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PR director of the future: How can PR professionals maintain control?

Posted by Debby Penton on 5th November 2015

PR manager, Perveen Akhtar, joined Intel 10 years ago. Here she tells us about how things have changed during that time and how she feels that PR must master its own destiny.

“Though my role is described as UK PR manager, it really is much more of a communications or marcom role,” explains Perveen. “My responsibilities always included PR, but when I started the job, it was much more traditional in terms of the type and mix of activities and the focus was always picking up the phone and pitching stories to journalists. Now, PR is much more than press relations, it’s more about identifying a story and then establishing via which channels that story can be told.”

Perveen points out that companies no longer need to rely solely on journalists to tell their story and that companies have tools and channels which allow them to tell their story directly. As such, Perveen is responsible for all UK social media channels for Intel, which takes up at least 50% of her time.

In this respect, Intel is slightly different to some big organisations, whose marketing functions typically operate in silos. Perveen’s team works within the marketing function and she explains that the people responsible for each part of the marketing mix work as a team towards common objectives. She says: “We all meet regularly so that we can feed into the different campaigns that each of us are working on”. This allows her team to contribute to every marketing-originated campaign, assisting with the creation of messaging, the story and also setting out the social media strategy for each campaign and vice versa on PR-originated campaigns – a way of working that has developed through an organic evolution as opposed to a strategic decision.

“There’s an expectation that individuals should take on more,” says Perveen. Her position running Intel’s UK social media platforms was driven by a personal interest in social media in her early career which led to her setting up Intel’s UK social media and she has run the channels ever since with help from external agencies. “PR people have a key role when it comes to social media,” she explains, attributing this to the fact that PR practitioners are used to developing narrative and stories that advertising has never had to do. In addition, working on the ‘tone’ of the communication is something that is unique to PR, saying “Social media should be a collaborative effort between functions and PR people should be at the forefront, grasping the opportunity.”

Whilst press relations isn’t the be all and end all, Perveen insists that there will always be an important role for PR people in the area of reputation management. “Marketeers do this as well”, she says “but most marketeers don’t get the chance to do this hands-on with the CEO as I do when I am managing press meetings and orchestrating an impact on the company reputation first hand.” In this, Perveen feels that whist marketing and PR will continue to change, evolve and converge, there are some responsibilities which will always be wholly driven by PR, “senior execs often prefer the traditional means of press engagement and this can really only be handled by PR professionals.”

“The PR industry is still quite insular,” Perveen explains. “It needs to change dramatically over the next five years and absolutely needs to lose its inferiority complex. Change is happening and PRs need to embrace that and be the masters of their own destiny.” Perveen claims that if it hadn’t been for her role evolving at Intel, she probably wouldn’t still be working for the company after 10 years.

Measuring campaigns has also evolved in recent years at Intel, using its own internal research facility to benchmark public opinion that helps to measure the shift in perception, which is directly attributable to Intel’s communications campaigns. “Measuring the direct impact of PR on sales has traditionally been difficult, but we need to get smarter about what the value of PR actually is,” she says. “We’re very focused on engaging with end users on an emotional level so that they feel an affinity towards us as a brand. Once you’ve connected with a consumer in this way, the hope is that when they are ready to buy an electronics product, they buy one with Intel inside rather than a competitor’s technology. It’s not really ‘X PR campaign delivers X number of sales’, it’s more about the longer term commitment to the brand”.

Coming up with creative ideas to get people to give a damn about what is inside their computer is a battle for Intel that is set to continue, but working together across functions and pulling in global teams for different perspectives helps. Working within a wider marketing department means each team challenges each other, ensuring that Intel’s campaigns are robust and work across multiple disciplines and channels.

“We’re all very opinionated,” she laughs, “but everyone is very open to taking on feedback and this includes feedback from agencies which help us get a wider, external view of the world.” As such, Perveen is keen to see traditional PR agencies continue to consider their service offerings and how best to evolve these to suit the needs of clients. “Ultimately its about influencer relations and engagement. The key,” she says, “is taking agency generated campaigns and working out where the PR elements are, where the social elements are but also, are there any areas which could be deployed via experiential marketing for example. Any agency that is able to deliver a campaign that has multiple functions in this way will fair better in the longer term than those that can’t.

“Flexibility is important. Whether it is being driven by the client or the agency, it’s just important that they can evolve together.”

To download the PR Director of the Future report click here.

Debby Penton

Motivated, competitive and highly experienced, Debby drives excellence across the agency and leads by example, going the extra mile to create stand-out campaigns and a dynamic agency culture. As CEO, Debby champions a new breed of PR that meets the evolving communication needs of today’s tech companies.