Brands should deploy social listening to avoid being trolled: Lintas Live’s Ameer Ismail

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The PR agency’s president says digital insights are enabling them to navigate communication.

A year-and-a-half since MullenLowe Lintas Group rebranded GolinOpinion as a digital-first creative PR agency Lintas Live, its president Ameer Ismail says that it has all the competencies to make a client’s work stand out. As digital is rapidly transforming the PR ecosystem and the roles it performs for brands, Ismail says, “The world of PR and social conversations are converging.”

In an interview with afaqs!, he says that the agency is breaking the silos to create talkability and impact.

Today, a PR agency handles influencers, content, and much more. How has a PR agency evolved over the last few years?

Over the past few decades, the PR business has become extremely sizable. The biggest agency in the world, Edelman, has almost a billion dollars in revenues. The second largest, Weber Shandwick, has almost $850-900 million. The scale of PR has also grown in India.

When I joined the business almost 30 years ago, we were not all that significant, because the business was not large. Today, people want to focus on it, because of the scale. Second, PR agencies now have access to the C-suite, as reputation has become critical. And, the wake-up call was the Nestlé crisis. So, today, we’ve got the right space, scale and access.

Unlike advertising, where differentiation is becoming difficult, a lot of creative hot shops have come up in PR, making it extremely competitive. There’s still a lot of scope for expansion and growth. There are specialisms in PR, like tech, healthcare, etc. There’s a massive opportunity there.
Then, there’s a lot of possibility to do things through the PR offering. We’ve written creative ideas that can be expressed through platform-agnostic content. It gives brands the kind of talkability that they can’t do without today.

What role does digital play?

Digital gave us the landscape understanding that we couldn’t get earlier. PR primarily operated on intuition, gut feeling and connections. Earlier, it would be about putting in a word, sending a press release and meeting journalists. That world is archaic now.

Now, digital has changed everything. Opinions are formed very dynamically and immediately shared on social media. Digital gives us the ability to understand that landscape really well. The first part is our deployment of digital planning is to dive deep with data, and understand consumer habits and behaviour in that landscape. And then, navigate that landscape through effective communication.

The other part is marrying digital with our connections of journalists and bloggers. We do trend-spotting, which gives us the ability to carve out insights and mitigate crises. These insights give us the ability to navigate communication. This is just the beginning of the journey of where Lintas Live is headed. Ultimately, we’re going to develop our own tools that will give us predictive capabilities as well.

Can you give us an example on how you use data to help clients?

Data gives you the ability to understand the sentiment that exists in a particular geography in an industry segment – basically what consumers are saying about your brand. Many brands seek these kinds of insights, as it feeds into their communication and marketing strategy. Clients don’t have the time or energy to do this. So, they expect the agency partners to give it to them.

In today’s social media world, very trivial things end up snowballing into a crisis. Has crisis management become more complicated?

Yes, it is complicated, because these situations can hit you from anywhere. There are two ways to approach it – by default or design. And, we choose design. We call our crisis management process ‘Shield’. We’ve dealt with all kinds of crisis, from debt to sexual harassment to fire in a facility.
At the time of a crisis, it really helps to have external counsel (of people), who are experienced in dealing with these things. And, that’s what Shield does. We do a full assessment of the incident. We need to understand and dive deep into that. Then, we get into a session with the client’s top management to do scenario planning. And finally, we get to messaging and content.

In times of social media trolling, what is your advice to brands? What are the best practices to avoid trouble?

The first thing is, do not panic. We have to live within this dynamic reality of some truths and some trolls. So, we’ve to calmly deal with it, depending on its importance or risks. In my opinion, saying nothing is opening a Pandora’s box. It helps to put a clear, confident message out there, even if it is short and crisp. We step in when our clients ask us to.
I think brands should be deploying social listening. If you have smart listening and insights, you will never get into such problems.

(The interview was first published in Afaqs!)