Are you ready for the content revolution?

In March, this year, Ford India launched the EcoSport Urban Discovery campaign. Under this campaign contest 100 consumers will be picked to drive the SUV, EcoSport, on the basis of interesting urban ‘discoveries’ that they submit about their city. In essence, what Ford India is doing is creating real customer-driven content to drive their communications.

Content and its end user public relations, has truly become conversational in India. No longer can content in PR be confined to press releases and white papers, but is a key PR function where it can drive entire campaigns and create conversation hooks. To do this, PR professionals have to come up with new content styles that speak the language of today’s social media platforms. PR experts says that today, traditional print (newspapers, magazines) and audiovisual content (television/movies/radio/documentaries )has to be augmented by infographics, comic scripts, pictures, video logs, MMS’s, tweets etc. The content also needs to be engaging and conversational, as it needs to be amplified to for optimum ROI.

Deeptie Sethi, Head of Communications at Ford India, says, “For Ford’s EcoSport, the Urban Discovery campaign is a very real example of engagement and dialogue with a consumer.  For the very first time, 100 Indian consumers will get  a chance to drive the car ahead of market introduction and make their own “ urban discoveries” as they get to be with the car for a couple of weeks. This is a unique consumer based long lead pre launch campaign, where the consumers themselves are creating the content and, in effect, the campaign. One has heard about citizen journalism, this is consumer journalism.”

Deeptie adds that: “This is truly defining what 360 communications is all about. We are amplifying this digitally, at point of sale at our dealerships, product in the life of the consumers and earned media and we have created a Keep Me Informed Consumer Database (KMI) to keep our consumers informed as we progress towards market launch. But the underlying feature that is connecting all the dots from online to offline is the content being created by the consumers – real people sharing real experiences. Within 12 hours of the launch we received no less than 1500 discoveries and it has been an eye opener for us. This consumer-created content gives us an opportunity to create flexibility in our campaign and gives us a platform to keep our listening power high on what they like and what they don’t like."

Content experts say that creating large scale content which is conversational is a challenge. Chetan Mahajan, Managing Director at 20:20MSL, says: “Making content engaging, conversational, spontaneous and versatile, which can be adapted to various forms of storytelling, is the biggest challenge today. A brand and its competition may both be seen on TVC’s, newspapers, magazines, events, on Facebook and so on. Now when that happens, the huge challenge or the biggest opportunity for brand custodians is to think on their feet and generate fresh content that delights the target audience in unorthodox ways. Some such examples may be the print roadblock that Volkswagen created with The Times of India, Coca Cola’s Happiness truck in Lucknow, how Dell interviewed the first customer of the first ultrabook launched in India or  You Can Still Dunk In The Dark. All of these are interesting and innovative forms of content that automatically got enveloped in huge amounts of content from the media (online and offline).”

Chetan adds that content is one of the major parameters that differentiate brands, agencies and PR professionals too and much of the change in content is being driven by social media. This poses its own special content challenges; “There are often different people and/ or departments handling the various social media properties; yet the conversation across all platforms need to be in tandem with each other. Then there are platform specific challenges: on Facebook for example, visuals are playing an extremely crucial role, so the quality of those visuals needs to be good. Similarly on Twitter, the speed of conversations is such, that timely listening and response is crucial to manage the reputation of the brands.”

Prasoon Kumar Ghosh, Director of Digital PR at Channel PR, adds that, “To be effective with our communication online we need to understand each medium and its requirements differently. Design and use different types of content to engage the audience. Also while we create meaningful and engaging content we also need to balance it with keywords that help it in search engine optimisation. Also the media today is much more mature, pressure on editorial content is high from the marketing side. To tackle all these factors PR agencies have to be innovative in content development be it for traditional media or digital media."

All this places considerable pressure on PR professionals to develop compelling content. Comparisons may be drawn with the Indian MBA professional who is also expected to know and do it all regarding the management of a company. Does this mean that today’s PR professional will also have to acquire the skills of a super content developer as well? Chetan Mahajan says, “We’re paying special importance to content, so that we evolve as super specialists and percolate the benefit to our clients too. We’re doing this via trainings from internal and external experts and constant engagement with employee on storytelling opportunities."

The writing on the wall is clear. It's either understand the power of unique, conversational and interesting content or watch the PR campaign crumble away from disinterested stakeholders.