Year 2018 was blink and gone!!
Gone also is the era when “PR” scope was limited to just reputation management, media outreach and sporadic press note dissemination!
As I reflect the year gone by, sitting under the shade of a mango tree on my farm in Karjat, my mind is wandering around the events of the past year – some cool stuff my team and I could roll out at Godrej, some slips, 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 the Indian PR business on how the profession is shaping up.
For me, this year-end introspection did reveal a number of lessons to be learnt from 2018!
I am no Nostradamus on PR, but I guess I would take the liberty to share some thoughts that lie on the intersection of my own analysis of the year gone by and the aspirations for the year ahead.
- PR professionals will have to become POETS; need to master the art of writing POEMS (Paid, Owned, Earned Media Strategies)
Traditional PR can no longer be a lone ranger to make a campaign successful. Past few years have seen a significant dilution of newsrooms and focus shifting towards new media. As traditional media either evolves or regresses, the traditional media relations – the only model of PR will evolve or die with it. Going forward, PR professionals will find themselves increasingly doing work that transcends the traditionally rigid boundaries of paid, owned, or earned media. It’s a no brainer that effective storytelling happens on the intersection of the paid, owned and earned media platforms. Integrating POEM also is an indicator of the fact that the organisation is putting a larger emphasis on the consumer rather than disconnected individual modes which may not be effective on their own. As I reflect on 2018, I realise all the campaigns that truly rocked and delivered for us had a well-integrated element of POEM in them. So in that context, we shall pursue our quest to write better POEMS in 2019!
- Digital PR and micro-influencer engagement will drive narratives
Having defined it as “Earned Social Media”, we have rolled out over 100 digital PR projects at Godrej in the last 2 years. The ability to reach multiple social platforms through compelling content (videos, info graphics, text, and images), influencers and segmental thought leaders has ensured digital PR a significant place in our integrated communication plans – be it for a corporate campaign or a product launch.
Influencers (read bloggers, KOL, etc.) have started to become key contributors to a brand narrative. However, in this game, authenticity matters the most. I am witnessing a trend that audiences want messages from people whom they can relate to, trust and are niche subject matter experts rather than from paid celebrities. This will give prominence to the micro-influencers. Identifying appropriate micro influencers and establishing their efficacy can be a challenge but is not impossible. My focus for 2019 would be to build this vertical further!
- Thought leadership through owned media platforms will prevail
In the PR parlance, I define thought leadership as establishing a sense of authority on an issue that your brand is trying to solve. This makes the brand stand out in a positive light. I see a trend where many brands are trying to own up relevant spaces so as to be seen as leaders. However, with the deluge of social media influencers, digital news platforms, clutter in the traditional media and ever rising fake news, your control over your own brand narrative is limited.
An effective way to own, set and control your brand’s narrative would be to invest in your own media properties in both on line and off line spaces, grow them and sustain engagement with customers and influencers. Our experiments with this genre have been quite successful. Our own media platforms; Vikhroli Cucina (Thought leadership in the food space), L’Affairé (Positioning Godrej in the lifestyle space), Future of series (Owning the space of home safety, security), The Architects and Interior Designers Platform (To grab a share of the thought leadership pie in the Design space), #FarmerNomics (Thought leadership in doubling farmers income) and many more have created a buzz that makes me optimistic about this space. 2019 will see a rise of this vertical in the PR arsenal.
- Rise in use of research, insights and cause as a base for PR campaigns
Authenticity in PR can come from factual narratives that can be established basis research driven insights. An emotional bond can be created with the TG if a brand can associate itself with an honest cause. Research further adds credibility to the brand claims and in a cluttered media landscape, narratives having a direct bearing on consumers tend to get picked up faster. #HarGharSurakshit for Godrej Locks for instance quantified the lapses in home/personal safety behaviors in India and drove the importance of Locks in protecting valuables. It became a national campaign and November 15 has been established as the home safety day. This trend further gets validated by a majority of research and cause based Godrej campaigns in 2018. #Sleepat10 (For Godrej Interio), #SecureSpaces (For Godrej Security Solutions), #MrMagic (For Protekt – Mr Magic, handwash), #HealthySnackingIdea (For Godrej Nature’s Basket), #EqualParenting, #GodrejMakingIndia (For Godrej Masterbrand), #FarmerNomics (For Godrej Agrovet), just to name a few. 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.
- AI, AR and VR in PR will remain buzzwords only…long way to go before they become mainstream!
It’s a no brainer that honest, humanised, immersive content can get larger traction with consumers and AR/VR technologies can actually enable this. 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. Simulation of crisis during trainings could be done more effectively and the attributes of consumer durables can be explained in a more holistic manner. Come to think of it, it can be a huge enabler for communicators to communicate their brand narratives in a more convincing manner. Our own experiments at Godrej with VR (HIT track the bite app project) to give an immersive experience to the stakeholders made us bullish and absolutely confident that VR is here to stay! However, in the pure PR space, I have not seen a significant number of projects in the industry. With the right technology partners, right equipment and competencies, this will emerge as one of the most powerful tools for experiential communications. Time and some serious players will only tell, when. I remain positive though and will roll out at least one campaign based on these technologies in 2019.
In terms of AI for PR, I have had a lot of discussions with agencies specializing in monitoring, measurements and analysis of PR outcomes. Discussions around predicting potential narratives, spotting trends, understanding audience sentiments in a deeper way and seasonality of themes using AI have been unfortunately limited to intellectual brainstorming but no concrete solutions. Possibilities are huge and I remain committed to them!
- Measurement philosophy needs to change from ROI to ROO (Return on Objectives)
I was invited to speak at the 2018 AMEC conference in Barcelona. My topic, “ROO – one small step for measurement, one giant leap for PR!” attempted to hammer home the importance of ROO – return on objectives to align communications to organisational objectives and the fact that ROI is a limiting and an unfitting term in the PR parlance. A lot of conversations followed which make me feel bullish that ROO is the way to go.
Public Relations 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 impact of millions of dollars spent on advertising are never questioned the way the impact of a fraction of that amount spent on PR is. PR AVE, however, is not the answer and it is great that many of us have stopped reporting them. With multiple stakeholders across multiple businesses and geographies; within and outside the organization 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?
The recently updated Barcelona principles have made certain changes. My favorite is the principle number one. It states that “Goal setting and measurement are fundamental to communication and public relations”. I cannot agree more and feel, the best way for a PR function to create and showcase value is to first align its strategy to the top organisational goals, and articulate business/brand related PR objectives in line with this strategy. Secondly, the most important aspect is to 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.
- PR professionals will listen more; Social listening and Online Reputation Management (ORM) should become fundamental
We are all witnessing polarizing times and having realised that fake news have been prevalent and will persist, potentially forever. PR teams have the responsibility to take the lead role in combating inappropriate narratives by constantly listening to the rants on social platforms and accordingly fine tune their crisis and response plans. Controlling the narrative has become crucial and with the right tools and strategy, active listening can contribute towards mitigating a potential crisis or simply addressing a consumers concern.
In fact our ORM tool at Godrej and the command centre has alerted us and helped track in real time, potential crises which were mitigated due to strategic interventions basis inputs from the listening tool. Going forward my focus on this vertical in 2019 would only grow!
- PR for PR will intensify
In a VUCA world, 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 favorably 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 do see a trend of increased impetus by various industry bodies to help PR win the due it deserves. The crop of dynamic individuals listed on 30 under 30’s and 40 under 40’s list of super PR professionals have a crucial role to play in demonstrating the value PR can bring to an organization. I wish them the best and hope 2019 is remembered as the year of PR!
The views expressed here are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect that of Reputation Today.