Immersive storytelling platforms are the future: Arpan Basu, Coca-Cola India

As part of our latest series on ‘PR Conversation’, we at Adgully are speaking to some of the industry leaders from both PR agencies and the corporate communications world about how PR as a business and communication tool has evolved and grown over the years. In the last 10 years, PR has taken a different dimension, especially after the entry of social media in a big way. While the PR business has grown, some of the challenges that the industry is facing have also multiplied as clients are becoming more demanding and are expecting their consultants to be on their toes to manage their brand reputation, as news today travels fast and clients are expecting quick response and action in case of a crisis situation.

Also read: PR professionals have now evolved into social community managers: Nayna Banerjee

In this interaction with Adgully, Arpan Basu, Director – Communications, Coca-Cola India and South West Asia, provides a 360-degree look at the functioning of the PR industry today and also addresses several areas, such as rapid digital adoption, tackling the COVID-19 disruption to business, modern tools of engagement, PR measurement and effectiveness of PR, and much more.

How has PR evolved in the last 10 years? Going forward, how will the industry shape up as the dynamics of PR are changing with the acceleration of digital?

The role of communications is ever evolving and especially so in the last few years, where the evolution has been radical. Organisations have to continuously adapt to the fast changing landscape of the industry, and preferences and above all, the needs and consumption patterns of consumers. Based on my years of experience as a communications professional, I have seen the dynamics of PR change to focus on integrated communications all-encompassing the message, approach and medium. With the world shifting to full-fledged digital ecosystems, digital integration is also the new norm. Some significant evolutions in this regard have been: (a) Prioritisation of regional languages in storytelling, (b) Rise of micro-influencers, and (c) Hyper-local platforms promoting personalised communications.

We are a complex ecosystem and a huge pocket of our population residing in Tier 2, 3 and 4 markets is consuming regional media in a big way. In such a scenario, regional language digital storytelling has become a major trend, to capture the attention of the consumers from different geographies, culture or languages for the true success of the campaigns. Micro/ hyper-local storytellers are today conceptualising stories aimed at their specialised niche that are relatable and credible, which resonate highly with the relevant audience. Comparatively ‘micro’ in reach, but they genuinely ‘influence’ people’s decision-making. Also, there is a need for enabling deep understanding of consumers so that messages and content can be tailored for them. Overall, it is making our work more impactful, more relevant, more targeted, more rapid, and far more valuable.

The pandemic has disrupted everyone. In these times, how have you managed the expectations from your PR agency? Did you redefine your objectives to them and revisited your deliverables?

Effective communication is tied to consistency, frequency and above all, relevance. In simple words, you cannot sell a person looking for needles an elephant. On a more serious note, be it a crisis situation or not, what will actually resonate with your audiences is the significance and relevance of what you are trying to communicate to the right set of audience, consistency in messaging and different ways of innovative storytelling. These are the objectives we have set for ourselves, and we continue to evaluate ourselves on these benchmarks.

Today, artificial intelligence and data analytics are becoming very important in marketing and communication. How are you making use of this to help in your overall messaging and achieving your ROI?

Facts can influence and convince, but emotions are what really move us, they make us grab an idea with all our strength and conviction. With emerging technologies, ‘Every person is a narrator. Every moment can be a story. And we just need to evolve.’ Immersive storytelling platforms are the future; where people don’t just view events but experience it themselves. Allowing the audience to be inside the story as it unfolds around them; with consumers free to choose their focus without a fixed perspective and become a witness to the story themselves. Hence, the need is to carefully balance the facts and emotional storytelling as we leverage these technologies.

PR measurement and effectiveness of PR has always been a subject of debate. As a PR professional, what steps should the PR industry take to bring in uniformity so that everyone speaks one language when it comes to PR measurement?

Communications is all about communicating the right message at the right time, through the right medium, and to the right set of people to make for a compelling story. While there are endless tools, providing varied metrics for measurement, and one can choose basis their requirement. I feel what matters the most is how you impact your audiences and build connections with them. To deliver effective communications campaigns, one must always put consumer insights, interests, desires and demands at the core. It is important to Engage, Educate, Entertain, Interact and Build personalisation in stories.

Besides, variety also brings in diversity and in our eco-system variety means different points of view, which sometimes is also healthy.

Getting the right skillset and training has always been a challenge in the PR profession. What is your view on the same and what would be the valuable tips that you would like to give to the budding young professionals?

Best skillsets are acquired on the job through experiences. One needs to be proactive and open to ideas and knowledge in order to be committed and engaged. Having said that, transparency and culture of openness is one of the most powerful forms of motivation and inspiration. Any leader should encourage and support their team to make decisions and make mistakes. While things may not always turn out perfectly, it gives people an opportunity to learn and grow.

Do you feel the traditional role of interpersonal communication, which was so critical to the profession, has somehow been put to the backburner because of too much virtual engagement? How are you experiencing that? Is it bringing down the efficiency and the final output?

Relationships are important. Humanity is fueled by emotions and relationships and one cannot really take it away from the equation. But the new world has also taught us how to be virtually effective. I think the future is about striking a balance between the two.

Your PR partner plays an important role in building your brand reputation and also helps you in shaping a positive opinion of the company. How do you measure your agency’s performance and evaluate them every year?

I enjoy taking a holistic view when it comes to communications: how one can build and grow integrated campaigns with a 360-degree lens is endlessly interesting to me. There are two questions that we consistently ask ourselves – ‘How does one stand out in today’s information-heavy, attention deficient world?’, and ‘Asking whether what we share is memorable and if it touches a chord?’ Challenging ourselves to answer these questions keeps us on our toes!

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