As PR evolves the biggest challenge still remains to demonstrate the business impact of PR to the C-suite. In order to discuss the business impact of modern PR practices on business growth, reputation and talent retention, the latest edition of PRmoment India - Weber Shandwick Chai Talk was held in Bengaluru, earlier this month.
Effective PR helps prepare the marketplace for brands
Keynote speaker, Ashish Gupta, CEO, Docprime, said that in many ways he has an old fashioned view of what PR is supposed to deliver and that PR is primarily about enabling relationships. Ashish said PR is about telling" The story of what we are and communicating that story behind the scenes."
Ashish said that in business terms PR can help answer the question of why should an enterprise partner with you? Sharing an example of that, Ashish pointed out that because of awareness done through PR, it has been much easier to get a meeting with key stakeholders for Docprime such as hospitals.
Ashish said that " We recently went to a meeting with the CEO of a hospital that went on for two and a half hours. PR got us that first meeting, they were aware of what we do and that we are not competitors but partners. We had that external validation due to media coverage. No amount of sales pitches would have got us that."
Having said that, Ashish said he believes many CEOs may not recognise the value that PR brings, the focus remains marketing. Ashish, however, says, he is clear about the role of PR in building a brand.
Sunita Venugopal, director, Media and Public Affairs at Walmart Labs India, asked if Docprime's experience with stakeholders meant that PR was helping drive business by making it easier to get that key hospital meeting?
Ashish agreed saying, " It was easier because of the reputation through external validation."
Building a brand message
Apart from building a relationship with key business stakeholders, and processing customer listening via a PR lens, Ashish said PR can also help a business in crafting the brand message. This could be, Ashish said, "To ensure the consistency of what we are saying across communities. It could also be about the tone of the message. Are we informal or formal, for example."
When it's about ROI, it's about marketing
Even as PR evolves and acquires demonstrable business impact in brand building, the overlap with marketing and digital also means a greater debate about the role of PR in integrated communication.
For Ashish, the answer is clearcut. He says the moment you have customer matrices to look at and ROI to consider around that then that is a marketing function and not a PR one.
Sharing an example, Ashish said, " When it comes to SEO and SEM management, that is a digital marketing function. For PR to produce SEO driven content will take a very long time and at that end of the day is a science and not an art. That is something that is better done by digital marketing teams. To be honest SEO content doesn't need to be world class but technically sound."
When should a brand start PR?
Taking the discussion on the role of PR forward, Nisha Ramachandani, head of outreach for Axilor Ventures asked how early is too early for a brand to begin PR activities. Axilor is an accelerator and seed funder for early stage firms.
Ashish answered by saying, "Go back to the basics. Don't do PR for the sake of doing PR. Map your objectives for PR clearly before you begin a communications outreach."
A data-driven approach help create better PR
The Chai Talk discussion continues with special speaker, Minol Ajekar, general manager, business processes and operations of national real estate firm Puravankara Group said that the biggest PR challenge she faces is the perception about the sector. Minol, who recently added the corporate communications role to her work profile at Puravankara, said that unfortunately the perception about real estate with a vast majority still remains what it was a few decades ago, which is "20 people in a room counting cash."
Minol says one of the big PR challenges also is to communicate relevant messages to a wide range of stakeholders which include investors, promoters, consumers and the government.
Minol shared that she has tried to address this by getting the media into the room with real estate experts without agenda to just discuss the challenges of the real estate business, especially post demonitisation.
A hardcore numbers person, Minol also said that coming from the business operations role she felt that, it has helped her see the intersection of business impact and PR better.
Minol pointed that after 24 months in a PR role in addition to a business operations role, she felt that, "PR's outlook cannot be sales driven. The PR professional is really the firm's brand ambassador and the only person apart from the CEO who feels as strongly about the brand."
PR's impact on talent retention
Special speaker, Deepa Nagraj, who heads Mphasis’ Sparkle Innovation Ecosystem and also leads communications for Mphasis globally says, “Communication plays an integral role in the cultural alignment of an organization across geographies, both from a business as well as employee standpoint in the changing digital environment. Unless you are able to strike a chord with WIIFM (What's In It For Me) for every individual and the organization collectively, you will not be successful. And that does not mean colossal multi-million dollar campaigns; but leveraging internal communications, social and traditional media optimally to drive desired results; be it to attract new talent or new business.
Sharing an example, Deepa said, “We at Mphasis believe that 'It is cool to be geeks' and actually are running a campaign that brings us all together on ‘geek quotient.”
Building on the discussion, Aashish Washikar, head of PR at Maveric Systems asked what is the best way to pitch stories about AI? Ashish Gupta shared that when Docprime started its AI journey, 2 and a half years ago, it wouldn't have been able to hire the best AI talent. But Ashish said, "PR helped to 'pre-heat' the situation. An article about us was sent to a top of the line AI talent and the person is now the head of our AI team. Our hires have not come through HR but through our reputation."
Open to factually correct stories
Sharing the media perspective on the kind of brand story pitches they get, special speaker Hari Menon, a correspondent with Outlook Business said that journalists are open to good, newsworthy, factual stories. The story, Hari, said, is, "When brands don't have a message is when there is a problem."
Hari also suggested that the use of hyperbole in pitches with words such as ' India's top firm' have a detrimental impact on stories.
Hari concluded saying that as long as PR professionals can help with quality stories, he sees PR as the eyes and ears of organisations and the journalist the voice that can convey the story.
Nikhil Dey, vice chairman for Weber Shandwick India said that the discussion at Chai Talk helped demonstrate that PR can help you solve for 'x'. Nikhil said that "The 'x' may be earning street cred in your ecosystem or helping create a conversation around diversity hires or about communicating to change a perception."
The main takeaway from Chai Talk Bengaluru, therefore, was that PR clearly has a profound impact on the business of a firm. It has a key role in creating a reputation that in turn leads to better business opportunities and being a preferred destination for employees.
The speakers at Chai Talk Bengaluru consisted of:
- Minol Ajekar, general manager, business processes and operations, Puravankara Group
-Deepa Nagraj, head of global PR for Mphasis and Sparkle Innovation Network.
- Hari Menon, correspondent, Business Outlook magazine.