Communicators need to innovate to stay relevant in an evolving media landscape

Today, we are at a stage of media evolution where the dynamics of storytelling have undergone a sea-change. With the coming of digital, the complexity of communication has also gone up. There are three primary changes that need a mention. One, there is a new medium to manage. Two, this has had a profound and irreversible impact on the traditional media newsrooms. Third, there are a new set of audience which have been born out of this phenomenon – the digital natives who are both story consumers and creators at the same time. To add to the complexity, all communication today is as much internal as external. Every day is a new day, and no one can predict what will come next.

In this scenario, communicators are expected to keep upping their game, negotiate through the evolving media landscape and keep their brands and messages centerstage. This won’t be possible without innovation in communication. While every brand and communications team would have their own approach to innovation and innovation would by its very character demand new thinking and new ways of doing things – there is one significant constant: communicators need far deeper insights into every micro-unit of the communication value chain to stay relevant.

Innovation in communication does not mean merely adding of the digital medium to the communication bouquet or adding more images and videos to the content basket, or even using a mix of paid and unpaid, or just streaming creative communication on company social media channels. It is these, a mix of all, and much more without losing sight of the traditional media still so relevant in a country like India. We are at a stage where neither can we ignore the new media nor let go of the traditional. Inevitably, the winners would be those who will be able to achieve this golden balance. Thankfully, we have examples of communicators amidst us who while having been at the forefront of traditional media management have embraced the new media progressively. They are at the forefront of innovation turnaround. Legacy professionals, or the pure-play new age digital communicators, both are at a slight disadvantage in this cusp of media evolution.

Innovation Nirvana in the New Today

The times of engagement are upon us. To successfully negotiate the communication minefield of the post-digital, machine-learning enthused, influencer-driven new media landscape, the key is innovation. How this can be done is both as much a creative pursuit as it is a strategic and inevitable one. Here are some possible clues and answers:

Listening, more important than speaking: There is too much information and so much to do with it. Listening and developing focused messages is key for them to be rooted in reality. It is also important that recipients do not feel spoken down to. Engagement becomes an intelligent, subtly directed, empowering agenda for both the brands and the audience.

Steer the discussion, not hold it static: In the construct of agenda independent and driver-less info-stream, a good strategy could be to catalyze the brand messages without overtly directing them. Organisations that are responsive, transparent and willing to engage constituents in the latter’s turf will develop goodwill faster and deeper.

Focus on the source of news: Today, everybody with a smartphone is a potential journalist. There is a flood of opinion and it is challenging to differentiate a genuine story from fake news. Reputation custodians need to be conscious of the need for fact declarations. Opinions are many, facts are few and sacred. It is critical to identify and use available data points to the maximum. If you have it, flaunt it!

Multi-dimensional, multi-point dissemination: The points of interconnect between an organisation and its messaging recipients are many. It is no longer the top management who are the spokespersons of the brand alone. Just as what micro-influencers have done to news characterisation, all employees are equal points of data origin. Use the larger base of your employees to tell your stories. This practice will surely lead to a fuller and more enriched communication flow.

Innovate with the traditional too!

In the case of traditional media, one was more concerned with gathering of facts and providing studied opinion and publishing content to suit a broad cross-section of audience. Today, innovation here consists of a revolutionary paradigm re-assessment across key aspects.

For instance, the need to re-look at your content. Consider how strong your story is. You need to go beyond the organisation and talk larger issues. Messages can be aligned to what enables the brand agenda, but talking about the self alone is a strict no-no.

For media editors to be receptive to innovative suggestions and a new kind of content, a direct conversation with the decision-makers from a position of credibility is key. These are the stakeholders who alone can take decisions when you are proposing something novel or path breaking. Thus, trust and relationships with opinion makers still reign supreme.

Sometimes a deeper analytics of media reach and audience can be the smartest thing you can bring to the table to move your business outcomes. Look for growing niche media – sometimes you don’t need to carpet bomb to move your specific audience.

The latest IRS data point to a big reality – regional media continues to grow and be very relevant. Here, localizing the story to suit the location is an old idea – the next level is to be able to go for hyper-localization and creating events, opportunities and spokesmanship keeping the specific local culture and the dos and don’ts in mind.

Communicators need to be conscious of the fact that what has worked for them in the past is losing relevance fast. So, go beyond the instinct. Be ready to unlearn and learn simultaneously, without losing focus of the fact that whatever you do must deliver business outcomes – as that is the ultimate test for communicators.

For more conversations around Innovation (if you are an in-house communications professional), attend the Innovation First Communication Conclave in Gurgaon on Wednesday, March 14th, 2018.

The views expressed here are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect that of Reputation Today.

Santanu Gogoi
Founding Partner at First Partners
An award-winning professional with an experience of over 18 years in Public Relations, Santanu is a self motivator and a strong believer in teamwork.

His cross-industry exposure from consumer, corporate, B2B, & social development domains has provided him with a strong foundation to drive national and regional campaigns in line with business objectives.

He has previously worked at leadership roles with Weber Shandwick, India.

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