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Is it time for PR Agencies to Invest in Branded Content? Asks Perfect Relation’s Deepak Kapoor

26th February 2016


Few months back, advertising and marketing communication giant WPP, teamed up with messaging service Snapchat and British newspaper publisher the Daily Mail to launch a new content marketing agency called Truffle Pig. Leveraging the mass audience of DailyMail, the disruptive power of Snapchat, and the creative expertise of WPP, Truffle Pig produce and distribute a marketer’s branded content amongst audiences, forming the bedrock of story-driven marketing.

Mashable, a leading content driven website, entered India recently in partnership with india.com. As per an interview published in financial daily Mint, Adam Ostrow, chief strategy officer of Mashable, said that branded content will play a key role for them in India. Hence, one of their objectives is to be positioned as a premium publisher of such content.

These initiatives by prominent players project a strong emerging trend as to how globally agencies and media groups are reciprocating to the growing demand of marketers for branded insightful content supplemented by strong distribution.

Brands, themselves, have evolved into storytellers, pushing branded content to attract, engage and monetize their audience directly. They are further transcending media outlets by becoming publishers. Barclays’ decision to get its digital team running ‘like a newsroom’ for content delivery within 72 hours of information conception, is a fine example of this tectonic shift in brand communication. This move focuses on both current customers and acquisition.   

While every marketer may not opt for a newsroom, they definitely look at existing partners to help them tell their stories. Scouting for agencies which could collaborate to create branded content, strategize and distribute it from a single entity, rather than working with numerous partners to execute steps. This applies to PR agencies as well.

Should Indian PR industry aim at capturing a pie of the branded content market? Let us reason it.

‘Evolution of clients’, ‘discerning audience’ and most important ‘to stay relevant’ are foremost reasons for PR agencies, to consider venturing into this segment.

As per the ‘State of Content Marketing: India 2015’ report released by Kontentcart.com in collaboration with CXO Today, 64% marketers agree that content marketing is a core ingredient for brand awareness. About 74% of marketers spend more than 50% of their content marketing budgets on content creation. In addition, 84% marketers preferred increasing their budget for content marketing. In other words, gone are the days when content was just about fraction of PR communication consulting. Today, it’s entirely going to be content driven.

People, too, are fine with brands telling stories or sharing useful information rather than traditional commercials. A multimarket research undertaken by ‘The Boston Consulting Group (BCG)’  observed   96 % of consumers trust brands using content to help them meet a need or provide useful information without trying to sell them something.

A variety of interesting examples is already swarming across media spaces.

Take for instance, 'Hum Honge Kaamyaab' video rendition from Paperboat featuring well known achievers. The video imparted hope for a better tomorrow and inspired people to achieve their dreams. Not promoting their products directly, the brand still received over 10 lac views on YouTube, more than 9 lakh views and 23 thousand likes on their Facebook page and buzzing conversations on Twitter.

Another interesting example would be of FreeCharge’s acquisition by Snapdeal. To break this big news, both companies went on Twitter and used crisp story content where Snapdeal asked FreeCharge to ‘marry’ it. This happily ever after became the chatter for Twitteraties.

Croma wanted to promote their online shopping platform by appealing to all shoppers frustrated with crowded spaces, slow billing, no same day delivery and many other reasons. So, they created an engaging gif content on things that drives people insane during shopping and leveraged it on scoopwhoop.com. As one progressed towards the end of the piece, there was a brief marketing message lying down highlighting that Croma have answers to all such worries, through its amazing online services.

While the opportunity strikes a chord, do you think PR agencies will essentially benefit by getting into branded content space?

Very soon, you would witness PR surfacing into a multi-channel communication business betting big on content. Media landscape is already changing drastically. Newsrooms have shrunk, attention span on traditional media is low and advertising rates are inflated. Social and digital platforms have transformed into content platforms as well.  For PR professionals, keeping in mind all these factors, branded story telling gives a whole new platform to communicate meaningfully with the consumers.

As an emerging PR tool, it can be used by clients from across sectors under different scenarios. For example, FMCG giant Hindustan Unilever could use such kind of content to build awareness of its newly launched product.

Simultaneously, branded content can be leveraged during crisis management. Companies like Nestle, who witnessed the biggest crisis of 2015 concerning ‘Maggi’ could infuse content to divert consumer focus on safety measures it is implementing, tweaking of ingredients, ramping up backend mechanism and Maggi’s legacy with India among others.

Players operating in B2B or sensitive sectors like defence manufacturing can also strategically employ this tool. While one cannot converse with stakeholders about the weapons of destruction, an arms manufacturing firm can share stories about employment opportunities created, community engagement undertaken or their focus on sustainability and environmental welfare.

Jonah Peretti, Founder and CEO of Buzzfeed once said “Content is king, but distribution is queen. And she wears the pants”. This is another important aspect that agencies needs to deliberate on, while setting up branded content specialized units.

Distribution will be a de facto element in determining the success of PR campaigns driven by content.

Is there a scope of replicating Truffle Pig in India with a sound mix of creative capabilities, a prominent messenger service and widely read publication coming together as partners, guaranteeing results? If you go by my instincts, such a collaboration would be a game changer for the PR industry and first off its kinds.

For instance, in the digital space, if a PR agency joins forces with Whats App (65 mn active users as of August, 2015), Facebook (125 mn Indian users as of June, 2015) and Scoopwhoop.com (ranked#142 in India by Alexa Internet, Inc) it could extend branded content across platforms through them. Numbers are impressive and I believe reach of your content will be too.  This will only add onto the delight of clients considering the quantum of distribution and reach they’d be receiving.

Similar partnerships can be forged by PR agencies with media houses present across print and broadcast segments. They could further break down offerings in earned, owned and paid formats for carefully created content, all under one roof.

Over the last decade, PR agencies in the country have definitely seen a growth curve by creating value and strengthening client relationships with various stakeholders. Content is something that every PR agency works with, be it for traditional media or digital platforms.  Leveraging on this, branded content is one area that could translate into the next chapter of growth and expansion for the industry. 

Deepak Kapoor is a communication specialist, working with Perfect Relations Pvt Ltd. He aspires to make PR more mainstream from what it currently is.


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