Do client structures prevent integrated PR?

The communications world is grappling with the integration of PR at two levels: one is what service mix to offer and the other is the integration of campaigns with both marketing and PR.

Integrated PR services

Vivek Rana, CEO of The PRactice feels that, “Integrated PR consultancies offer a more sustainable solution to client challenges because of the capacities being built. Specialist agencies mostly offer a distraction with shiny objects that have almost no sustainable quotient to them.”

Vivek believes that for consultancies, “The trick is to weave a model where there is deep domain expertise and specialisation across services, while allowing for collaboration and integration to demonstrate and deliver a ‘one experience’ for the client. If either of these aspects fails, the quality of services will be impacted. I am of the opinion that an integrated approach offers the client greater value both in terms of outcomes as well as costs. Firms will gain from the ability to emerge as a trusted brand custodian and the retention of a client over the years.”

Richa Seth, senior account manager, Adfactors PR concurs with this view, saying that, “PR consultancies should develop teams with specialist skills who understand the industry and market scenario, policies and regulatory issues and have a thorough domain knowledge that is quintessential for communications through any media.”

Isha Mohanty,marketing communications  professional, says that, “I feel that PR is the core deliverable when it comes to integrated communications and digital marketing should ideally become a part of PR. Today, social media has taken complete control of brand communication. Some agencies have set up digital marketing as a separate vertical; however I feel PR professionals should have a knack of handling digital communications as well.”

This could be a challenge as digital marketing itself is not well integrated with marketing. The third annual APAC Digital Marketing Performance Dashboard study shows that while more marketers in India have dedicated and experienced in-house digital marketing analysts as compared to APAC – 30% of them have a dedicated director of digital – a very measly percentage of marketers believe that insights from digital data are integrated throughout the marketing lifecycle.

Client drives the PR integration, cost and budget sectors

The challenge with integrating PR services is that it is the in-house PR leads that can drive integration and in India while they would prefer an integrated service offering, budgets remain a challenge.

Isha Mohanty says that, “When PR is integrated it becomes very convenient for any communication professional to deliver a brand message consistently across all platforms because whatever the platform the core message remains the same. Therefore, from a client’s perspective it becomes very critical that there is one agency that is handling everything – be it media relations, community relations or digital properties. It saves us time if that happens.”

Isha adds, “However, this becomes expensive at times, hence most firms today are handling CSR and digital communications internally. Budget, is definitely a concern but not a hindrance from adopting the new aspects of integrated communication/PR – sometimes a PR professional handles it, sometimes a salesperson.”

PR sources told PRmoment India that at the moment some of the MNCs are looking at more than one agency to handle pure play PR, digital and CSR. And while pure play PR nets a budget of 2-3 lakhs a month, digital, CSR and social media engagement together would get a budget outlay of 4-5 lakhs per month.

Bruce McLachlan, joint managing director, Fever, points to another budget challenge, “One of the most common challenges faced by agencies when pitching large scale, integrated ideas comes from clients’ internal structures. There is still often a separation of the marketing and communication teams in-house – particularly in the bigger, blue-chip brands – and, quite often, budgets are allocated by discipline before work is briefed out.”  

Bruce adds, “This often results in a situation whereby PR agencies are pitching ideas that, while workable within traditional PR spend parameters, really need support from media buying budgets – but that money is unavailable because it is ‘owned’ elsewhere. This ‘tug-of-budgets’ is something we see regularly, and is counterproductive to the brand achieving its marketing objectives; the best ideas don’t always win out because there isn’t a single budget to support campaigns on their own merit.”

Bruce also outlines the fact that, “PR agencies often don’t help themselves in the way they present integrated campaigns. The reality is, more often than not, an ATL agency is more practised in selling high level creative, while PR agencies often tie themselves up in the detail.”

But Bruce is also optimistic that, “No matter what the internal challenges, if a client gets excited about a big idea sold well, they will find a way to make it happen. The key for PR agencies – aside from ensuring their creative approach is of the right quality – is to try and level the playing field with the other disciplines. Push to be briefed with the other marketing agencies, at the same time and with the same budget, and insist on pitching to the whole marketing team as well.”

What services should an integrated PR consultancy offer?

Vivek Rana says that some of the services’ firms must explore to unleash the power of public relations include; online corporate reputation, creative content solutions, digital engagement, employee branding and engagement, stakeholder engagement, strategic planning and research and analytics.”

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