PR is revisiting storytelling narratives to create authenticity for consumers

In an era dominated by digital landscapes and evolving consumer expectations, the Public Relations industry finds itself at a pivotal juncture. With authenticity emerging as a cornerstone of brand-consumer relationships, the art of storytelling takes center stage. As the narrative landscape evolves, PR professionals are compelled to revisit traditional approaches. In this ever-changing landscape, the quest for authenticity becomes paramount, urging the industry to redefine its storytelling paradigms to forge deeper connections and foster genuine engagement in the digital age.Adgully reached out to some leading PR leaders to understand how they are revisiting storytelling narratives to create authenticity for the new age consumers.Jaideep Shergill, Co-Founder, Pitchfork Partners, noted, “In an age marked by abundance of information, where brands vie for attention amidst a cacophony of content, it has become imperative for the PR industry to leverage our storytelling expertise towards promoting more honest and authentic narratives. This strategic shift is even more relevant today as new-age consumers seek truth, rather than polished narratives. Any communicator in the 21st Century who caters to the younger demographic should have a detailed understanding of their audience’s thought process. They are the "King," as Marketing 101 reminds us, and our messaging needs to reflect their values and concerns; everything else will follow.”“This discerning generation is cognizant of the products and services that they use, with an inclination of avoiding products sourced unethically or manufactured through unfair labour practices. They have an ability to sift through volumes of content and select the most authentic narrative in the media that best reflects their preferences. In such a scenario, content becomes more than mere information; we as communicators must move beyond manufactured perfection and embrace real storytelling, flaws and all. Identifying a brand's unique story, prioritising transparency, showcasing positive impact, and utilising real consumer stories can be effective steps. Overall, communication should be rooted in values of the brand, and it should reflect in the narrative,” he further elaborated.Pooja Chaudhri, Executive Director, Concept PR, believes that storytelling is a potent tool to communicate something. She said, “We have grown up listening to stories and being inspired by them, even if they are untrue. For example, one story often told to emphasise that change needs to be gradual is that of a frog in a vessel that gets boiled when heat is increased slowly. We all take it as accurate, even though experiments have repeatedly shown that a frog jumps out of the vessel when the heat becomes uncomfortable, even if it increases gradually. I believe storytelling is more sequential, but adding the essence of narrative can considerably improve the impact. A narrative allows one to share different points of view, and highlight the core message. I believe that if adequately done, narrative storytelling can be a powerful tool to create authenticity for new-age consumers.”“The traditional storytelling methods of the PR industry often miss the mark with today’s consumers, who yearn for authenticity and genuine connections,” remarked Valerie Pinto, CEO, Weber Shandwick India. According to her, “To truly connect with this new-age audience, it is crucial to humanise your brand. Share behind-the-scenes glimpses and engage in authentic interactions. In the era of two-way communication, brands can no longer shy away; instead, they should embrace it. Encouraging user-generated content that mirrors diverse perspectives and experiences is essential. By involving consumers in the storytelling process, we not only build connections, but also cultivate a sense of shared ownership. After all, the heart of a brand lies in the stories it tells and the community it builds.”For Geetu Batra, PR & Communications Lead, Cheil India, the new-age consumer is Gen Z, which has just entered the workforce and, in a few years, may become the dominant consumer segment. It is important to create bespoke content that is tailored to their tastes and preferences. She noted that it is the first generation to be born into the age of social media and has a form for ever-shortening attention spans. So, narratives that lend themselves to short-format content like videos and reels will pass muster. The content needs to be visually appealing so that it doesn’t get passed over for another high-decibel video.“They are not avid platform loyalists, so do not hesitate to experiment with formats like videos, articles, and podcasts while crafting the narrative. There is no easy answer, but it pays to remember that authenticity is the byword for this generation, and sticking true to the values that we espouse is paramount at the end of the day,” Batra advised.

The many tools in PR professionals’ arsenal to fight misinformation crises

The dual nature of news and social media presents a double-edged sword. While these platforms serve as valuable tools for communication and information, they are equally vulnerable to manipulation and misuse. The widespread availability of data and the ubiquity of mobile devices have democratized access to information, enabling individuals to share their opinions and perspectives more freely than ever before. However, this ease of communication also amplifies the dissemination of misinformation.With the click of a button, false narratives can reach millions of users within seconds, spreading like wildfire across social media platforms. This unrestricted flow of information, coupled with the lack of stringent fact-checking mechanisms, exacerbates the problem of misinformation. As a result, distinguishing between fact and fiction has become increasingly challenging in the digital age.According to the recent Global State of the Media survey, approximately 58% of journalists cited ensuring content accuracy as their number one priority, ranking above exclusivity.“Where there is content, there is a possibility of misinformation and disinformation existing,” noted Jaideep Shergill, Co-Founder of Pitchfork Partners, adding, “However, this concern is particularly critical in India, given that we ranked highest in a survey among experts during the recent World Economic Forum. In this complex landscape, the public relations industry can be a key player in combating or at least minimising the spread of misinformation, and technology-driven tools can serve as powerful allies in this journey.”PR practitioners are utilising various tools and strategies to tackle this challenge. One approach involves the use of advanced technology tools such as artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms to detect and flag false information.There are some arsenals available to fight misinformation. Listing some of these, Pooja Chaudhari, Executive Director, Concept PR, said, “With newer versions of generative AI tools, verifying the accuracy of information dispensed on social media will become even more challenging. As PR professionals, we are responsible for fact-checking all information before sharing it. I believe AI, if properly used, is a great technology to help weed out misinformation. It can be programmed to check for facts faster than humans can. At the same time, we must implement a system that authenticates all information that reaches us independently from multiple sources.”Jaideep Shergill cited some key tactics, saying, “Establishing the veracity of information sources serves as the foundational step in this endeavour. Trust, but verify. Equipped with the correct knowledge, we can act as vigilant monitors, tracking and addressing misinformation across social media platforms. Collaboration with the right stakeholders, including journalists, media houses, and relevant councils can further strengthen our ability to disseminate factual data and counter false information.”He further said that more often than not, misinformation thrives on dramatic narratives to appeal to a higher number of readers, which fuels its rapid spread. But while technology is the very facilitator through which misinformation spreads, it can also serve as a tool for PR professionals.“Today, we have at our disposal a plethora of AI options, which can be effectively utilised to course correct and counter emotional appeals with robust, accurate data,” he added.Shergill cited an example to explain this, “A notable example here is the World Health Organization’s ‘EARS’ (Early AI-supported Response with Social Listening), an AI-powered tool used to monitor online conversations about COVID-19. This helped the health agency obtain a comprehensive analysis of public sentiment around the pandemic. Using this approach, it was able to identify prevalent misinformation and respond swiftly in real time to assist people with the correct information. Such large-scale social listening would have been impossible without the strategic application of technology and tools.”Valerie Pinto, CEO, Weber Shandwick India, highlighted some strategies as well, stating, “Technology-driven tools offer promising solutions to combat this issue. Leveraging monitoring and detection through social listening tools, fact-checking APIs, chatbots, and virtual assistants, as well as implementing targeted social media campaigns and engaging fact-checkers, can prove invaluable in countering misinformation. Yet, as the use of the internet continues to rise, the prevalence of misinformation is poised to grow. In such a landscape, it becomes increasingly crucial to foster media literacy. By embarking on educational campaigns that empower users to critically evaluate information online, we lay the groundwork for a more informed and resilient digital community.”Tarunjeet Rattan, Managing Partner, Nucleus PR, noted, “A Google search will throw up several tools that will be adept at giving you data that throws up chatter, sentiment analysis, and more. A task easily done by any tech/ AI expert. The difference a PR professional makes to the mix is understanding what this data means, how it impacts the brand, when and where should the brand speak to address a misinformation crisis. This, along with understanding how the information is being escalated and how to put a stop to it. The PR team needs to spend their time understanding how to use this opportunity (yes, it is one) of being in the news to demonstrate the brand’s values and strengthen its reputation.”