'Ethics has to be displayed in everyday interaction across multiple stakeholders '

On the panel were Bhaskar Majumdar, Noopur Sharma, Rachana Chowdhary, and Abhilasha Padhy who discussed the importance of ethics and transparency in PR at the e4m 30 under 30 PR & Corp Comm Summit

e4m by exchange4media Staff
Published: May 4, 2021 9:32 AM  | 8 min read
30 under 30

At the inaugural edition of e4m 30 under 30 PR & Corp Comm Summit, a power-packed panel discussed ‘Importance of Ethics and Transparency in Public Relations’. The panellists for the webinar were Bhaskar Majumdar, Head - Corporate Affairs, Brand, CSR & Digital, Egis India; Noopur Sharma, Partner, PR Pundit; Rachana Chowdhary, Founder and CEO- Media Value Works and Abhilasha Padhy, Co-Founder and Jt. Managing Director, 80 dB Communications. The session was moderated by Ruhail Amin, Editorial Lead, exchange4media & Business World.

Commencing the virtual session, Majumdar said, "In my 23 years of experience I have worked with different agencies as well as corporates. In marketing every little news is important and I think because of the pressure, many times the agencies are reluctant to say no to certain news. And it is difficult to get it covered due to internal pressures, client pressures and especially during covid-19, every agency is impacted with regular loss."

Elaborating on the importance of ethics in PR, Padhy added, "When one talks about ethics, it flows from the leadership and it needs to be displayed in everyday interaction across multiple stakeholders, including clients. We, as PR professionals and consultants, are basically brand navigators. Hence, our role becomes very critical to check the kind of information that is going up or being shared and also to ensure that there is a difference between content that is overly promotional and content that is not based on facts and data. At 80 dB, we put our content and our communication through a ‘check’ as we call it. We tend to ask questions like 'So what if this is happening?' or 'What is the impact, is it authentic enough?' Those are the kind of questions we as brand navigators need to ask ourselves or the client so that the communication that goes out is genuine and tries to create an impact for the organisation that we create communication for. The pandemic has changed how people are accessing and viewing information. They expect leaders and organisations to give the right information. Scrutiny has increased. Information that is based on the parameters of authenticity and credibility is very critical now and more so in the organisational and communicational culture."

Speaking about the ways in which PR agencies can implement some transparency in their overall approach, Chowdhary shared, "Talking about ethics and transparency, I think the best way to describe ethics is that it is not about what we are doing ethically but it is about messages that are going out ethically. We are the channel drivers, we take the messages out into the media and the public. It's about how the changing rules of media today have become. There are instances where we know that headlines cannot carry a brand name. However, the rules of the game are changing fast and there are a huge number of online portals that are willingly mentioning the brand names on the headlines at the top. During the traditional thought process, we always knew that it was being categorised under advertorial stories but it is now going to the editorial category with the brand names right on the top."

Adding to the same, Sharma shared her input saying, "I think that the importance of transparency in ethical communication has never been clearer. Public relations are at the core of what we demonstrate and what we do, acts as a conscience of a company. Today, people care about what an organisation stands for. They go the extra mile to support the companies that stand for the same beliefs as them. This phenomenon is absolutely on the rise. Today, the public relations industry in India is advocating this trend very strongly. Even at PR Pundit, we do maintain transparency as it is at the core of what we do. It is also very important to have a perspective. And we have told this to each and every member of our team - to have a perspective and also sometimes challenge the narrative."

Discussing the challenges around building more transparency, Majumdar said, "As everybody mentioned it before, it starts with the brand itself. They have to communicate transparently, not only to the media but to the internal audience as well. Especially during Covid, which has fast forwarded the digital transformation."

Padhy added, "Social media is just another tool for communication. We have multiple tools like media, events, as well as our internal communication. Social media is just another tool. However, the need for transparency in the current trend for social media which is acting as ‘The Newsroom’ today is making it easy for the stakeholders and the public to discover news, not only opens up your organisation for scrutiny but also allows your stakeholders to interact with your users, with issues that would be crucial to them. It is a double-edged sword in that sense. It has a plus side which in turn helps an organisation act upon their concerns by opening up two-way communication. Relationships can be built on the basis of this entire transparent social media platform that is made available to us. That being said I think transparency needs to be a part of our culture. It cannot be faked. Anyone who is trying to fake or demonstrate transparency will be caught very quickly. For example, if your customer service begins and ends with just bought responses, it's going to lead to poor customer engagement. One needs to have real engagement with the customers out there to create a culture of transparency within the organisation.’

Focusing on the stereotype of sugar coating in PR, Chowdhary added, "One of the rules that the PR agencies follow is that when we onboard a client, we create a particular niche sector in order to portray one as ‘The Hero’ in that sector. That is one of the most hidden strategies in PR that all of us practice."

Adding further, Chowdhary said, “There is a competition in every market. In our PR business also, we work with several B2B companies. However, there is a certain niche that every organisation owns and we have to come back to identifying that niche and making that as the narrative which enhances the storyline further. For example, if somebody is a specialist in a particular category, we then further drill it down and make successful stories out of it. It's only after a period of time that one will get established as Number 1. It's about the time and investment and continuous crafting of the message on both social media, blogs and also putting it out in the media in a very measured manner. Every post on social media has a metric that shows whether this post worked or did not work. Therefore, all these metrics help us revisit all our conversations with the media and our clients so that we can come back and visit each day and learn from our storylines."

Sharma added further, "According to me, I think it is always ‘objectives before optics.’ I think the delivery of a purpose is the reason why a brand should exist. The opportunistic PR can take a backseat today as it is about structuring and contextualizing."

Speaking about the difference between opportunistic PR and moment marketing, Padhy added, "Brands have also come a long way in understanding how critical their purpose is in terms of reaching out to their audiences. The trust that they have built is the most treasured asset that brings to life the values and missions of the brand. The audience in general is no longer interested in simply being the target of a brand. They want to engage with the brands that make them feel real. So, moment marketing is a part of thought-out communication. It has to be in context, it has to be relevant content and it has to be a part of one’s brand narrative. A great example of this is Zomato, which is the Guru of all-the-moment marketing as it is always contextual. Whether it is taking a stand on a political or religious topic or be it around Covid or just about general day-to-day marketing.' 

“Various brands depend on various types of methods. In my company, I always believe that being respectable and being responsible is far more important than being number one. Nowadays, we have got different mediums to communicate. There are media, there is paid media, earned media, shared media which can be easily utilised. However, there are still many brands that believe that the number of press releases and coverage does count. I think that it is for the communication team, the leadership team as well as the agency to sit and discuss what are the best ways. “added Bhaskar Majumdar.

"The relationship of trust between a client and an agency is of utmost importance. The client knows that you have their best interests at heart. Having said that, data of a certain kind also helps the clients understand if they are in the right direction. So, I think that given the vast gamut of platforms that we have, data is important. I don't think it sticks to the number of coverages or exposure anymore as it has gone beyond that now," said Padhy.

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