The big shift towards non-linearity in communication presents a lifetime opportunity for the Indian PR industry

Category: Public relations Published: Thursday, 21 August 2008 Written by Xavier Prabhu

Listening to the various presentations made at the recent ICCO Global Summit and also while perusing recent media reports about separate tracking service for blogs launched by a global leader in PR, one key insight stuck me.

The process of communication the way the PR industry has looked at for the past many decades is undergoing and will undergo a rapid shift in the days, months and years to come. And this kind of shifts or disruption as they say famously in the Silicon Valley presents the biggest opportunity for the Indian PR industry. The article outlines what this shift is, what it means and why it represents a big opportunity for us in India.

Linear to non-linear, it is a new ball game
As communicators we have always used and refined the art of mass communication in a linear fashion which flows out of a company’s brief and thereafter through controlled messaging to the mass media and finally reaches the customers or the intended target audience. The explosion of blogs and wikis has led to this linearity being significantly disrupted with information and communication often emerging out of unexpected quarters and companies having to respond or react or do last minute incorporations into their communication. For example, months before a technology giant rolls out its new offering, there are many blogs or portals where one can not only get information about the product but also user comments on its pluses and negatives as well. Or where certain blogs break a scoop which gains traction and soon enough, the mainstream media picks it up and the story circulates.

This disruption or shift has some fundamental implications for the PR fraternity:

  • Loosing of control is no more an option before companies or PR firms, it is a healthy component of the new strategy they need to deploy to address and manage the new and diverse and often anonymous news sources
  • The communication is truly becoming two-way or interactive and instead of treating any such inward communication (versus the outward communication model that we are so familiar with) with disdain, suspicion or as trespassing into our domain, if we can start engaging thoughtfully and carefully, it can turn into a great forum for early and relevant feedback for the new product or early warning signal of a certain customer perception or issue therein. Most importantly we the professionals have got to get into a whole new suit where are more listeners and amplifiers than purveyors (the later role which I believe we have gotten very comfortable playing)
  • Understanding of technology and ability to leverage technology in delivery of communication is going to become more and more important and it will be quite disastrous not to be tech-savvy. And, let me emphasize that this is not relevant only to those dealing with technology firms. It is equally relevant for retail, healthcare and property or firms across other sectors as well.

Now, where is the opportunity?
India is widely known has having the best of technology talent. And we can turn this shift into an opportunity by either training these techies in communication fundamentals or training communication professionals in usage or delivery of these tools. Or even create teams where both types of professionals intensely and closely collaborate.

In this we might have advantages as below:

  • The business of interactive communication is maturing in India and we are growing interms of what we are doing and are able to do in this segment from a global perspective
  • Unlike developed markets like the US and UK which have decades of history and piling up in the traditional mode of communication, the Indian PR fraternity which is relatively young, can just leapfrog or adopt better to this shift (like it happened in telecom where our backwardness became an advantage and we went directly to GSM in mobile telephony)
  • Unlike traditional PR this can be done out of India and does not require much physical intervention except the client interfacing periodically which can be easily or effectively addressed

I also believe this opportunity to be important because it allows India to take leadership in an area that is of growing importance to companies across the world. And it will be very difficult to replicate in traditional areas as it will take us quite a while to catch up. We can lead the way globally and that would be a truly proud moment for this comparatively infantile but fast maturing industry.

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