Tatevik Hovhannisyan: Human faces come to replace logos
“professions: ReCharge” project launched by Cascade People and Business company hosted Tatevik Hovhannisyan, External Affairs Supervisor Communications & Scientific Engagement at Philip Morris. Tatevik shared her views on the future of public relations, main trends in the industry, the essential skills for beginners and how the companies would have to change their strategy during and after the Covid-19 pandemic.
What about PR? How do you see the future of this industry after Covid-19?
Humanity is facing one of the biggest global challenges. The decisions that are being made today will have an impact on healthcare, economy, politics and culture for many years to come. Everyone wonders how the world would look like after coronavirus.
When we speak about public relations, we have to remember that the key word is “public”. The company has to follow not business trends only, but the challenges that society is facing. Of course, you can choose doing nothing when getting through hard times, but this is not about modern PR. Today we have to be proactive. Otherwise, your business and you will simply disappear in an information flow, which people get into through different communication channels, be it TV, radio, social media or newspapers.
What do you think should the companies change in their PR policy?
First, the companies MUST have a PR strategy. PR used to be a privilege of big business, companies having various departments. Now even a small and medium-sized business has to have its distinctive personality to be recognizable by public and consumers. “Faceless” companies are likely to fail. Especially amid Covid-19 pandemic, when purchasing power is declining, and people are consuming more carefully and consciously. This creates new challenges for businesses and forces them to be competitive.
Therefore, even small companies have to ask themselves what values they introduce to the public. What is the reason which makes the company work? After answering these questions, one can develop a sales promotion strategy. Most importantly, company’s true goal and mission should not be just words; every employee of the company should be the bearer of corporate values and be able to tell about these values.
The example of Philip Morris is a good one. We have been working for years to build a smoke free future. The company decided to give up cigarette production, which may seem illogical at first glance. In fact, we are investing heavily to develop and deliver to our consumers a better alternatives to combustible cigarettes.
What can you say about a key word of public relations, about modern public?
According to Edelman Trust Barometer, business and NGOs are trusted more (56%) than governments and media (47%). At the same time two years ago 49% of respondents said they were not interested in reading and watching news, and in 2019 the figure dropped to 28%. So, we can assume that today people are more informed than yesterday. This also means that people take charge of changes. 76% of people around the world say that the managers of their companies should make positive changes and take the initiative instead of waiting for the government to act. Corporate PR plays a great role in this situation, and PR is in greater demand than ever before.
Which are the main trends? How can this situation affect the future development of PR industry?
The main trend is to create shared values with society instead of corporate social responsibility projects. In the past, the company used to spend a part of its income on charity, and it was acceptable to the public, now the situation is different. The society expects more responsibility. The response is to build business based on universal values, for the benefit of the society and for the benefit of business. This is a model where business takes into account public demand while taking every step when creating a product or providing a service. For example, Amazon is delivering goods to consumers using drones instead of vehicles. This is how the company tries to reduce pollution. There are many other examples that prove that the future is about creating universal values.
Do you think PR is tending to more human-centric approaches?
Definitely, and this is another trend. Human faces are coming to replace logos. People love interesting stories. In the past business reached public through formal and non-emotional press releases, today people and their stories are at the forefront.
Here comes an interesting example of Top Employer campaign launched by our company, which created human-centric PR trend in Armenia. Philip Morris was named the Best Employer in Armenia by the Top Employer Institute for the first time in 2019, and our team decided to tell the stories of our employees. One of our employees is a mother of five, and every time she took maternity leave she was not afraid of losing her job and came back to work. One of our staff members has been working for Philip Morris for already 17 years and she notes that she has never felt bored or stagnant, as she has had many growth and development opportunities here. One of our colleagues got a job offer from Philip Morris and repatriated to Armenia with his family after spending 30 years abroad. These stories caused a great stir, and Philip Morris reinforced its position among talented specialists. We have cases when our team was joined by people, who knew nothing about the great opportunities that our company can offer.
Should the management speak on behalf of the company, or should the approach be different?
We answer this question when we say that every employee has to be a bearer of company’s values. Today’s PR industry is based on all staff members representing all departments. I can bring an example of our successful experience. Our company has “Aspire” paid internship program that starts every spring. Two years ago we started building communication of the program based on stories of our former interns.
What can internship in an international company give to a graduate or a junior specialist? What skills can he get? What is an effective internship program? Our former interns visited universities, where they told their stories, their photos appeared in the media, they were like “superstars”. We recorded great achievement during the first year․ Around 80 candidates applied for one position. We have already received 350 applications only ten days after launching the program this year. And, there are still two weeks until the deadline. So, those who are interested can apply following the link.
What about personal PR? What role will it have in this period of changes?
Coronavirus has a negative impact not only on global health, but the economy as well. Global unemployment crisis is expected because of declining economic activity.
Under these conditions, there is a need for personal PR at the employee level, perhaps through not standard or usual means of communication, but within the company. Professional skills are important, but communication skills, the ability to work with different teams, the values, correct presentation of these values becomes more important.
Personal PR of company’s staff is a good tool for PR specialists. As I’ve mentioned we are moving to personal-oriented communication – brand of employees stands next to the company’s brand. So, by promoting specialists’ growth within the company and by creating a positive awareness of them outside, it is possible to spread positive perception of the company itself. When people believe a person is trusted and is a real professional, they also treat the company the same way. They trust the company where this person works and the values of which he bears.
A good example is XiB platform through which our employees told their leadership stories.
Our company has adopted “1 employee = 1 ambassador” policy, as people trust stories, opinions and attitudes of the employees. This is the reason every employee is considered an opinion leader in his/her network. Every employee should be treated as an opinion leader; provide them with necessary information, equip them with communication skills, create platforms where they can share their experience, tell their success stories.
What new strategic approaches are required to use the situation to the benefit of the company and to keep up with modern business trends?
We need to analyze the public demand, the existing challenges, to combine them with the company's values and existing projects, and finally to choose the ones that can get a greater feedback under whatever circumstances.
The concept of sharing common values with the public, which we mentioned a while ago, could be a cornerstone of PR strategy development at this stage. How can business benefit the society being an organic part of it?
So, let's sum up․ Analyze the trend, pay attention to sectoral developments, understand what actions in the company's value system can be used to meet the public demand, act quickly and be ready for questions and comments from the outside world at the level of each employee of the company.
What new tools and skills do you need to be in high demand and to be competitive? What is your best advice for PR professionals?
Today PR is much more than publishing a press release. It's not something new for a PR specialist. PR needs to be perceived in a broader sense, it is providing public with information using all communication tools the company has. In a word, PR is about communication. PR specialist needs to have unprecedented flexibility, awareness of the company's internal processes, understanding of projects implemented by each department. In other words, closer cooperation with other departments is no longer desirable, but essential.
Public relations department should be a horizontal rather than a vertical function in the company. We also need to have clear perception of the environment where the company operates, as well as trends in the society, how the company can respond to those trends.
A PR specialist has to be innovative, he has to forget “it's not possible” and “it's impossible” phrases, he needs to think about bringing in new solutions, to read and look around with wide eyes open. Ideally, a company should set a trend that other companies cannot help but follow. As long as other companies try not to lag behind, you are already creating a new trend, and you are perceived in the society as an innovative and future-oriented company.