Trending Now: Digital transformation increasing ambit of communications

Atul Sharma, Managing Director India, Ruder•Finn Asia, writes about the key changes that took place in the communications business last year, as well as how digital transformation is changing the way the Public Relations industry operates. 

What were the few big changes that you think were of importance in 2019 for our industry?
We junked messages and sold stories
2019 was the year of storytellers. The communication industry last year came up with interesting and humanising narratives, stories that tickled your ribs or made a tear roll down your cheeks. Brands woke up to concepts that were relatable, that appealed to our societal values and clicked with the audience. Similarly, an increasing number of them took the creative lane across mediums – be it social, digital television or print. 

Technology disrupted communication, again
The world is embracing technology, and the communications industry was no exception. In public relations, a significant number of clients adopted new technologies to connect with their audiences. Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning started fuelling the world of analytics; voice opened newer frontiers for technology disruption, experiential selling for the digital enthusiasts became better with technologies like augmented and virtual reality. All in all, brands and companies leveraged technology to connect with their customers in a better way. 

PR got PR for itself
Another important change in 2019 was that the public relations industry and professionals started receiving their fair share of recognition. With the emergence of platforms such as Adgully, Reputation Today, exchange4media, PRMoment and awards such as 50 under 50 and celebrating India’s 100 Top Communicators, there’s an undeniable sense of pride that’s been infused in the industry. We found more reasons to enjoy and celebrate. 

Research continues to be the most powerful tool in the world of communications
Lastly, brands went back to basics and invested in research to create compelling and hard-hitting campaigns. If you look at some of the recent powerful narratives, one of the main reasons why brands were able to influence purchasing behaviour of their audiences was because of the insights that research unearthed. Remember Star India’s ‘Cross The Line’ campaign that launched the first-of-its-kind Women’s Kabaddi Challenge? Based on research that associated Kabaddi as a sport dominated by males, the campaign urged women to cross over, expand their horizon, step out of their comfort zones and excel in all spheres of life, including the sport which is synonymous with the opposite gender. 

What are the big changes that you are expecting in 2020?
New technologies will pave the way
Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning are the future of communication. With the kind of complexities that the business is in for, one can only manage so much manually. New technology is going to be the future, not only to monitor and keep a tab on our surroundings, but also on how best to tackle crises. We will need to automate every possible process along the way, if we want to stay responsive to our clients as well as the media and influencer fraternity. At Ruder Finn, we believe and live this philosophy. Being the first public relations firm to be certified by Amazon for Alexa Skills, owning proprietary tools like Beacon, Sonar and Riskstat help us with predictive analysis, crisis preparedness and response. With our acquisition of technology firms like RLA Collective and SPI Global, we are invested with this trend. 

Humans still have a big role to play
It is the age of activism! 2020 will also see CEO and employee activism blossom. It’s a matter of time, when customers start expecting brands to have a conscience, even take a stand. Culture and engagement matter to employees, today as they feel that they want to work for a “purpose-driven” company. As GenZ becomes the largest consumer force in the next decade, brands will consciously veer towards personalisation; customising solutions that resonate with the youth of tomorrow. 

How has digital transformation impacted the business of PR?
Digital transformation has certainly increased the ambit of communications. Earlier, public relations was focused on the earned space. Today, we have a larger sphere to operate in, diversifying into Paid, Earned, Owned and Shared platforms. Newer platforms provide us the ability to experiment with our stories, giving us the opportunity to bring alive the same story in different ways – be it through an influencer, social, digital, print or through an activation. This inevitably translates into a larger chunk of revenue, heterogeneous talent and interesting learning opportunities. On the flip side, it has also brought us in direct competition with advertising, research, social, creative and digital agencies. There’s more action and a lot more competition, but we aren’t complaining. 

Can you share the key to managing perceptions in the information age?
In this new-age era, brands are no longer built by custodians in isolation, but through a collective effort of customers, employees, policy stakeholders and by individuals that the brand associates with. A negative tweet by an irate customer, a positive post by a happy employee directly influence the fortunes of the brand. 

In a connected world, it is pertinent that all stakeholders are managed in the right manner to create the best brand experience. Honestly, transparency and simplicity will be the key to success in this journey. Brands have to be genuinely interested not only in the purchase cycle, but also in their customer’s life journey. If brands are involved with their customers, they’ll always be able to find the right touch points to tell their stories.


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