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While AR/ VR/ AI ruled 2021, 2022’s obsession will be the metaverse

After a COVID-disrupted 2020, 2021 has been a comparatively better and much busier year for the PR industry as brands sought to stay engaged with the audience in a more relevant way. The digital transformation and the growing power of social media and influencer marketing have become indispensible tools for brands to engage with various stakeholders. A profound shift both at strategic and execution levels was noticed. PR gave a huge business opportunity while brands were navigating during the pandemic. The brighter side of this was that digital paved the way in a significant manner and really gave various strategic options for brands.

The massive vaccination drive in the country and with stringent COVID-19 protocols being lifted as India unlocked completely have given a massive boost to the industry which has been in the revival mode.

The last decade has seen several significant changes in the PR industry, as digital and social media ushered in disruption at both the agency and client level. With the opening of the virtual world due to the pandemic, the issue of online reputation of brands came to the fore as the dynamics of media changed, with news travelling faster across various social media platforms. PR has very much evolved in the 10 years and today with the advent of new technology clients, PR consultants are able to collaborate smartly and are using the right techniques to derive valuable insights, which is helping them to arrive at the right PR strategy and messaging for all their campaigns.

We also saw the launch of numerous start-ups in the last two years, which gave new opportunities for PR companies to help them build their brand. With more start-ups poised to enter the billion-dollar Unicorn club and gearing up for their IPOs, it has become imperative that they guard their reputations and images as competition heats up. As start-ups are starved of funds in their early-stage, PR becomes a very useful tool for companies to build their brand reputation. PR agencies have to hand hold and educate the start-ups on the long-drawn process of creating and building a brand. Many PR companies looking at the opportunities for and new start-ups have invested talent and expertise by floating a separate division within the agency with specialised teams who understand technology and the metamorphosis of a start-up which is largely driven by young and energetic entrepreneurs who have big ambition, but with limited time span available with them at their disposal.

A year back, Adgully had launched two columns – PR Conversation and PR Opinion – where the focus was on all aspect of PR & Corporate Communications. The columns have seen great traction from all sections of the industry in a very short period as diverse PR and Communication leaders are sharing their valuable insights. Our first PR conclave, IMAGEXX 2021, was organised this year, which was a resounding success, where captains of the industry shared their insights on the various trends as well as the future of PR.

Going forward, Digital will continue to be the key growth area. After the pandemic, digital has transformed the face of PR industry and every organisation has had to beef up their digital skills by imparting training to their teams. Clients were also very keen to explore and were in a hurry to leverage digital to the maximum as the pandemic had not eased out. With the industry maturing slowly in India we can expect more start-ups and brands trusting PR as a strong communication tool for brand building.

It won’t be surprising to see some of the network agencies eyeing the Indian market for some acquisitions. The future will depend on how agencies are able to harness and combine innovation and technology to manage online reputations in a fast-moving media scenario. The industry needs to invest in the right areas and scale up the talent needs, which have always been a challenge. Moreover, the much-debated PR measurement methods need to be addressed and put to rest so that the industry speaks one language when it comes to PR measurement.

We at Adgully spoke to some top leaders from the PR industry and obtained their candid views on how 2021 has been for this industry as well as the outlook for 2022.

Sharing her views, Deepshikha Dharmaraj, Chief Executive Officer, Genesis BCW, remarked, “As I’ve always said, public relations is the only marketing discipline that touches all the stakeholders of a company. Never was that more evident than in 2021. The public relations and communications industry played a significant role in helping organisations get back on their feet by rallying all stakeholders towards strategic priorities. In 2022, as recovery picks up pace, our industry will need to stay two steps ahead of client expectations. For that, there are three priorities. There has also been a lot of learning in the past two years and in 2022, we will carry forward that learning and build on it. One of those learnings is in the area of Purpose. We have seen how companies that communicated with purpose were able to connect far more deeply with their stakeholders. In 2022, this will continue to be a priority for organisations.”

She further highlighted that similarly, digital will continue to be a growth area. If it was AR/ VR/ AI earlier, 2022’s obsession will be the metaverse and the possibilities for brands to engage with their target audience in a new way. “The third, and perhaps the most important focus area is our people. Everyone has been through a lot. The only way for them to get past that is to train their eyes towards the future with a growth mindset,” she added.

According to Valerie Pinto, CEO, Weber Shandwick, India, “PR is at the cusp of significant transformation and I’m extremely hopeful for the developments that 2022 will bring.PR is integral to building reputation, and I’m certain that it will only play a more prominent role in helping brands engage with their customers in creative, relevant, and more effective ways. Data and Analytics will play a huge role in defining campaign strategy as the need for authentic communication only increases. There will always be place for impactful stories that keep the audience engaged, and 2022 will only see more of these.”

Pinto further pointed out, “Innovative work will be a given in the time to come, as we collectively raise the bar as communicators. In the years ahead, I’m keen to see a more direct link between the objectives and the results in the work that we do, and this will ensure more purpose driven communication. I’m excited for the road ahead.” 

Expressing his views, Atul Sharma, Managing Director, Ruder Finn India, said, “At Ruder Finn, we believe in the process of constant learning and reinventing our approach to communication. The year 2021 has left behind an important lesson for all of us to exercise compassion and empathy in both personal and professional capacity. For us, our people have always been our priority, be it with driving expertise or reinventing the way they approach communication. Keeping this at our very core, in 2022, we look at revolutionising communication to further upskill for each of our team members while creating work life balance to ensure we continue to provide support to our entire ecosystem. With people at the centre, I see the power of leveraging technology with the way people look at communications to pave the path for the next 10 years. We are now at the ethical cusp of utilising artificial intelligence in public relations like never before. Integrating AI would mean more bandwidth for tasks that require creative thinking, strategic planning and human instinct. The year 2022 will also see more and more agencies investing in creative thinking, storytelling to exercise the best use of technology for brands they service. The coming year will prove to be a game changer if agencies continue to widen the scope of learning.”

If 2021 was the year of grit and resilience to survive, then 2022 will be an opportunity to thrive in all probabilities. Like always, most growth opportunities come with strings attached. Chetan Mahajan, CEO, The Mavericks Communications, pointed out, “The Indian market is finally showing signs of maturity and seriousness that the communications function deserves. There are three fundamental reasons for this. The pandemic has shaken the dogma of unorganised and ad-hoc communication with the stakeholders being an acceptable norm. The start-up ecosystem has grown phenomenally in the last year delivering 40 Unicorns. Start-ups are more conscious about their reputation and the need to take their story aggressively and consistently to their stakeholders, particularly the talent. Since they are disruptors, the disrupted ones have no option but to streamline their communications function. So, the pie is growing. And finally, if history was to repeat itself, the two years lull will likely trigger disproportionate growth in the next 5-10 years. To capture the growth opportunity,we need to look at investing in teams, scale up our technology skills, deliver value to clients and finally build an organisation where both the teams and the clients love to belong and collaborate very meaningfullyto grow the client’s business.”

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