Long Read: Has Covid pushed PR to an integrated marketing communication model for good?

Anyone with even a passing acquaintance with PR would have heard the term integrated marketing communication (IMC). But more in theory, than in practice. However, Covid-19 has altered that, providing as practitioners of PR call it, a booster shoot, to the ICM model. 

Is this change for good? 

Suhas Tadas, associate VP, technology, 'The PRactice' believes it is, "In the last 12 months, we have seen a dramatic increase in our interaction with the C-suite. The function of marketing is being executed through the principles of PR - reputation and trust building. This shift towards PR led IMC will continue to exist post-Covid too."

Dolly Tayal, senior director, creativity and integration, 'Genesis BCW' and managing director, sports and entertainment, 'BCW Asia Pacific' agrees with this assessment, "With marketing and ad budgets being cut, PR had to double-hat on various fronts. All this meant PR taking on a more central role in the engagement strategy for organizations and being the anchor for integrated communications."

Sujit Patil, vice president and head of corporate communications,'Godrej Industries Limited and associate companies' shares that, "Integrated communication for me is the way forward. Effectiveness of campaigns just zooms up when the strategy cuts across paid, owned and earned media genres. 

Gone are the days when a PR campaign was seen as just an announcement or crisis mitigation vehicle. Smart and serious players across agencies and in-house departments have started accommodating the change. For the rigid types, it could be a difficult ride."

Bushra Ismail, founder and chief strategist, 'Confiance Communications', points out that, "Many brands have come to understand during this time that PR with the right infusion of marketing can help campaigns gain momentum a lot faster and cover a wider mix of audience. So I think the atmosphere is more congenial now for such integrations than it ever was."

Arwa Husain, director-financial services, 'Adfactors PR' admits that, "PR has always been a poor cousin, we have not been known as creators and innovators rather we were the fixers, but I think this is fast changing. At an agency level we have reimagined the role of the communications consultant bringing our core competence of earned Influence to the digital realm. Every team manages their own social media  and digital campaigns themselves as this is a required skill for each PR practitioner."

Adfactors also trained 800 of their employees in digital marketing skills in 2020. 

Nikky Gupta, co-founder & CEO , Teamwork Communications Group says, "PR agencies are responding to this shift by diversifying their product bouquets. They can no longer satisfy their clients by just catering to the traditional media. Digital and social media have become critical elements of PR strategies. Naturally, agencies are today offering a wider service portfolio to their customers including media management, crisis communication and social and digital media strategies. Corporate communications teams are also remodelling themselves to look at marketing as a more integrated approach.

Areas of cooperation: IMC model and PR 

Sukanya Chakraborty, head of corporate communications & CSR, 'VFS Global' points to specific areas of cooperation for PR and IMC, "This period has also seen higher integration of communications around ESG (Environmental, social, and governance) and CSR being tied to brand conversations in a more organic, non-promotional context."

Abhinav K Srivastava, COO, SPAG Asia, says communication services will follow the client's priority, "Budget allocations have changed with company priorities. We are seeing healthcare companies, that usually take the traditional route, wanting to maximise owned digital assets and use the unconventional mode of communication. Similarly, for other sectors where their priority was advertising, now it has moved to PR. A change in budget allocation automatically means a change in approach. Additionally earlier it was location and target audience specific, but now it is location agnostic."

Hussain adds that, "The model has already shifted towards the CMO leading the brand conversation and the CEO being in-charge of the reputation of the brand. As a communications consultant we have to fortify our ability to engage with both."

Kavita Lakhani, executive director, Lintas Live believes that, "The definition of the modern agency now and in the future is going to be: the best cross-section of agency talent working on a client business problem. At Lintas, we bring together creative, PR, digital and media solutions for a client – the term that we use for this is ‘hyper bundling’."

IMC Campaigns, 2020

Practitioners shared a cross section of integrated campaigns done during Covid-19 with PRmoment:

Godrej's Protekt India Movement, used an integrated communication approach to promote hygiene and inculcate the right hygiene practices. In addition to using traditional media tactics, Godrej  created a digital anthem 'Coronavirus Ka Darr, Choo Mantar', associated with paediatricians for knowledge sharing sessions, worked with over a 100 influencers and community managers to spread the message on hand hygiene through various digital and social media as well as chat groups. 

Direct communication channels were used extensively to inform, engage and create awareness amongst consumers. Data and fact driven stories were used to address the need for behavioural change towards personal and community hygiene. 

 Godrej also partnered with several government bodies, the Indian Railways, municipal corporations, NGOs, and even start ups for the campaign. The behavioural change campaign reached 70 cities in the country and touched 100 million lives.

Take a look at Godrej's range of integrated campaigns.

Genesis BCW's Gillette Barber Suraksha campaign was entirely done by the WPP group, the holding firm for Genesis BCW. While Genesis handled the earned media and influencers, WPP's 'The Glitch' looked after the digital end.

Under the Barber Suraksha Programme barbers are provided with COVID insurance, Suraksha (protection) sanitation kits, best practices videos for safety. Watch the video:

PNB MetLife's campaign with Adfactors called for building brand recall of the insurance firm among insurance agents. This was in response to the increased interest in insurance post Covid-19.

Using an owned media approach, Adfactors PR created a series of regional webinars in collaboration with leading local language newspapers such as Dainik Jagran and Navbharat.

Sadiya Khan, founder Akund Communications  said she recently worked on a campaign on the importance of maintaining air humidity as a measure to build our resistance against diseases like COVID-19. The campaign used earned media, social media messages, web content and digital tie-ups with multiple international agencies to get that message across for them.

The Indian government's call for Vocal4Local can be seen as a nationwide integrated campaign based on the effort everyone (from Amazon to Mondelez) are putting into it.

The Cadbury Diwali ad, for example, celebrated local retailers with hyper personalized ads based on pincodes.

Visa processing major VFS Global, used a global communication plan in the wake of Covid travel uncertainty. This included consistent rounds of information sharing with the media community across all the key markets, in multiple languages.  

Key social media handles of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn were also used to communicate with customers. 

User-generated travel content,  ensured greater engagement during the lockdown period. The end result -- a strong and exponential growth in our follower base on social media platforms.

SPAG's sister firm D Yellow Elephant conceptualised and planned an integrated (PR & Digital) campaign – Mission Medicine: Delivering Life.  The campaign was driven through a series of videos entailing the stories that shed light on the challenges faced by the pharma employees – right from manufacturers to logisticians and pharmacists as a result of the lockdown. The idea of the campaign was to create an emotional connect while making people understand how we are connected through medicines, depicting that each house has that ‘Chhota sa dibba’ (medicine box) which has been saving lives. The campaign received over 2.2 Million video views across all social media channels and close to 3 Million impressions across Facebook & Instagram.

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