The role of PR in reputation management

For PR in India to become a trusted strategic advisor, many believe that public relations need to focus less on product related news stories and help organisations build and improve their reputation.

MSLGROUP in India and Eikona PR Measurement have just released a ‘Reputation Management Report’ that looks into the importance of reputation management for brands.

The graph below shows the topic of trends of print and TV media in India from Jan- Sept 2012:











Business in India is now becoming aware of the importance, not just for selling products but also for attracting investors and talent. This shift is now requiring business communications to use a more holistic approach. PR is not about just a product, but is a strategic tool to ensure the good reputation of the company, its staff and the overall brand. This means communications aren’t restricted from brand to consumer, but also include brand to stakeholders – such as employees, shareholders, customers, potential customers and the wider public.

Senior Vice President of Eikona PR Measurement, Siddhartha Mukherjee agrees: “Business and revenue success is not just connected with direct consumers. Demand and acceptance of product or an organisation is just not connected with the showcase or communications push of products alone. Today, for a business to succeed, stakeholders beyond consumers need to be in sync with the brand. Our current and prospective stakeholders- under policy makers, consumers, suppliers, distributors, opinion leaders, employees, investors, journalists etc – are all basing their engagement and loyalty to the product or corporate brand with the amount and quality of information they know”.

Public Relations in India now has a potential opportunity to get involved and become the leaders of reputation management. Chief Executive Officer of MSLGROUP India, Jaideep Shergill says: “Advertising is losing its impact because it is, essentially, one way communication. What brands require today is to go beyond dialogue to what we call ‘multilogue’ – multiple conversations on multiple platforms. There is a need for an integrated approach, which includes also content. All this has been PR’s core strength. That’s why it’s a perfect fit. We are in the business of storytelling and content creation, and brand custodians are fast understanding that.”

PR as it is has to adjust to these new demands and evolve the way it works if it is to take advantage of this opportunity. For instance, to measure a brands reputation requires consumer panels, potentially focus groups, monitoring and research. A lot of this potentially before and after a campaign. Siddharth elaborates: “It would probably do a lot of good if agencies focus their energies on consulting and implementation rather than self-measurement”.

Siddhartha adds: “The role of measurement should not be a means to achieve their ROIs but as a continuous, unending evaluation or checking process on whether they are on the right track”.

The report highlighted other key areas that would need to be changed or supplemented. “Agencies must transform themselves into consultancies that offer 360-degree communications solutions”, says Jaideep. This would mean including all areas of communication, new and old, such as digital and social media, and most importantly, include content.

Jaideep adds: “PR agencies must initiate a constructive education campaign with clients to show how engagement can pave the path to long-term growth”.

Talent will also need to be addressed. India has a PR talent availability issue. A focus on strategic work may lead to the PR profession hiring sector experts rather than PR generalists. Siddhartha says: “Given the vastness and depth of this subject called Reputation, servicing/counselling a client with tactics and strategies across the corridors of Finance Management, HR Management, Sustainability, Supply and Vendor Management, etc. will need quality and specialised personnel. PR agencies will need to therefore invest more in attracting and sustaining a Quality Talent Pool”.

To move PR from a potentially commoditised media relations model to a corporate reputation adviser, will require focus on talent and robust measurement metrics and PR professionals will need to gain the trust of the CEO and the board. Until companies and brands trust the public relations sector to manage their reputation, the shift can never fully happen. Trust cannot be given, it must be earned.

Jaideep adds: “At least some of it is inertia and the nervousness associated with doing something completely different. There is also a lack of awareness about how stakeholders are consuming information and what they expect from business. I would also blame the PR industry itself for not pushing its case strongly enough and for not forging a consensus on its make or break issues: low fees, lack of training and undercutting”.

Nevertheless, public relations has a number of relevant quality’s to work well in this type of management, and if the PR industry can make the changes needed within their skill set and overcome the barriers, there is a significant opportunity to become the new leaders in reputation management and go further than just media relations.

Siddhartha Mukherjee, Senior Vice President, Eikona PR Measurement and Jaideep Shergill, Chief Executive Officer, MSLGROUP India