With digitalisation, integrated communications is the way ahead: Atul Sharma

Sharma, MD at Ruder Finn India, talks about the importance of investing in technology, building bespoke strategies for regions and more

e4m by Ruchika Jha
Published: Oct 4, 2022 8:51 AM  | 6 min read
Atul S

Digitisation has enabled PR agencies to grow and achieve their desired goals with accuracy and convenience. However, there are some challenges too. Some of the key roadblocks include building face-to-face relationships, getting top-tier coverage, managing client expectations and keeping data organised.   

In conversation with us, today is Atul Sharma, managing director, Ruder Finn India where he touches upon various factors challenging the agencies. He also talks about how brands and firms need to customise their strategy to suit the region. 

Today, where every professional is inclined towards the virtual world, how important it is to maintain face-to-face relationship/communication with clients? 

The hybrid work environment is here to stay, and I think every professional has learnt to balance the work from home or living out of the office situation pretty well. Though I believe that physical touch and contact are going to be essential for the business. 

As social animals, we like to interact, share and exchange and build on each other’s energies, primarily from building relationships with teams or with clients, the human touch is going to be extremely important. We saw that during difficult times, face-to-face relationships became key, especially when it was about expressing empathy or understanding what our colleagues were going through.

While we can arrange for online time offs or team breaks, face-to-face meetings are always better to boost engagements which are fulfilling. Face-to-face communications help to make a meeting more real and human in terms of engagement. It brings discipline and cuts the distractions. It re-establishes the fact that appreciation is not just limited to a mail but is at arm’s length. We will all agree that a pat on the back is much better than a virtual clap. I am sure the idea of a virtual ice cream doesn’t sound appealing to most of us. 

After using the amalgamation of digital and traditional practices, what has been the success ratio for agencies? 

I don’t think it is one versus the other, digital services are the future, just like traditional practices are the present. We have seen communication firms focus on building their presence strongly in digital practices, as they gear up for the future. Majority of the firms have a ratio of 50:50, if not more, when it comes to digital vis-à-vis traditional practices. 

With digitalisation, integrated communications is the way ahead. Another important point to keep in mind is that we need to customise the content, in line with the platforms on which the content is being shared. These are critical for success. It will be wise to adopt and adapt to technological innovations and digitisation in our work culture and businesses, sooner than later. Those organisations that have been quick to understand this critical demand have achieved success faster.  

What are the provisions/steps/plans/initiatives that you have in place to ensure and strengthen regional reach? 

India’s top 100 cities are gearing towards building a smart future, and communications is going to be an integral part of it. With the advent of the internet and 4G, most of our clients’ businesses have pivoted in a way that more and more of their revenue is coming from tier 2, tier 3 cities and to provide support to their communication needs, we have built services, partnerships and initiatives to address the same. 

We not only have regional experts who understand the cultural, social and economic nuances of each of the markets, but have also built strong affiliations with local firms in each of the regions to cater to the regional outreach. We are also leveraging technology to provide services spread across monitoring and analytics, messaging, transcription, dissemination, reporting and outreach. While quite a few of these services are in their infancy, but we are getting strong demand from the regional markets for the same. One thing is for certain, every region of India is unique and different, and a single approach that fits all, will not work. To be successful, brands and firms will need to study every region and bespoke strategies need to be designed. 

How have new tools like data mining and data management helped professionals in data mitigation 

Data analytics has helped us to gauge the needs of a client’s stakeholders better and align our public relations approach in line with that. Stakeholder demographics, behavioural patterns and changing preferences can be analysed and accordingly communication strategies re-designed, which helps in designing the brand narrative. Simply put, with over 100,000 registered newspapers and periodicals alone as of 2021, as communications experts, it is important for us to cut through the communication clutter. 

Data analytics gives us that boost to analyse the specific need of a diverse population of the country from various regions. Effective strategies are then crafted based on the analysis and content is created keeping in mind the demography and region. It is not just about spamming for coverage or visibility. Content has become more customised and the success is dependent on the choice of platform to reach a particular stakeholder. Quantity is a thing of the past. Data analytics helps in de-cluttering the social media chatter and identifying trends that matter so that storytelling can be more streamlined and aligned to the needs of the audience. Data analytics will play a significant role in PR communication efforts in the days to come. The need of the hour is to invest substantially on technology. 

How have PR agencies been successful in expanding their territorial reach in the advertising and marketing space? 

We are in the field of communications and everything related to maintaining and building a brand’s reputation. Hence, it will be wrong to limit PR to press releases or media interviews. With the advent of paid, earned, shared and owned media, the focus on PR is on storytelling. Through PR we aim to tell the story of the brand creatively, its success narrative, and its future journey. 

PR is not limited to only traditional media anymore. Hence, it is imperative to collaborate and engage with experts and talent pool from various sectors. I believe working and collaborating with various agencies or expertise from different fields to tell a brand story differently, is what PR is and should be about. This is going to be the way forward. With changing times, we need to reskill ourselves as well. Building the brand narrative and our own brand narratives through various platforms and empowering ourselves with expert talent is critical.

The content in this section is curated by the PR and Communications team. For any feedback kindly write to karan.bhatia@exchange4media.com.

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