Perspective | From analog to Digital PR; philosophical shift or growing trend?

As we all know, the marketing industry has witnessed a massive shift in the past few years, and public relations, is also not an exception. We all have past the days of faxing a press release to a local broadcast newsroom; Today PR has become a 24/7, 365-days-a-year industry, wherein professionals are now required to be constantly tuned-in and responsive. The advancement and penetration of digital has not only forced us to redefine the tactics but also the purpose and the methodology of public relations.

The reason behind the shift is not the dearth of availability of the mediums but is the need and demand of the growing mediums…confused? To be simple; as we all know, today more than reading a newspaper, people prefer reading up news/articles on their desktops, tablets and smart phones and hence it is important to keep up with the changing times. Many publications and television channels have gone wholly and solely digital as well.

While traditional PR banks upon tactics like press release, corporate communication activities, media- events, etc. to receive maximum coverage; the digital arms of large PR firms /teams extend these analog versions of PR, to modern digital tactics like blogger outreach, social media post -tweets, pictures, film promo releases etc…

In this edition of Adgully Perspective, we dig deep into this to get a better overview of the same. Our panellist include industry names like Suveer Bajaj, Co-founder, FoxyMoron; Chiragh Cherian, Director, Online & Below the Line Initiatives, Perfect Relations; Nikhil Dey, President, Public Relations, Genesis B-M. Nikhil; Naina Siwach, General Manager, Madison PR and NS Rajan, Global Partner and MD, Ketchum Sampark.

Bajaj said, “In today’s fast-paced life, customers tend to spend - just a few seconds on absorbing digital content, making it especially important to reach out to them through a variety of channels. Hence adopting digital as well as traditional PR to a brand's marketing strategy would give PR agencies a higher advantage as it leads to the necessary effective impact across the marketing ecosystem and gives the agency an edge whilst integrating various mediums with a synergetic campaign strategy.”

Giving a point of view, Cherian said, “Modern digital tactics are the new age strategies that have a ripple effect on traditional PR. While traditional PR tactics are very media based, the digital media communication gets much more diverse, as part of that goes to the media and a large chunk of it goes directly to the end consumers. Hence, digital PR is not an add-on service any longer. The future of PR is definitely integration. While how we use this medium definitely depends on our strategy and our media mix, whether to enhance our traditional PR plan, for marketing, for dialogue or for broadcast and so on.”

Dey feels, “Public relations professionals have always helped brands and companies in effective engagement with a host of stakeholders. Social media and the online space allows a lot more creativity to come to the fore as it is an audio visual medium. Progressive public relations agencies are quick to move into this space by developing new capabilities to tell stories through videos, audio blogs and infographics.”

The key thing to remember here is that new skills and new ways of working require agencies to build a talent base that has these capabilities and very importantly, create an organisational structure that encourages and rewards integrated thinking and action on behalf of a client.

“At Genesis B-M, we have done this by building a vertical and horizontal matrix. The verticals being the practice areas like Telecom & Technology, Brand & Consumer, Corporate & Financial and Health & Wellness, while the horizontal centres of excellence are Corporate Responsibility, Digital Studio, Client Studio, Step Up, The Outstanding Speakers Bureau, The Content & Design Bureau, Crisis & Issues Cluster and The GBM Newsroom. The ability to bring all of these capabilities together around the needs of a client is what makes for integrated communications, where the social and digital storytelling and engagement is an integral part of a larger public relations outreach,” Dey added.

Rajan feels that in India the Digital PR as a concept is at a nascent stage but globally, it is quite an evolved area. He said, "Ketchum has a huge global digital capability. In India, certainly yes, I think that is where, we believe, the business is moving and thus our focus is on that. We believe that over the next few years, probably, as a part of the pie, digital will catch up with the traditional over the next five years, and may be go on to become much larger than that”.

Siwach opined, “In the last few years, the PR industry has evolved in order to adapt to the fast and ever-changing nature of consumers and customers. In today’s fast paced world, it becomes imperative for a brand to be connected with its end-users constantly. Digital PR gives brands and communication specialists a dynamic platform to engage with its end-users whose nature is ever-changing.”

“Globally, Digital PR is far more evolved than just Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Blogs. Digital PR defines a larger gamut of tools not just social networking sites. However, it will take more time for India to graduate as a complete digital audience. While, the Indian audience has matured over the last few years; having said that, it is also important to realize that speculation can be dangerous for a brand and therefore Digital reputation and PR is of prime importance. A casual conversation can turn into crisis management if the information shared is taken out of context leading to brand damage for brands. Digital has made reaction time quicker and more efficient,” she added.

When asked how does this contribute to a PR plan and a client's ROI, Siwach said, “Digital PR and traditional PR involve the same skills, tactics and strategy. At Madison PR we ensure the PR plan and Digital PR plan is based on research, creative insights, content that communicates the brands key message to its audience with identifying platforms that are best utilized to meet the brands objective, reach and effective implementation. We have prioritised digital communication in all our PR plans and pitches. Blogger outreach and meeting influential social enthusiast that lead to brand recall and purchase is an integral part of strategy. Analytics on ROIs based on number of entry points for the brand, key messages across identified digital platforms, conversations and target groups along with SEOs and back links.”

Cherian opined that an ORM Digital component at bare minimum needs to be included in every traditional PR plan/campaign. An advocated attack on digital media can nullify the positive image created by the traditional media.

“ROI in digital media is getting more detailed than I expected due to the depth of analysis that can be shared with the clients – this can also help strategize for further campaigns, traditional & digital. The idea is to set realistic objectives and define the measurement parameters prior to stating each activity. Reaching the right people, using the right tools and then recording the success rate is vital,” he added.

Dey, said, “Integrated campaigns strengthen the efforts and spent on amplifying the client’s message, thereby improving visibility and the ROI. The basic proposition of an integrated communication offering is to address a fast moving, constantly engaging medium that requires careful observation and engagement.”

Well, as the veterans feel that this is a much perceived notion, Digital PR is going to be trend and that to a growing one in the coming future. Siwach said, “Internally whilst Digital PR is taken seriously the next big thing would be for PR firms to start leveraging mobile as part of recommended PR strategy. Today mobile ad spends cannot be ignored and turning them into PR value will be a trend globally. Mobiles will add to PR campaigns, and will be business driver with clients asking Mobile PR to be included in their overall communication strategy. Digital PR will be amongst the most powerful sales and communication tools in India.”

"Today digital / social media play a vital role in the client's media mix and we see a tremendous upside. That space is transforming the way we do business, the way our clients’ business, we have got, several digital clients themselves, but in fact all of our clients are and / or moving towards becoming digital. So, the clients that are coming to Ketchum Sampark are typically looking for capability in multi-geographies, and services that engage across a number or different practice areas”, added Rajan.

Bajaj said that with the evolution of the marketing Eco-system, PR teams and executives must take up this opportunity to place digital at the center of one’s communication strategy. By forming clutter-breaking content and keeping a tab on the reputation of a brand through a structured PR approach, a PR team has the potential to encompass successful marketing communication solutions with the integration of online and mainline communication strategy and services. Going forward, it will become an increasing trend to see PR strategies evolve into a 360 degree strategy to ensure strong relations between a brand and its consumer.

Cherian, believes that digital is indeed the future, if you are not on this bandwagon, your competition already is. “Our understanding of Public Relations is very different from the West, because they no longer segregate the two services/offerings apart. The PR communication is channelled through different media, new media being one of them. Though it will hardly be surprising to see some unfavourable practices as that which happens with any medium where one can control discourse, debate and delivery but it is a very new and optimistic make-over for the entire PR industry,” he added.

While concluding Dey said, “Digital is here to stay. It is the new normal globally and if the signs in India are anything to go by, India may very well have exemplary results to show for clients, comparable on the international scale. The interesting simultaneous developments in the internet penetration in India, led by the mobile revolution, will ensure that nearly a third of Indian population will use and engage in the digital medium. While some may call this a challenge, we see this as an opportunity to expand our outreach horizons and include more of our clients’ stakeholders for communications.”

Having heard this, the bottom line that gets underlined is - PR has evolved into digital communications and has a long way to go.

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