PR needs to put its money where the clients are: Experts

In a competitive scenario, PR agencies need to take stock of whether they have what it takes to build brand perception through messaging, say industry experts

e4m by Abhinav Mohapatra
Updated: Jun 3, 2013 4:45 PM
PR needs to put its money where the clients are: Experts

Sporting the theme ‘New Media, Friend or Foe’, the fourth edition of India PR and Corporate Communications Conference (IPRCCC) organised by exchange4media, gave a platform to PR and corporate communications professionals to throw light on emerging trends and debate the key issues of the communication industry.

A panel discussion on ‘Put your money where your mouth is’ discussed whether the PR agencies have what it takes in terms of talent acquisition, skill enhancement, training, transformation of personnel and building internal capabilities. The panel included communication, brand, media and PR professionals such as Deeptie Sethi, Head of Communications, Ford India; Madan Bahal, Managing Director, Adfactors PR; Paresh Chaudhry, Chief Executive Officer, Madison PR; Sonya Madeira Stamp, Managing Partner, Rice Communications. The session was moderated by Karthik Srinivasan, National Lead Social, Ogilvy & Mather.

Setting the direction for the session, Ogilvy & Mather’s Srinivasan asked who would the client chose to handle its social media, as the medium is claimed to be the flavour of the season. Chaudhry of Madison PR, citing an Ernst & Young report, said that 48 per cent of the top 40-50 media savvy companies use 5 per cent of their marketing for social media. “We work closely with most of our clients and agencies involved to develop and do the social media,” he added.

Adfactors PR’s Bahal, on the other hand, said that people have chosen social media over traditional as they cannot always go to mainstream advertising. “PR companies should own this aspect of social media advertising, because if you take an advertising guy, he would be more bothered about selling. One must train people and lead them towards the new media,” he said, adding that just as people interact with everyone around us, they should interact in a similar fashion on social too, since social represents a multitude of constituencies with its own.

Giving the discussion a twist, Stamp of Rice Communications put forth a pertinent point saying that one’s immediate TG has always been a small number of influencers, whether it is media, analysis or directly influencing public policy. On the other hand, advertising agencies’ brief has always been mass outrage. These are challenges for PR professionals. In terms of the message, PR professionals through the years have been able to build brand perception through messaging and very easily able to respond easier than advertising agencies. Taking Stamp’s point forward, Srinivasan asked if PR agencies can do two-way communication, but not on scale as compared to advertising agencies.

According to Ford India’s Sethi, one should not compartmentalise, but see how one is communicating, engaging and reaching out. “PR and social are siblings,” she noted.

When Srinivasan asked if it is the idea that matters and does the PR agency have to package better for their clients, a member of the audience responded by saying that the reason PR agencies are not doing well is because social media, which is a new age media, has not been understood well and has not been given enough weight. Clients always look at maximum output for the investment, whereas every medium has its own nuances and should be treated like it should.

Stamp noted here that PR has been more in the background in terms of training. She added, “We see how and where we are hiring from and there is an expectation of learning more core digital technical training. There should be on-ground training in universities and pre-work colleges so that technical basics are more solid.”

To Srinivasan’s question whether PR agencies would like to hire someone with a thousand followers on Twitter or someone with a social strategy, Chaudhry, reiterating Madison’s example, said that a PR professional should be a brand manager, out there in the field, doing research and also trained to be social brand managers. The strategies are integrated and that is the way forward. Bahal, from his own brand’s perspective, said that he lives in a less perfect world where he carries 400 people. “When I talk social, there is not a life and death situation; there is no agency that has shut down because social has not worked. It hasn’t yet reached the stage of changing the PR agencies or the industry, but if we want to survive the future, we must get onto this animal,” he remarked.

For Sethi, there is no definite rule for which person will fit the bill. “We really have to have an open mind to experiment and see the best fit. The next three years are critical. Everybody needs to understand what needs to be done, but we do urge PR agencies to build capacity. There is a lot more that needs to go into training, gone are the days of induction and teaching what PR does. I think we need to take this medium to deep dive and use it as a cross bow,” she said.

The panel also discussed why grievances and negative discussions about brands are ignored by the PR and the company rather being participative. How B2B social media is not considered as childish but regular social media is, and what is the way to understand and learn the way brands should converse on social media.

Bahal concluded by saying that the currency is time, one is now selling time. The whole social media practice is a tough one, rather than transforming 20,000 people, one should hire younger professionals, if not, then the industry will eventually take a big hit.

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