Show Up Differently

Once upon a time, a brand hired an advertising team and a public relations team, to ensure their marketing communications needs are fully covered. They worked together but also defended their own territories strongly. Advertising was the creative expert and did not like PR team’s input on the new 30-second spot; the latter did not like to be told what ideas are “PR-able” by the former. Advertising claimed brand ownership while PR talked more about brand reputation. They fought for the important right-hand side seat, but still happily co-existed in the Brand Manager’s kingdom.

Things changed when the world started going digital. There was more scope to be creative for both advertising and PR, and more dollars to spend/earn. And of course, there was the digital or social media team that could do it all. Their worlds started colliding more… both came up with consumer engagement ideas, both wanted to create the next viral sensation and both wanted to tell the same story. From a power struggle to new found collaboration, these two streams of marketing communications have never had the same job as they have now.

Public Relations or communications is no longer only about delivering the key message in earned media stories. It goes across earned, owned and paid platforms. Similarly, advertising teams are also thinking of ideas that not only shine in the owned or paid platforms, but are also driving word-of-mouth. The opportunity here is to collaborate, share ideas and build on each other’s strengths. Traditionally, advertising has enjoyed larger budgets and therefore have more resources including access to data, insights and stronger creative talent. It is a great time for communication teams and professionals to step up and play an important role in this new world order – the role of collaborators, co-creators and thought leaders. It is time to show up differently. Here are some things that I am focusing on as a communications professional.

Data driven insights > instinct

As communication professionals, we live and breathe our brand every day. We have a sense of what our consumers want, and we mostly build ideas based on what we know and instinctively feel is right. However, we need to work a bit harder and back that instinct with hard core data. If we know that a certain demographic is important and is a growing target audience for our product, we need to ask more questions before devising a program targeting that segment. For example, Dove always knew that women are their biggest audience but their most successful campaign, ‘Real Beauty’, was based on an insight that only a small percentage of women find themselves beautiful.

Invest in creativity

Timesheets are important as that is how an agency keeps track of “resource utilization” and scope of work. In addition, clients want the agency teams to stay within allocated hours and budgets. There is an opportunity on both client and agency side to invest and foster creativity. I am not saying that all PR agencies should have Creative Directors (if they can, that’s good) but there needs to be more investment in training, exposure and most importantly “allocated hours”. Team members with creative abilities need to be encouraged more and provided more cross-functional exposure. Build more time for brainstorms in our scope of work. Participate in brainstorms and creative sessions with advertising and digital teams. Curate case studies, learn from industry news and award submissions, watch more videos and spend time on the Internet every day without feeling guilty… cat videos can be a great source of inspiration!

Don’t be afraid to experiment

It is easy to go the safe route and deliver good results. Most teams are happy playing safe but a calculated risk is worth taking. Be open to ideas, wherever they come from and explore their potential. With relatively smaller budgets attached to communications led programs than mainstream advertising, it is an opportunity to lead the way. It is easy to start smaller, therefore pilot programs and experiments are great ways to learn and sell an idea to the decision makers. Some ideas will work and some will bomb but we will always learn something.

Gate crash

While the worlds of advertising and communications are merging, there are still many differences in terms of access and resources. We have earned media based insights, social listening and reputation audits; the advertising team has a lot more on consumer behaviour and other studies. In addition, their creative resources are usually more robust; and because of their spending, they have direct access to minds from partners like Google, Facebook, Tencent, etc. Ask for all that information, get yourself invited to meetings where these reports get reviewed and discussed; offer to participate in their brainstorming sessions; seek inclusion in working with external partners. Even in the most integrated teams, not everyone will remember to include everyone, every-time in everything. But as communication professionals, we can identify what’s important and ensure participation, even if we have to gate-crash initially.

Shrey Khetarpal
Shrey Khetarpal is a Senior Director at Burson-Marsteller Shanghai and account lead from WPP for Ford Motor Company's Asia Pacific Communications. His favourite part of the job is telling a brand’s story to consumers in a relevant and relatable manner. He loves ideating and watching those ideas come to life – from big campaigns to simple creatives. When not on the job, he loves traveling, binge-watching TV shows, going to the cinema, reading fiction, trying new restaurants/cocktail bars, and indulging his love for shopping. You can follow his Shanghai shenanigans on Instagram at @ShreyShanghai. He can be reached at

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