How has social media changed the world of consumer PR?

There was a time when consumer PR meant a product launch with a Bollywood celebrity roped in to get some page 3 coverage. However today the world of consumer PR has changed, driven by a new universe of social media influencers.

Social Media and Consumer PR

As Sandeep Rao, Group Head, Blue Lotus Communications explains, for consumer PR campaigns’ today, “A juxtaposition of digital, traditional, social and on-ground activities is the new mantra. Where half a decade back, a new line of clothing being launched would have meant calling up stylists across fashion magazines so that the clothes could be used for shoots, today the same launch requires meet-ups, tweet-ups, shoots, blogging and invites to fashion weeks. Engagement and impact-analysis today define PR for consumer-facing brands.”

Sandeep says that Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and LinkedIn are the new Times of India, Business Standard and India Today, and the sooner PR professionals are able to change, the better they will evolve to handle changing needs.

Arpana Kumar Ahuja, Advisor of Business and Programme Development at PR Pundit, feels that, “The biggest change we have witnessed is that reputations are defined by customer reviews and ratings; the news agenda is often delivered by independent bloggers; and issues move in real time across social networks to become crises even before they transfer to major news outlets.”

What consumer sectors are seeing the biggest change in PR?

Arpana points to retail saying that, “The sector has seen exponential growth with both luxury and high street brands. Look at the sheer number of brands that are now present in India! Initiatives used to be very simplistic to begin with – things have changed significantly now. For example brands used to depend on "Page 3" coverage, whereas now “Page 3” is a dying concept and brands have also moved beyond that. Engagement with influencers is a key aspect of consumer PR, be it customers, journalists or bloggers – they are a major focus that did not exist 5 years ago! It’s all about creating experiences instead of merely showcasing a product.”

Sandeep feels, “Food and entertainment have truly evolved with bloggers, online reviewers, twitter paparazzi and the like, having stood up traditional outreach to a great extent. Food shows were replaced by food blogs to be replaced by food walks.”

Consumer PR is now part of integrated marketing

According to Bhavna Thapar, Director, Consumer Marketing, Edelman India, “Consumer PR now has a firm seat at the integrated marketing communication table. It has moved beyond being a media relations function to being a contributor of creative branding concepts, consumer engagement ideas and fresh branded content. It has also emerged as a frontrunner in the use of social media channels. This space where we believe a great deal of consumer branding work will happen.”

Bhavna adds that, “Having said this let me add that Consumer PR has not given up its media relations responsibilities. It has changed and adjusted to the changing media environment, brought in changes in handling and managing media as new challenges have emerged, e.g. shrinking editorial space for consumer brands.  We have found solutions for these challenges specific to brands we manage and by combining earned with owned and hybrid media.”

Rise in Consumer PR budgets  

Does this enhanced activity mean that consumer PR budgets have risen? Arpana says that, “It has steadily been rising at 7-10% – without accounting for increased budgets for social media – annually and is on a steady upward graph.”

Bhavna says, “The consumer PR space has grown rapidly over the last five years. As the concept of ‘branding’ and how it wins and secures consumers for a product becomes more entrenched in the minds of marketers and communicators, I would say that this pattern should hold. At Edelman, we are seeing an increased demand for newer services, particularly creative and design skills”.

Case Studies:

Harry Potter Games

Sandeep says that, “While handling the launch of one of the Harry Potter games (based on The Half Blood Prince), we focused more on on-ground and digital than on traditional, because we realised that India's niche gaming community was more involved in the digital space and on peer evaluation.

Reaching out across theatres where the film of the same title was launched, we worked on a variety of initiatives from gaming competitions and fancy dress for star kids, to gamer meets and familiarisation trips. We decided that we would judge ourselves (for a change!) on the impact we made on sales, rather than going by the ad value equivalent (AVE) that we could raise across traditional media. Given that I was on the client side made it easier to convince our bosses that engagement, and not a monologue, was the way to go.”

Christian Louboutin

Arpana says that PR was the driving force for Christian Louboutin as the brand prepared to stamp its red soles in Mumbai and launch its 2nd flagship store in India in early 2013. 

Sharing details of the PR approach, Arpana says that the intent was to, “Strategically position Christian Louboutin as the hot favourite of Mumbai’s glitterati, in the lead up to a high-octane launch. The PR strategy was aimed at evoking endless enthusiasm for the design sensibilities of the brand as well as gaining support from India’s high-profile Bollywood stars without appearance or endorsement fees.

India’s most popular actors including Amitabh Bachchan reflected the success of the campaign in social media. The programme hinged on befriending and engaging influencers for strong word-of-mouth endorsements. The purpose was to create aspiration among fashionistas to accord a warm welcome to the red soles in Mumbai. The PR tactics included well-timed features in key titles; Mr. Louboutin’s address at India Design Forum; a society engagement with Vogue; interviews; press day at the Mumbai store; store opening and after party; and Mr. Louboutin’s social and Bollywood calendar.

Arpana points out that the approach resulted in, “Extensive chatter on digital and social media by bloggers and stars such as Amitabh Bachchan, Sussanne Roshan, Priyanka Chopra, Karan Johar using #RedSolesInMumbai to tag the tweets. Over 55 websites including Big B’s blog,,, carried news on the new store. Twitter and Instagram posts from the celebrities reached over 42 million people.”

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