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The PR industry is actually at a rather pivotal point: Kiran Ray Chaudhury

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. 

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In conversation with Adgully, Kiran Ray Chaudhury, Co-founder, 80dB Communications, speaks about the profound shifts – both at the strategic and tactical levels – in the PR industry today, fighting the growing menace of fake news, her agency’s approach to business development pitches and much more. 

The pandemic has shifted behaviours and trends across industry. What kind of shifts have you noticed in the PR industry? What are the client expectations today and how do you manage those expectations?

The PR industry is actually at a rather pivotal point. With more and more brands leading with storytelling to engage their audiences, versus directly selling, the need for PR services did not abate during this time.

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There have been profound shifts, both at the strategic and tactical levels. PR has had the opportunity to reiterate and showcase its strategic stripes in helping brands navigate what newer narratives could look like, examine and advise on not only the reputational implications of the decisions a company makes but in some cases what those decisions could be.

Further, the scope of PR also increased exponentially to address audiences, both internal and external and to consider all mediums, traditional and digital (including social). Therefore, the complexity of these multiple avenues, coupled with nano news cycles, has required agility and quality storytelling.

We’ve indexed on being extremely supportive partners and extending ourselves to deliver to the best of our ability, helping raise the bar where and when required. Our clients have reciprocated equally and we feel that in a lot of places, our professional partnerships are stronger than ever. 

There is a rapid change in the way digital is approached today. How is your company helping clients to manage and handle this digital transformation?

Both traditional and digital are equally important; in fact, the pandemic has once again brought them front and center. Each medium has its own importance and has to be looked at independently and as a whole to help achieve PR objectives and build out a cohesive communications plan.

While there is often an overlap between responsibility and ownership as to where digital and social lie, our communication plans incorporate all mediums of communication that could be relevant for a brand. We’re bringing digital capabilities to the table and are constantly engaging with our clients to position opportunities in the digital space, and apprising them of the latest trends. This is ever-evolving, of course. 

PR consultancy teams work very closely with the client’s corporate communications team on all PR campaigns and messaging. Do you also engage with CEOs of the company to get his perspective and what kind of valuable insights and ideas flow from the CEO’s desk?

The CEO’s vision and objective-setting are essential to ensure a successful and on-point PR campaign. Since a CEO is at the forefront of delivering his vision to stakeholders, engaging with the CEO is critical for the PR function.

In fact, today CEOs and their brands are meshed closely together, which requires that CEOs be positioned and understood for their purpose too. Building out a CEO’s reputation on social media, for example, has become increasingly important and it cannot be done authentically without their involvement.

PR requires strong commitment from the leadership and senior management. We are conscious that leadership is time-starved, and hence, we are looking at delivering in a manner that makes their interventions most efficient. 

With the advent of social media, news travels fast today, especially fake news. What’s your view on this and being a seasoned PR professional, how does one manage to control and curb fake news?

Fake news proliferation, its management and response has become a key aspect of PR. It also confirms the need for both brands and its leaders to build a strong credible reputation that can help withstand this menace and counteract it when required.

Fake news has been around for some time now, and with it also developing its own humour in terms of information being cited off WhatsApp being referred to as WhatsApp University. With the proliferation of channels, the ease of sharing information, and the anonymity that it offers the creator today, makes creating and sharing fake news easy and a menace to deal with!

The impact of fake news can and does erode a brand’s equity (Corona beer, for example) and can affect health and relationships. A recent case in point is the misinformation around COVID-19, earning it the tag of ‘disinfodemic’. Measures taken to address this also hold the answer to address it. Guy Berger, Director for Policies and Strategies, Communication and Information at UNESCO’s answer was to improve the supply of truthful information and ensure it meets demand.

There are several best known methods to help deal with fake news. The first being to acknowledge it and respond to it with speed to stem it’s spread. This can be done by leveraging authoritative voices, providing verified facts from reliable and independent sources and using mediums that enjoy the trust of the public. Here, the role of traditional print media becomes important and its growth in India, especially that of vernacular media is also a response to this phenomenon of a rise in fake news. Today, PR professionals have at their disposal many creative ways in which information can be distributed – via text and images, audio and video to appeal to both emotion and logic.

Circling back to my earlier point of companies and leaders taking the time to build a credible reputation – people trust people, and fake news can be addressed effectively by positioning trusted faces so that ownership of the communication is also evident.

Consumers on their part are also learning to combat fake news by referencing multiple news sources and questioning the news that they read and watch, turning to trusted news sources versus readily believing random forwards and unverified digital channels. 

Relationship with a journalist is an art, which comes with years of experience. In today’s scenario, when all of us are working from home, what is the engagement strategy that you follow with journalists to get the best out of them?

In any professional relationship, the crux boils down to the value you provide. By understanding our clients in depth, the industry that they operate in and the global-local context, one is in a position to conduct a meaningful conversation. Further, by understanding how the media operates, being in the know of their stories and being sensitive to their pressures are important aspects for any PR professional. All the ingredients that go into building and nurturing a relationship are relevant here too, making and meeting commitments being an important one, going the extra mile, being sensitive, make for a good rule of thumb.

Not all relationships are equal, but with time and effort, many can and do move from being mere acquaintances to becoming something more meaningful. 

New business pitches keep happening in the PR world. What is the difference that you bring to the table to win businesses and is there any process or methodology that you follow which helps your strategic thinking become sharper and more focused?

We take business development pitches very seriously. First impressions count!  We index heavily on research (primary and secondary) into the sector as well as getting insights from different stakeholders – customers, investors, industry analysts, media to develop a particular point of view and an understanding of challenges that the brand may be facing. Our secondary research covers online information, media stories, and the company’s owned media channels that provide a window into their position, tone and competitors.

We always prioritise on offering creative and out of the box ideas that showcases our bold thinking!

Business development pitches are a great way to learn about newer sectors and ideas are never wasted. There can be so much cross application and it ensures that one is in a learning mode at all times! 

Finally, what is your theory when it comes to ROI on PR campaigns? There are still no standard formulae designed and endless debates keep happening on this subject. What is your thinking here and how do you work on a win-win situation with your clients to evaluate the impact of PR?

This has been a contentious topic. Calculating ROI on PR campaigns is not as straightforward even as several measures – both qualitative and quantitative – do exist. Further, measurement of PR campaigns has to be customised as per the maturity or life stage of the company, the very nature of the brand and the business objective(s) it wishes to meet.

PR is best measured on the basis of objectives met, which could range from changing an existing perception, rebuilding a new one, ongoing reputation management or simply keeping the brand in positive highlights.

We are careful in ensuring that measurement is discussed ahead of execution so that there is clarity on what success looks like and effort is directed and the impact more tangible.

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