ITL #461   Progressing PR: what it takes to deliver ‘integrated’ in 2022

9 months, 1 week ago

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Delivering the best communications work today calls for more collaboration and the ability to identify and co-opt diverse talent. By David Lian.



Back at the turn of the century, when I was a budding Account Executive, I remember vividly standing over a photo-copying machine every month end to photocopy hundreds of newspaper clippings to be bound into a report.

 

Fast forward to 2022 and we’ve come a long way from basic, often-manual collation of data and scoring. In this age, we’ve co-opted technology and AI-based assistants to do our data-collection and sorting for us and make the data ready for access and consumption at our fingertips. The industry is ripe for revolution. So why is it that so few organisations take full advantage of modern tools to augment their integrated communications programmes?

 

Here are three key components I think every communications department needs to have:

 

#1 The foundation: an information infrastructure

The cliche ‘knowledge is power’ rings especially  true when it comes to communications, only most of us don’t have the apparatus to plug the power into to make meaningful advances in our organization’s goals. In my view, the ability to access and manipulate data for communications programmes is the foundational capability that communicators need to be more integrated, more creative and more effective in communications.

 

Consider this: the hundreds of articles I used to compile every month for BMW has probably ballooned to thousands of conversations surfacing all across the internet. Today, with an appropriate monitoring tool, it’s possible to collect, sort and organise this information faster than my manual compilation work at the end of every month 20 years ago and yield information that is richer, more recent and more accurate. The net result must be action.

 

For example, in the early days of covid-19, my team worked on a covid-19 sentiment tracker to help clients better understand the public sentiment as affected by the pandemic through social conversation data, cross-referenced against other data points – such as news coverage and government actions.

 

One client in the fast-food industry used this data to inform its actions. For example, when wide-spread panic on covid-19 raised questions on food contamination, our client was swift to respond with new sanitisation protocols and clear communication to assure the public. When overworked frontline medical staff emerged as a cause of public concern, the same client could prepare in advance to supply food to needy staff.

 

Furthermore, the information universe (let’s call it that) continues to expand. Firstly, the opportunity to adopt first party research methods (such as surveys, interviews, focus groups etc) and correlate findings with secondary data sources (such as social media conversations) allows us to yield insights that inform action.

 

Secondly, more and more companies are recognising the importance of employee analytics, and understanding how their employee population feels about certain issues before acting. Like Facebook found out when employees walked out in June 2020, today’s workers expect their employers to act and reflect their beliefs and values. The employee as a stakeholder has never been more important.

 

#2 An audience-centric integrated mindset

Which leads us to the important question of progressing PR in 2022: which activities fall under the purview of PR and what does not? From my experience in recent years, the lines between advertising, public relations and even customer service have blurred so immensely that the only way forward for communications professionals is to truly embrace integrated communications because our audiences are increasingly omni-channel and complex.

 

We can no longer constrain our communications programmes to the written word, no matter how compelling our messaging is. In the age of TikTok memes, NFTs and the Metaverse, communicators must be able to deliver the messages we’ve so diligently crafted in the most effective medium possible – whether it’s videos, pithy compositions or a virtual reality experience.

 

However, channels and formats are not the crux of the matter. The audience is. And what the data shows us is that audiences are increasingly well-informed with complex motivations. Today’s audiences are no longer characterised alone by demographics, or indeed, psychographics. Purpose, values and ethics have become an important motivator of behaviour, and companies are now challenged to align their values and purpose to that of their customers.

 

In our recent 2020 Zeno Strength of Purpose study, we found that 94% of consumers surveyed said it was important that brands have a strong purpose. The same study found that consumers were four times more likely to purchase something from a brand they thought had a strong purpose.

 

Furthermore, as I pointed out earlier, employees are also automatically part of the audience of every public action or position an organisation takes. And as shown in the case of Facebook, when employees no longer feel connected to the actions of their employers, they may stage a walkout.

 

Engaging with audiences thus requires a deep understanding of their psychographics, motivations and a plan to best engage them on channels they already use.

 

#3 Integrating specialist capability no longer optional

The challenge is this often requires the PR professional to be savvy with new technology and culture, experienced in the formalities of public relations practice and agile enough to integrate the two to achieve business and communications goals. In many cases, it is no longer a job one person can do, but rather requires an integrated team with diverse talent.

 

Rather, for truly integrated work, we need integrated teams of specialists along with a communications leader who can ensure that each specialist is contributing to a holistic vision.

 

For example, a recent campaign we worked on for a healthcare startup in Singapore, required a comprehensive mix of PR and industry knowledge (communicating complex messages), creative capability (simplifying the messaging for both consumers and doctors), and technical capability (in deploying the website, social media channels, videos and influencer programme).

 

Putting together an integrated team can be daunting, but many solutions already exist to help make the task simpler. Collaboration technology such Microsoft Teams, Miro or Slack enable good project management platforms for diverse teams. Many smaller agencies are also finding that using freelancers to fill in capabilities that don’t exist in-house works well.

 

The bottom line is that in order for the best communications work to happen today, we need more collaboration and the ability to identify and co-opt diverse talent. While the lone maverick PR professional still makes a big impact on effective communication, my bet is that teams with diverse skills will fare much better.

 


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The Author

David Lian

David Lian, Managing Director, Asia, Growth and Innovation, Zeno Group

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