GE Australia & New Zealand worked with PR agency Edelman in October to launch GEreports, an online news publication on the brand's solutions to regional challenges. Content for the site is gathered in real time, driven by trends, events and reader interest in technology, innovation and local impact.
The agency also led a national filmmaking competition for Samsung Electronics Australia in September, called 'The Shoot', which ran on digital, print and outdoor advertising, experiential, PR and web and mobile sites. Edelman was also tasked with monitoring social media in real-time around the event.
None of these initiatives is within the realm of traditional PR. To meet client needs, agencies have to seriously invest in real-time planning and its related technologies, says Edelman Asia-Pacific CEO David Brain.
Now that brands are 'alive' 24/7, the 'always on' narrative approach of PR firms is, he says, what most of the agency's clients are looking for, and often as a main or lead agency requirement.
But while many agencies stake a claim to be real-time, the consensus seems to be that few have succeeded in capitalising on the opportunity by investing in the right people and the right technology.
Edelman, for one, claims it often turns around the listening, analysis, planning, creative, client clearance and launch of an execution in hours. It uses a combination of monitoring and analysis technologies depending on the market, including Radian6, Brandtology and iSentia. It has also developed its own technologies like TweetLevel and BlogLevel.
"Given that social media means that the brand is in daily contact with real consumers, as well as corporate stakeholders and even employees, you can't just split these roles anymore," argues Brain. "If you are running a Facebook community for a brand that has a crisis or a customer service issue it needs to respond in the same voice and via the same platforms immediately."
Weber Shandwick has for a number of years also employed several real-time digital, social media and traditional media monitoring tools and has also built its own. In August, it launched Mediaco in Asia-Pacific, having rolled the division out in North America and Europe earlier this year.
As a proposition in online engagement through owned content, Mediaco relies heavily on performance analytics, namely how different audiences consume content across multiple channels. Weber Shandwick Asia-Pacific head of digital Jonathan Wade was also responsible for leading Mediaco's Asia-Pacific division until recently, when he handed the reins to Jye Smith. Wade says the studio team responds to client needs by creating new, reactive content, while content editors develop optimised publishing strategies.
"The real benefits of real-time data are in maximising engagement and results with media and therefore ensuring budgets and resources are optimised for the best return on investment. This also means our audiences get the content they want, when they want it."
But these agencies may be the outliers. While many have been investing in real-time technologies, the all-important layer of human analysis and planning is missing, says BlueCurrent Hong Kong vice-president James Hacking.
To find this skill set, Hacking says, the agency has to look beyond the industry.
"Within the agency in Hong Kong, there are people who have studied psychology, human behaviour and even politics, so they are used to looking at macroeconomic information," he says.
While technology tools can be bought, it is talent that truly makes a difference, says Brain. The tools may enable it, but it takes a person to place a video or infographic at just the right place and create sponsorship tie-ups with influencers, he explains.
To truly own this space, PR agencies must have the tools, skill sets and the confidence to challenge initial recommendations to clients, evolving ideas in real-time.
CASE STUDY McDonald's National Breakfast Day
Breakfast may be the most important meal of the day, but McDonald's faced an uphill struggle in China to promote its breakfast options. Not only did consumers prefer Chinese breakfasts, but many of the fast food chain's competitors were after the same mealtime. McDonald's sought to change a nation's breakfast habits.
Working with agency Weber Shandwick, McDonald's based its campaign on 'big data' research, which showed that around 40 per cent of people skip breakfast, 80 per cent share posts about breakfast and 20 per cent want to eat healthily.
Data also revealed the key words people use online when talking about breakfast and what they think of the meal.
On 18 March, McDonald's delivered 1.3 million free McMuffins via 1,300 restaurants across China as part of its National Breakfast Day campaign. A range of channels, including Sina Weibo, a viral video on Youku.com and webchat tools, were used to promote activity. The brand created a dedicated app it hoped would become a discussion platform for McDonald's breakfast. The fast food chain and its agency also made sure it engaged with a number of key opinion leaders with many followers on Sina Weibo. This was the first time that McDonald's had directly used the channel to talk to such a large base of its 'netizens' and customers.
The move paid off and it was the most-talked-about brand on Weibo that day.
Customers across China were queuing up for breakfast and McDonald's found that more than 50 per cent of consumers would return. The fast food chain also saw a 17 per cent increase in breakfast sales, in the week following National Breakfast Day.
AGENCY COMMENT Strategy planners a key investment
Scott Kronick, president Ogilvy PR, North Asia
Technology in recent years has provided increased opportunities to understand our audiences through statistical analysis. A good example is the huge amount of data provided by social media — we have an unprecedented opportunity now to listen in to the thousands of things being said about our brands and categories online; similarly we can gain a lot of insight into our consumers by looking at how they are searching on websites, such as Baidu. This data lets us see what triggers emotion, preference, and advocacy, enabling us to plan a better campaign message.
While there are dozens of companies providing data, these are usually research companies or social media companies. By bringing aspects of this in-house, PR companies can bring the data-driven insight closer to planning and execution, again enabling us to produce more effective, more efficient campaigns.
We have data specialists as well as research-driven strategy planners who are also another area of investment for us. We have found these planners to be incredibly valuable in looking at client challenges in new ways and they have helped make our campaigns smarter, more creative and more effective in doing so.
CLIENT COMMENT For data interpretation, go in-house
Simon Talbot, director corporate affairs, Kraft/Cadbury Australia NZ
With social media driving not only the news cycle, but also providing new channels direct to customers it becomes a very real need to not only monitor the news, but be fully immersed in it.
Real-time monitoring tools allow tracking of stories not only as they hit the mainstream media but as they begin to develop even earlier through social media channels.
We do engage with specialist agencies to better understand online influencers and how to engage effectively. Our partners offer us the extra capability and capacity above and beyond our in-house specialists. When it comes to our monitoring needs in this new 'always-on' environment, a daily scan of broadsheets no longer meets even the bare minimum standard.
The key piece for us, though, is about the interpretation of the immense level of data. Knowing how to crunch and convert the information into either practical insights for our business or being able identify key issues and risk that we can then use in developing a co-ordinated issues management plan and response — is the real benefit. And that's what our in-house people do best.
This article originally appeared in Campaign Asia-Pacific.