Are you digital ready?

Going digital is like losing weight. It can change your life but it is easier said than done in reality! The PR community in India is grappling with the typical digital questions – how do we build digital capacity, do we go in-house or partner, what kind of digital skills must we have and who owns the brand message? PR, marketing or digital?

To help answer some of these questions PRmoment India has spoken to a range of people.

What type of capacity should a PR agency build?

Yu Yu Din, Director, Digital Agency, Mango Group in Myanmar says that a PR agency should concentrate on building strategic digital capabilities first, “In my experience, PR agency digital teams fill the white space that other traditional or 'pure' digital agencies leave behind. For example, PR agency digital teams are called on to fire fight in the middle of a crisis or in preparing communications for a potential crisis.”

To find the people to do this, Yu Yu advises firms to first find, “Digital capabilities that complement strong PR offerings you already have. This should be the first place you look when it comes to augmenting talent. Another place I’d look is in your current talent pool – what are people inclined to work towards, to learn, and to implement. That’ll give you the best possible success when it comes to building capability in any agency.”

Sneh Sharma, Founder and CEO of digital firm, Ittisa, says that, “As far as PR agencies are concerned; they should have someone who understands both sides of the coin, has lived in both the worlds and can ultimately establish a link between the two.”

But, this is easier said than done. Yu Yu points out that, “Digital is so new that our HR colleagues are just starting to grasp what it takes to get the right talent. ‘Digital talent’ for PR firms does not fit into a ready-made box of job roles and descriptions. There are a lot of people who have done other forms or parts of digital marketing but when you look at it completely from a communications or PR perspective, they might not fit in.”

“On top of the everyday operational capabilities, you’ll also need people who will interface with clients on a daily basis – something traditional PR firms do very well. But for this, digital folks – especially if you’ve hired geeks – will need special training.”

DBS Bank India has one team that handles both marketing and communications – there are no separate PR teams. But as far as their agency services are concerned, Sheran Mehra, Head, Group strategic marketing and communications, DBS Bank India, admits that, “We haven’t been able to find that one stop shop yet that handles everything. In fact, the agencies are caught in a time warp; they are still caught in the traditional way of doing PR.”

The technology question

Experts in the field believe that it may not be possible to find that one size fits all agency. One big reason for this is tech. Yu Yu says that, “Digital is married to technology and the way you leverage tech to make communication monitoring and response more effective, the more competitive you’re going to be in the market for your clients. Partnerships should be considered with technologically capable and agile companies and organisations with smart developers who understand UI, UX, and inherently test products. If your core competency is communications strategies then you may end up partnering with monitoring companies.”

“Then comes the next question of whether you’re going to build in-house analysts for the data you’re getting or you’re going to outsource that as well. You’ll need to choose your solution carefully as each approach has its own set of challenges and rewards. One thing to keep in mind is that India has a great set of start-up and technology companies to pick and choose from when establishing meaningful partnerships.”

Sneh agrees that, “Technology drives the world today.” Her advice is to take an ecosystem approach as a PR agency based on your digital requirement. She also says that, “Digital media marketing is one such area that needs to be out-sourced because effective digital media companies come with a wide range of expertise that will provide improved focus on a core area of marketing.”

Who owns the brand message?

The reality of having multiple agencies means a struggle to establish who owns the brand message. For Yu Yu, “Overall brand ownership is my biggest pet peeve. When there’s a big company with multiple brands across the segment, and there are multiple agencies handling different social media accounts, or brands, they really need to talk to each other. Companies or brand managers that are more evolved know this and would have their agencies working together already so they operate as if a single team. Unfortunately, most multi-agency run accounts still need to catch up and implement a systematic process so there’s one set of messages and communications going out no matter which social media channel you’re on.”

Sheran agrees that, “The biggest challenge is to ensure that everyone is aligned properly. As a client you end up spending double the time making sure that everyone is equally involved. And there is a risk that someone might get missed.”

Sheran adds that as a client, for her, “It’s not really important today whether PR or marketing should drive a campaign – these lines are blurring. What is really important is that you have a ‘core team’ that is nimble and you know your key messaging (relevant content). Once you have this in place – all that remains is seeding and amplifying it in the right forums. Creating/building content, seeding content and amplification is what forms the pillars for initiatives that a brand undertakes.”

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