Benita Chacko

PR is not just a marketing discipline, but a strong strategic tool: BCW India’s Deepshikha Dharmaraj

The CEO speaks on the agency’s new service - corporate social purpose, and shares insights on trends and challenges in the PR industry.

BCW India Group recently launched a new service ‘CSP+’ (corporate social purpose) to help companies lead with purpose. The communication group partnered with WhiteKettle Consulting, a corporate social responsibility (CSR) firm, to help Indian companies integrate their brand purpose into their DNA and deliver on it.

This development gains more significance in the light of Securities and Exchange Board of India’s new rules on environmental, social and governance (ESG) reporting. From April 1, the top 1,000 listed firms have to mandatorily include business responsibility and sustainability report (BRSR) in their annual reports disclosed to stock exchanges.

As per the new rules, it's not enough to just state the business responsibility, but one also needs to constantly update the milestones. For example, a company states one of its targets to be a carbon neutral business by 2035. Now, it has to showcase its milestones towards the goal annually.

Deepshikha Dharmaraj, CEO, BCW India Group, says through its CSP+ service, her company will support its clients to do that.

The agency also works with the C-Suite of organisations, to help not only the brand build a social media presence, but also the CXOs.

As she completes almost three decades in the communication industry, Dharmaraj has had a ringside view of its evolution. She speaks to afaqs! on the agency’s new services, and shares insights on the trends and challenges in the PR industry.

Edited excerpts:

What was the thought behind launching CSP+?

We did a survey with our clients to find out what is the next big thing they’re going to focus on, and ‘purpose’ emerged as the response. Some large companies already have a purpose statement. But how do you translate that into your every day working and ensure that it is understood by all the stakeholders? That becomes a communication task. That's when we thought, we need to help organisations articulate their purpose and help them communicate it well.

Then comes checking if your actions align to your purpose. That's where we partnered with WhiteKettle Consulting, which has worked in the CSR space for a long time, to ensure that companies’ actions support their purpose statements and also measure the impact of those actions.

The CSP+ framework includes the whole spectrum, right from articulation of purpose, translation of that across businesses, communicating it to all stakeholders, ensuring the actions of the various units and operations live up to that purpose, measuring and evaluating the impact and the milestones.

There is no other PR consultancy currently that has an end to end framework on developing corporate social purpose.

What is the kind of impact the personal social media profiles of CXOs have on the companies they represent?

When CXOs get on to social media, they can't only give tailored responses or corporate talk. They also have to have a persona, and be able to humanise and endear themselves to different audiences. As a CXO, you're dealing with multiple stakeholders. They need to project themselves accordingly.

Putting out standard tweets and Facebook posts, is not going to work as a CXO. One really needs to think about how the content will reflect on the company and the business. So, the CXOs responsibility is much bigger. Sometimes, the responsibility is so much that they are reluctant to put out stuff. It is important to put out the right messages, and yet be authentic to themselves and their personalities. That’s where we come in.

How do moment marketing posts that brands share on social media, impact their public relations?

Moment marketing is another way to engage with your consumers. Brands should actively use it. But they need to watch out that it links back to the personality of the brand, the attributes, the purpose and what it stands for.

For example, June is Pride month and everybody wants to put out something relevant. But it needs to be connected to your organisation. Do you have the diversity and the inclusion initiatives in your organisation to support that messaging? Otherwise, the danger is that someone will call you out. The moment you choose to engage with, reflects the personality and attributes of the brand/company that you represent.

How has the role of PR agencies, evolved?

Globally, PR is now almost 100 years old. In India, it's been about 30 years since PR began as an agency consulting business. In the first decade, it was mostly centred on working with traditional media - being the liaison between the company and media specifically.

In the second decade, more formal communication processes came into play, where PR agencies started working with organisations to look at what they wanted to speak about. And, that's when the whole space of building corporate and brand reputation evolved. That's when companies realised the role of PR agencies, especially in crisis situations.

The last decade has been about digital-first thinking. Companies realised that they have to be able to communicate with their audiences on digital also. Today, PR is one of those extremely unique marketing disciplines which actually go beyond marketing. We are not just a marketing discipline, but a strong strategic tool in the hands of the C-Suite of an organisation. For a PR agency today, it's not just looking at consumer communication, but also looking at the different stakeholders that a company needs to communicate and engage with.

What do you see as the upcoming trends in the PR industry?

Digital-first thinking is going to be the strongest one. It's important for PR professionals to be able to understand how consumers think, act and behave, when it comes to digital mediums.

To be able to support this trend, understanding of data and analytics is required.

The challenge here is that you get a whole lot of data, but you don't know what to do with it. That’s where analytics become critical. We have to be able to derive the right kind of analytics, which will then help in telling stories better. The other trend is ‘purpose’. The understanding of the business’ purpose is an important future trend that organisations need to understand.

What are the challenges that the PR industry faces today?

I like to see it not just as challenges, but as opportunities. The first one is thinking integrated - at two levels. One is the need to integrate your story across different stakeholders so that it makes sense. Somebody who's a customer today, can also be your investor or regulator. So, there has to be a consistency in storytelling. The other level of integration is using different mediums. So, what you're saying in print has to be integrated with what you're saying on television, websites and social media handles.

The second one is measuring PR and communication impact. Here, data and analytics comes into play to measure how we have helped the organisation and helped change perceptions of all the different stakeholders.

Another challenge is to stay ahead of the emerging trends, especially from a technology point of view.

Is retaining talent a challenge today for an agency? Especially when communication personnel are in demand across industries?

Absolutely. It's part of life now. We do a great job of training our people, but they also become great talents for corporates. In the last two-and-a-half years, there is an increasing need for having a strong communication person in a corporate setup. The whole startup ecosystem has also contributed a lot. They're looking for fully trained people. To meet the needs of corporates and agencies, we need to quadruple the amount of talent in the communication and PR industry.

Twenty years back, BCW was the first in the industry to set up a school of learning within the company. Our philosophy has always been people-first. We invest a lot in the learning and growth of our people.

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