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Recruiting and retaining talent is a global issue in PR: Fred Cook, Golinopinion

Cook, along with Ameer Ismail of PointNine Lintas and GolinOpinion, also spoke about the urgency of reacting when in crisis and explained how social media has changed the game for everyone

Fred Cook

Talent is an issue across various sections in the media industry. While advertising, media planning and other verticals have had their say in this, Public Relations (PR) too has its share of challenges when it comes to talent hunting.

Fred Cook, Global Chairman, Golin was in Mumbai a few days ago to unveil their research report ‘Relevance Fingerprint’, which included India as a major market. On the sidelines of his visit, BestMediaInfo caught up with him to speak to him about the relevance of trust in a brand’s journey and how PR is increasingly becoming a branding tool than just being a facilitator.

Cook, along with Ameer Ismail, Chief Growth officer, PointNine Lintas and President GolinOpinion, also spoke about the urgency of reacting when in crisis and explained how social media has changed the game for everyone.



Let’s begin with ‘Relevance Fingerprint’, the global study that also covers India. What specific observation do you find in the Indian context vis-à-vis rest of the world?

Cook: There were some interesting differences. Globally, within all categories, consumers wanted that the brand should be trustworthy. However, we saw that none of the most relevant brands reached that level of trust, as expected by the consumers. But these are still relevant because of the other components of relevance. Another important component is popularity – the number of people who talked about the brand/ recommended it and whenever there was a general buzz about a particular brand seem to be more important than the love or trust for it. The most obvious example is Donald Trump – people don't really trust too much but is relevant because of his popularity and the amount of attention he generates. That's what's driving his relevance and not trust.


When we looked at India, it was different than the rest of the world in terms of what they expected from the brands and the idea was a much larger universe. We realised that Indians expected more from the brands in terms of trust, popularity, transparency and many other things. The Indian consumer strongly felt that the brands were giving them what they wanted. There was a much better sense of scepticism in some of the other markets where people were disappointed with the brands. There is higher level of trust in brands in India compared to the rest of the world.

You have been handling the best of global brands for several decades. What is the ratio of reviving the lost consumer trust globally? How difficult it is to revive trust?

Cook: It is very difficult and it takes a long time and a lot of hard work to regain the trust once you lost it. Though we are not encouraging people to not be trusted or honest or truthful, there are other ways to be relevant, but if for some reason, you have lost the trust, you should rather try to build your brand through other areas and there are many ways to tell your story and make sure that people are listening to you.

Trust is important but it is not the only thing.

Ameer: It's also about what you do and what steps you take. It is about acting at that point in time by taking some right measures and communicating the proper message in real time, which actually makes a difference in curtailing those kinds of issues.

Lost-trust ratio?

Cook: I don’t think we have a ratio for that but what we saw in our research that there are zero brands that are trusted to the extent that people like them to be. So it can be different in different categories and for different brands. Let’s see an example of Facebook, which is very popular but it's not particularly trusted. There is a lot of information on Facebook but we know it is not true. 50 per cent of people would get there information or news from Facebook, but they won't trust it. When you ask them how relevant it is this is that it is extremely relevant.

PR is the most important part of crisis management. Yet, it doesn't get its due a lot of times. Do you think it's true? And what can be done about it?

Cook: It's not just crisis management. I think Public Relations is the most powerful tool of any company – whether it's marketing or crisis or communications. But not everybody recognises that. During crisis, people recognise that PR is the No. 1 discipline to help manage your crisis and that's becoming more and more apparent as people rely on PR front. There is a growing recognition of how important communications is and how important it is to have good communicators on your team not only in bad times but also in good times.

When in crisis, what should be the brand’s first aid?

Cook: Taking proper action, as ‘what we do is always more important than what we say’. The first step is to apologise and take responsibility for something, if it was your fault. Step two is to talk about how you are going to do to fix it and how you are going to prevent it from happening again.

We also find that in the era of social media, you have to respond quickly – in an hour or two. You can't wait a day to respond to a crisis. Respond right now for people to be receptive to what you want to say.

Ameer: In fact you would be surprised to know that a lot of major brands/ sizeable companies do not do social media listening on a regular basis. It’s very sporadic. But we have a social media command centre – one of many worldwide with the Golinopinion Network. The department only does listening and then as I said you can device program to repair for quick action and quick response.

Cook: We call it the ‘Bridge’. It helps us to monitor our clients in real time and to respond to those situations immediately. Any company that is doing business in this era has to be prepared to be listening and be prepared to respond in time. You can’t always consult with your attorneys before you respond, or do focus groups. You can't find out exactly the right thing to say. You have to go with your instincts about what you think your values are. You might not gather all the information at that point in time, but it is increasingly important to be responsive.

What are the drivers or dimensions that most strongly correlate with positive brand relevance across all categories around the world and specifically in India?

Cook: There are a total of 15 drivers. Trust and popularity were the most prominent in our research. The importance of drivers also depends on the category. In general, interest in being innovative is increasing and that's another powerful driver. Any brands that are ‘welcoming’ are more relevant and the brands that are more ‘transparent’ are also preferred more.

Do the problems of Indian brands differ from the rest of the world?

Ameer: They are a completely different landscape with a different cycle of evolution.

Cook: Every market is different because the consumers are different. Relevance is all about how you make a consumer listen to you and motivate him to go to the market. People are different even within Indian states and cities. This is another interesting thing that we saw during the elections in the United States. What motivates people in the cities is opposite of what motivates people on the countryside. We found that in the elections research, all of the sampling and polling was done at the city level and presented a whole different picture of what was really happening. We have done a lot of research in the small towns to understand what's happening in those areas. Whether these people are picking up the same things as the people of New York or Bombay.

Why do you think your G4 model is best suited framework in today’s communication ecosystem?

Cook: The many things that make it one of the best ecosystems is that public relations has branched out. The scope of work that we do is 10 times more than it was 10 years ago. The flexibility of work is 10 times more, so is the complexity of work. Hence you can't and you won't get help from the people that you got 10 years ago. So, we had to have some specialists and experts in social media, digital, design, research and analytics, creative people and data. G4 was all about moving from the ‘generic model’ where everyone was doing the same job to a ‘specialist model’ so that you can tap into experts in all different areas.

Also it’s because of clients. 10 years ago, all they wanted from PR firms was media relations and wanted their company to be written about in the media. Now they are looking for much more - analytics, data, creative ideas, content, videos, infographics and many other things that we can provide.

Is there increasingly over-dependence on data?

Cook: There is a lot of information out there. The secret is analysing that information and coming up with some insights about consumers, which is valuable for the brand. Just having all the data is not helping.

So, since you are dealing with specialists for G4, do you think that the quality of talent in the sector is an issue?

Cook: In one of our studies, we ask people all over the world within the agency and outside – what is the No. 1 challenge to achieving the goals and every year, it is recruiting talent and retaining talent.

It's a global issue. We need to position ourselves properly. We have to tell people that it is a fantastic career option and is an exciting industry so that we get talented young people. People are not passionately thinking that I want to work in public relation and that this is a dream job for me. We need to create an attractive proposition for the people to join us.

We see a lot of people in public relations who started off in law, journalism or science and since they didn't find anything else interesting, they land in public relations. This is one of the most fascinating and interesting fields to be in. I have been in this business for a very long time and this is the reason that I teach in the college so that I can attract young smart talent to this industry because I think we need them and it is a great opportunity.

When it comes to handling political parties as clients, do you think it is any different than handling brands?

Cook: It is very different and we at Golin don't handle tobacco companies or political parties/ personalities. We don't feel like that something we want to do. There are other firms that are very skilled companies. The political world is a great learning ground for PR. It is really fast moving and you have a crisis every day or sometimes two or three per day. So yes great training for the people who want to work in public relations. In the political world, it is also about managing campaigns. Now-a-days, a lot of bands are thinking in terms of long-term campaigns. So there are lot of parallels between political brands and the commercial ones but the political role is so divisive these days that it is hard for us to work for anybody in the politics.

How much role does PR play in branding these days? How has this evolved from a facilitator to an important player in brand building exercise?

Cook: PR’s role is increasing by the day in branding and building a brand. In the next five years, it shows that there will be a much better alignment between public relations and marketing. Patanjali is a very good example of how public relations can build a brand. People have slowly started realising that you can build a brand through public relations and not always through advertising. It's all about how good a story you have to tell and how do you tell it, and especially the younger audiences (gen Z that we call it) are so much more curious and are always receptive to stories.

Our industry is changing faster than ever before. I think it's only going to speed up in the near future. It is incumbent upon us to be ahead of that change with new technology, new ideas and new approaches. We're always doing research to find out what's going to happen in two to three years, what's bringing in new technology and new kind of people with different skill sets.

The major reason for this faster growth is technology and social media. Earlier, if you wanted to have a story in a magazine, you work with them for six months before they print that edition/ few weeks before in a newspaper or a television programme. Now, news is almost instantaneous. So I think you have to have the capabilities that we do with the bridge to know what's happening at this very moment and to respond immediately. Information travels so fast. Earlier you could control a story within a region or city/ state/ country. Now everything goes out so fast.


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