Interviews

THE CONVERGENCE OF PR AND MARKETING IS AN OBVIOUS REALITY

David Ese is the Marketing Communication Manager of VDT Communications Limited. In this interview he shares his thoughts with Vincent Utere on the convergence of Public Relations and Marketing and on other trends in the communication industry.

How do you bring the benefits of Public Relations to life at VDT Communications Ltd?

PR has extensively evolved. To bring our brand’s benefits to life in VDT Communications, we first of all determine our brand’s stamina, the unique selling points which we synergistically infused into several aspects of our message content. We also determine who our target audiences are. Our target audiences cover both the internal and external publics. Our internal PR is to keep the almost 300 staff members of VDT Communications across the 36 states in Nigeria and FCT Abuja informed of the organization’s activities and programmes. We also facilitate personnel’s understanding and buy-in to these activities and programmes. Apart from frequent emails to all the staff members, we publish monthly online newsletter, which we circulate to all of them. 

The External publics which I will like to concentrate on span across a wide spectrum of different target audiences in ABCDE socio-economic classes; depending on the focus of a particular PR effort, whether corporate or any of our various Service categories; namely: Enterprise BroadbandSolutions, SMEmpower Solutionsand 4G LTE Advanced Retail Services. For each of these broad service categories, we interface with a different set of target audiences in AB, CD and DE socio-economic class respectively.

Profiling our target audience helps us to adapt our message contents, language and symbols that best suit each of them to ensure effective comprehension of the message. It also helps us to choose channels that will ensure effective, impactful and optimum reach of the target audience at a competitive cost.

Our content deployment comes in two broad categories online and off-line. For online, we employ Social Media and Digital Marketing tools and platforms. Our social media channels include FaceBook, Twitter LinkedIn, Instagram, GooglePlus, YouTube, on which we post well grafted and deliberately determined messages regularly.

We also use mail-chimp and similar platforms to send electronic newsletters to a very large number of our prospects.

 Organically, we have executed Search Engine Optimization [SEO] with appropriate meta-tags for VDT Communications to ensure that the name comes top when our service category is searched for online by prospects. This is a continuous activity on a regular basis. We have also ensured that our website has the necessary features that will effectively engage visitors. The features include a Media Centre and Instant Chat Link. We have also created landing pages and Official Email Link, info@vdtcomms.com, as means of elaborate feedback from our prospects and customers. We also publish a quarterly newsletter which we circulate to all our customers.

In terms of off-line PR, we use the traditional mass media;print, radio and TV mostly to project all newsworthy developments in VDT Communications. We also engage in event sponsorship and experiential activities for our customers and prospects. Our key objective even with the off-line PR activities is to drive online traffic and service requests through which we generate leads for conversion to customers by our sales team.

On the benefits of PR, we have created a strong rapport between VDT and the media and mustered a responsive media presence for the brand. VDT has extensively increased in awareness. We have also been able to create and project a strong positive image for VDT as delivering premium quality services based on our ISO 9001:2015 and ISO 20000:2011 international certifications. VDT Communications is also seen as a customer-centric company with strong Customer Relationship Management [CRM], highly responsive and providing superior service support 24/7/365 to our customers. Moreover, PR is able to directly contribute to revenue in VDT through the customers we generate from our online PR activities.

Are there any challenges

Yes, there are challenges.

What challenges?

One of the key challenges is to justify ROI to management especially on the off-line PR aspect which is more expensive. It is difficult to empirically state the contribution of off-line PR activities to the bottom-line which is the ultimate management’s focus. That is why we concentrate on on-line PR and use off-line activities to drive traffic online which is less expensive;  and where we can easily and empirically  justify the value in terms of traffic, engagements, service enquiries, leads, customers and revenue generated from these customers.

Also, I don’t think we have enough thoroughbred professionals in the industry who deliberately but strategically infuse unique marketing windows into their PR activities and are able to effectively exploit same to optimize the impact on the brands they manage.

The level of thinking by the practitioners in the industry needs to be much deeper to unearth unique and uncommon PR ideas. The situation where different PR Agencies continue to present what I will term, ‘’Sesame PR ideas’’ is not encouraging. The expansion of PR from the traditional channels to the on-line platforms offers practitioners a wider horizon to generate much more creative and outstanding PR ideas.

In a recent interview with Holmes Report, Stuart Smith, the President of the PR Lions Jury advised that the PR industry must up its game amid the shift to integrated marketing. Do you share his concern?

I agree with Stuart Smith.  Gone are the days when PR used to be seen as a standalone activity. PR is an aspect of Marketing, just like Advertising and Branding. With increasing emphasis on integrated marketing, the role of PR in the total marketing communications mix and its contribution to the overall marketing communications

Outcome, needs to be clearer and more empirically ascertained. Moreso, in this era of result driven marketing communications budgeting and increasing demand on practitioners to justify the impact of every spend on Marketing Communications, PR inclusive. PR must be able to hold its own, and bring its contributions to the table.

There is so much talk about the convergence of PR and Marketing. Given your experience in the field, how real is this in practice?

The convergence of PR and Marketing is an obvious reality; otherwise, the ultimate goal of a PR activity is bound to lack substance. The more practitioners see PR as a tool of marketing, the better for their clients and the industry. You want to muster goodwill, create positive perception and build a strong positive image? Fine!

However, your clients believe and are increasingly insisting that such should ultimately lead to measurable contribution to the bottom-line, especially on the long-run, such that if the PR activities are stopped or not implemented, the organization would be losing out on their benefits. Same is expected from each of the other components of the marketing communications mix.

A good Integrated Marketing Communications is like cooking a tasteful pot of soup with all the ingredients in the right proportion. You don’t put too much salt, pepper, oil, water or even the seasoning etc. Every ingredient must be in the right quantity and well blended for the soup to taste great! For each IMC campaign, the proportionate requirement of each component must be determined. This is called weighting. For instance, what percentage of the budget do you allocate to Branding, Advertising, Sales Promotion and PR?

PR seems to have always been relegated to the background in the integrated marketing communications mix. This is clearly shown by the percentage of budget to allocated it.

With the increasing awareness of the impact of online PR and the wider opportunity it offers, discerning and creative practitioners can exploit this opportunity to increase their PR budget.

What implications do you think convergence will have on PR and PR professionals?

Convergence will make PR professionals think  holistically in respect of PR’s roles and expectations in the total Marketing Communications mix and do more to close ranks and gaps with other components in the mix. For instance, when I am organizing event for VDT, the central theme I use for the event must resonate across board; in the event’s Branding, Advertising and PR. This is important for brand recognition and recall, registering the message on the psyche of the target audience and creating Top Of Mind Awareness [TOMA] amidst a multitude of information competing for his attention.

As I said earlier, there will be increasing demand on them to empirically justify the impact of PR campaigns and contribution to the bottom line.

Do you think PR professionals are prepared for such?

Innovation, adaptability and nimbleness or agility are the keys to survival and sustainability of PR Agencies. Technology has impacted much on the way PR is currently delivered, and will continue to do so. Traditional PR cannot survive. Traditional PR Agencies will have to adapt or die.

Many practitioners seem to have realized this by increasingly extending the playing field to online where they can deliver accountable PR with measurable impacts.

What advice do you have for them on how to respond to this trend?

Practitioners should adopt a holistic approach in respect of their role in the total marketing communications mix.

They should close ranks with the practitioners of other components in the mix and close gaps in their strategies for wholesome and potent delivery.

Practitioners should redirect the battle ground online. I am not saying they should relocate to online, but that emphasis and a larger percentage of their PR deployment should be online. Even off-line PR activities should be effectively integrated to drive online traffic. Online offers practitioners an opportunity to get instant and specific feedback, and a more empirical measurement of impact based on the current realities and clients’ expectations.