Help your client take bold PR steps, says Weber Shandwick India’s Valerie Pinto

A conversation with Valerie Pinto is a bit like a whirlwind, whirlwind because interesting ideas and thoughts are constantly on the churn and you will come away with a fresh perspective.

This serious foodie is also one of the few women PR leaders in India with an international PR firm, most PR firms in India with women leaders tend to be self owned.

The PR agency model is dead, long live the PR agency model

Valerie Pinto is a traditionalist, she believes that the old PR agency model still works very well, as long as each person in the agency makes sure they have a working knowledge of what makes up new PR: content, digital, video, SEO and of course the good old fashioned media pitch.

While Pinto doesn’t expect the PR professional to know everything, they must certainly understand all the new PR functions.

Pinto also points out that the agency model also works because, “The client still wants one port of call. That still stands.”

Valerie Pinto with Baxter Jolly, APAC CEO, Weber Shandwick at the inauguration of the Gurgaon office of the firm 

Pinto believes that, in fact, far from being dead, the agency model has added three new streams of revenue: social, content and digital that could potentially see a 3 fold increase in revenue for the PR business.

Given a certain degree of client evolution, Pinto believes that marketeers will and are turning to PR for amplification of messages and placing of content via digital and social.

Pinto declares, “I don’t need new business, existing clients can be converted through the integrated communications approach.”

Is this approach paying off? Pinto believes so.

She says that Weber Shandwick has sustained double digit growth in the last three years. And 2017 has been a particularly good year, with high double digit growth.

Valerie Pinto with her Weber Shandwick team mates

Making the client a partner in understanding PR

One of the major challenges that PR firms face is convincing the corporate communications lead at the client side to try new aspects of PR. Pinto says part of the problem is the agency professional’s own attitude.

PR pros are keen to have a direct conversation with CMOs and marketeers, often not taking the corporate communications lead along.

Pinto says if clients have to evolve, PR agency professionals have to take the lead. Pinto advises PR professionals to showcase the world of opportunity in PR though workshops with the corporate communications client.

She says, “ If the client has to take a bold step, don’t assume they know what to do. Help them through the process, take them on the journey, help them make the transition. That is what will give you the edge. “

Changing role of CMO

At one point the CMO’s role was all about strategy, but an element of sales has also come in for CMOs. How does this impact PR? Pinto says that this change is seen more in the SME sector where the CMO has a wider range of functions than say a large MNC where the CMO’s role can be quite fixed.

While digital, has brought in the sales aspect to the CMO’s job and concerns about content to commerce, Pinto says PR’s core contribution is still infusing creativity to build talkability. She believes that this talkability is not the viral kind, but the result of a carefully planned PR campaign.

No competition with advertising

There was a time when virtually every  conversation with agency heads would involve some amount of self-flagellation about how PR needs to be more like advertising and manage to get paid big budgets for creativity.

But, Pinto doesn’t buy this argument.

“Your job cannot be taken by anyone. And you cannot take over advertising even with 50 creative directors on your rolls”, she declares.

What matters for PR, says Pinto, “ Is can we think through that piece of content and can be then plan for it execution. And infuse planning with creativity.”

This also means that today’s PR person must understand ‘Adobe’ and ‘Corral Draw’ and be able to visualise content.

While Weber has LGBT employees, Pinto says she would like to work on “certain inhibitions”, and bring in opportunities for transgender professionals at Weber Shandwick India.

Weber Shandwick’s inclusive agenda

Weber Shandwick has a very committed diversity agenda. Valerie Pinto shares that it’s part of her KRAs’ to deliver on diversity and inclusion.

The firm has institutionalised sensitising people about, “ Respect, civility, acceptance without judgement”, says Pinto.

Food glorious food!

“If food was a man, I would marry him”, says Pinto, tongue firmly in cheek.

While, a full time PR job is certainly a lot to do Pinto’s love for food keeps her in touch with her other passion. She has done stints as a food consultant and also helped run a food tour and food catering firm.

It’s this excitement for learning and dabbling in new avenues is what drives Pinto. She signs off saying, “You never stop learning. The moment you say I have finished learning, you are dead!”

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