By Invitation: Challenges for PR given post-lockdown disruption in Indian media: Bhaskar Majumdar

21 Apr,2021

Bhaskar MajumdarBy Bhaskar Majumdar

 

We have all heard the popular adage, “Change is the only constant!” Nothing can be truer than this and it is relevant across everything we can think of, and the business of communication, of which, public relations is an integral part, is no exception. What it also means that, whoever fails to keep pace with the changing times, will be rendered redundant, sooner or later. Of late, as the global pandemic accelerated the pace of digital transformation, we began to hear terms like ‘reskilling’, ‘upskilling’, ‘relearning’, all the more than ever before. The answer to the ‘why’ is encapsulated in the adage I quoted above.

The public relations industry, since the very beginning, embraced ‘relationships’ or ‘media relations’ as the be-all and end-all of success. Professionals who had robust relations or can get client’s stories, not only landed better job offers but were also revered by bosses and colleagues alike. Reputed and large PR firms harnessed this skill set and recruited the conversationalists who had good understanding of the media environment as well as equally good media relations. Although there is nothing wrong in that, but, what was once held as a ‘must have’ skill amongst PR professionals, is now just a ‘good to have skill’.

The reason for this can be attributed to the fact that, apart from rapid digitisation that was already underway; since March last year, the Covid-19 pandemic had an adverse impact on traditional or print media’s advertising revenues and marketing budgets. On the other hand, simultaneously, content consumption behaviour underwent a seismic shift, as more and more individuals started preferring bite-sized snackable content that they can consume on the move, over any device of their choice.

This, if we reckon, also pushed several traditional print publications to branch out into the digital domain – experimenting with AR-based content, interactive videos, and more. Many newspapers have started their own digital counterpart, along with their print editions, and are delving into newer digital content formats, such as apps, podcasts, videos and webinars, beyond just articles, to keep the audience engaged and immersed. And this worked out just fine, as amidst the nationwide lockdown last year, we witnessed a staggering 453% rise in news app usage. Apart from that, many print publications went completely online during the lockdown, seeking better ROI and staying relevant with the changing times.

Therefore, with digital, #digitalMedia and #socialmedia increasingly becoming a de facto choice for content consumers, there has been a paradigm shift in the role of PR professionals and corporate communications experts too, a move away from relying only on media relations to a more strategy-centric approach – an Omni channel integrated one. This trend has even altered what was once thought to be outside of the ambit of public relations discipline, such as internal communication, efficient employee engagement, digital/social outreach (creatives, video’s), CSR (conceptualisation, planning and execution), investor relations, public affairs and policy, secondary research, brand audit, media dipstick to many newer things.

Given this dominant scenario, the roles and responsibilities of public relations and communications agencies and consultants are also undergoing sea-changes. More and more agencies are now offering strategic services and are building competencies for new age story telling. The need for building adequate capacities and offering services which are more suited to the current times, will be critical for agencies going forward. Whoever misses the gun and fail to reinvent themselves will fall behind and eventually become comparatively irrelevant. The firms which earlier solely relied on traditional media, especially print, will now have to realign their strategies to survive in what we call the ‘new normal’.

Buoyed by the digital transformation that is currently happening, the growing need of the market has put integrated strategic approach to PR, at the very top of the pyramid. Now, public relations are an eclectic blend of earned, paid, owned and shared media and Digital Outreach and Social Media Outreach will be now being an integral part of all Communication campaign planning. Well, traditional media have not lost its ground and never will, however, digital and social will occupy the larger share of the media mix pie in the coming times. It also largely depends on one brand to the other. For instance, a consumer facing brand will fare better to rely on digital platforms, where their consumers are, whereas, a B2B brand can rely on traditional channels.

Many brands today are heavily relying on YouTubers, bloggers, influencers and micro-influencers to narrow down on their target audience and reach out to those who are relevant in a more effective, efficient and impactful manner. This can be corroborated by the fact that, as per a report by ClanConnect.ai, over 50% of marketers are ready to increase their influencer marketing spends in 2021. In fact, 78% of marketing leaders leveraged influencer marketing in 2020, while a little over 13% of them initiated influencer activity for the first time in 2020. What is also very interesting to note is that fact that, 87% of CMOs prefer to conduct up to 25% of their influencer campaigns with micro-influencers. This corroborates the fact that brands prefer to engage with influencers who have a dedicated, loyal following even if the number of followers does not go into lacs.

To conclude, both brands and agencies who are looking for holistic success in their outreach strategies have to go beyond traditional media and embrace a more integrated omnichannel strategy and pull in all efforts to devise content and plan campaigns that are customized as per each consumer touchpoints.

 

Bhaskar Majumdar is Head of Corporate Affairs, Comms & Digital, Egis India. His views here are personal

 

 

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