From traditional PR to Integrated Comms

13 Jan,2015


The 2014 edition of the now-annual India Public Relations (PR) Report focused on the downturn and how agencies are coping with it. The survey – carried out across India – focused on senior PR professionals and their views on how the business was evolving. One insight emerged loud and clear: PR as we know it is dead. We are in the age of strategic integrated communication and agencies that don’t evolve will die.


It is only fitting then that, in the midst of this change, MSLGroup’s 2015 annual report on the state of the industry changes too. Over the last three editions, our research focused on industrypersons. However, as agencies strive to become central to the marketing function and take the lead on brands, it’s important to understand how marketing heads see it. Do they believe ‘new PR’ – integrated communication – has a role to play? If yes, how important do they think it is? What would they like to see in the strategic communication agencies they turn to? How much money and time are they willing to invest in them and how are they tying it in to their business goals?


Jaldi 5 with Ashraf Engineer on MSLGroup’s Strategic Communications Report
Lines between the different communication disciplines are blurringFor former journalist Ashraf Engineer, joining MSL in 2011 wasn’t a career shift. He did the same, albeit for another wing of the media ecosystem. As Vice-President, Content and Insights at MSLGroup, Mr Engineer has published some insightful reports over the years. We asked him a few quick questions on the annual PR, ah, well, strategic communications report that MSL publishes.


1. From PR Report over the last three years to Strategic Communications Report in 2015, why the change in nomenclature?
It’s in keeping with the evolution of the industry itself. The traditional model is dead and the industry is – in large part – making the shift to a more strategic role. We can’t approach the report in the way we did earlier because our role has changed too, from old-style media relations to a holistic approach that uses a variety of tools and skills – from digital to insights to public affairs and crisis communication, to name just a few.


2. You’ve personally edited all the editions of the report. What are your impressions of how the industry has moved from 2011 to now?

I was the quintessential outsider in mid-2011 when I began my innings in this industry. So, to me, the distance the industry has travelled since then is all the more apparent. The pace of the shift from traditional to integrated and strategic has been staggering. That’s been the standout impression for me. Also, it’s evident that lines between the different communication disciplines are blurring.

It’s been thrilling to watch how the industry has adapted so well to the changing paradigm.


3. While calling PR Strategic Communications is fine, but do you really think CMOs look at PR in adding value to their marketing activity? Or is PR still a tool to get the col com in the newspapers the following day? In your study too, there is a 49 percent expectation of Media Relations from a PR agency?

It’s important that CMOs are understanding very quickly how agencies that have been in the business of fostering conversations and storytelling are better equipped to manage their brand communication. We are in transition, no doubt, but the mindspace we occupy today among CMOs was a distant dream as close as 2011. By the time we release the next report, we’ll have travelled a significant distance more. Media relations continues to be part of the mix, but not the main driver.


Incidentally, 80% also say that budgets allocated to us have grown over the past five years. And that cant happen unless they see you adding value beyond media relations.


4. In your study, did CMOs talk of talent in PR (or the lack of enough of it) as a factor that’s impacting the PR industry of its rightful place in the marketing value chain?

Talent has been a concern for a long time. The report has a section – separate from the survey – on partnering with academia to ensure that students have the right skills when they enter the industry. While the industry has been engaging with educational institutions, a lot more needs to be done.


Our earlier reports have dwelled at length on it and in this one CMOs talk of investing in the right capabilities – for instance, insights, creative, public affairs, etc. Its certainly a view that ties in with the talent imperative and how it affects the industrys ability to evolve.


5. Are our PR schools equipped to train students for integrated communications?

I think they are understanding this and the quality institutions are acting to bridge the gap. I don’t think they’re there yet, but it’s also up to the industry to ensure that it engages with these institutions through syllabus recommendations, coursework drafting, lectures, events like conclaves, etc.


Industry-ready graduates are needed and its only to our benefit if we help ensure that institutions prepare them so.


Our survey of marketing heads across India has been a revelation. And full of hope. While advertising continues to have the biggest share of the annual marketing budget – 45% – overall marketing budgets have grown one fourth in the past five years. One of the reasons for the budgetary increase has been the adoption of integrated communication by businesses.


With the PR industry making a decisive shift to this model, the time is right to capitalise on this trend. In fact, so important has this trend been that two thirds of the respondents said they have already adopted the integrated communication approach in order to achieve higher engagement with audiences and greater visibility. What’s a concern is that advertising agencies are being seen as the ones adapting faster to the integrated communication imperative. Marketers say they trust advertising agencies to service their needs because they’ve delivered greater return on investment in the past.


For the PR agencies of today to become the partners of choice tomorrow, they need to demonstrate how they can add value and shift quickly to the integrated model. Marketing heads were quick to assert that agencies that did not adopt a holistic approach would fade away. Marketing heads also emphasised that data and insights would play a bigger role in campaigns and overall communications. It’s no longer a capability to be invested in for the future but a must-have now. What emerged was a picture of a new age of marketing that demands new answers. Can the PR agencies of this age provide those solutions? The opportunity exists. It’s time to seize it.


If budgets are the acid test, then the PR industry seems to be on firm ground. While it is still way behind advertising, a majority of respondents said that their PR budgets had increased over the past five years. However, even now, respondents said PR accounts for only 15% of the marketing budget. With advertising accounting for 45%, PR has a lot of work to do if it intends to gain the lion’s share of the marketing bucks.


The good news is that 80% of the respondents said that the budget allocation for PR is rising. The industry has evolved and companies are recognising its contribution in their growth.


It’s now redundant to say that PR as we knew it is dead. Both, industry experts and clients, have been stressing for a while on the need for agencies to re-examine their role. Respondents are clear that they are willing to increase their budgets provided agencies can meet the dynamic needs of the market and work as a partner that understands their business goals. As many as two-thirds (67%) of the respondents have tried the integrated communication approach in their organisations.


The benefits are plenty: 47% said that integrated communication provides higher engagement with audiences and 43% said it delivers greater visibility. One respondent said that it gives consumers an opportunity to experience the brand through multiple mediums while another said that it brings together customers, employees as well as top management.


While everyone recognises its value, it’s still early days for integrated communication in India. Some respondents said that one of the biggest challenges is adoption – it is a long process, it could get expensive and it involves getting multiple stakeholders on board.


Also, in a situation where there are multiple businesses, multiple products, multiple consumers and multiple outcomes expected, it could get complex.


About 37% of the respondents said that if PR agencies were to offer integrated communication, it would increase overall productivity, while 25% said it would result in better management; 22% said that it could save costs.


When asked about the disadvantages of PR agencies offering integrated communication, 22% said that there would be difficulty in management, 18% said there would be internal conflicts and 16% believed that there would be a work overload. “PR agencies have lesser understanding of the brand. They have to prove themselves before offering integrated communication,” said a respondent



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