Crafting effective PR strategies for the regional markets – the Do’s and Don’ts

Clarity with the right messaging is the hallmark of any successful PR campaign.  Its absence leads to confusion, complacency and even chaos. This has been always the challenge for many PR campaigns to get their messaging sharp and correct in smaller towns. This becomes far more difficult and challenging when it comes to regional PR in smaller towns, where you need to speak to a cluster of different audiences in different languages. It is said that every 100 km there is a change in the language, food and purchase habits and one will definitely need a multi-prong strategy to target the smaller towns more precisely to get the desired impact.

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Today, most big PR companies depend hugely on stringers or local representatives in various parts of the country to run their PR campaigns in smaller towns. In most cases, the English press release is shared with translation to the stringers, who then meet the journalists of local publications and get it published. I think PR in small towns should go beyond printing just press releases. While there are several challenges, but the big PR companies need to work it out through various PR bodies on regional markets to position brands with the correct messaging and think beyond press releases. For example, if you are doing an interview or a press briefing, take along a person of your company who can speak the local language and respond to the questions of the media so that clarity is given then and there.

Even while translating press releases into regional languages, a lot can be lost in translation and at times the essence of the message doesn’t come through powerfully. And if you ask the publication to do the translation, one is not 100% confident how it will finally turn out. So, most agencies hand over literally translated copies to the publications, which at times may miss the key message in the language that the local population understands.

Managing PR in small towns with the right messaging is a challenge. To draw a parallel example, one can relate how a politician thinks and plans his messaging for smaller towns. Of course, a big political party has party workers who do a lot of research before they craft the right message and deliver it at local meetings. Even many brands today launch their products and their campaigns which are customised to that state in smaller towns, addressing their local cultural nuances and flavour of that region. Plenty of research and focus discussion groups are done to understand the consumer and cull out insights from various discussions. It is high time PR agencies should have better understanding of the smaller towns by continuously researching instead of just blindly depending and trusting on the teams that are posted in smaller towns who are not completely exposed to the history or background of the product.

In smaller towns, some of the publications are owner driven, who invariably run the editorial team of the publication. They have a huge challenge to get talent to cover and do stories. And they are not able to do the justice for all the brands due to paucity of time and resources. Every PR agency does media rounds in the city, why can’t the same be done with publications in smaller towns. One could get a better understanding of the publication and audiences as to what will work best in those towns and publications. I think it is high time additional emphasis is given to look at regional PR campaign differently while working on your messaging so that the message you want to deliver is not diluted. With smaller towns being the future for brands to grow I think brands should revisit their strategy while working on their PR campaigns for the regional markets and PR agencies need to chart out some concrete plan to make regional PR more effective and meaningful.

A communication veteran who has cut his teeth in the business of communication, Anup Sharma, Independent Strategic Communications Consultant, remarked, “Every brand is built on a strong, unique differentiated consumer proposition, but communicating the key message without any distortion in a country like India, where more than 70% of the population speaks in vernaculars is big challenge. And it’s not just the hundreds of languages, and thousands of dialects but also varied local culture, media consumption habits which changes every 100 km. The marketing challenges change from language to language and region to region and for brands to ‘connect' with their customers, the campaign has to speak to them in their local language.”

He also pointed out that to communicate to this varied regional audience, smart brands are going hyperlocal with vernacular versions for their brand messaging as they know that dubbed commercial don’t connect. Hinglish campaigns have given way to now different campaigns for different regions, in local languages.

Agencies are investing on teams with strong regional language skills and a ground level understanding of local cultures. Besides these they are extensively using AI & Big Data to understand the regional nuances and message testing and also customised apps that help create and distribute local language content.

The Covid pandemic leapfrogged the usage of digital media. In the post-Jio world with inexpensive data cost there is a high growth in mobile penetration leading to digital literacy and language-enabled devices. This has helped brands to now blend their online and offline interactions and maintain their key message.

Sharing his perspective, Nikhil Bharadwaj, Head – Corporate Communications, Bajaj Allianz General Insurance, said that the next growth engine is going to come from semi-urban and rural India and there are no two ways about it that these markets need to be cracked. From the PR perspective, one of the biggest challenges is that most of these markets have national newspapers which carry content as per their editions, however, not all locations are covered. Firstly, language is a major barrier which means we need to simplify the content in the local language and put it across.

“It is not just about the local language per se, but the way you structure your content, for example, insurance is a jargon-oriented sector, and hence structuring your content in a simplified way is very important. It becomes a challenge because insurance in itself is a very complex subject that becomes tough to simplify. Secondly, another challenge we face is that it is an advertiser-based market, and editorial content of value gets ignored or only gets taken in lieu of advertising content which becomes a challenge for the PR team looking to pitch editorial content across the region,” Bharadwaj added.

Continuing further, he said, “Ours is a mobile first and quite a digitally savvy nation. It’s just about getting the right platforms out there to reach out to these target media however from an online news perspective it becomes tough to do. Of course, you can reach out to regional publications and websites but the dirt of such websites and content outlets makes it tough to reach out and hence one must rely on some advertorial content and using stringer network. Till there are good content engines available, this will be a challenge area which needs to be addressed.”

Nitin Thakur, Head of Communications, OYO, noted out that brands and agencies often fail to comprehend the local sensitivities or contextual trends prevalent in a market. Any communication designed for the North Indian market will not work for the South Indian market if the communication is a literally a translation and is not adapted to accommodate for the regional audiences with the right nuances.  Therefore, the primary way to address this is to have feet on the ground or get local expertise to guide you and bring in some local flavor to the messaging.

He further remarked that often brands and agencies are far removed from regional centres as they are headquartered in metro cities. They lack the regional know-how and the innate understanding of the local populace and also brands and agencies to optimise on resources and costs often do not undertake proper due diligence prior to launching a campaign. “So, to get your messaging tailored to the regional market more homework needs to be done to know your audiences and their habits so that one can frame the right message that will be relevant and will catch the eyes,” he added.

Shailesh Goyal, Director, Simulations Public Affairs Management Services, who has been managing PR for many big brands in the smaller towns, elaborated, “The challenge in regional markets is the missing local connect. The communication strategy and the related messaging is usually drafted keeping in the audience in the Metros or the large markets. The same messaging may not have the same appeal or connect with the audience in the regional markets. In such a situation, it becomes more difficult to engage with the local media, customers, viewers, or readers of the region. What is needed is the regional/ local flavour in messaging to ensure optimal impact. As regional partners, we know the local mood better than those in metros and mini metros. This is something we have been suggesting to many corporate communication managers of brands and our national consultancies partners, and we are noticing some welcome change because of consistent advisory.”

He further added that the trust between the regional partner and the national partner or brand is critical here. There are various internal and external checks to ensure the key message is consistent and relevant. It is also important for the regional agencies and the national agencies must be in constant dialogue to understand what are the behaviour changes that happen in the smaller towns. Now with technology playing a pivotal role, the attention span of the audience is becoming lower by the day. Hence delivering the right your message is that much more important in regional markets.

According to Madhukar Kumar, Founder & Chief Strategist, Grey Cell PR, the earlier sharp distinctions in regional audiences ‘wants/ desires/ method of content/ media/ news communication’ vis-a-vis what is being served nationally is fast getting blurred because of the abundance of common media outlets beaming into their homes, smartphones, and the web world.

He stressed that retaining local or regional flavour is essential, especially when communication is via the local/ regional language. There should be a solid regional connection between the brand (client) and the agency's team in understanding and identifying the peculiar distinctions about what would work when a smaller market is targeted. Agencies must devise ways to craft the best and most engaging communication creatively so that the right messages reach the right audiences. Also, gone are the days when we used to think that a regional audience didn't understand - mainstream jargon, lingos, and communication. Today, the regional audiences are more aligned to the influence of information and are willing recipients of the communication free flow across various media streams. Hence, the agency & client teams need to identify the gaps and work towards catering to the audiences correctly.

Today, most audiences in smaller towns consume news media and content the same as the larger national audience either on mobile or through print.  The traditional print media still continues to hold its forte and should never be ignored. So, whatever may be the language of communication, the content must be diligently crafted to engage with the audience with the right messaging which will be very focussed and engaging.

Paromita Ghosh, Director, Candid Communication, was of the opinion that the rural market needs to be exploited by ‘ruralising’ strategies, rather than treating them as inconvenient and poor extensions of the urban market. “Therefore, even on the communications front your messaging in smaller towns to that audience has to very relevant and the local population should understand. Just like how brands create rural-specific products with the local flavour and taste, your communication strategy in the regional markets has to be customised and catch the attention of the local audience. Today consumers in smaller town are equally intelligent and hence it is all the more important to talk to them in the tone and manner they understand,” she added.

Bringing in an interesting observation, Ghosh further remarked that brands such as Nirma and Tata Tea are selling well in the rural market because they know their market and it’s needs by intuition and in addition to that, they also know how to sell it. But those engaged in the opportunistic market will not be able to sustain for long in the rural market. The message, media, channels need to be well thought out with the right messaging and also ensure that enough research is done in the regional markets to cull out some valuable insights that will help in crafting the correct message to suit that market.

CS Rama Naidu, Managing Partner, Intellect PR, commented that brand targeting and communication in regional media is very limited to translation of press releases and pushing coverages in regional publications through snippets. In India everyone is in a hurry to push things fast and work on how many coverages you have got in a month, whereas if you look at West, they must have done one or two campaigns in a year but they did it with lots of research, thinking and application of mind for making these campaigns successful.

He also pointed out that for brands to succeed with effective communication in the regional media, the team at the brands end needs to spend good amount of time in understanding their internal data about that region and sit with both public relations, advertising, branding and digital agencies together and build right messages and get good native writers to write and get them communicated on large regional platforms.

Otherwise, the communication in regional languages by brands is like dubbing movies. For a better targeting and communication in the regional media like India where every 100 km the dialect and the language changes, the brands and agencies need to do the same kind of exercise they do it for mainstream media, like research, story ideation, finding the gaps, execution plans and large format stories to communicate what the brand wants to communicate.


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