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Print is still relevant in India but companies must start engaging more with audiences on digital, says Ketchum’s top brass

In a conversation with BestMediaInfo.com, Barri Rafferty, CEO of Ketchum and Esty Pujadas. Partner, President - Ketchum APAC, MEA and LATAM share how companies must communicate with their audiences in order to stay relevant

(L) Barri Rafferty and Esty Pujadas (R)

India could be a challenging market for any global public relations agency. Given the vast size of the market and the number of languages it has, the job of communicator becomes all the more difficult.

In an interaction with BestMediaInfo.com, Barri Rafferty, CEO of Ketchum said that though it was challenging for the company but technology has made things a lot easier.

“There is now technology available that helps you take videos and translate it. Leveraging technology to get mass personalisation and the ability to do that is going to help us in this market,” she said. 

Over the years, the communication business has evolved to a point where creative and media agencies are also calling themselves a communication company. So much, so that creative agencies are winning PR Awards. However, Ketchum Sampark is confident in the face of this shift as they are the focus on understanding the mindset of people as it is no longer about the gender or location of a person.

Talking about the changing communication strategy because of increasing engagement on digital, Esty Pujadas, Partner, President - Ketchum APAC, MEA and LATAM, said, “Offline isn’t going to go away. So it is important to build the reputation through earned to enhance the engagement with those audiences.”

"Companies have to engage more with their audiences on digital. It doesn’t take away from print media as I feel it is at the core of everything. It is just that digital gives additional channels for communication,” Pujadas added.


The communication business has evolved to a point where creative and media agencies are also calling themselves a communication company. So much, so that creative agencies are winning PR Awards! What you have to say on this shift?

Pujadas: We are focused on marrying creativity with analytics and the right insight and be able to segment the audience companies want to reach by reaching them where they are consuming information online, and in the format, they are consuming that content. A lot of what we are building in our agency is to support that, and it is bringing all of those pieces together from analytics to creativity to understand the mindset. For us, it is important to understand the mindset of people, it is no longer about the gender or location of a person. It is about affluence and relevance and building unique content to reach them through the right channels. And offline channels are not going to go away, online enhances offline as well.

How are global practices different from India?

Rafferty: When we started in this industry, a lot of things were relationship-based, and today in other parts of the world, it has turned into email, texting and WhatsApp. Though in India, the relationships are still important. 

When it comes to social media activities such as Instagram or Facebook Live, the Indian market is still opening up, and it is still in its early stage. My prediction is by next year it will start to open. I have already met with five clients here, and I feel they are just starting to make a digital hire or starting to look at social marketing in a different way. I think we are at the tipping point. The important thing is we keep on moving, and the target is not just Tier I but also Tier-II cities

Pujadas: All markets are evolving, and it important to understand that the world is consuming most of its information online. We are at a tipping point in India where companies have to engage more with their audiences in that format. It doesn’t take away from print media as I feel earned media is at the core of everything, it is just that digital gives additional channels for communication and I think in India it is specifically important as more people are going to consume information through mobile phones and it is going to open even more opportunities for companies to engage their audiences through online formats.

Print is still a strong component for companies to communicate, but they are also evolving to include other channels. So such enhancement is going to give the company more opportunities for engagement with the audiences.

Having handled economic slowdown in different markets, we would like to know that if a client’s communication strategy should be handled differently in an economic crisis or slowdown or distress?

Pujadas: Our focus is to help companies to be able to drive results, and a lot of what we are talking about today helps drive business outcome. As an agency, we are focused on continuously helping our clients build the right strategy to deliver business outcome. This should be the focus in any situation.

Growth of social media also brought crises for brands which PR agencies have to deal with. What should a brand do in today’s hyper-social age?

Pujadas: I would say the best defence is offence. You have to be constantly proactively managing your communications with your audiences and should there be an issue, be rapid in your response to appropriately handle those circumstances. Sometimes you can even turn the negative feedback to positive. But in general, it is about always communicating and managing issues in a way that resonates with your audiences It is a rapid world, and you have to be managing those issues quickly and authentically. Authenticity is the keyword.

Special situations demand special strategies but in a general situation, should a brand be kept protected in a walled garden by their communication team or it should actually come out and take on the consumers’ concerns in a balanced manner?

Rafferty: We often communicate directly from a brand to a consumer on behalf of our client, but I think it depends on what you are trying to achieve. You have to do it authentically it is not a moment in time thing as it is an ongoing relationship.

There is a general notion that PR agencies keep their clients highly protected. But in many cases, we have noticed that it is a brand which protects itself, making PR as a shield. Should this even be considered as a strategy in this age?

Rafferty: I think today one has to close the ‘say or do’ gap. What you say you have to do or else in today’s world there is too much of transparency, and if you are not authentic people will find out. We always tell our clients that if you are going to say something then the company has to stand behind it and do the right thing. That is more and more important today and ever before. Since nothing is local today, if you do something in India, people in China and US will also know. Hence, you have to be consistent. Once it's online, it's online. 

Regional is the booming market. How well prepared are you to cash on the opportunity in India?

Rafferty: Visuals storytelling can be done across languages, and it has been part of our strategies. We are making sure that we have the right strategy to reach the market through the right language that is more effective and efficient.


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