Be ‘PR’ACTICAL

As one famous quote rightly sums its up – Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some hire public relations officers. Since time immemorial the role of a Public Relations Officer has been indispensable – be it for retail brands, hospitality, government, medical, films, film celebrities etc. The growing consumerism in the country is making it paramount for brands and service providers to make sure that their brand image is picture perfect and hence we have PR and Communication agencies mushrooming at lightening speed. Reeta Gupta, founder – Network RGCOMM shares an interesting article highlighting PR trends to watch out for in 2013.

Analysis2

To start with, here’s a piece of Public Relations gospel.
In the short term everything is manageable. In the long term, you cant manage anything. Only the long term matters.

Never before has the value of Public Relations been so heavily questioned or deluged by so many game changers.

The dynamics of mass hysteria are being dictated by the internet, at mind-boggling speed. Consider year 2012’s most viral video,  Kony 2012, a serious film that has now become the most viral video of all time, tallying more than 100 million views in its first six days online. Justin Bieber and Oprah, among  millions of others have shared it. Through its rapid rise, Kony 2012 brought light to the plight of Ugandans at the hands of guerilla leader Joseph Kony, who has abducted more than 60,000 children and  converted them into foot soldiers in his Lord’s Resistance Army.

Clearly, an unlikely subject to become viral globally; and I doubt if any Public Relations agency hired to project this could have done a better job. So something about ‘messaging’, the heart of PR has changed. Lets look at the game changers.

Analysis

The Game Changers
1.    Technology
Since technology is now the greatest leveller, with the potential to make your message heard, no PR effort  can begin without an in depth understanding of how to leverage technology.

With metros around the world being ‘mobile app’ and update dependant, your cell phone is a compendium of news, opinion, money, buying, booking, talking, texting, voting all rolled into one.

But what has PR got to do with your mobile phone? This may make you understand.

“Consumer: Twitter is giving me news faster than anything else.
Consultant with ear on the ground tells brand: Great; so chuck PR and put your brand on twitter; that’s it!

Brand: sounds great, but how do I create followers on twitter?- everyone knows it’s a plug;
Consultant: So find someone else to talk about you.

Brand:  Hey that sounds like PR again. Just different.”

PR was always about content. Today the speed with which content spreads is so greatly accelerated, that it seems more difficult to control it. Everyone’s opinion matters, and there are blogs and consumer forums that can tear your brand apart. So PR is not just about what you say, but being alert to what others say and be able to put your point across quickly.

2.    Technology
No typo there, the second game changer is also technology, although in a different style.

One of my clients had asked me five years ago, ‘when people look for the best eye surgeon in Mumbai, does my name come up on google?’

‘That’s SEO, not PR,’ I said.

‘Then I want PR that has SEO in it’, came the doctors reply.
Today, that’s a standard argument. Your service needs to show up when someone looks for it- right?

So every PR company now has an allied digital strategy or it loses business.  This allied strategy, involves the semantics of search key words, what comes up, does it look like sell or educate etc.

Youtube is not to be left behind. Your  client may come up with requests like lets do such amazing PR that my song becomes as famous as ‘kolaveri di’ or ‘gangnam style.’ Possible?

Was Chris Gayle paid to do the ‘gangnam style’ jig on the cricket ground? I doubt!

See, that’s the thing about consumers; they make choices and you can’t doctor those choices. Your product has to have intrinsic value, clearly explained by simple content. PR is a part of a package, not a stand alone magic wand.

3.    Technology
No typo there again. Its technology. This time, lets bring in television as well.  Questions come to us all the time. Can we buy out a prime time debate slot? We respond with “that’s not PR”.

Let me tell you why that’s not PR. Because viewers have brains and they can separate a plugged argument from an unplugged one. The basics never change; I am yet to meet someone who can feign sincerity in the long term- the crown slips and the dirt emerges. Always. Always.

Political parties who field deadpan expressionless trained spokespersons in talk shows should realize how great a disservice they are doing to the format of debates itself. The viewer is evaluating ‘what you say’, ‘the context of what you say’ and ‘how you say it’ and not fooled by how composed you look. Composed and deadpan are not synonyms! Period.
PR is content. Research, Perspective. Understanding interpretations. No Public Relations professional can survive in the long run unless he understands how homo sapiens have moved from communicating with symbols to communicating with words. What were the evolutionary changes? How do people interpret statements and in what context do they evaluate them?

Many a promising election campaign is ruined by one sentence- take Romneys 47 per cent for instance.

PR as we knew it
Classicists may argue, all messages need not go viral; sometimes the mandates are local. So Public Relations needs to factor in geography of impact.

Yes, if you consider the poor internet penetrability of a country like India, and the fact that India will yet see a boom  in ‘traditional media vehicles’ led by its largely rural markets, where the morning newspaper is the gospel truth;  there is some merit in classical PR. The sacrosanct press release neatly printed on a companys letterhead, with attached annual reports or supportive documents will stay in India for a bit.

Till technology takes us to scenarios 1, 2 or 3.

The credibility of print is thanks largely to veteran columnists who dissect issues independent of where the marketing and sustenance money is coming from. While on the subject, Noam Chomsky’s books on the subject of media are insightful and recommended reading for all Public Relations Professionals.

What hasn’t changed and will never change
I can finally come to the moot point about PR. PR is not about spin doctoring, or misrepresenting something so it looks different.

Great PR cannot sell duds.

Bad PR cannot kill a star product or service.

Public Relations is a part of a package. A hit song, in hindsight looks like great tune, great lyrics, great voice, fabulous choreography all together. A successful brand in hindsight looks like great value, great advertisements and  great PR.

In the retail world, a sale ad will get you more immediate turnout in your shops than PR. However, Public Relations has the depth to give your brand an enduring character that will make the consumer pay 10 per cent more. Make a choice for reasons other than price alone. PR is retaining the folklore and magic around the brand.

PR is trust. Its that intangible value that does its work in informal ‘trusted circle’ conversations where people tend to believe each other. Where old opinions may be revisited and new ones may be formed by the force of argument and conviction.

PR is Process.

PR is taking a stand for something.

PR is the purview of talented communication professionals who have to invest in their character so diligently, that their character does the talking. For PR professionals, the choice of clients does the talking louder than anything they will say. And once you agree to represent a client, the USP you highlight for your client shows your mettle.

Even in the internet world, committed bloggers, or writers with domain strength far outshine those who are in it for a lark and not serious about it. People sign on to news feeds from sources they trust. Columnists who have experience on a subject have huge fan following. As ‘Freakonomics’ will tell you, it  takes 10000 hours of diligent study to be good at something.

Nothing much has changed! Yet everything has.

The writer owns a niche Public Relations, content development and brand development consultancy called The Network. She used to write for ET and Business India before turning entrepreneur and media strategist and advisor.

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Retailers Association of India (RAI) is the unified voice of Indian retailers. RAI is a not for profit organization (registered under section 25 of Companies Act, 1956), works with all the stakeholders for creating the right environment for the growth of the modern retail industry in India. RAI is the body that encourages, develops, facilitates and supports retailers to become modern and adopt best practices that will delight customers. RAI has a three charter aim of Retail Development, Facilitation and Propagation.