For the PR industry, 2008 acted as a reset button globally, but the effects of the reset were local – institutional failures in New York led to a ripple effect, changing the way businesses around the world needed to operate. This is a key issue in today’s world, where events are at once global and local, and communication is around the clock and instantaneous.
In this scenario, one of the most important things for PR professionals and brands, argues Michael J Berland, President, Penn Schoen Berland, is the evolution of a brand purpose. He said, “Brands have to stand for something bigger than the transactional value they have. Today, brands are affected by changing political trends, changing technology and changing economic trends. Communication occurs in real time, and the speed of ideas is driving change.”
A chance to catch up
New changes are driven by changes in technology, and the opportunity for PR professionals in countries like India is to leapfrog ahead and catch up with the rest of the world instead of waiting for the curve to work around to them. Berland said, “Not being on Facebook or Twitter is not an option anymore, for an individual or for a brand. There’s just no choice, and once you’re part of that, everything happens in real time, and people have to adapt to this, and now.”
The foundations of this evolution are based around transparency, responsibility and communication, and Berland said, “Try and withhold or spin communication and you’ll just hurt your client.” In the new normal, information is readily available, and a lack of accountability or transparency is bad for a brand. Instead, a brand needed a brand purpose, he said, which provided a core to align all the various elements of the brand, to create an emotional bond which went beyond the product, and helped differentiate it in the market.
Corporate social responsibility was an element of this, he said, and gave the example of Hindustan Unilever’s Project Shakti. He said, “Women empowerment in rural India is a great project, it’s very relevant, and helps people get the most out of life. CSR can’t be in a silo, but should be a part of the overall brand purpose. Here, by using their product to empower women, they are leveraging brand purpose.”
Creating value the key
Ashwini Singla, MD and Chief Executive, South Asia, Penn Schoen Berland, said, “There has already been a change in the way things are happening here as well, as people start to understand the value of brand purpose. There is a move from coverage to impact, from old media to new media and from local to global.”
He added, “Internal communication, digital marketing and CSR are some of the most important areas for brands now, and brand purpose links all this together. A large number of people in the industry whom we surveyed said that they are ready for change, and willing to pay more for performance, so we can certainly expect change.”
At the same time, Singla also said that there were certain issues facing the PR industry right now, particularly in terms of attracting talent for the industry. “Experience, continuity and expertise are big problems here, as people keep making short hops they are causing destruction of value for both the individual and the agency. We need to be able to attract the best talent,” he stressed.
Another issue is the lack of science applied to the PR industry. According to Singla, “There is no science, and just counting media coverage is not enough. We have to break the cycle to create value, and bring in an empirical attitude to PR, so that predictability can be brought into the ecosystem. Companies will have to take the extra step to this, and if they are able to demonstrate value, it will pay off – 73 per cent of the people we surveyed said they will pay a premium for value, so the message is clear, we need to invest in human capital and insightful analysis.”
Berland and Singla were speaking at the second exchange4media India PR and Corporate Communications Conference, which took place in Delhi on March 16, 2011. The two were addressing sessions about the changing face of the PR industry and the challenges and opportunities presented by the changed scenario in the industry.
The Conference was presented by Adfactors Public Relations. CVB News Service was the co-sponsor. Eikona was the measurement partner, while ISB&M School of Communication was the academic partner. Insights were provided by Penn Schoen Berland.