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Why strategic developmental communication can offer double digit PR growth opportunity

24th January 2017

As businesses rework strategies to focus on the communities they work in as well as on major national challenges, communication is becoming a critical enabling tool. Note, I wrote enabling, not awareness or opinion formation or any of the business objectives communication is commonly deployed for.

With sustainable development going from buzzword to business imperative, communication for it is fast becoming an established offering within agencies. More than any other form of communication, it puts people at the strategic centre using the tools familiar to all of us – conversations, insights, digital and traditional media, events.

This is an opportunity for agencies since they can apply the lessons they have learned over the decades to sustainability initiatives undertaken by corporations and even the government. These span varied fields, from water to agriculture and housing to health.

Donors, too, are no longer happy with just good execution of the concept. They want to see community involvement and a robust dialogue with it.

For those implementing the initiatives, communication serves not just as the information pathway but also as a views exchange and the foundation for stakeholder buy-in. It can serve to build capacity and strengthen cooperation between all the groups concerned. Think of it as the iron rods and meshes around which plaster is moulded to create a structure. They remain unseen but provide the structure with form, stability and longevity.

One great example of this the ‘Eureka Forbes Jaldaan’ initiative through which safe drinking water is supplied to communities badly in need of it. This is done such that the plants become self-sustaining even as they create jobs and raise the overall health of the community, leading to better school attendance and higher household incomes. The communication around this is centred on making a difference to a critical national need: better health through cleaner water. This has made the initiative relevant to a larger audience, including talent looking to make an impact beyond the jobs they hold.

For results like this, agencies must be able to offer customised and multi-disciplinary services in an integrated manner.

For us, good communication around sustainability initiatives involves:

No agency or corporation can hope for success on the above fronts without transparent, open channels of communication. This is fundamental to sustainable development and lays the basis for scale, governance, accountability and effectiveness. All stakeholders must understand this.

This is an urgent objective before us as communicators because strategic communication is becoming an important instrument of policymaking itself. It has a wide-ranging impact on various aspects, from participation to monitoring and assessment.

For us, as an industry, this is an opportunity and a challenge. It’s difficult to put a figure to the growth we can expect from such a practice, but it’s safe to assume it will be in the double digits for at least a decade. We have the tools and the experience to make the most of it. The onus now is on agencies’ leaderships to aggressively pitch to such clients and to make the investments required to service them.

Ashraf Engineer is principal consultant and Jaideep Shergill,  co-founder of Pitchfork Partners Strategic Consulting LLP

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