PR today is an integrated approach pivoted on multi-dimensional strategy: Bhaskar Majumdar
As part of our 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.
In conversation with Adgully, Bhaskar Majumdar, Head - Corporate Affairs, Communication & Digital, Egis India, sheds light on the paradigm shift in the role of PR professionals and corporate communications experts in the pandemic times.
How has PR evolved in the last 10 years? Going forward, how will the industry shape up as the dynamics of PR will keep changing with digital transformation? Is your organisation embracing digital in a big way?
The business of communication has been an ever evolving sector, it is dynamic and fast changing. Over the last decade, the industry has been through seismic shifts and well defined changes with the advancement of technology and innovation in apparently every allied area. For example, once PR as a profession was largely dominated by public affairs, government relations and media relations. Now, PR is that and much more – an integrated approach pivoted on multi-dimensional strategy that covers, paid media, earned media, owned media, digital, etc.
Talking about the present day, as the famous opening lines of Charles Dickens’ seminal novel on the French Revolution, ‘A Tale Of Two Cities’ goes, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…” The last 12 months and a little over that can be summarised through these lines, when COVID-19 gripped the world, unleashing an unprecedented health and economic crisis that had ramified impacts on lives, livelihoods and businesses, PR being no exception.
As the global pandemic accelerated the pace of digital transformation, #digital platforms, #digitalMedia and #socialmedia started to increasingly become the de-facto choice for content creators and content consumers – there has been a paradigm shift in the role of PR professionals and corporate communications experts too, a move away from relying solely on media relations to a more strategy-centric approach – an Omni channel integrated one. Given this aforementioned scenario, if we talk about the business of communication, specifically, be it public relations, influencer communication, marketing, etc., we can clearly state that Digital Outreach and Social Media Outreach will now be an integral part of all well entrenched communication campaign strategies and execution planning.
How have the roles and responsibilities of communication consultants changed during the pandemic times?
With PR becoming more integrated in nature, and digital and social taking over a large part of the business of communication; PR strategies, dynamics, essence and scope, all underwent sea-changes. This trend has even altered what was once thought to be outside of the ambit of public relations discipline, such as internal communication, efficient employee engagement, digital/ social campaign outreach (creatives, videos, podcasts), CSR (conceptualisation, planning and execution), investor relations, public affairs and policy, secondary research, brand audit, media sentiments analysis, on-ground intelligence and insights, data analytics, target audience sentiment analysis, so on and so forth.
Traditional vs digital outreach, your thoughts on the same?
Traditional media inherently has several checks and balances in place before it reaches the audience’s desk. Therefore, its credibility and authenticity are seldom questioned and can seldom be compromised. Highly curated columns and OPEDs, mainstream reporting are still some areas where print rules. Digital, on the other hand, despite exhibiting mammoth potential and promise, has its own flipside, such as unverified user-generated content and paid content. However, having said that, digital media is quick, faster and has better engagement potential than its traditional counterparts – it is compelling, immersive and resonates well with today’s audiences content consumption behaviour. Now, netizens prefer short, precise, byte-sized, snackable content at their time, at their convenience and in their method, on multiple screens. Hence, both traditional and digital are here to stay as they both have their unique advantages, if we look at the larger picture.
Internal communication and external communication with stakeholders are very important in your business. What process and framework do you follow to continuously stay engaged with both your internal and external stakeholders and especially the employees?
We’re all in survival mode, businesses and everyone linked to businesses both are critical. We need to be flexible, patient, and understanding with all stakeholders, especially employees. Communication should be transparent, empathetic, proactive, and consistent. The adaptation of digital communication has made it easier to connect with all stakeholders, especially during #lockdown. Virtual meetings, consistent engagement on social media are basics of engagement nowadays. Also, as the digital medium is more real-time, instant, more engaging, immersive, can be creatively adapted – for several brands, communication and messaging through the digital platform is definitely more impactful.
Employee engagement is the key to both – sustaining corporate reputation as well as building and maintaining equity and salience of your brand. In fact, it is more critical than ever before in the wake of rampant unemployment, mental trauma and these unprecedentedly uncertain times. There is no iota of doubt about the fact that your employees are one of the primary stakeholders of your company. They are truly what enable a brand to do what it does. As such, the more engaged and happy the employees are, the more your organisation is geared to grow sustainably.
A sure-fire way of keeping employees happy and committed is to provide them with opportunities that empowers. Providing your employees opportunities to interact beyond just a business-focused brand helps them to get infused with a sense of comradery and they feel more connected to each other in the process. Having friends at work, rather than mere colleagues, makes people seven times more likely to be engaged in their workplace. When people are able to be themselves, they put their best foot forward and the right attitude comes through.
Going forward, a truly well-entrenched people-first culture, work-life balance and harmony, humane and compassionate HR best-practices, diversity and inclusion at the workplace, women safety and empowerment, opportunities for career growth, workplace wellness, millennials and Gen Z friendly employee benefits, will be some of the key priority areas, if they already aren’t.
There are some behavioural changes that have happened after the pandemic. Have you noticed any significant changes in your customers and how are you addressing the same through PR strategy or campaign?
As far as the communication vertical is concerned, the behavioural changes have largely been on what content people consume, how they like to consume and when they consume. Buoyed by the digital transformation that is currently happening, the growing need of the market has put integrated strategic approach to PR at the very top of the pyramid. Now, public relations are an eclectic blend of earned, paid, owned and shared media. Digital Outreach and Social Media Outreach are now an integral part of all communication campaign planning.
Well, traditional media has not lost its ground and never will, however, digital and social will occupy the larger share of the media mix pie in the coming times. Many brands today are heavily relying on YouTubers, bloggers, influencers and micro-influencers to narrow down on their target audience and reach out to those who are relevant in a more effective, efficient and impactful manner. We have created a content calendar and depending on topical issues, the same gets customised. Short videos play a critical role along with content.
PR measurement and effectiveness of PR has always been a subject of debate. As a PR professional, what steps the PR industry should take to bring in uniformity so that everyone speaks one language when it comes to PR measurement?
Measurement in PR has always been a subject of debate, mainly because campaign effectiveness is a mix of tangible and intangible aspects, both in the short term as well as in the longer term. The most common measurement matrix the industry has been following is calculating the advertising value (AVR) of the media coverage generated by a PR activity. However, this is inconclusive in many ways. I think setting up proper goals is an absolute prerequisite to all communications planning, measurement, and evaluation. Secondly, measurement and evaluation should identify and analyse outputs, outcomes, and potential impact. Thirdly, outcomes and impact should be identified for stakeholders, society, and the organisation at large. Lastly, communication measurement and evaluation should include both qualitative and quantitative analysis.