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‘Brands need to be purposeful at the confluence of societal needs & brand promise’

Pranav Kumar
Written by Publishing Team

As we approach 2022 and look forward to it as a year full of hope and possibilities, e4m PR and Corp Comm present the ‘2021 Year-end Story’ series with the theme of ‘The New Year’s Possibilities for PR Agencies and the Road Introduction’. Notable names, PR veterans and the Corp Comm fraternity on how they perceive the New Year, the transformations they expect to see, and their vision for the future.

In this interview, Pranav Kumar, Managing Director, Allison + Partners India, details the top-line trends for the coming year and how brands should be increasingly purposeful when societal needs and brand promise meet.

Excerpts from the interview:

How important is the direction of custom displays for the PR industry?

I wouldn’t call it a direction but more like a path. As PR practitioners, our strength lies in engagement whose suitability is a prerequisite. This means knowing your client’s business well, discovering ideas, and then carefully researching the right journalist and publication or platform. At Allison + Partners, we use a rigorous approach we call “Tap In” that helps our clients tap into pivotal trends or moments to join the conversation and identify their unique perspectives. This approach stems from our philosophy that today brands live at the intersection of culture and commerce and that means being part of the conversations that matter as part of our Earned Media Relationships book.

Artificial intelligence is the future – regardless of industries. In what ways can AI help PR professionals and telecom companies in 2022?

As we know, AI is built on a basic layer of not just data but good data, i.e. data with high integrity. So understanding the data, what we collect, and how we use it is key. AI will advance the analytics and measurement platforms we already use, overlapping across areas such as sentiment, hue, and scaling. In an ideal scenario, as an industry, we want to be in a place where we help customers with AI-based insights in more specific areas like; How acquired media translates into shortening the buying cycle and where consumers make informed decisions faster or simply, how PR campaigns are able to predict specific business and sales outcomes.

What trends can the PR and Corporate Communications industry in India look for or anticipate in 2022?

The year 2021 showed us how flexible communication is as a corporate function. The public relations industry in general has demonstrated agility by helping brands navigate a disruptive environment where it has been more important than ever to demonstrate authenticity, and purpose, yet balance these goals with company and brand reputation in order to achieve business goals such as Build a brand or increase market share. I expect 2022 to be no different as the lines between marketing and communications become increasingly blurred. Some of the top-line trends would be: an increased focus on marketing and amplification of sponsored content, building compelling digital experiences as traditional forms of engagement dissipate, and finally, on PR that drives increased social media engagement (the increasing intrusion of digital agencies at large traditionally maintaining our core skills in sharing, content and messages).

According to industry experts, ESG will continue to grow. In what ways will socially conscious initiatives continue to drive campaigns and outreach programs in 2022?

Brands need to be increasingly purposeful in sitting down when societal needs and brand promises converge. PR can help brands by driving purpose-driven programs that inspire brand loyalty by helping to shape their narrative of the positive impact brands have on individuals and societies at large. To this end, communications play a pivotal role in helping organizations shape their narratives about the societal issues the brand seeks to address, help develop perspectives and help mobilize action by building engagement with key components and demonstrating ESG’s measurable impact.

How did you deal with the second wave of the pandemic? What challenges did you have to overcome?

The second wave was a challenging time like no other, and our thoughts and prayers are with everyone who has been affected by it or has lost loved ones. We can only hope that the epidemic will pass in the not too distant future.

As was the case with the first shutdown, we got together, and went back to work from home. Our talent and culture teams quickly realized how difficult it can be for our teams to manage life at home or take care of their families at the same time. Wellness is a priority and our teams have urgently launched a slew of initiatives to make sure people take the time to make self-care a priority. Other than engaging with team members on a weekly basis to check in, we’ve launched free subscriptions to our “Calm” wellness and meditation app to encourage our A+P’s to take some “me time”. The pandemic has, in many ways, made us all grateful for everything we have in our lives from our family members to the simplest things in life. Allison + Partners culture teams have also organized a series of global “gratitude weeks” that encourage people to reflect on self, find “blue skies” and feel gratitude. As they say, gratitude is a powerful catalyst towards happiness!

To avoid burnout during this time, while there are multiple approaches to this, from operations and planning to cultural, the methods are unique to each agency but to us, it largely depends on a combination of intelligent planning from a people and staffing perspective, managing workloads and customer expectations as much as What we can, combined with a strong focus on building a culture that encourages the empowerment of individuals and teams at every level, including focusing on wellness and taking time off.

How have the younger generation/new recruits adapted to the remote work system? What are your opinions on how successful the hybrid business model will be in the coming year?

The holistic work-from-home and work-hybrid model is fully developed based on flexibility, distributed delivery, and collaboration. As an agency, it has been our mainstay even in the pre-pandemic era, guided by what we call the “Alison Way” driving a range of cultural constructs within the agency that includes empowering everyone to be successful in what they do, no matter where they work from. In the end it is all about the work we do for our clients. Technology and digital connectivity form the backbone of our operating philosophy and we will continue to do so as the business becomes increasingly geographically neutral. This is one of the important advantages that our industry has witnessed in recent times. From the start, we were set up to take advantage of technology in today’s digitally interconnected world with tools to enable collaboration and productivity from Microsoft Teams and Zoom to online collaboration platforms like Box. In fact, we were able to seamlessly transition into a work-from-home environment without downtime.

The pandemic has been a difficult time for all of us, especially on a psychological level. How should organizations prepare for the coming year?

As I mentioned earlier, the focus should be on cultivating empathy, compassion, and concern for the needs of individuals and teams. We will continue to invest in the mental health of our teams, enabling them to manage their schedules as well as developing a high degree of trust between each other.

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