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Tuesday, 30 June 2015 00:06 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Ogilvy Public Relation’s Marion McDonald on the changing face of PR


Marion McDonald, Managing Director for Strategy & Effective Measurement for the Asia Pacific Region at Ogilvy Public Relations, has for over 17 years worked in Asia, in countries like Japan, Shanghai, Thailand, Singapore and Myanmar that are in various stages of development in PR. Having a client background herself, she understands the emphasis companies are now making on their Return of Investment (ROI) and Effective Measurement in PR. McDonald who was in Sri Lanka recently on a training program for the Ogiilvy Public Relations office in Colombo shared her insights on PR. Following are excerpts:

By Kiyoshi J. Berman

Q: What does ‘Public Relations’ mean in today’s business context?

Public Relations (PR) has changed dramatically over the last five years; probably more in the last five years than the previous fifty years. It has changed from getting coverage, banners and headlines to getting much more authentic engagement with stakeholders 13-1whether that be consumers, B2B customers, trade customers, other stakeholders like residents, governments, NGOs or partnerships in a business. It has now evolved into how to get two-way dialog and influence with those groups, how to effectively communicate our mission to them and how to have some influence over the kind of conversations that are held.

A new phrase, that sums it up nicely for me is ‘Creating conversations that matter by people who matter’. So it’s much more of a two-way engagement, much more about inviting stakeholders to be a part of brand conversations and having influence over those brands. From one way messaging or traditional PR, which was very much about telling your story, get it published, get it on TV and get it out in social media; it has shifted a lot more towards how can we create influence around the relevant brand issues and messaging, and have people engaged in that.



Q: How important is PR when promoting brands and organisations in today’s competitive market?

It has become much more important because across the region as well as globally, there is a significant decrease in advertising and a significant focus on non-traditional media-spends. Marketing heads are directing much of their budget towards earned media to create influence.

So if we think of media in three buckets that is, paid media, owned media and earned media, more money is being shifted from paid media such as advertising to earned media. So now earned media is taking centre stage.



Q: Do you think PR goes beyond marketing and advertising?

Yes, PR has changed from traditional media releases and coverage to the kinds of things we didn’t think we would be doing before. Communication now is more diverse and dynamic. In some cases we even create ads for clients. Sometimes, we create content for them, which goes to their website; then other instances we create events and opportunities for brands to interact with stakeholders. PR has definitely gone beyond the realms of what it used to do.



Q: What is the difference between proactive and reactive PR strategies and which one is the most important?

Right now proactive is the most important because brands see more and more crisis than ever before. We have been talking with clients about it during the last couple of days how issues and crisis have increased for brands and corporates. People are increasingly questioning brands .If anything goes wrong consumers are quick to jump in and find out which company is behind this brand, what caused a certain situation and the management behind it. Therefore, proactive PR is very important to build a strong based you can communicate with during a crisis.

Proactive PR is also when you talk about what’s most important to you as a brand or the brand purpose. More brands are talking about how they can make the world a better place, how they can make Sri Lanka a better place. It has become about what they bring to this country in operating here beyond the straight economic exchange we typically have such as, paying for a packet of biscuits, sugar or any other product. Such strategies are better done proactively because reactive PR is taking action after a crisis or an issue. The most often is very ineffective.



Q: How has the internet and digital media affected the PR industry?

Very significantly! In many markets we do more digital or online PR than we do traditional now. Sri Lanka is not there yet; but Sri Lanka is getting there.

Today consumers are looking for honest opinions and viewpoints and when they don’t get that on traditional media, they turn to online. They want to know what a blogger would say who isn’t “paid” to say it or read an honest review about a company or brand. Review sites in such instances become really big. If it’s about fashion, consumers want to know what a fashion expert would say rather than what a brand says. If it’s a tech brand what would a technical person say online rather than on paid forums.

In that sense, during the past two years China changed from being totally reliant on traditional media to being much more reliant on online media. Another case in point is Thailand. Their rules and regulations for online are very different to what they have for traditional media. In Singapore, the things you can say online, you can’t say on traditional media.

Overall, there are some really fascinating aspects of how people have shifted to digital media and the impact it has had on the world of PR. It means we have to operate quite differently and it presents a lot of opportunity for the PR industry.



Q: In which ways do you think PR can influence the Return of Investment (ROI) of an organisation?

I’m a passionate advocate for connecting all of the marketing and PR work back to an ROI of an organisation. PR as an industry is starting to get there. I have a lot of positive hope for the next twelve months to two years about how that will change. How clients will take a more active role in measuring ROI in the work they do in PR as well as in all other marketing touch points.

One example is a case from Hong Kong where we did a great job in walking through with the client and calculating the ROI and providing it back to the client. We showed the client how much they have put in and got as returns. It’s not that often we get to that level of discussions with the client and showing that the ROI generated is far greater than the client’s spending.

It’s a long way to go but an exciting path.



Q: What are the measurements used to evaluate the ROI gained from PR; and are these measurements practicable in all industries?

There is no one answer for PR metrics. At the basic level of measuring output, the kind of coverage you get for a story, be that in earned media, traditional or social media, the basic metric is impressions - that is how many people saw it.

There are a number of different matrices available, when we start evaluating the impact a PR campaign has had. Did anyone remember it? Has it influenced people’s impression of a brand? Has it influenced purchase intents and the likelihood of recommending a brand to family or friends? Most straightforward of those are Brand Health Tracking and Studies.

When it comes to business results measurement, I put them into three buckets: the output, the impact it has and the sales result.

It’s really about measuring what is most relevant. For example if it is a fitness club, the prime objective is memberships, if it’s consumer products, the sales or the market share for it. If it’s a B2B company with a long lead selling time, it’s about how many new leads can you generate. If it’s a reputation case we’re dealing with, then it’s about the corporate ranking and what does that help the company achieve.

The same matrix doesn’t apply to all industries and it should be tailored to the business goals of the company.



Q: What are the challenges you usually face when coaching PR practitioners?

The main challenge is helping people connect to measurement or business results. It’s a two way street. We PR people need to know how clients make money and the benefit they are looking for from the campaign.



Q: Where do you think the PR industry in Sri Lanka stands compared to the South Asian and Asia Pacific regions?

Sri Lanka is at a very exciting time. I think so many things have changed during the last six months in Sri Lanka and there is a tremendous opportunity for clients and PR agencies to work together and tap into a lot of social issues, new concepts, new opportunities in the market, for consumers and for businesses; then to champion those causes and to be a part of things that matter to consumers and businesses.

I look at other markets which have been through this stage of development, Indonesia is one example, and Myanmar is in the cusp of making that change.

In this country, I think there are tremendous opportunities for brands to partner with consumers and customers. This will allow them to understand the issues that are important to them and start conversations around them, so they can start contributing to those changes.

As PR gets more purpose driven, and understands what is important to consumers and businesses, I think Sri Lanka is sitting on a tremendous opportunity. The industry focus should focus less on traditional coverage and more on conversations that are really going to help take Sri Lanka forward as a nation.

I see a tremendous sense of optimism in Sri Lanka about how things are going to change. Clients are getting smarter about PR, and that’s a good thing. We are coming to a stage where the impact of PR now can be measured.