PR practitioners guide to leading a marketing conversation

Over the last fifteen years I have been working with brands across a variety of different categories including automotive, FMCG, consumer electronics, lifestyle and luxury. It started with educating marketing heads on how PR can help and what PR can do to build a brand. Often we would start with a product launch release and a press conference to announce the launch of a product and end right there. The idea was to use PR to build awareness for the product and its functionality. A one way communication method – we say, you listen approach. However those days have long gone.

Consumers today, want to engage and do business with brands; they don't just want to be told about a brand. They want to engage through authenticity, purpose, relevance and a bit of fun as well. People today don't just connect with brands for consumption alone and this is the premise on which marketing to consumer is fast changing. It's leading into the realm of providing brand experiences and building an aura; a kind of magic around the brand to increase loyalty, credibility, affinity and endorsement. 

Put these words together and one cannot build such attributes for a brand without a strong use of PR. Advertising alone cannot achieve these attributes for a brand. One directional messaging, of we speak, you listen, or advertise and consumers will come, is a marketing practice of the past. 

Today the consumption universe for a brand is strongly influenced by what they hear through peers, through society, through touch and feel, through social and global experiences and on how it can improve life around them. Marketers’ are seeking ideas to move brands from mere message providers to conversation starters and from functionality descriptions to opportunity enablers. There is no easy shift from traditional forms of communication. This is indeed a tough challenge for us as communicators as it means a whole new perspective to PR, talent thrown at marketers’ and creativity at a whole new level to build that "magical aura" around the brand. 

This is what we call experiential marketing – what all marketing heads are looking for. Who better to provide a solution than us PR professionals as we have for long been known as the custodians of brand credibility, loyalty, authenticity and endorsement! 

However the question we need to ask ourselves is, are we truly ready? Do we have the capabilities, the tools, the vision, the clarity and the thought process to deliver such campaigns which are not only complex but also high wired?

Today many of us PR professionals live each day like we are in a circus. Running around trying to meet the objectives of the left over brief to amplify brand messaging when we should have been leading the brand concept and idea in the first place. By the end of it all the value we deliver through PR is nothing short of magic! The true third party endorsement for the brand, its values and attributes that go a long way in building perceptions. Not just for the brand but the organisation at large. Therefore, for one moment if we step back and think, what if PR actually led the campaign? Imagine the multiplier effect and the value a brand would have achieved for every buck spent! 

It's time for change. We must drive that change. It can come only if we as professionals gear up to have those conversations, lead ideas backed by research and have confidence of ROI. The process of leading a campaign will change only if we are able to deliver ideas that and brands and people can act on together. 

Brand PR therefore is not just about content development and story generation, but it's about that one idea that can lead to action in the form of higher involvement, socialisation and opportunity generation, not just for the brand, but the company at large, the consumers, the government, NGOs, and the various stakeholders. The success of the idea is defined when the brand is seen an enabler of a change in behaviour, or an opportunity provider. 

Even though our world is getting more social and mobile connectivity is high, relationship building for brand must still be in person through touch and feel. Research after research has proven that consumers tend to engage with brands that are closest to them and those that they can experience first-hand. So let's not get lost in the new emergence of the digital media and follow the bandwagon to think digital, but let's think of holistic ideas that deliver the end objective and ultimately lead to stronger brand experiences and engagement. 

Start reading, researching and connecting the dots before you come up with the idea if you want to be taken seriously on the marketing heads table! 

Let's make magic! 

Points to remember

1. Contextualise ideas. Ensure they enable the brand to have a higher purpose. Think of the impact. Research and understanding of consumer behaviour and environment is critical to get started here. 

2. Remember the words from the wise – actions speak louder than words. So develop smart activation ideas to connect with consumers. Develop a process to reach out, engage and measure output. Amplify with the media and reach out with direct initiatives to deliver stronger brand experience. 

3. Influence the influencer. Nothing works better than word of mouth. Key decisions in India are taken by advice from the influencer. It could be a doctor, a celebrity, a socialite, or an academician. Identify them right, reach out, find common ground for engagement, and build a program to amplify outreach for the benefit of the brand.

4. Don't forget the old – a new media mix to reiterate the messages of the brand. Social, traditional, digital and mobile. Leverage every medium you can find to reiterate the same messages for a higher recall. Never forget the customisation and the language as India is large, and each person understands what's close to their heart and environment. Be relevant, contextual and impactful.

5. Bring the idea to life through visual and shareable content. Most campaigns that have been successful have a strong visual and viral element. If one can articulate in a photograph or a video it is best understood by any audience of any demographic, sociographic or psychographic type. Visuals are universal. And with today's digital media, visuals are the first to go viral. 

6. Connect the dots. Ride the trend to raise the level of engagement. Build a brand partnership and association plan. It's the best way to impact audiences with the right messaging and the fastest way to ensure brand values are best understood and the campaign is able to resonate in the minds of the consumers.

7. Review, review, review – don’t just think an idea works because you have planned it so. Keep yourself agile enough to change or alter a rework in the midst of the campaign to ensure it is relevant and meets the end objective. Don't be afraid to shake things up. Just do what's right, take the risk and take ownership. Things could go wrong but it's important to have timely feedback and review. 

8. Lastly, never think you know it all. Success lies in doing this differently each time. Be restless, learn from the past mistakes and alter to improve. Constantly keep challenging yourself. Move out of your comfort zone. Take risks. 

So as an industry let's pledge to get together, challenge ourselves, ask some bold questions, push ourselves, move out of our comfort zone and change the way we advise our clients on consumer PR. And, while we do so don't forget to enjoy each day and share some fantastic work for all to learn. 

Valerie Pinto, CEO, Perfect Relations, India

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