Ratio of Digital PR & traditional PR has reversed to 80:20 in the last 10 years: Experts

Taking a look back at the last few years, there has been a dynamic shift since 2010 in the way PR is moving in our country. A few years ago, the ratio of traditional PR and digital PR was 80:20, but that has now almost reversed. Transformation in digital has happened in a huge manner as brands are strongly focusing towards digital to manage the online reputation of brands digitally. With the pandemic situation which has disrupted the world, the need and power of digital has grown by leaps and bound during the lockdown period. Even as restrictions have been lifted to a great degree, there is still a fear among the people to step out of their homes.

To discuss the role of digital in PR, experts from the industry shared their views and perspective on how digital will become more important and shape up a new future as we move forward to a new media world. The panel discussion was part of the DIGIXX 2020 Summit & Awards initiated by Adgully, which was held online  this year due to the pandemic situation.

Kunal Kishore Sinha, Founder, Value 360 Communications, moderated the session. He kicked off the discussions by asking Dilip Cherian, Co-founder, Perfect Relations, about the shift that he has seen from the traditional world to this complex digital world. Cherian responded by saying, “The question of where we would be without digital and what are the changes that we have seen, is best answered with a simple figure. If we worked at a company about 10 years back, we were 98 per cent traditional and 2 per cent digital. Today, we are in the majority as far as digital is concerned and that has happened so fast that the only thing standing between a 100 per cent digital is because we believe that we can only move a few steps ahead of clients and cannot leave any client far behind.”

Cherian further said that as the business has moved, the PR industry has been lucky as a service industry that we have set a fairly blazing pace. “So, it is partially the consumer who has led us and as an industry, we have responded quickly. This is the best way of putting the change into perspective. Had not been for the fact that India has high Internet penetration and a facility that manages ads and multiple screens of content, we would have left behind,” he added.

Talking about a complex digital world from the eye of a communication professional, Nikhil Dey, Vice-Chair, Weber Shandwick India, remarked, “One of the areas where it is most stark is in public affairs and public policy work and that has been one of the mainstages of the PR profession. In a pre-digitalised era, it was all about who knew who and who had the access. So, if you pick up the phone and get an appointment, you have access and that’s how you got attention and through that you wielded influence.”

Dey further added that it was still important to carry the crowd with you and a phrase that captured this is was the “slogan vs substance approach”. Elaborating on this, he said, “The substance is what happens behind closed doors, the white paper, if you would, which summed up everything that you wanted to say to the power that was going to legislate. The white noise on all the social media platforms needed to be managed too and a great example of this is when you look at the entire net neutrality debate, we had years ago. The Telcos, Facebooks and players like Medianama saying that we are here to save the Internet and there was this slogan of “save the Internet” and a whole bunch of people who did not understand what they are saving rallied behind and prevented the legislature from allowing and what was being lobbied for or put out. So, according to me, there is a wonderful opportunity for the communicators and Public affairs professional to navigate in the new digital world.”

The digital world is very noisy and the importance of listening is very important, stressed Ameer Ismail, President, GoliOpinion, MullenLowe Lintas Group. Talking about the time when he was in the US, Ismail said that he used to scroll through 300 feet of data a day, which is almost the size of a football field. “Today, we have been spending time at home trying to access news and information and connect with people that we haven’t had before. So, there has been an upside to this as well because we are connecting better, getting our networks better in play and that's an interesting dynamic where a whole lot of information we can access through digital and online.”

Adding further, Ismail said, “We are in an attention economy, which means that every time we really want to do something, we want to share it and sharing has become so real with social media, you have got all kinds of apps that allow you to express yourself.  Also, it is very easy to pick up fake news and get it cascaded because of the ability to share it in real time and for people to pick it up is also very easy. In an overall context this clearly indicates that agencies need to play. In 2014, we launched a launched a social media listing post based on a newsroom called "The Bridge", which modeled down the Golin Free Fall Model and we deployed it during the Nestle crisis. I think listening has become predictive and what is important is listening and responding needs to happen.”

So, when it came to trolling of individual personalities and handling their crisis Natasha Pal, Founder and Chief Everythig Officer, 59th Parallel, opined, “One of the most important things to understand is that no matter what you say, you are not going to get 100 per cent acceptance. There will always be detractors. And there is a new trend, wherein, if you speak about something, there is a question that why haven’t you spoken about it before. It is critical that one has to be very clear about what they want to say and why they are saying it. In today’s digital world, a lot of people tend to jump on the bandwagon that focuses on the trend.”

Pal further added, “When you are looking at celebrities it is very critical to only jump in when you are passionate about something or when you have a real point of view to make  and not just do it to be a part of the trend because you need to back it up. I agree with what Ameer said, where there is a lot of noise happening today and listening is important because what tends to happen today is that a few people write something negative and the media picks it up and says that a particular person is being trolled on twitter and there are negative comments. But this is not necessarily true. One needs to look at the kind of messaging that is coming and in what quantum is it coming. Therefore, one needs to carefully study the same and evaluate it carefully before you decide to respond.”

Talking about the importance of a campaign timing in the digital world, Amit Kumar Nanchalal, Associate Director & Head Communications – Food & Sustainability, PepsiCo India, said that he firmly believed that timing played a critical role along with the platform. “So, any campaign to be successful, one need to be smart and  agileand you need to implement it fast. At PepsiCo India, with the help of social listening we are able to cull outinteresting insights and quickly implement. The Sonu Sood, Dadi and the Shefali Verma ICC Women’s World Cup campaign are classic examples where we listen and track what is the kind of conversations going on and then link it to the campaign,” he said.

Addressing the role of digital to build a community or run a cause driven campaign, Nayana Banerjee, Lead Marketing & Communications, Dun & Bradstreet India, said that her organisation had the largest data in the world which helped the team to pick up lot of insights that helped them understand the client’s business. “We have clients in the B2B sector, so with our data and insights we are able to tell them the role digital plays and also try to help them with a health scan for their pipeline or supply chain, for instance, giving something like  COVID Index Report. So, with the help of digital one is able to view your dashboard, which are the markets that are going down and what’s the impact on your supply chain,” she added.

On the communication front, Banerjee said, “In terms of the right communication, you are probably trying to say that I am helping you rather than trying to make quick money and people try to remember you for a long time and it’s not just you who are talking about it, the people you communicate with go on to talk. That gives the brand leverage and that’s what I would say that being at the right time with the right moment is important for us.”

The panel also discussed and debated on fake news, followed by the availabilty of digital talent and hiring. The industry may have to go outside of PR to meet the talent requirment as the role of digital expands and there will be huge shortage of skilful people to meet the growing demand for good talent.

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