PR measurement is a 100-year old debate with no signs of closure yet: Arwa Husain

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

In conversation with Adgully, Arwa Husain, Director, Adfactors PR, speaks about the changing influence dynamics in the PR industry, managing client expectations amid the pandemic, developing the right skillsets 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 external context has changed far more than the response of the industry. Digital is only one important element. The changing influence dynamics, the decline of traditional media, the depreciation of trust, the rising chorus for ESG as a proof of responsible business and hyper scrutiny of business are some of the other factors. Besides digital, PR consultants will have to become stronger on management of strategic challenges for business, crisis management as well working with large ecosystem of partners, because no one organisation will have the resources to keep pace with the changing context. 

The Pandemic has disrupted everyone. In these times, how have you managed the client expectations and how have you managed to keep engaged with your clients?

Pandemic like situations magnify uncertainty and anxiety. The foundation for maintaining robust client service is to first manage the uncertainty for our people. We did this by announcing an unconditional zero job cut and a one-time, limited salary reduction for the senior most people in the organisation. This was supported by many other initiatives to keep the entire organisation energetic and enthused. An inspired organisation delivers on client expectations. 

On the other hand, we developed protocols to enhance client engagement, proactive counsel, focus on new reputation risks and a 24x7 responsiveness. 

How different are you as an agency and what are some of the interesting tools that you deploy to give the best in terms of result to your clients?

In developing new tools and solutions, we have remained focused on core philosophy of PR, that is, earned influence. We haven’t tried to ape advertising agencies or the social digital agencies.

We have developed and deployed a range of digital tools that focus on reputation management in a digital world. The emphasis is on diagnostics and customised solutions. 

Today, artificial intelligence and data analytics are becoming very important in marketing and communication. How is your agency making use of these to help your clients on overall messaging and achieving the desired ROI?

A fair amount of effort is being put in to make our recommendation robust, rooted in analytics based insights.

We now have a team of 12 full time analysts – six of them are M-Techs in data analytics. We use AI-powered tools like Quid for deciphering massive amounts of social data. Our ability to identify and define problems or opportunities proactively is growing. 

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?

This is a 100-year old debate with no signs of closure yet. PR is a very complex subject and different segments of the consulting business as well as clients are at varying levels of evolutions. Sometimes I wonder if this entire debate is fuelled by the low self-esteem of the practitioners. 

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 PR professionals?

This is the Achilles heel of the industry. The situation is so dynamic that redundancy sets in even as the person joins the profession and the gap widens every year.

Continuous learning and development is the only solution – at Adfactors PR, we adopted it as a core value three years ago. The focus areas for young professional should be strategic planning, digital first thinking, crisis communications and learning the vocabulary of business that goes far beyond the limited lexicon of PR.

The second important area of learning should be time saving devices which will serve a young professional for the lifetime. At Adfactors PR, we emphasise simple learning programmes like Microsoft Office, how to conduct an effective meeting, fast reading and memory efficiency. 

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 of the agency? 

This is an important point for an industry whose second name is ‘relations’. Indeed, we are creating an army of desktop or smartphone warriors, who don’t comprehend the value of interpersonal relationships. Right now there are understandable constraints due to the WFH environment, but in a larger oriental context, sound interpersonal relationships are key to success for a PR professional.

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