Why strategy matters to the Indian PR industry

"The general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought. The general who loses a battle makes but few calculations beforehand.”

Sun Tzu penned this rather good advice about being strategic in ancient China. It has taken modern public relations almost 100 years to come up with an updated definition of PR that also includes strategy. Earlier this year, the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), redefined PR, the new definition now includes strategy.

So, what does this much used and perhaps much abused term really mean to PR? Let’s take a look at the top four reasons why strategy matters to the PR industry in India, even more today. Being strategic is what will help the PR industry in India gain greater respect.

1. Scattered and fleeting audience attention

The challenge: The audiences are growing every day, as are the means of getting in touch with them. As Xavier Prabhu, Founder and CEO, PRHUB, puts it, “Being splashed on the business page of the country's biggest mainline English daily does feel good for the company, executive and the team that worked on it. But if their audience are not there at all or are not consumers of that medium at all, then?

"Being able to understand this shift is critical for PR practitioners. Many of us are more skilled at beaming mass than targeted or narrowcasting. Worse, few of us even spend the time and resources to get to the depths of an organization, its space and audience to figure what and how they consume media or messages."

How to fix this: Arpana Kumar Ahuja, Advisor, Business and Programme Development, PR Pundit, recommends careful valuation of the entire landscape; “The market needs a paradigm shift — moving beyond media relations to stakeholder communications. Effective public relations helps one communicate with all of one’s stakeholders to seed preference, increase positive visibility and enhance reputation. It’s important to consider the audiences one wants to reach, the messages one wants to communicate and the media channels one can leverage."

2. Social media and competing stakeholders

The challenge: Prabhu sums up the challenge of handling multiple audiences, saying, “The business or the overall environment is getting increasingly complex with each passing day.  No longer is it possible for some of your messaging to not conflict with that of another organization or even have only intended consequences.”

How to fix this: Experts recommend that PR professionals need to monitor the landscape for stakeholder sentiment. With markets being about  conversations, Ahuja analyses that, “PR professionals  will need to develop a new hybrid set of marketing communication skills, which include elements of management consulting, business intelligence, direct marketing and Internet strategy.”

3. Being reactive instead of proactive

The challenge: A lot of PR management can be reactive, rather than strategic. “It is pretty evident that for any brand of size or influence or certain pedigree,   it is increasingly important and even necessary to discard purely tactical PR or messaging,” says Prabhu.

How to fix this: Ahuja recommends being very proactive. “Proactiveness is the key to being strategic.  You need to have a plan to direct your efforts and engagement.  A reactive approach to PR is inertially tactical. That’s because you are sitting there waiting for opportunity or having to seek it out vs. planning your attack and executing on it.”

Prabhu puts the onus of this on the PR executive to be updated and informed, saying, “It is time that most professionals on the agency side realise this shift and equip themselves with skills required to address the strategic part while not letting go of the ability to execute well. That balance will increasingly be coveted, don't be left behind.”

4. The right measure of PR

The challenge: Experts believe that In order to be more strategic in PR activities the way performance is measured in PR will need to be changed. Measuring the number of mentions in newspapers or on television or the digital space is a meaningless exercise, with the Barcelona Principles already discarding the Ad Equivalent Value measures.

How to fix this:  Nitin Mantri, CEO and Business Partner at Avian Media, says, “Few more years of that and PR will be dead. Media measurement should be all about quality and not quantity. Instead, media measurement should involve audience impressions, quality of the media coverage (tone, credibility and relevance of the medium to the audience and message delivery).

"Even on social media platforms like Facebook, the measurability standard is how many likes received or the number of Twitter followers. But we have to think more strategically and work on managing reputation online. Also, PR measurement should be transparent. For media measurement, we should mention clearly the source along with analysis methodology. For surveys, we should make clear the methodology (sample, margin of error, geography, etc), the questions (wording and order) and statistical methodology.”

Strategy is clearly the new buzz word for public relations, but it's a term that is set to become essential to the Indian PR industry.