Sudhaman spoke to media update’s Adam Wakefield after the The Holmes Report In2 Innovation Summit Africa about what changes have taken place in communications recently, and why, amidst the challenges, it has never been a better time to be in PR.

What do you think have been the biggest changes in the media and business environment that have affected the reputation management, PR, and communications industries over the last five years?

The rise of digital and social media has clearly disrupted the public relations business. Organisations can now have direct relationships with people, rather than requiring a media filter. This is both an opportunity (because it allows companies to build stronger relationships) and a threat (because expectations of corporate behaviour have risen).

For the PR industry, it also signals a collision with disciplines such as advertising, customer service, and employee engagement. In the digital era, it is increasingly difficult to preserve these artificial silos when everyone receives their information via the big digital platforms.

More recently, meanwhile, the rise of populism serves to underscore the importance of corporate values, particularly for younger people who are searching for purpose from their jobs.

What are the biggest existential threats to the reputation management, PR, and communications industries today?

The biggest threat is probably the industry’s unwillingness to hire the talent it needs to capitalise on the changes in media and technology. Unless it gets to grips with this challenge, it will continue to focus its time and energy on commoditised media relations and relinquish the strategic brand-building function to advertising agencies or the likes of Google and Facebook.

Opposite to that, where do you believe opportunities exist for these industries?

I still believe there has never been a better time to be in public relations. The ability to earn credibility becomes even more important in an era of nonstop marketing messages. Good public relations people understand that an organisation’s success rests on the full range of its relationships — with consumers, employees, regulators, communities, etc … That kind of thinking can only become more valuable as companies navigate an increasingly complex media environment.

What is the In2 Innovation Summit Africa about and what interests you the most about this space in Africa and, to a lesser extent, Southern Africa?

This is a conference that launched in 2016 and has since become one of our biggest events, drawing around 200 PR, marketing, and media leaders. The goal is to help chart the evolution of influence and engagement in South Africa and the broader region, focusing on areas such as technology, integration, talent, data/analytics and gender equity.

I am endlessly fascinated by the evolution of public relations in Africa – and Southern Africa — on the one hand, it is an incredibly complex equation given the range of political and linguistic challenges. On the other, a young population and ability to ‘leapfrog’ technologically presents considerable opportunity.

From your assessment, where do reputation management, PR, and communications industries measure up to their overseas peers, where does it fall short and where do they exceed other markets?

Well, from a purely financial perspective, the PR industry is still dwarfed by other disciplines. And it struggles to demonstrate the kind of swagger and confidence that its peers from adland possess in droves.

But if adland has plenty of style, public relations typically wins when it comes to substance — the ability to understand the political challenges, alongside the consumer opportunity and employee angle. That 360 view is priceless.

If you operate in these industries, what do you believe is must-have knowledge to both survive and succeed in today’s business and media environment?

Knowing that you don’t know everything is critical. Public relations people must be aware of looming threats and new opportunities and technologies, so the ability to keep learning is of immense importance today.

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Want to know what happened at the summit? Read more in our article, The Holmes Report In2 Innovation Summit brings communications together.

*Image courtesy of The Holmes Report