We need to stop treating influencers as a ‘media buy’: Karan Bhandari

In our new series – Talking Insights – this week we are turning the spotlight on the role of digital and how brands are leveraging digital when it comes to PR. 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 on 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.

In conversation with Adgully, Karan Bhandari, EVP, Integrated Media Strategy, Weber Shandwick, says that digital will be playing a huge role in the planning and strategy phase for brands and organisations from the word go in PR.

What according to you is the role of digital in PR today? How much has digital evolved in PR and going forward where do you see digital in the overall scheme of PR?

We are living in the age of omni-channel, omni-present media consumption world. It still amazes me that we need to define the role of Digital in PR. Everything to do with stakeholder engagement, content discovery, effective news cycle, advocacy, et al, is happening on the digital medium. When you combine all of this with the power of data and analytics, what you get is after a very long time – tangible, trackable and measurable outcomes that PR can drive.

I also see digital playing a huge role in the planning and strategy phase for brands and organisations. Effective data collection, smart data analysis and a deeper understanding of audience journeys can ensure not only a plan with higher efficacy, but also set up success parameters from the word go.

Content has become a powerful means for brands to engage with their audiences. What is the role of content creation in a brand’s journey today and how do you bring in freshness and innovation here?

Content has always been and will continue to be a powerful way to engage with audiences, and the brand’s role is to strike that sweet spot of mutual interest. An in-depth creative process ensures the brand consistently comes up with thumb stopping and attention capturing content. So, at the core always is the power of the idea, but by smart usage of digital technologies, one can make these as immersive as one wants them to be. The trick is to be topical and contextual.

Social listening is an important process to monitor digital conversation for online brand reputation. What are the challenges that you face here and what process do you follow for your clients to manage online reputation?

We see a lot of uptake and a huge appetite for this. A lot of challenges in this critical assignment is taken care of by using the correct tools and setting up processes. These processes don’t just exist on paper, but are actually followed day in and day out. The real challenge boils down to the huge diversity in the country, which uses local language scripts for online consumption and conversation. Given the scale and size of our audiences, this becomes a daunting task.

The second challenge is to always ensure that the team and clients look at the long terms goals and not what’s happening on a daily basis. Daily conversations are a flash in the pan, long term trends truly define the perception of a brand or an organisation.

Influencer marketing is a new communication tool that many brands are using today. How much of this has influenced Indian brands and how do you bring in credibility when you engage with your audiences?

 Two words – Authenticity and Trust.

We need to stop treating influencers as a “media buy”. Rather look at forging relationships which are on the back of creative freedom. The content needs to be feel genuine and it must fit the content stream generated by the influencers. The minute a brand is relegated to a “placement”, the plot is lost.

I believe a few start-up Indian brands have specially invested time and energy in this space and should be reaping dividends as we move back (hopefully soon) to an economy set to spend over 12 months’ worth of pent up “delayed purchase” frustration.

The pandemic has accelerated digital as a medium. Will this momentum continue and since the print is back into circulation do we expect a dip in digital engagement?

The momentum will only grow and grow. Think of Digital as that healthy habit which you were wanting to pick up but never could. Come the pandemic, you have picked up the habit and now your life is transformed. You don’t want to go back. Well, that’s what the scope of business is here. And as this uptake continues, the appetite to do more creative and measurable work on the digital medium will also grow.


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