2018, dawn of a new era for Public Relations!

2017 is virtually in the rear view mirror now. It flew so fast (I guess we say this for every year nowadays!). The most interesting part of this time, of course apart from the festivities are the predictions that pop up on every sundry topic under the sun. Predictions for the next year for me are some thoughts that lie on the intersection of one’s own analysis of the year gone by and the aspirations for the year ahead. In that parlance, I love making predictions!

As a communications professional, I did try doing so for 2017 and some of them were no-brainers, some did happen, some showed early signs and some really never took off.

As I enjoy the morning sun, sitting on a house boat in the back waters at Kumarakom, my mind is wandering around the events of the past year – The great stuff my team and me could achieve, some failures, some landmark happenings in the country and beyond, trends that threaten to be a new normal, and the essence of sporadic banter with the movers and shakers of Indian PR on how the business is shaping up.

This year-end introspection has helped me gain some clarity on what to focus on in 2018 and where to put my resources for a better bang for the PR buck!

Taking the liberty to share some of them.

  1. Owning my brand’s narrative through effective influencer engagement – With the deluge of social media influencers, digital news platforms, clutter in the traditional media and fake news, your control over your own brand narrative is diminishing. To effectively own the narratives, I would rather invest in proactive owned media properties in both on line and off line space to sustain engagement with customers and influencers. I am quite bullish on this front as some of the properties that we created in the past (Vikhroli Cucina for the food ecosystem, L’Affaire Vikhroli for the lifestyle space, etc.) are working pretty well. The power of well-informed influencers/advocates who can connect their followers with your brands is unmatched.
  2. Research and cause based messaging to uplift the brand connect – Out of the 40 odd campaigns that we did in 2017, the most effective ones were the ones that have a cause associated. Godrej Interio (Sleep at 10), Good Knight and Hit (eradication of Vector borne diseases), Ezee (winter care for underprivileged kids), Godrej Aerospace (Nation building), Godrej Locks (Home safety) etc., just to name a few. I guess, in a highly interconnected fast paced life, an emotional bond can be created with the TG if a brand can associate itself with an appropriate honest cause. Research not only adds to the authenticity but also credibility to the claims made by a brand. With the amount of clutter we see in the media, research-based narratives that have a direct bearing on consumers will be essential to get covered. A majority of the Godrej campaigns have been based on research data that validates the claims of our brands. This has ensured a dramatic rise not only in coverage but also right messaging and tonality. And, if I were a PR consultancy, I would invest in research capabilities going forward! This is a great opportunity for communication professionals to frame correct narratives and demonstrate purpose.
  3. Focus on thought leadership – Thought leadership communications have become a significant part of the PR process. I see it more and more that by establishing a sense of authority on an issue that your brand is trying to solve, the consumer engagement only grows and allows more meaningful conversations. This makes the brand stand out in a positive light. I see a trend of many brands trying to own up relevant spaces so as to be seen as leaders. Identifying relevant platforms, conferences and opportunities to project thought leadership would be a key focus area going forward.
  4. Listen to social banter & online reputation management (ORM) – With large prevalence of citizen journalism where everyone with a smart phone is capable of being a news channel, social media king makers and the power to frame narratives about brands in the hands of the common man, “listening” and immediate response has garnered huge importance. I am excited about this as I have personally witnessed our ORM tool at Godrej delivering by alerting us on a few potential crisis which were mitigated due to strategic interventions basis real-time input from the listening tool.
  5. Grow digital PR significantly – Having defined it as “Earned Social Media”, our experiments with digital PR have yielded significant results in 2017. In fact this has become one of our key tools for launching products and creating a digital safety net that can come handy during a potential crisis. The ability to reach multiple social platforms through compelling content (videos, info graphics, text, images) has become a reality and will only grow further. In fact, I feel that just the way PR firms used to maintain databases of journalists, time has come to start maintaining lists of bloggers and influencers, the difference being, the latter would be humongous! My focus would be to grow this vertical even bigger in 2018.
  6. Invest in VR (Virtual reality) in PR – Having experimented with VR in 2016, I was quite bullish that it will be big in 2017. However, I did not see much prevalence. I still believe that honest, humanised, immersive content can get larger traction and AR/VR can actually enable it. Product launches could become more realistic, audiences can experience products before making a decision and interaction points can increase significantly. Virtual reality can possibly transcend space and time. It can in a near realistic way transport people to destinations or interact with lifestyle brands in a manner that is more inclusive rather than one way. My own experiments with VR (Hit track the bite app project) to give an immersive experience to the stakeholders makes me absolutely confident that VR is here to stay! With the right technology partners, right equipment and competencies, this will emerge as one of the most powerful tools for experiential communications. Content is considered ‘king’ but if it becomes immersive and audiences are able to get a feel of it, it can be an emperor!!
  7. Being prepared for a changing PR landscape – I feel, it is evident from the above points that traditional PR can no longer be a lone ranger to make a campaign successful. 2017 also saw a significant dilution of newsrooms and focus shifting towards new media. As traditional media either evolves or dies, the traditional media relations-only model of PR will evolve or die with it. Today public relations work has transformed more into earned, owned, and paid media generation across print, electronic and digital platforms and I find that we are increasingly doing work that transcends the traditionally rigid boundaries of earned, owned, or paid media. PR folks need to enhance their capabilities and more so thinking so as to continue to own this space.
  8. Return on PR objectives (ROO) to solve the measurement conundrum – The PR business has always found itself fumbling when it comes to establishing uniform, universally accepted measures which translates in to the larger question of how do we demonstrate value add towards the organisations’ growth. Hence, it is just a pity that most of the times ROI of millions of dollars spent on advertising are never questioned the way ROI on a fraction of that amount spent on PR is. I personally feel that since the communications environment is becoming integrated, it is all the more important to make the measurement integrated across tactics and channels. With multiple stakeholders across multiple businesses and geographies; within and outside the organisation enabled by a global information landscape, the PR measurement conundrum can be complicated. Trying to quantify could be even more. Can one quantify the cost of reputation saved due to effective PR? Can we assign a monetary value to it or the frequent crises a PR team mitigates silently and claim it as the ROI? I feel, the best way for a PR function to create and showcase value is to align its strategy to the top organisational goals, articulate business/brand related PR objectives in line with this strategy, set the expectations right with the C-suite by jointly agreeing on the objectives and measures of success and then go all out to ensure that the objectives are met hence demonstrating maximum return on objectives (ROO).
  9. Do PR for PR! – The pace of change in the past decade has been significant. In a fast-evolving business environment with multiple external stimuli impacting business performance, and with multiple disruptive modes of communications and platforms for data consumption by the stakeholders, the operative scope of a PR professional has favourably amplified. Today, we significantly impact multiple levers – corporate reputation, employee retention, crisis mitigation, sales, product brands, stock price, stakeholder engagement and many more. We as a PR community (and even Marketing, Finance, Strategy, Sales, HR and other functions) know it with conviction that PR works. Then, why do we seem so apologetic? It cannot be just the fact that we have not done enough PR for PR, the way we have done PR for other functions. I hope PR does significant PR for itself in 2018!

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This article is part of series written by team leaders or professionals from the 30 Top Corporate Communication Teams powered by Kaizzen Communications.

Sujit M Patil, ABC on sabtwitterSujit M Patil, ABC on sablinkedinSujit M Patil, ABC on sabfacebook
Sujit M Patil, ABC
Vice President and Head - Corporate Brand & Communications at Godrej Industries Limited and Associate Companies
Sujit is responsible for building and sustaining the Godrej group’s reputation across diverse stakeholders. He is among the few IABC accredited business communicators in India and a three time winner of the IABC International Gold Quill award.

He has been listed as India’s top ten men in corporate communications by Reputation Today and featured on the PRWeek Global Power Book. Under his leadership, Godrej has won almost all prestigious industry awards for communications. Some of them being, the Diamond Sabre Award – Company of the year – Asia Pacific and South Asia, various categories under Fulcrum awards, IPRCCA, PR Newsweek Asia etc.

Apart from being a speaker and jury at various national and international bodies such as the World Communication Forum, Davos, PR Newsweek Asia, etc., Sujit is a part of the prestigious Arthur W Page Society and is the national chair for branding and communications for CII - Young Indian’s (Yi). He volunteers as a guest faculty at SIMC, St. Xavier’s and is on the advisory board of SCoRe, India’s first school of reputation management.

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