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PR Industry Snapshot: ASDA’A BCW’s Sunil John

Sunil John, president MENA of BCW and founder, ASDA’A BCW

How is technology changing the PR industry?

Data and digital analytics have transformed the PR industry, pivoting it to what we call an ‘earned-plus’ model. Earned-plus is the new integrated approach to impactful communications, and it is multi-layered. It brings the strategic value generated from data analytics, delivering platform-agnostic campaigns that influence customer behaviour across all channels, and activating performance marketing to move specific audiences.

What is PR’s niche in the wider brand communications ecosystem?

Although channels evolve and approaches change, at the heart of the PR industry is its ability to deliver compelling stories on behalf of our clients. Our primary remit is to ‘move people’ – influence and shape their attitudes – and this can be achieved only through the power of storytelling. The power of storytelling will always remain strong, and can be repurposed for various media platforms – be it traditional media, social media, podcasts, etc.

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What are the biggest challenges facing the PR industry today?

As I observed earlier, old communications playbooks are irrelevant today. We must constantly reinvent, reset and refresh ourselves to stay relevant. The biggest challenge for the PR sector is to bring in a new zeal for innovation. For that, it is important to draw on young creative talent from various sectors to deliver impactful campaigns.

Where do you see innovation happening in PR?

Beyond measurement tools, digital amplification and creating multiple forms of content, real innovation is in how we must strategise for our clients – enabling them to reach multiple stakeholders in multiple geographies, and highlighting their corporate purpose. In our region, we see the real need to enhance environmental, social and governance (ESG) communications, especially with Egypt and the UAE hosting the COP summits this year and next, and the regional governments working towards net zero emissions.

An exclusive survey that we commissioned covering over 200 decision-makers in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, revealed that nearly two-thirds (60 per cent) of businesses do not have an ESG framework. Even more importantly, among those who said they had an ESG policy, more than half (52 per cent) said they did not fully understand it. We launched our specialist ESG advisory, OnePoint5, to meet this growing demand for ESG communications. Today, the gap between awareness of the acute need to advance sustainable development and action on the ground by much of the business community needs closing. OnePoint5 can help clients address this so-called ‘say-do’ gap by combining the skills of experienced communicators with the technical abilities of sustainability specialists.

The world is already off track in limiting global warming. Corporate conduct is being scrutinised more intensely than ever before. The time to act is now. Only PR agencies that can innovate and align themselves with the strategic priorities of our clients proactively can deliver real value.

What advice would you give to clients to get the most out of their PR agency?

Challenge the agency, give them the creative freedom to push the boundaries, explore new ways to tell stories. That era has changed.