Modern PR can help brands as Indian customers demand greater authenticity, says Edelman’s Rupen Desai

In 2013, action star, Jean Claude Van Damme performed an epic split astride two reversing Volvo Trucks:

This ad, which would possibly remind Bollywood buffs of Ajay Devgan’s famous debut entry shot atop two motorbikes, is one of the examples Rupen Desai gives of how PR has changed. It was PR, around the ad, that got Volvo the buzz it did.

A former advertising guru, Rupen Desai loves this current potential of modern PR communications and it’s ability to merge with other campaigns. On a recent visit to India, Desai who is vice chairman of APACMEA with Edelman,  told PRmoment India with all the zeal of the converted that, “The best work in communications is not happening in PR. Today, it’s all about the advertising of PR”.

Desai, who joined Edelman in December 2016, admits that the last few months have been an unlearning for him as well. He says candidly that there was a time when his approach was, “Whatever you ever question, I can give you a 30 second commercial for it.”

This, quite obviously, has changed. Edelman itself is going through a process that has been on for a few years. A process, that will move the company firmly towards it’s current positioning of a communications  marketing firm and not a PR firm.

Changing team composition at Edelman

In keeping with this goal, Edelman has added talent from streams beyond PR. 20% of Edelman’s talent base in India consists of strategy & planning, digital, creative and content specialists, all from outside purely PR.

In countries like Australia, Desai says the share of non PR staff is 35%.

While declining to share country wise specific numbers, Edelman said that the firm is experiencing double-digit growth from new work across digital, content and creative.

Overcoming ‘Customer Indifference’ through shared brand values

Rupen Desai believes that these changes are essential if you want to be  a modern communications marketing firm. Desai points out that, “Communications and PR can help brands overcome the ‘trust deficit’  and build authenticity with customers at a time brands need it the most.”

As the idea of ‘belief’ enters customer purchase behaviour, the idea of ‘brand loyalty’ must change believes Desai. He says, “Marketeers have built up a whole lexicon of vocabulary around loyalty that end up over- promising.”

Desai elaborates saying one of the biggest problems brands face today is overcoming ‘customer indifference. Underlying the problem of ‘customer indifference’ is overload of information, what makes up brand values and authenticity, a problem that Desai says PR led communications is best positioned to address.

Redefining Customer Loyalty

How important values are to customers is starkly revealed in the ‘Edelman  Earned Brand 2017’ report, which shows that customers will pay a premium for a brand that supports its position:

The same report shows that 30 percent of consumers worldwide say that they make belief-driven purchase decisions more than they did three years ago.

For India, the report shows that a significantly high number of millennial buyers are influenced to purchase if their values match those of a company:

All these are pointers towards a new kind of customer, that needs a new kind of communications marketing.

If you enjoyed this article, you can subscribe for free to our weekly event and subscriber alerts.