Agencies, at their own pace, are evolving each day going from doing what they are great at, to trying out, with the necessary client faith in them, how far from their core competencies they can go and still make business sense.
The same holds true for PR agencies that seem to have come a long way from serving their client’s need of garnering good press to taking on the onus of operating in the paid media space, both digital and offline. This was never a stated deliverable of PR, but one that that industry has grown into. The question then arises is about whether they are best suited to handle this aspect of the business.
Prema Sagar, principal and founder, Genesis Burson-Marstellar, believes in creating a one-stop-shop for content needs. She says, “The boundaries of paid and earned media are blurring, with a strong interplay between the two, and no one has exclusive rights or responsibility for either. For an agency, the aim is building and enhancing the reputation of the client, which can be done through both earned and paid channels. In fact, it works better when content for all channels, paid or earned, is created in one place.”
Supriyo Gupta, CEO, Torque Communications, sheds light on how PR is beginning to handle paid content, and how creating some of that branded content requires unique skills.
“PR agencies who are used to writing direct, persuasive content so that the data and content gets across cutting through the fluff may not be the best equipped to write that content. Neither are advertising copy writers. There is a rare breed of brand story writers who are possibly best suited to write it out. Some of them are hired by PR agencies,” he explains.
So, even if a PR agency doesn’t necessarily set out to play in that space, it starts to eventually, on finding competent talent along the way. And sometimes, the content should seem like editorial.
Ajay Kakar, CMO – financial services, Aditya Birla Group, echoes Sagar’s sentiments on handling paid content not being somebody’s prerogative. He says, “Despite the multiple views on the matter, today, ‘paid content’ is a reality. The question on whether PR agencies should handle the content. Prima facie, I would say yes. Because they understand the language of media best; and know how to think and write editorial.”
Disclosure of a piece of content as ‘paid for’ is as important to build the brand’s image. Is this at risk when PR agencies, tasked with pushing editorial content, handles it?
Ashish Jalan, director and CEO, Concept PR, notes, “Depending on placement, paid content could be ethical or otherwise. If published as an advertorial, I would accept it as ethical, since the reader has been informed that the content has been paid for by the client. If mixed with editorial content, it comes within the danger limits of being unethical. A PR agency should get involved in creating the content for its client when the paid content would be published as an advertorial.”
Anand Halve, co-founder, Chlorophyll Brand and Communications Consultancy, explains that the debate about the practice of a PR agency handling paid media and the ethical question that it raises is something that the industry surpassed long ago. “Ethics is an area where everybody is stepping over the line so vigorously these days. But the thing is that there are no watertight compartments about what kind of agency will do what work.”
Sagar highlights the balance that a PR agency needs to practice. She states, “The only thing to keep in mind is that there should be transparent dealings and ethical influencing. The reader or the viewer should be clear about the nature of the content that he or she is consuming. Other than that, there is no issue specific to PR agencies that stops them from using paid media for their clients.”
Supriyo Gupta, CEO, Torque Communications
“Consumption of content takes place from such a wide range of media platforms that it is a bit naïve to believe that media continues to wear the mantle of maintaining and upholding integrity, value systems, democracy, service to nation and all that is holy, patriotic and good for the heart.”
Ajay Kakar, CMO – Financial Services, Aditya Birla Group
“The best equipped to do that (buying) is the media agency, who gets me the best ‘rate and position’, as a matter of routine.”
Ashish Jalan, director and CEO, Concept PR
“Buying of the media should be left to the media agency, since that would be their area of expertise and definitely not of the PR agency.”
Prema Sagar, principal and founder, Genesis Burson-Marstellar
“In the last few years, the role of agencies has now transcended traditional PR to evolve into a wider scope of integrated communication, which includes messaging, thought leadership, digital marketing, content creation, and yes, even distribution.”
Anand Halve, co-founder, Chlorophyll Brand and Communications Consultancy
“Paid content, particularly online that requires a quicker response time, needs to be discussed clearly with the agency. The objection is not with PR handling paid content but with how they handle it.”
(This article first appeared in the 15 May 2015 issue of Campaign India)