Are PR agencies tracking the online buzz about their clients and building web campaigns? Campaign India finds out
The industry is witnessing a new target audience that is writing and reading blogs; watching videos on YouTube and Tudou; sharing stories on Facebook, MySpace, Zorpia or Twitter and joining discussions on OpenRice.
For the PR industry, this should be nothing short of a revolution. After all, aren’t they (PR) the people who leverage connections to allow for rapid information sharing?
But while everyone is aware of its growing importance as a medium, very few organisations and their PR agencies are taking concrete actions to manage their online reputations. In fact, say the industry experts, very few are even tracking or listening to the online ‘buzz’ about their own brands or services.
“Many clients are still grappling and putting their heads around understanding online PR,” says Alok Lall, managing director, iris Worldwide. “And I’m afraid not many PR agencies are pushing for this either at this point. It’s still mainline press and television really that form a bulk of PR outputs.”
Today, there are fifteen million blogs out there inspiring conversations and engaging people in dialogue and debate whether marketers like it or not. If managed well, it can also provide marketers with a controlled, secure environment for sensitive conversations or topics.
“For a recent initiative in India to make the search experience more fun called – “Win with Search”, we engaged with key bloggers and online communities to build awareness, trials and gain useful feedback,” said Rishi Srivastava, consumer & online marketing officer, Microsoft India.
According to Carson Dalton, head of corporate communications, British Telecom India and Media Magazines’s ‘Young PR Professional of the Year’, a digital PR manager has to understand the digital environment from three perspectives—“inbound”, “outbound”, and “community.”
The inbound function is the “listening” function. A PR professional should map out his core audiences and understand where they congregate and exchange ideas online, and monitor them on a daily basis.
The outbound function is putting out information—through formal company channels—to attempt to control the online discourse. Through trial and error, the digital PR expert must disseminate information that does not insult the audience’s intelligence but still gets the point across.
“The community function is perhaps the least understood,” adds Dalton. “There are all kinds of buzz about “engaging the community” with “influencers” but I haven’t seen it done effectively unless the brand is already strong. Apple has engaged its community... but it’s really more like its community has engaged it. How does an unpopular brand actually engage its community, other than through “better behaviour?”
With the democratization of information, it’s harder to put out a false spin. It is, however, possible for those companies with compelling value propositions to get the truth out there and correct falsehoods. In any case, PR is clearly more important—and more complicated—than it ever has been for marketers.
And while the fundamentals of the business will remain the same – fuelling conversations, building relationships and doing all this in an authentic, credible way – the capabilities and scope will have to leapfrog as digital proliferates.
Ashwani Singla, chief executive officer, Genesis Burson-Marsteller
“While corporate communicators in India know and understand the importance of digital PR and are willing to learn more about it, we are still in the experimentation stage. In the ‘age of conversations’ as I like to define the communication environment on the internet, we have to move from controlling the message to amplifying its influence. We have developed a proprietary framework called eLifetm that helps our clients make their digital communication journey. It’s a five step cyclic process that begins with auditing the current presence and perception and ends with measurement of results.”
Alok Lall, managing director, iris India
“Digital medium, if managed professionally, can help build brands. That said, I actually cannot think of many examples where the Indian marketer has used digital PR effectively as yet. At iris, we’re putting our money where our digital mouth is, funding innovative global research on advocacy to ensure that our clients are at the forefront of this burgeoning trend. We encourage our clients to use the digital medium internally to build morale among their staff and sales teams. We’ve also found that it’s helped to build our client’s personal profiles in the industry in which they work. ”
Carson Dalton, head, corporate communication, British Telecom
“Indian clients are yet to sit up and take note of Digital PR. This lag has to do more with the internet being an urban phenomenon and largely due to the low levels of penetration of the internet and broadband in India. Believe it or not, but digital PR as a concept for the masses will only take off with the affordability of the desktop/laptop and reach of the internet to the largest consumer base which lies at the base of the pyramid. Until companies do not see a clear ROI they will not invest, though this may not hold true for urban brands with an urban target audience and Sunsilk’s gang of girls is a clear winning example. ”
Srikanth Sarathy, national head, LBi India
“Digital PR is something that’s relatively new to all of us .In the real (or media) world of PR, the delivery mechanism is controlled by a select group of people.In the digital world, every consumer has a voice. They can speak to other consumers one on one, or in public forums to thousands of other consumers. From a brand point of view it can be fantastic if used right, but also a real headache if neglected. I wouldn’t really call it a bus but more like a grand gathering of your consumers, who you’re currently missing out on. They’re already talking about you (like it or not) so the onus is on you to engage and encourage the good and manage the ‘not so good’. ”
Jaideep Shergill, CEO, Hanmer MS&L
“Indian clients are getting more aware of the digital medium and how PR can help elevate their brand image in the online space. It is not just the economics of going digital as far as PR is concerned, it is also the reach and the excitement of handling a new environment that is luring Indian clients to look at digital PR in a large way. Quite a few of our clients have been excited and have adopted digital PR in a big way and are following it closely. One of our biggest digital PR campaigns has been the launch of Shobhaa De’s book online. ”