“There’s increased consideration for social & digital in clients’ communications mix”

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.

In conversation with Adgully, Rakesh Thukral, Managing Director, Edelman India, speaks about how this moment in time is likely to have greater impact on the next 10 years than how the last decade has transpired.

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

Any time horizon question today needs to be seen within the prism of the present context. These are extraordinary circumstances that have the power to expedite processes, halt activities, and work as a filter for what is necessary and what is not. This moment in time is likely to have greater impact on the next 10 years than how the last decade has transpired.

However, PR has witnessed a lot of changes in the last 10 years; it has evolved from being a media-led activity to becoming a rich, integrated offering. The practice has rapidly changed owing to the evolution of the media landscape where social media, digital, data, and analytics now play a critical role. We are seeing companies now investing in their digital reputation as much as they did with mainstream media. Digital is not only playing a prominent role in building brand trust with consumers, but also driving deep stakeholder engagement for corporates as they build reputation through online thought leadership and CXO outreach. 

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

The pandemic has made our clients and us rewire the way we operate and communicate. In these times, there is a need for greater communication between the client and agency partners. There is even more focus on communication that will drive stakeholder connect and business results. Clients have also evolved during these times; there is increased consideration for social and digital in their communications mix.

Our discussions with our clients are centered around factors that directly lead to business resilience and business continuity for them. Our long-standing partnerships with our clients have helped us adapt to the new normal. Frankly, it has been an intense time of learning and unlearning on both sides leading to exploring new ways of working and trying new ideas to connect with stakeholders. 

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?

Our focus remains on knowledge, craft, and the right deployment of talent to drive campaigns that help our clients meet their business objectives. We bring together a team whose knowledge of sectors, understanding of the stakeholders, and their established relationships with media and influencers create exciting opportunities for our clients. Our client work is further sharpened by offerings such as research, content, design, and creative capabilities backed by analytics and insights. Our IP such as the Edelman Trust Barometer and the Edelman Brand Trust Study provide us with evidence-based insights to constantly renew our thinking. Our Edelman Intelligence data dashboard provides deep insights that guide our thinking across social and digital campaigns. 

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

Edelman has been an early adopter of data-driven analytics and we are learning every day. Have a long distance to travel. At a macro level, the Edelman Trust Barometer has set a new benchmark for the role of research, and led the way for insights, research and data analytics as integral parts of our client counsel and programming.

While data and analytics is evolving, we gain actionable insights for programs and campaigns that we lead. These aid in crafting communication strategies; this is especially critical given the enormous rise in consumption of digital media. Some of the work we have done for our clients like HPE is purely reputation building and thought leadership creation on digital platforms which has led to tangible business benefits for the brand. The deep integration of our data and analytics tools has helped us provide strategic counsel to clients for some digital reputation campaigns during COVID-19. 

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?

We look at PR measurement in three ways –

First, in current times, measurement is almost immediate, very digital. When we put out a piece of news or information, it becomes shareable and available easily and remains accessible to people thanks to its digital footprint. So, reach and expanse really need to be measured basis how far your story has travelled compared to traditional measurement parameters such as circulation and readership.

Second, when we look at reach in the medium term, we need to understand if a piece of news is getting tracked or noticed. Is there a fatigue? What kinds of trends are we looking at for our campaigns? Do we need to course correct? We need to assess a campaign from a brand perspective to understand if it is making sense. Or if a platform is relevant or resonating from a reputation perspective.

Third is the long-term approach, where we need to assess and measure how we communicate, effective communication must result in positive business outcome and build trust. 

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?

Excellence, curiosity, and the courage to do the right thing are the values that drive all of us at Edelman every single day. To be constantly curious is a value we cherish; it is the tenacious and thorough approach that drives creativity and growth for clients and ourselves. So, my first piece of advice to budding PR professionals would be to invest in their career by taking the time to read, learn, and allow for curiosity to drive their approach. My second piece of advice would be to be to cultivate the ability to think digital first and be data driven. In today’s scenario, it is essential to understand the importance of data and analytics in extracting insights that can help create truly effective communications campaigns; together can they outline the strengths and pitfalls to any offline or online campaigns. 

Do you feel the traditional role of interpersonal communication which was so critical to the profession has somehow been put to the back burner because of too much virtual engagement? How are you experiencing that, is it bringing down the efficiency of the agency?

Interpersonal communication has become even more important now. Even though the platforms for communication have become virtual temporarily, the connect needs to be authentic and real. More genuine the interaction, better the connect and relationships in these challenging times.

As an organisation, Edelman has been quick to adapt to the new normal, ably supported by a strong technology backbone. We have been working on virtual platforms well before the lockdown; it just became more mainstream and necessary since March. While video calls will never replace the value of the human connect, they have helped us maintain engagement levels with our clients and colleagues.

Our employees have been hugely supportive while working from home despite any personal challenges they may have faced. The level of engagement has gone up vastly, with greater impact and engagement and we are truly grateful for that.

The pandemic problem is a collective one; we are impacted by it in equal measure. The solutions perhaps will also need to be collective. In the words of John Donne, no man is an island. Therefore, the connect, the communication aspect, and the big challenge of building trust become even more important and might show us the way to a positive future compared to where we are today.


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