Does India need a PR council to evangelise public relations?

Last month, Facebook put together what it calls ‘The India Client Council', a platform for clients and agencies to discuss the future of marketing on a regular basis. This initiative also exists in countries such as UK and Brazil.

While the endeavour is clearly targeted at categories that are high spenders online such as auto, e-commerce, telecom, FMCG and banking, it does provide a useful platform for evangelising online marketing. Which begs the question, is there a case for such a council for the PR business as well to evangelise the role of public relations and step out of the shadow of marketing?

A client-consultancy PR council for India

Jaideep Shergill, outgoing CEO of MSLGROUP India says that a key role for PR consultancies would be to showcase how PR led campaigns sustain over a longer period of time using digital mechanisms and platforms. Jaideep therefore feels that, “An industry wide public platform, which includes clients and the media, would help validate integrated marketing communication philosophy which extends across owned, earned and paid media channels. PR consultancies would have to lead discussions by sharing consumer insights and showcasing their work for clients including the long tail of engagement that is digitally led. “

Paresh Chaudhry, chief executive officer, Madison, doesn’t quite agree that an open council is practical. He says, “I think in the PR world, if such a thing were to happen, it’ll be behind closed doors and not in an open platform with competitors and media sitting in. Unless, of course, one company does it as a way to position itself as a perceived leader in the digital space.

However, Jaideep feels that, “A showcase of the direct impact and changes in consumer behaviour using influencers will establish the difference PR makes in marketing communications. A PR led platform discussing wider marketing trends along with such a showcase will go a long way in promoting the role of PR. “

Nitin Mantri, CEO and business partner at Avian Media, points out that, “PR agencies should also encourage their clients to share learnings, case studies, and insights based on their digital initiatives with media and blogs. Having multiple clients across sectors, PR agencies today are also in a good position to aggregate learning and insights across sectors and produce thought leadership pieces for the benefit of everyone.  They can share their insights in the media, and in industry fora.”

Varghese M. Thomas, director of corporate communications, India and SAARC region, Blackberry, says that, “Today, PR is about meaningful conversations with all relevant target constituencies, whether it is owned, paid, earned or social. For brands, it’s imperative to have an integrated communications approach to help drive the best leverage and stickiness for brands. As brands realize the importance of coherent messaging and integrated communications, there is greater collaboration between the PR and the marketing teams.”

Listening mechanisms already available

Jaideep believes that, “Web only publishers like bloggers and domain specific portals are increasingly influential and have national reach. Apart from these, everyone is now a publisher in their own networks and has an opinion. An online listening tool that covers blogs, social media platforms and forums is a must if clients want to capture the pulse of the consumer. Sustained, structured listening on digital channels can provide trends and insights that form the hypothesis for future marketing research and strategies.  “

Paresh points out that , “ Brands, and recently political parties, have been monitoring and analyzing online conversations in a variety of ways, digging for insights, be it related to customer service, product reviews, new product ideas or key influencer identification amongst others.  The tools which provide these services are also aplenty, all offering minor variations in bells and whistles, with IBM being the latest entrant with their Twitter data analytics deal.”

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