As Chetan Mahajan the new President and CEO, India operations, of Hill+Knowlton Strategies, takes over charge from Radhika Shapoorjee, President India and South Asia of H+K, the two sat down to discuss the state of the Public Relations industry, and the plans Mahajan has for the organisation.
Shapoorjee and Mahajan both threw light on the unique position of PR professionals and the industry itself to shape relationships between all stakeholders. Shapoorjee said, “Reputation hinges on good relations that companies have with stakeholders. And the PR industry is the custodian of that reputation. PR is poised to help companies to go in that direction enabled by technology and talent.”
State of the industry
Talking about the role of public relations in the current digital milieu, Mahajan said that in the conversational age, everything is about how you engage with your stakeholders. “PR was never as important as it is today.” He reasoned that since stakeholders are not limited to the media and are more accessible, there is greater need to provide reputation management advice to organisations. “Unlike the early days when speaking to few media persons would be sufficient to get the message through all important channels, now it is about being in this conversational age where you have the potential to engage with every single stakeholder or every single person who has an indirect interest in your organisation. Given this situation, the real-time advisory role of PR assumes greater power to engage, entertain and influence their perception and behavior about the company,” Mahajan said.
Shapoorjee explained that the two-way communication highway powered by social media has transformed the needs of companies. “Every part of the communications industry is adjusting itself to this shift. Because of the legacy of PR to always be responsive, the competency of PR is at its highest right now,” she said.
Speaking about the scope of the PR industry in relation to advertising and marketing, Mahajan said that he is sure that the PR industry will play a bigger role in the future than it does right now. “Traditionally, marketing manages the business impact for an organisation while PR handles reputation. Now, reputation is getting aligned with the business impact, when that happens the propensity of a consumer to be more loyal to that brand is higher. Over a period of time we strongly believe that the allocation of budgets will shift from pure play marketing budgets to engagement budgets,” he said.
Delivering Credibility through PR
In the digital age driven by interactions and engagement on various social media channels where CEOs and spokespersons alike are extremely accessible, Mahajan said that PR retains its relevance as a key player in the storytelling process. “The most credible stories are not coming from the horse’s mouth; they are actually coming from the people who are experiencing the organisation as a partner, shareholder, or consumer. And PR can enable this better and create engaging storytelling,” he said.
With current wave of fake news and people in positions of power perpetuating falsehoods, public relations has a very important role to play. “Today when there is such a huge trust deficit and institutional mistrust, authentic storytelling based on facts, analytics, information, trends, and data will be the truth of today,” Shapoorjee said. She added that the challenge for the industry is ‘how to tell the truth well’.
Sharing his plans for H+K India, Mahajan said that he wanted to empower stakeholders to enable them tell their stories. “We want to bring in seamless integration across media - traditional, digital, social and activation and bring in harmony in the way we engage with our stakeholders. We will integrate owned, earned, paid, and shared content to deliver the best results for our clients,” he said. Shapoorjee added that H+K is already looking at building the reputations of Indian companies for them to go global by leveraging the H+K’s international presence.
Staying relevant in times of crises is also at the core of H+K’s mandate. “We want to stay a few steps ahead of our clients, to be in a position to advise them better and help them navigate through tough challenging times where the custody of their reputation has shifted from a few stakeholders to the public at large,” Mahajan said.
He added that H+K is well-prepared for crisis management, and can play a critical role in tackling crisis situations like the perpetuation of fake news. “The only way to authenticate facts is to counter falsehoods with data and analytics. It is no more about emotional or philosophical story telling.”
Mahajan also hopes to put his experience in the sunrise sector of enterprise and consumer technology to good use at H+K.
“Going forward, H+K will be investing in building a strong talent pool across all levels to win the best businesses and offer our best service to existing businesses,” Mahajan said. He feels that 2017 has lot to offer in terms of growth opportunities and he and his team want to ride this wave, and come out ahead of the industry.
The transition phase
The transition from Shapoorjee to Mahajan has been a smooth one. According to Mahajan, this transition has set a benchmark in the industry. “Radhika and I have met nearly every client of H+K’s to enable smooth transition. She has seen us through this whole transition period. The succession process was a wonderful experience,” Mahajan said.
Shapoorjee added that while the last ten years at H+K (previously IPAN) was the best job, she also felt that there was a need for change at both the organisational level and personal level. “The management put their trust in me by making me a part of the process to find a successor. I felt privileged to be part of the process. Of 85 probable candidates, Chetan came out at the top after going through a very rigorous process. I am very happy that Chetan will be taking the legacy of H+K forward.” She concluded by saying that the smooth succession process and knowledge that Mahajan will take the legacy of H+K forward has put her in a happy state of mind.