It’s not exactly breaking news, but PR has evolved beyond recognition. In keeping with its new role, a role that is increasingly integral to any brand communication strategy offers several challenges.
A key challenge is how to operationalise a PR plan effectively and how to make it fit at the strategic planning stage rather than just at the tactical implementation stage. Work has gone up both for the client end as well as at the agency end. In recognition of this agencies are saying there is also a need to raise PR budgets due to the enhanced commitment of resources and time.
PR professionals say that companies always dealt with multiple agencies – it’s just that companies are now beginning to bring in the PR function at the planning stage for brand communication.
Involve PR from the beginning
One of the best ways to cut down on time and resource wastage is to involve PR at the planning stage of any brand communication campaign. Rakesh Kumar Jha, PR professional with a leading PR agency, feels that communication was always a multi- pronged exercise. Rakesh says: “I fail to understand why there is such a ‘ho-halla’ about multi-agency coordination. Just go back 8-7 years when we were still talking about online and social media. Back then or even before, a corporate did have at least 2-3 different agencies on board - PR, creative, media buying, outdoor. Some of them even had multiple agencies across verticals; some even have now. And we did work ‘seamlessly’ at that time as well! So, why such a hue and cry over it now? Just because we have added one more agency looking after social media.”
Rakesh says that the difference now is before, clients were used to holding meetings separately with different agencies with their separate respective briefs. “There used to be hardly any communication between the agencies so how can you expect them to work in sync with one common objective. Just because they all were working on one single account did not mean there was synchronization in communication and hence all of us faced problems at one point or the other.”
Nitin Manchanda, Director, Mic N Melons, agrees that joint meetings yield lots of value as lots of things get settled at the planning stage. This is similar to concurrent manufacturing where all the stake holders i.e. manufacturing, marketing, HR and finance are all involved. It cuts down the time to reach and bring a workable model to the market – faster and better!”
Benefits of involving all the brand communication arms from inception
Rakesh says that now as a practice many corporates do a joint briefing for all their agencies. “This does not only saves their time but actually reaps benefits for the brand. The corporate communications team used to have meetings separately with all the agencies – so say if there were four different agencies, four times the time, energy and money would be spent in just briefing for one campaign. Now with unified briefing sessions the effort and the opportunity cost can certainly be reduced by 1/3rd. You don’t have to spend that time, energy and money three more times! This is one time when ‘too many cooks spoil the food’ doesn’t seem to hold true. Creativity is certainly not a virtue of one, so more the merrier!”
Rakesh believes that joint meetings also help the communications team come to an agreement for a set of say 10-12 ideas from that pool of ideas – crucial for a productive and integrated start to the campaign. “Now all these ideas irrespective of mediums involved are discussed and debated with one simple objective – maximising the outreach of the brand through targeting various touch points. It’s the method of filtering out the least accepted ideas. At the end the team in unison arrives at a set of ideas on a campaign ready for execution!”
Impact on budgets
As PR is now offering a more rounded set of services and inputs, budgets need to rise. Rakesh asserts that a budget needs to go up because of the increased scope of work and not necessarily because of all agencies working together! “The scope of work has increased because the boundaries across various communications medium have blurred. It is increasingly becoming 24x7. With more mediums, platforms and options available to explore, risk and pressure have also increased by the same proportions, if not more. You can certainly no longer stand out and work in isolation. You have to constantly weave in new ideas that can be leveraged across various platforms and mediums. And this is not because you are working together!”
Nitin agrees that extra work is needed for outsourcing or hiring to meet the client requirements. “The budget definitely goes up with every project taken by a minimum of 5%. And this percentage completely depends upon the viability of the project,” says Nitin.
However this is not happening on the ground. The PR professionals PRmoment India spoke to say that budgets are mostly static or even reduced in some cases for the last year.
Clearly budgets are yet to keep pace with the demand for integrated PR. During a slowdown and political uncertainty client reluctance to raise budgets is understandable – in this scenario a clear look at the operational end of PR would help to evaluate how best to allocate PR resources.