Changing Face of Public Relations – Now moved, beyond 360-degree communication

May be in the early 90’s and even the beginning of the new millennium Public relation was seen as one of the offerings in the 360-degree communication. While the main campaign idea came out from Advertising which was then executed by the PR team by planning and deploying the right channels, mostly it was print in those days. But today PR as a powerful communication tool is given top priority by most CMO’s and are adopting different strategies to make PR work effectively for their brands. From a broad-spectrum PR consultancy agency have now moved to specialising in different verticals. Today we have an array of verticals that most agencies have started to provide services to their clients starting from Finance, Banking , Investor relations to FMCG to Lifestyle & fashion. So, when a client is deciding to partner a PR consultancy today, they screen them in the area of their speciality before starting their engagement. 

There are certain brands who just swear by using only PR. Categories like technology especially in the B2B business the company uses only PR to reach their message to the CIO’s and CTO’s about their products. I distinctly remember our own homegrown brand Infosys and another world-renowned brand Intel used PR very diligently and judiciously to gain visibility in the Indian market. But today slowly even the FMCG and consumer durable brands have realised the power of PR and have developed separate standalone strategy to address their challenges. Now why is that this great marketing tool gradually and steadily becoming a strong standalone communication tool for marketers to spread their message and shape a positive opinion for their brands. 

  1. Cost Effective and Credible: PR unlike other marketing tools is not dependent on huge budgets to create a ripple in the market. But having said that the budget should be reasonable to construct on a well thought out PR campaign. One of the examples that strongly comes to my mind in the automobile space is the introduction of NANO car from the house of TATA’s. I hardly remember any kind of mass media advertising that was created by the brand. The brand had a great story to tell and using that story they beautifully narrated the story of Nano at every step. A certain kind of interest was created and the audience were eagerly looking out for the product to hit the showroom. The curiosity of the brand was purely through stories and only when the product hit the roads, I could remember seeing some campaign in the mass media. Being a low-priced product with wafer thing margins the brand was working on a very tight budget and therefore they focussed only on PR and very smartly created high awareness and push for the brand. Of course, coming from the house of Tata’s the brand had an added advantage. Normally a huge amount would have been splashed if you had gone through using mass media by creating an advertising campaign. Here the marketing penny was carefully planned and budgeted to get the best outcome in terms of awareness, visibility and good market presence.
  2. Managing Crisis:  Over the last many years several brands and corporate have gone through crisis management due to various instances and issues. For example, the case to remember is the Cadbury’s worm incident which created quite a noise in those days. It was a great challenge for the brand to come out of this. While advertising did a wonderful job to create awareness and reassure the loyal customers but advertising alone could not help to diffuse the situation of the worm incidence. The only way the brand could fight this situation was to partner a PR agency together to work on a strong PR strategy to douse the fire. While Amitabh Bachchan was used as a celebrity to bring back the credibility it was continuous PR and close engagement with the media and the journalists that helped the brand to restore its reputation. Thank god this incidence occurred when online media was not so popular in our country.
  3. Online Reputation:  With the advent of social media/online media this is another new channel that many PR consultancies are completely involved in managing the brand reputation today. People are accessible to real time media for which you need real time solutions, if some negative stories are making rounds in the social media then you need instant action. So, most of the consultancies have beefed up their technological skills to track and provide solutions to client on an ongoing basis. Good training and knowledge sharing are also provided to come up to speed as what is happening globally in this space.
  4. Content Creating:  We all know creating content is very pivotal for all the PR consultancy firms. Today consultancies are geared up and have set up professional teams to ensure that the right content is created and the right messaging is delivered on both online and offline media with utmost precision. Content is what drives and helps brands to stay connected with their audience so it is important adequate training and knowledge sharing is given to this team without any interruption. So, training happens to be very important and is given top priority for the teams to be best equipped and learn the latest around the world. 

As we move in to a new decade PR will have more challenges to manage. Brands will have to address a new set of young audience who belong to the digital and mobile age. Attention span of these new generation is very less and therefore the messaging has to be very sharp and crisp to drive way the point. While traditional media will still try and hold their position but online and digital media being dynamic will face challenges to meet their criteria. PR in small towns will be another area one has to watch as the mobile penetration is quite intense and we also have a teeming young population to talk to in the coming decade. While this shift will not take place overnight but brands will have to be ready and plan their strategy to reach the new generation of audience both in the major cities and small towns. 

Ganapathy Viswanathan
An independent consultant in Branding and Communication, Ganapathy Viswanathan comes with over three decades of experience in Brand Communication, Public Relations & Digital Marketing. He has worked in diverse disciplines with several multinational advertising agencies like Ogilvy, Lowe and Mudra Group.

On the Public Relations front, he was the General Manager, Western region of 20:20 MSL, where he spearheaded the western region operations. In his last role he was the Senior Vice President, Sales & Marketing Communication at Eureka Mobile Advertising - a mobile engagement company in India head quartered in UK.

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