumer goods company would prefer a combination of advertising and PR, while a technology start-up would use targeted PR for specific audiences.
This is also a significant opportunity to reposition the industry, from a traditional PR deliverer to a strategic communications consultant.
Meenu Handa, Microsoft’s director of corporate communications, believes that PR will be recognised as a strategic tool for two reasons — “One, the implosion of digital and social media - which is all about two-way engagement, and the PR industry has always operated in that environment. Two, the imperative need for organisations — including government, businesses and NGOs — to be extremely transparent in their communication in order to build and retain trust. Again, that is a space PR has always operated in.”
The ‘umbrella’ PR organisation is unlikely to disappear, but it may need to develop special skills to thrive. PR is as good as your product, service or idea — not the other way around. Here’s where service innovations will play a critical role.
* Niche PR: This involves the creation of small, specialised teams within organisations or as separate entities. Niche PR can address the really small segments or have a tiny-yet-unique offering. For instance, specialists in Indian languages or in developing content. The current economic crisis might spur the rise of niche PR agencies, offering communications services in a single sector or aimed at a particular ethnic group.
While such agencies are rare in India, they are making their presence felt abroad. For instance, Performance PR is a London-based sport and automotive PR specialist that launched its first office in Dubai a couple of years ago. “We’ve got all the big agencies and this is the logical step forward, where you will get targeted public relations companies that give you an expert view on a specific area,” said Noel Ebdon, managing director of Performance PR Middle East, in ‘The National’ (www.thenational.ae).
His company handles regional clients such as Fast Rent A Car, Protech and Alex Renner Motors.
The news site also quoted Simon Moyse, Finsbury’s chief executive for the Middle East, as saying that the disruptive effects of the financial crisis have created opportunities for such firms. “Companies are increasingly looking for strategic communications advice, given the effects of the global economic crisis,” Moyse said. This is a phenomenon likely to be replicated soon in India.
Niche PR provides better value than general-purpose agencies since they are more targeted. This makes the PR campaign more affordable.
PR professionals with niche experience are viewed as experts because they’ve built up experience and made important connections in that field.
* Social engagement: Social networks have become ubiquitous, and online behaviour is having significant impact on the behaviour of consumers and business. Rarely is a product purchased in urban India unless it is researched online and opinions sought on social media.
Just as the internet has made the media borderless, online media will become increasingly important. Such a scenario would make PR more important, as traditional advertising is reaching fewer people, and the true value of online advertising is yet to be calculated. Investments in digital infrastructure and skills today will see a big payout in the future.
Implementing a social engagement strategy is now fundamental to a PR campaign.
Social media campaigns might focus explicitly on connecting clients directly to consumers or even on building relationships with influencers.
We have already seen examples of brands successfully using social engagement to achieve different goals in India. For instance, Indian Premier League cricket team Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) ran a talent hunt to select three fans for an online reality show where they had full access to the players. The objective was to build a highly engaged community with regular content created by players, experts and fans. Consequently, the RCB community has more than 5,00,000 fans across channels.
Variations of this model can be applied to campaigns for a variety of goods and services, from fast moving consumer goods to global events. This can be achieved by becoming part of the community of your clients’ consumers, joining the conversation to learn more about their needs. Use the tools that consumers are using, be it Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blogs, podcasting, QR code technology or something else.
* Employer branding: It’s not just the PR industry that’s facing a talent crisis. Attracting, motivating, developing, rewarding and mobilising employees are top priorities for all businesses.
The term ‘employer brand’ was first used in the early 1990s to denote an organisation’s reputation as an employer. Since then, it has become a buzzword among global managers. ‘Employer brand’ can be defined as the image of your organisation as a ‘great place to work’ in the mind of current employees and key stakeholders in the external market (candidates, clients, customers, key stakeholders).
Just as a customer brand proposition is used to define a product or service, an employer value proposition (EVP) is used to define an organisation’s employment appeal. Organisations are increasingly using the marketing techniques of branding and brand management to attract, engage and retain talented candidates in much the same way that marketing applies such tools to attracting and retaining customers.
Employer branding is rapidly becoming integral to business strategy.
Since they already have the branding and brand management expertise, PR firms are in a unique position to take advantage of this opportunity. They simply need to adapt their expertise and techniques to offer a service that spans employer branding, EVP and employee engagement. The approaches could be online and offline to help talent understand the brand experience.
The scope of employer brand management could go beyond communications to incorporate every aspect of the employment experience, including the people management processes that shape the perceptions of existing and prospective employees.
Hot on growth
Despite the global economic troubles, India continues to grow at 7 per cent. Imagine the growth when the good times return!
Not only will the PR industry continue to grow, it will become critical for established Indian companies and foreign firms looking to build brands here.
The industry is also discovering new verticals — healthcare, for instance. A Rs 1,62,000 crore ($36 billion) industry today, it is growing at a rate of 15 per cent and is likely to be a Rs 12,60,000 crore ($280 billion) industry by 2022. With the advent of private players such as Fortis, Wockhardt and Apollo — all of whom are conscious of their brands and the need to grow — demand for PR and an integrated strategic communications approach will be felt strongly.
Media and entertainment is another promising industry, expected to grow at 14 per cent per annum, according to Deloitte’s ‘Technology, Media and Telecommunications Predictions 2011 , Indian Perspective’ report.
That apart, the public sector, the environment and corporate social responsibility (CSR) are all emerging as growth areas.
Globalisation will mean a need to develop a global perspective. As clients look to expand outside India, PR firms will find themselves becoming global players. This widens the opportunity in terms of customer base, investors, coverage and acquisition targets.
Bridging the compensation gap
Many of the industry’s problems are self-inflicted. If clients don’t understand the value of PR, the industry is clearly not telling the story well enough.
As mentioned earlier, undercutting and poaching of talent are harming the industry. One results in the retainer threshold remaining low, the other affects the bottom line.
There is an opportunity for industry leaders to get together and agree on the road ahead.
* Agree on certain standards: Agencies don’t need to undercut to survive. There are enough opportunities for all. Situations where a mid-sized firm responds to requests for proposal (RFPs) quoting Rs 3,00,000 or more and one of the top five agencies responds to the same RFP at Rs 1,50,000 damages the industry in the long run.
We must demand transparency from potential clients about PR budgets at the outset. No business will want to pay more for a service they feel they can get cheaper elsewhere. The only way the industry can tackle this is by standing united.
* Benchmark salaries: The industry is grappling with a talent shortage. This has resulted in a bidding war for the talented. This, in turn, has a cost implication and results in high attrition rates. Industry leaders need to agree on a fair salary range. A strong industry association could take the lead on this count. While this would not solve the problem of the corporate world headhunting talent, it would establish an industry benchmark and would keep employee expectations real. It would also help reduce the rapid intra-industry movement of talent.
The frequent exit of team members handling a particular account could turn off clients and create an impression that the agency they’ve hired is unstable. This could affect their decision to retain the agency once the contract ends or even create doubts that it can deliver on the brief.
The first step is to get an industry-wide and deliverables. We need a clear vision on whether clients see PR agencies as vendors or consultants.
Clarity IMC’s Rajesh Pandey said the need to strengthen our evaluation models can’t be emphasised enough. “Instead of talking the language of ad-value equivalents, we need to talk in terms of how a PR campaign changes an entire viewpoint. The ‘creativity’ factor in developing campaigns should be charged separately just like boutique advertising agencies do,” he said. There is a need for benchmarks and it is through an industry-wide debate that a framework for performance measurement can be evolved.
* Why it is needed: Goal-setting and measurement are fundamental to any service. Goals should be as quantitative as possible and the target audience defined. Measurement should include traditional and social media, effect on awareness of stakeholders, as well as impact on business results.
To measure business results for consumer or brand marketing, models that determine PR’s effects on sales or other business metrics, while accounting for other variables, are preferred choices.
* Measure outcomes, not outputs: Outcomes include shifts in awareness, behaviour related to purchases, corporate reputation, employee engagement, public policy and investment decisions. How you measure the effect on outcomes should be tailored to the business objectives of the PR campaign. Quantitative measures such as benchmark-and-tracking surveys are preferable; qualitative methods can supplement them. Such research can identify the change in purchasing, purchase preference or attitude shifts resulting from the PR initiatives.
* Media measurement is about quality: Measuring the number of mentions in print or on the air is generally meaningless. Instead, media measurement should involve audience impressions, quality of the media coverage (tone, credibility and relevance of the medium to the audience, message delivery).
* Social media can be measured: There is no single ‘metric’ for social media measurement. The parameters would depend on the campaign objective. Right now, it's mostly about statistics such as how many likes have been achieved on Facebook or the number of Twitter followers.
But it’s not about the numbers; it’s about managing reputations online. The emphasis should not be on erasing negative comments or mentions, but to respond quickly and engage. PR practitioners need to listen to conversations and address the issues raised thoroughly and honestly, not react in a knee-jerk manner.
Businesses need clearly-defined goals and outcomes for social media. Evaluating quality and quantity is critical, just as it is with conventional media and measurement must focus on ‘conversations’ and ‘communities’.
* Transparency and reliability: PR measurement should be transparent. For media measurement, mention clearly the source along with analysis methodology. For surveys, make clear the methodology (sample, margin of error, geography, etc), the questions (wording and order) and statistical methodology (how specific metrics are calculated).
Excerpted from the report, “Understanding the Public Relations Industry in India: Challenges, Opportunities and 2012 Outlook.”
Reprinted with permission from MSLGROUP India, part of the Publicis Groupe.