Is India ready for the digital press conference?

Last year, during the Gujarat elections, Gujarat Chief Minister, Narendra Modi used a 3D holographic, to address the audience. Apparently he plans to do the same in the run up to the General Election next year.

From Star Wars-styled holograms to Google Hangouts, is the PR business and the media in India ready for the completely digital media conference, 100 per cent digital media tools and a completely digital PR strategy? There are several factors to consider before one does that: the readiness of both the media and the PR business to adopt digital outreach, the type of digital tools available and the willingness of companies to go that route.

Vrinda Pisharody, Head of Digital Marketing and Internal Communications at Tech Mahindra & Mahindra Satyam, says that India is definitely ready for going digital: "Our first attempt at reaching out and building a base was when we announced our published financials post 2009 a few quarters back. We backed it up with promotions through our other mediums and by the day of the announcement had generated a phenomenal following on Twitter. We did live up to the live Twitter feed promise and the entire Press Conference was tweeted live with quotes, pictures and videos. We had opened up Twitter (which is otherwise blocked) to our associates too for that day, so there was a huge digital wave of excitement that cut across all our stakeholders (including the investors for whom this was a much awaited announcement). We’ve also had a successful ‘Tweet up with the CEO’ session that again saw an overwhelming number of questions and responses."

What is the best way for PR professionals to look at media outreach through digital options? Prasanto K Roy, Editorial Advisor at CyberMedia, says that are two typical types of digital press conferences. “First of all, a synchronous, real-time presser which would be typically a standard real-time videoconference platform like WebEx or GoToMeeting. This is a typical virtual event, such as those we organise (for audiences such as CIOs for example). The advantage is a one-point live event being "experienced" in multiple cities or across the world.”

Prasanto adds that, “The second type is an asynchronous event which may or mayn't be real-time. If it is in real-time, it's a defined time (e.g two hours) on say Google Hangout, or any social platform, typically supported by Twitter and perhaps even by an SMS/email gateway."

While there are low-cost options available, Prasanto points out that there is an upfront cost to consider for a real time press conference with video conferencing. "There would be cost savings when you scale up, but there is a certain, high, minimum cost. You need to hire the platform, which could cost up to 10 lakh for a high-quality platform, for a day. However, you can use it to replace multiple press conferences in say three to four cities, and also expand the reach to say 200 journalists across the country, so your outreach really goes up.”

Prasanto says that “async, Google Hangout etc. is of course way cheaper. But the challenge is getting enough traction (participating journalists) which mostly depends on a high-profile person being roped in for the Google Hangout or chat. Or the company being of high-interest, like Apple, or at times, even a Datawind.”

Vrinda Pisharody advises looking at digital options on social media as a reputation builder, "I would treat it as huge enhancement for the brand. A case in point is the reach a personality like Shashi Tharoor has generated through Twitter. Or Anand Mahindra has built for the Mahindra brand. When companies and leaders put themselves out there, they are saying, ‘Hey we are much more than a balance sheet. We are humans too.’ And that connect never fails.”

While the larger companies can afford to look at all digital options for press conferences. start-ups such as Green Apple Solutions want to use cost effective digital tools for reaching the media bypassing traditional methods,” says Akhil Gupta, Co-Founder and Director at Green Apple Solutions, "There is a gap between us (start-ups) and publication houses which the conventional method of on ground press conference is not able to fullfill. As of today one has to have a PR agency onboard if you want to get coverage in a good publication. That is not a very viable solution for Startups and SMBs. With the introduction of technology, the accessibility to journos is increased and the costs are reduced as well. Startups, like mine, are willing to pay to gain access and exposure as long as it is easy to use and priced reasonably. More often than not, accessibility is the bigger pain point than the price. Digital pressers come out to be better in both the fronts.”

For those who opt for digital solutions, Aditya Gupta, Co-founder of iGenero and SocialSamosa, feels that, "The digital PR conferences would work well only when the host is open to participation and conversation. Unlike the traditional one, digital PR conference might start with one agenda and end with another. It’s all about reaching out to your audience the best way possible, and digital enables you to do just that. digital PR conferences also work well when you want to widen your reach beyond the journalists that attend your event. There are many bloggers and online journalists whom you can reach via digital channels and get covered by them.”

Aditya adds that, "I think a digital presser enables you to reach out to far more people than a traditional one. More and more brands these days live stream a product launch or an announcement and also there's a hashtag which keeps the conversation going on Twitter. A brand can also explore a Google Hangout for a digital presser. There are companies which only do digital PR, so there's obviously a market out there.”

Prasanto Roy says it a matter of time before media is able to access online pressers, even though it’s practical for certain audiences to start with, for instance tech events and tech media in larger cities. "However, increasingly, most media would have access to broadband. Real-time pressers could be done with multiple points of presence facilitated by the company or PR, eg. CEO and others are in Delhi and Mumbai, while a small room with video is booked by the company in Chennai or even small cities and towns, for four to five journalists. Not cheap but still cheaper than having everyone travel down to multiple cities across multiple days.”

Aditya Gupta agrees that, “The internet adoption rate in internet in the smaller cities is increasing exponentially. Also, the smaller city guys might be more excited about a digital event than a traditional one. Sam Pitroda, adviser to the PM of India, held a global press conference on Twitter some time back, so did Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi.”

Vrinda Pisharody believes it is only a matter of time before the Indian PR ecosystem joins the digital revolution in different ways, “It will soon cease to be an option! Mobile and digital are today’s mantras not without a reason. With the clichéd shrinking of the world, media today is trying to grab as much of news and reactions from as many sources. And it can’t get more easily accessible than twitter – a forum that is fed half a billion tweets a day.”

Ready or not, the PR ecosystem and PR tools are quickly going digital and it may be time for PR professionals to hop on for the ride as quickly as possible.