Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Why public relations companies need to be creative

PR persons must learn to think innovatively and provide clients with useful information
The first word that comes to mind when one thinks of advertising is ‘creativity’. Other phrases or words that might come up are ‘out of the box’, ‘different’, ‘whacky’ and even ‘weird’ (a reference, perhaps, to some of my advertising brethren’s choice in clothes and hair styles). One thing, however, is pretty clear: an agency’s creative abilities help brands get noticed and move the consumer to action. Agencies often get new business only on the basis of their creative talents.
My question is, should the related field of public relations also adopt creativity as its very motto in today’s challenging times? This leads me to an important question: what exactly is creativity?
Peace activist and artist Mary Lou Cook said, “Creativity is inventing, experimenting, growing, taking risks, breaking rules, making mistakes, and having fun.”
My submission is that PR companies have a strong need to re-brand and reorient themselves as “the other creative communications agency”. Why do I say that?
Today’s challenges
Let’s step back to look at public relations in today’s scenario. Despite the proliferation of social media and various other platforms, it is still difficult to get a story across in the media. A far cry from the earlier days, when all you had to do was to meet the journalist and, lo and behold, you had a front page story! Those days, there were fewer companies and the media had to hunt for stories. The main skill-set that PR executives needed was the ability to build relations with media and clients. The phrase ‘wine and dine’ was often unfairly used to describe a PR agency’s work.
Today, with a bevy of verticals, numerous PR companies pushing their clients’ causes and the media becoming increasingly selective in what it will carry, the challenges have become more pronounced.
The power of a story
One of the main reasons why people love advertisements and, at times, prefer watching them to television programmes, is that advertising has powerful stories driving its content. The Samsung customer service ad for India — where the service engineer faces numerous obstacles, including a tree-blocked road and mountainous terrain, to get a TV repaired so that blind children can watch their hostel-mate participate in a singing contest — topped the list of most-watched ads on YouTube in 2017, with over 150 million views!

What sets it apart? It is simple, has an element of surprise, is touching but does not go overboard, and isn’t soppy. I believe the power of the story made it hugely popular. So, where’s the analogy for PR companies and what must they do?
What’s your pitch?
Today, to put it mildly, journalists lead stressful lives. They work under myriad pressures and ever-shrinking deadlines, even as they compete with their colleagues to break stories or move up to the front page of their respective newspapers. Then, why should they read your pitch? They will read a press release if it is well-crafted, caters to the current interests of the reader and is brief. Remember the saying ‘Brevity is the soul of wit’.
I wish our PR executives would write to the point and better so that they capture the essence of the content in a few, well-chosen words rather than in voluminous paragraphs that sorely tempt the recipient to press the delete button.
The way forward
Sadly, the PR industry does not train its young people as well as it ought to. So, the bright young people manage on their own initiative and ability while the rest just about get by. While maintaining relationships is important, it is difficult for youngsters to build a rapport with older, more experienced journalists. But there is a silver lining. The media will welcome you if you are an expert on your client and their vertical. It will love you if you can give the story a nice angle that is not only about the client but is also interesting for the reader.
Can you tap into a current trend? Can you provide information that the journalist might otherwise take hours to find? Can you help the journalist without asking for your pound of flesh? The challenge, therefore, is for PR companies to train people to think differently and innovatively, and write succinctly. Then we will have a breed of PR professionals who think brand, think media and think creatively.
When that happens I will call it a day!

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

The campaigns, they are a-changing

A lot of brands keep changing their ad campaigns, even before they have outlived their usefulness
When do clients change their ad campaigns? Usually when they believe that their consumers are getting tired of them. The reality, however, is that clients and agencies get tired of their campaigns much before the consumers do. That’s because clients see their own campaigns so many times — in their conference rooms, as part of agency reviews and every time they have a visitor.
Consumers, however, have a million other things on their mind. They don’t spend time in conference rooms. They are too busy standing in queues, ensuring their family has three square meals and in figuring out their children’s homework! And throw in around 900 TV channels they have access to, and it’s a miracle that they actually remember their house address, much less your brand!
And yet, brands keep changing their ad campaigns, sometimes even before they have outlived their usefulness.
Pugs multiply, creativity diminishes
How many of you remember ‘Hutch’, the mobile service? Or their advertising? Well, it is difficult not to remember the dog, a pug, that the brand introduced. Clearly, the advertising had created a brand property in the pug, which I am sure would have scored highly in all advertising recall studies.
While the pug featured in more commercials than a few Bollywood stars (and even escalated the price of pugs in India, if rumours are to be believed), it was part of several memorable commercials. This ad shows the boy’s faithful friend following him everywhere and ending up on his bed, the final message being the network follows you everywhere.
Let me once again reiterate my peeve with the brand’s advertising, which is true of all mobile service providers in India — ‘It has no relation to the actual level of service or coverage in the country!’ Sadly, as a consumer of Vodafone, I cannot really believe the claim of the network following me everywhere, as it has not been my experience with the brand.
Most recently, Vodafone came out with another commercial, that features another young boy being followed by a whole group of pugs. And the commercial has an astonishing claim — that it adds a tower every hour! Wow! Some clock! This claim seems as outlandish as saying Afghanistan is the greatest cricket team of all time, just because it made it to the Under-19 World Cup semi-finals in New Zealand.
Where is Hari Sadu?
Do you remember the old Naukri ad? It features an ill-tempered, evil boss who is universally hated and aptly called Hari Sadu. The boss’ assistant tells him the restaurant he wants reservation at, is on the line. Even as he tries to book a table for two, the man on the other end of the line seems to have a problem getting his name right.
At this time, one of his subordinates offers to help and does so by giving a cheeky expansion of the name — H for Hitler, A for arrogant, R for rascal and I for idiot — to the absolute delight of his peers and the shock of the boss. The tagline from the brand said, ‘Guess who has just heard from us?’
Clearly, a lot of young people leave their jobs because their immediate supervisor is insufferable. And while the ad may have offended a few employers, I think it was quite popular with younger people, whose bio-datas populate the brand’s website.
The brand recently changed its commercial for a more functional, less edgy and perhaps even less interesting one, featuring a number of bored, unwilling employees who have to be dragged to work on a Monday. Naukri offers itself as the alternative to a boring life at work — by helping them land jobs they will actually enjoy.
Now, irrespective of whether or not you’re looking for a change, which ad do you find more interesting? I realise that the brand has changed its positioning, but as a consumer, do I really care?
And men will always be men
Let me end with a new commercial, where, a young man wanting to impress a young woman on the road, attempts to change a car’s punctured tyre, presuming it was hers — only to realise later that it wasn’t!
But why do I prefer the earlier commercial, which features two guys with paunches (resembling mine), who suck it in with great effort to impress a young woman?
This is the eternal challenge — changes happen in both agencies and clients’ offices and those normally result in new advertising campaigns with different executions.
But is change always for the better? You tell me!