Seven months after we were shocked into the “new normal”, things seem to be slowing down. We’re still far from business as usual but at least the uncertainty on the horizon seems more manageable. For reputation managers, their frantic search for the right communique seems to have ultimately distilled into narratives that they are more in control of. And that has given us an opportunity to see what we are capable of doing when it comes to responding to crises of global proportions. It has been a true test of India Inc.’s girt.
I got a glimpse of this grit in campaigns reviewed by a jury that I was a part of, for Campaign India PR Awards 2020. To be clear, many of these campaigns were conceptualised and started before the pandemic began. But if you look around you, the pandemic has been an overwhelming, but not the only source of turbulence. Brands have had to navigate socio-political sensitivities, macroeconomic slowdown, geopolitical discord in our neighbourhood, and a general upsurge of consumer activism. The uncertainties due to these factors and the urgency to manage them reflect in almost all the initiatives we assessed.
Measuring what matters
One of the most welcome trends has been the brands’ approach towards analytics. We see efforts being made to go above and beyond in how reputation and influence is being measured. This is not to say that the focus is migrating away from news coverages. But they are being looked at alongside extraordinary factors – from such relatively simple parameters as customer centricity and leadership favourability, to those as abstract as a contribution to nation-building. While integrating all these into reputation measurement is a task, creating and maintaining such a measurement architecture takes a lot of planning and resources. Credit goes to agencies for building a case for it, and to clients for believing in it. Particularly, in this case, I must commend Campaign India for disallowing AVEs as a metric at all.
Walking the talk on empathy
Empathy has been a bit of a buzz word in communications approaches from before the beginning of the pandemic. These circumstances gave opportunities for brands to show it in many result-oriented ways. By and large, workforces have undergone a disruption in the way they work and what’s expected of them. Specifically, in the handful of sectors that were operational for the most of the lockdown, there were employees who were on the frontlines and risking a lot. From sending workstations to their employees’ homes to extended insurance plans, organisations that truly put people at the centre of what they do, figured out creative ways to safeguard, support and engage their employees while they work from home in global pandemics.
Valuing long term purpose
Lately, we have seen an increasingly large number of organisations create initiatives that highlight their social purpose, and the will to act on it. Smart brands today understand that symbolic gestures are not enough. Changing their Instagram DP to a rainbow during pride month and later going back to towing a conservative line will be seen through. Therefore the horizons of reputation building plans are becoming farther, prompting clients to put their weight behind their purpose and long-term value. Frankly, I found the Cause Related and CSR campaigns that our jury reviewed where communications teams have cracked deep insights and propelled it with creativity and created real impact. Naturally, such long-term efforts require capital – intellectual and otherwise to create and sustain. Therefore, credit goes to reputation managers for building a strong case for it.
Crisis doesn’t just build character, it reveals it
Brands are emerging out of this pandemic speaking in an epiphanic way to their their stakeholders externally (and to us through their entries). It seems the pandemic has forced them to rethink the essence of their brands’ reputation. Priorities have changed, audiences are continuously evolving, and many organisations have reinvented their business models– it’s only natural that this will create some degree of permanent change in the DNA of organisational reputation. I predict that the drivers of success in this period will continue to define power of brands for a long time to come.
The author is co-founder and dean, School of Communications and Reputation and part of the PR Awards India 2020 jury.