In our continuing PRmoment India leadership series, we speak exclusively to Jean -Léopold Schuybroek Founder and Honorary Chairman of the Interel Group, about what PR will look like in 2017. Schuybroek, who is also chair, Global Development of PROI. was recently in India to attend the global advisory board meeting of Adfactors PR-India’s top rated independent PR firm.
PRmoment India: What are the top PR trends you see for 2017?
Jean-Léopold Schuybroek: We continue to see whole trends of specialization in PR. Which means different types of skills are needed for crisis and management, for reputation management, for legal issues for risk management mitigation. Apart from hiring from journalism, we also need to hire from areas such as legal. Social media has been with us for many years, it is now an everyday part of our lives. PR firms, integrated and independent – all will need to pay attention to the role of analytics and metrics. Behavioral sciences will also play a very important role in communication in 2017 as will research. Globalization is also a development that affects all of us. There are not only acquisitions of Indian firms here but also Indian companies have acquired firms outside the country. This is a development that affects the future of communications.
PRmoment India: Is the PR business prepared to handle these developments and needs of the client?
Jean-Léopold Schuybroek: We need to be prepared for that. That doesn’t mean we don’t do traditional PR. That is in the DNA of what we do. This includes earned media and our expertise of dialogue and bringing the message to the people. That will continue. But, there are also new trends and new skills needed. In European markets, we hire people with a background in legal, social sciences and political sciences. They help us on a consultancy basis to see how business can incorporate their inputs. There is a lot of work happening on how the human brain works, how people react to communications and PR firms need to invest gradually in this knowledge.
PRmoment India: Given your expertise in handling food crises, what suggestions can you offer for PR in the context of ‘Big Food’ and their PR?
Jean-Léopold Schuybroek: Years ago, I have handled food and health scares such as ‘Mad Cow’ and ‘GMO’. Public opinion has always been very sensitive about food. There is a big role that PR companies can play in educating people. For example, GMOs have been banned in several countries in Europe. It’s been conveyed as a black and white issue, when there are both downsides and benefits to GMO. And it is so difficult to define the risk of a product, you need to think about how do you manage the crisis, is it about the product or something else.
PRmoment India: How do you communicate about a complex issue such as a food product?
Jean-Léopold Schuybroek: Firstly, the brands themselves need to be very product conscious. The role of PR is then to communicate very complex information to the public opinion, to take away the anxiety about an issue. In the social media, there is so much fake information about an issue or product. We saw that in BREXIT and in the recent US elections. Facebook, in fact has a real challenge now with fake news that may have influenced the US election results. What should I listen to? This is the new reality. That is a challenge for industries to handle. Pseudo experts have now come in now; these are new challenges for us.
PRmoment India: How should PR firms structure themselves to grow in 2017?
Jean-Léopold Schuybroek: The market is asking for a different kind of support now. Global firms in PR are offering consumer engagement support. Then you have local independents who know the market very well. Then there are specialized firms that clients that are less loyal pick up for specific issues. The PR firms that are under pressure are the medium sized PR firms, with 15-20 people who are jack of all trades. Finally, it all boils down to talent. And then what space you are in and having the right strategy and to execute it well. There is talent moving out of the Indian market as well.
PR is the Lingua franca of the world, which makes retaining and finding talent very important.