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Written by Team Wizikey

September 8, 2022

Data in comms has evolved a great deal, but there is still a lot of ground to cover: Akash from Metapolis

In this episode, Akash shares his story from being a journalist to building a PR vertical for an elected head of State and how his how my PR and Comms journey began.

Data in comms has evolved a great deal, but there is still a lot of ground to cover: Akash from Metapolis

Akash started as a journalist and worked at some well-known media houses like Republic TV, Network 18, and TV Today Group. When he was approached and tasked with building the national PR vertical for the elected head of the state of Andhra Pradesh, his curiosity to know how the ‘other side’ of the world works made him grab this opportunity. That is how his PR and Communications journey began.

 1.     Give us a little bit of the backstory about how you came to the field?

I started my career as a journalist in 2017 as a part of the founding team of Republic TV, followed by successful stints as an on-field resource with the top 2 media groups in India, Network 18 and the TV Today group. Having covered a total of 8 elections spread over a period of 42 months, horrifying stories of crime like the Gurugram High School murder case & the Rewari Gang Rape, and ‘Acts of God’ such as the Kerala Floods, I developed an obvious inclination towards the ‘science’ of PR (or) as we’d like to put it, the ‘science’ of cementing narratives. It was at this juncture that I was approached & tasked with the responsibility to build the national PR vertical for the elected head of the state of Andhra Pradesh. Wanting to know how the ‘other side’ works made me grab this opportunity and that is how my PR and Comms journey began.

2.     What was your first interaction/experience with data? 

Conceptualizing and driving campaigns home for someone who is responsible for the well-being of 5.5 crore citizens involves endless sessions of analyzing data, considering the plethora of sensitivities involved. Having said that, my first date with data came way before that. As someone who was responsible for delivering conclusive investigations during my stints as a journalist, being data-driven wasn’t an option. That being said, the volume of data that we had to analyze in order to formulate a foolproof campaign for a state government was superlative and exhaustive.

3.     How did you start using data/metrics in delivering your campaigns? Can you share a few anecdotes?

Thinking out of the box or trying to go the unconventional way can be a double-edged sword more often than not. If an unconventional campaign works, it could prove to be revolutionary but if it doesn’t, the brand/entity will have to endure irreversible damage. I have personally come across innumerable instances which prove that PR and Comms professionals may not always be privy to the ground reality. Therefore, while one should always think of new ways to communicate, backing the same up with data is mandatory in my view.

AP Covid Campaign: When the Covid-19 outbreak started engulfing the subcontinent in 2019, the state of Andhra Pradesh was in shambles. It was being led by a visionary who was a first-time Chief Minister. The state’s health infrastructure was dismal. With 0 labs that could carry out RT-PCR tests and a population of 5.5 crore people, the state was helpless, to begin with. The infrastructure was ramped up on priority and make-shift arrangements soon transitioned into concrete structures. From not having the capability to perform a single test to leading the Test/Million charts, the Government of Andhra Pradesh had achieved remarkable progress within no time. It was during this time that the ‘Kerala Model’ was being hailed by people across the world. Once we had the numbers to substantiate our claims, we started driving our narrative home. The top 6 media houses in India put out exclusive stories praising the ‘AP Model’ of dealing with Covid-19 as a consequence. AP started garnering eyeballs, and politicians from various other states started using AP’s success to attack the respective state governments. Within a month, we had achieved what we wanted to and all relevant stakeholders started talking about the same organically. Pitches weren’t needed anymore. We shifted our focus onto other campaigns the day we came across a piece put out by WHO on the ‘AP Model’.

4.     Did you come across any challenges in communications and did you feel data helped you in any way to solve the problem?

As you claim success as a Government, one should always remember the fact that you are also opening yourself up to backlash. The campaign mentioned above garnered praise even from the Prime Minister of India but this also meant that an entire section of people dedicated themselves to finding a solitary negative to nullify the success. While most other states were busy toning down on the number of tests being carried out each day, with an intention to bring the number of positive cases down, the Government of Andhra Pradesh decided to stick to its strategy of ‘test more, detect more, and treat more’. This resulted in the number of positive cases in AP skyrocketing and media reports on similar lines followed. While the entire think tank believed in the strategy, we had to strategically communicate the data behind the call that was taken in order to justify our stand. More positives should have never been a parameter to judge the performance of any authority as detecting more cases gives the doctors a chance to save as many lives and we were successful in driving the same home with the help of comparative analysis of data from various landscapes across the globe.

5.     What is the most important metric/data point for you as a comms person?

The importance of data points is dynamic, highly subjective, and dependent on the desired result. Market intelligence revolving around a specific campaign drives the idea. The success of targeted campaigns depends on targeted dissemination. Understanding the socio-economic classification of those consuming content published by a specific media house is mandatory to ensure that the brand is understood the way it wants to be understood and by the people that the brand intends to target. The right narrative with the wrong audience can prove to be a debacle and vice versa.

6.     What tools are your best / fav to help you in data insights?

A wide range of tools, including Wizikey, have proven to be helpful during the course of my journey by far. Clevertap is another interesting tool that solves a wide range of issues for marketers.

7.     How do you see data in comms and marketing evolve in the coming days?

As difficult as it may sound, it is very important to devise a mechanism that takes subjective aspects of PR into account. For instance, a 2-minute slot during one of the most-watched prime time news shows, if you intend to target the relevant audience is way more valuable than a full-page article in a Tier-2 publication or a bigger time slot on another channel. At this point in time, while data in comms and marketing has evolved a great deal, there is still a lot of ground to cover on the aforementioned fronts.

10.  Would you like to share your two cents for the budding comms professionals?

Like most other industries, PR and Comms have evolved with changing times. In the Era of Fast News,  the attention span of individuals is negligible when compared to the past. More often than not, readers limit themselves to running through headlines. Therefore, it should always be Quality over Quantity. Here’s what I mean by Quality :

1) Every story/campaign comes with its set of non-negotiables. The first thing that a PR professional should ideally do is narrow it down to 3-4 such phrases/words. The emphasis shouldn’t just be on getting copies published. Rather, it should be on getting copies with the ‘non-negotiables’ in their headlines/descriptions published.

2) When consumed by the CXO of a marquee company, the angles used during a particular campaign could do wonders for the brand. At the same time, the same angles could prove to be counter-productive when consumed by regulators or users. Therefore, tapping the right kind of publications by dwelling deep into the socio-economic mix of its readers/viewers is a must.

3) Narratives cannot be cemented overnight. Establishing short-term goals, which eventually translate into building blocks for the process of driving an overarching image home is important.  

4) Understand the news cycle, respect the news hierarchy and make use of what’s trending.

5) With the advent of social media and emerging web3 technologies, individuals across the globe have become very aware and cautious. You might come across resistance because individuals do not want to be knowingly ‘influenced’ by any campaign run by any brand. Humans love making the choice themselves. Therefore, while driving the agenda home, one should also keep this in mind and make the audience feel that the ball has always been in their court.

6) Fake and misleading news has taken over in a lot of ways due to the ease of access to channels of mass dissemination. Therefore, establishing credibility through the course of the campaign and abstaining from making claims that can be busted should be a work ethic that one should inculcate. Do not assume that you are smarter than the person you are trying to influence.

7) Practice what you preach. If you want journalists to refer to your brand as a ‘Giant’ or ‘Pioneer’, start including the same in your communication in subtle ways and see how that changes everything.

8)  There is no alternative to building relationships in this industry and the same requires you to invest time without expecting anything in return. Never take your network for granted.

9) Uniformity in messaging should be the top priority. Contradictions can dent the brand’s credibility and ensure the failure of both the campaign in question.

10) Have a messaging guide and SWOT analysis report in place before taking your first step.

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