MSLGROUP India’s Jaideep Shergill looks at PR trends for Asia

The paradigm for public relations (PR) in Asia is shifting. As marketers understand its strategic value, the industry is rapidly adding skills and offerings to deliver holistic brand communications solutions.

While digital communication – dominated by social media – constitutes the most obvious trend and biggest opportunity, it has been written about in great detail. For this column, I want to concentrate on the other trends we’ll see over the next three years. These are trends MSLGROUP India had identified in its executive report ‘Public Relations in India: Inside the Industry’s Mind and the 2013 Outlook’, which was released in January.

Brand journalism: More organisations will recognise the need to marry marketing with reputation management. Engagement has always been a key component of PR, but in the ‘Conversation Age’ of today communicators are moving from monologue to dialogue.

The cornerstone of this engagement is content. Not just creating it, but also managing it. Content that informs and encourages conversations is relevant to the target audience. It is shareable and it strengthens customer loyalty. Corporations as well as PR firms are now employing teams to specifically produce high-quality content. 

It is the digital revolution that has changed the way companies are communicating. Consumers today ‘experience’ products and services online before buying them. From researching a product’s specifications to looking for reviews, consumers rely on the online space. It gives them a sense of empowerment as they now have a forum to share their experiences and at the same time become influencers for a brand.

PR firms are producing a variety of content, from social media campaigns to white papers and online games to shape this consumer experience. Earned media is now making way for owned media, enabling companies to take control of their brand story rather than relying on traditional media.

Globally, we have already seen several brands, such as Volkswagen, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola and Pepsi – as well as non-corporate ‘brands’ such as NASA – using engaging content to reach out to stakeholders.

Businesses with purpose: ‘Purpose’ that goes beyond profit will become increasingly important. Business will try to integrate this purpose across their operations.

Successful brands will be those that work with communities, governments, customers and organisations to co-create solutions to toughest problems. Moving from corporate social responsibility to collaborative social innovation will drive more rapid and meaningful change in society and in business, because with collaboration and co-creation comes shared value and a mutually beneficial shared purpose.

The intersection of a few shifts in the business environment has made it imperative for organisations to bring purpose and people together: diminishing trust in organisation, the rise of people power, and people are searching for meaningful connections with communities and organisations around a shared purpose.

Visual communication: The survey MSLGROUP India commissioned for its report showed that communication is making a strong shift towards the visual. Respondents said that, since 65% of their audiences are ‘visual listeners’, this trend is critical. Good graphic representations are critical to serve clients better. This is why a rising number of communications include infographics, attractive visuals or visual depictions of critical information.

Storytelling: There was a virtual consensus that brands that tell their stories the best will be the ones that stand out. Storytelling is only now being used as a craft in marketing communications with organisations as diverse as Coca-Cola and NASA adopting it to convey their key messages to their stakeholders. MSLGROUP India’s survey respondents agreed that it is a critical element of PR, from client engagement to ensuring the desired outcomes. A key insight was that respondents felt the use of storytelling increases audience trust, eventually creating loyal customers.

Proactive monitoring: From evaluating conversations to identifying the issues that matter to a brand’s audience, social media monitoring is critical. Performance measurement is critical to the industry, which will shift slowly from measuring output to outcome. In the case of visual communication, measuring audience comprehension will become the norm, not eyeballs attracted.

Jaideep Shergill is CEO of MSLGROUP India