Long read: A year into the pandemic, how are PR professionals managing the change?

A year into the pandemic anniversary, communicators in India share what has changed forever in PR; and what steps they are taking to shape their work accordingly.

Marketing and PR using similar channels for communication 

Instagram is the new newspaper

That marketing is commonly defined as the promotion of products and services to consumers, while public relations is about creating a wider positive idea of the brand is hardly news, says Anjali Gupta, founding partner, Four Founders PR.

However, explains Gupta, "Today, marketeers and PR professionals frequently find themselves using the same communications tools and relying on a common source. Since a single platform and a single medium can be used to solve both purposes."

Integrated teams has standardised messaging

Sowmya Shenoy, PR and media relations officer, with real estate firm, Embassy Group agrees saying, "We have successfully aligned integrated marketing and PR by creating one large team that works together on all assignments and campaigns. This has brought about standardization of messaging, and also cross leveraging among the diversified verticals of the Embassy Group."

Nikky Gupta, co-founder, Teamwork Communication confirms that,"PR personnel today are not just in-charge of handling media relations but they are actively working with the larger marketing teams to achieve common goals."

This change is also occurring due to the openness to hiring PR as part of the marketing mix, especially post pandemic.

 Pravin Shririyannavar, COO, Integrated brand-comm explains this, "Affordability to hire a PR partner to help them tell their brand stories better has gone up substantially. Every brand feels they should make this investment to be ascertained that the brand is known for what its purpose is and is perceived by the target audience as desired. Unfortunately, traditional media avenues have not gone up at the same pace. This has increased the supply of stories as compared to the demand, hence a higher rejection rate across media."

Upskilling at warp speed, new processes of PR, evaluation and media engagement

Mazumdar has considerably upskiled

With an eye to dealing with so much change, Bhaskar Majumdar, head - corporate affairs, communication and digital, Egis India has racked up a series of learnings in public policy, email marketing and integrated communication from institutions spread across Harvard Kennedy School, ISB Hyderabad, NIIT and MICA.

Mazumdar agrees that change has been stressful however he says, "With remote working one has time to adapt to newer things."

Sayesha Arora, account manager, The PRactice, points to two new changes since the pandemic with no clear answers yet on how to deal with it, "No physical media rounds, so how to crack impossible journalists and we have become a 24*7 active industry, but are our spokespeople prepared?"

"This change in the ratio has put tremendous pressure on PR professionals and brands to ensure that the story is strong enough to sell to the media."

    Tarunjeet Rattan, founder, PRPOI is trying to up the pitching game at her end. She has conducted at least 40 learning sessions during 2020 and used the learning from these sessions with clients.

    "For me personally, I shared the PRPOI learnings  on pitching, measurement and implemented them in my work. While a few disagreed and jumped ship, the ones that stayed benefited immensely. The pain of letting go of a brand/client is real. Especially in a pandemic situation. But in the long run, it worked and attracted more of the same kind who wanted to work with us."

    Setu Shah, CEO, PROSE Integrated agrees saying, "We need to incorporate a new evaluation matrix during the goal setting phase both internally as well as with clients. This includes Percentage of coverage with images which are relevant to the brand or have brand signature and Inclusion of power words in the coverage which cements the desired brand positioning."

    Even these are not enough communicators say, with firms like Godrej clearly marking return on objective measurement rather than ROI.

    Data helps this process greatly. Megha Behl, senior account manager, Hill+Knowlton Strategies India says, "We now have to solve client’s problems not just for marketing or communications, but also in the realm of data and analytics, which is important for them to justify the ROI internally. Therefore, we need to ensure that our ideas are  underpinned with an understanding of data and analytics."

      Dolly Tilani-Bhatter, CEO, Brand N Buzz says, "With social media often becoming the first port of call for starting PR, work has become a lot more dynamic. Our PR team now spends more time understanding and researching trends than actually working."

      As PR respositons itself as a consulting function, this is bound to happen though.

        Changing digital engagement for content marketing  

        Ridhima Krishan, senior account executive, Genesis BCW adds that the pandemic has made digital content marketing very specific.

        "Brands have started categorizing their media into tiers or as B2B/ B2C. The same trend is prevailing on social media, for instance – there are LinkedIn specific campaigns to generate B2B leads and Instagram campaigns to reach the end consumer. This demand is going to become more prominent amongst both small and large-sized businesses in the coming years", opines Krishan.

        Additionally, "When it comes to building backlinks, we are often tasked with getting linked coverage on top-tier publications in the sector, be it general news or a specific niche like- Bloomberg, CNN, BBC, Business Standard, YourStory, and Entrepreneur", elaborates, Shekhar R. Wagh, co-founder and head-PR at The Media Troop.

        Aashna Khurana, marketing communications specialist APAC at Barco says she focuses on, "Using the PR budget tactfully to ensure we are seen in both trade as well as mainstream publications – balancing both earned and paid media."

        Cheryl D’souza-Waldiya, GM, corporate communication, K Raheja Corp also believes that  public relations has evolved to combine traditional and new age media. 

        She adds, "For instance, we can choose to amplify our earned media through social or use SEO effectively to secure backlinks within our articles."

        Aanchal Tripathi, founder of Papillon Public Relations. says this change into a integrated matrix  is very visible in leading luxury, FMCG brands as well as startups who emphasise on curating online events where everything is about ‘being in the moment’. 

        Tripathi elaborates saying, "We like being a part of the change and witnessing the innovation in that given moment rather than learning about it via a press release.If you observe, fashion designers are collaborating with artists to launch a capsule collection. Restaurants are constantly innovating by collaborating with authors, health coaches to host online events or create a limited edition menu."

        Dushyant Sinha, Founder, ICCPL, DigiComm and FindMyCoWork points out that, "Right from the writing skills to PR pitching has to undergo a drastic change. We are constantly training our team to develop online skills and have focused on having an in-house content team."

        Dealing with WFH

        Charvi Malhotra, Account Executive, Elite Marque Public Relations shares that, "Yes, our work life has changed drastically, and our hesitation to adapt has made it more difficult than we could have imagined. 

        The most challenging thing to deal with, to have a suitable working environment. Even after we've set up our desks and chair, we may not have that disciplinary feeling. Having a suitable room for the same configuration is also a challenge to meet. As a result, I've set up two-three workspaces to help myself stay focused."

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