Ameer Ismail: PR companies must evolve in the AI era to remain relevant

Adgully Bureau |
In the last 10 years, PR has taken a different dimension, especially after the entry of social media and the rapid shift to digital during the pandemic period. At the same time, the industry has been facing stiff challenges; moreover client expectations have also increased, with more emphasis being given to digital and online reputation management. The industry has undergone a radical shift and the current times have pushed the industry to change gears.

In an exclusive interaction with Adgully, Ameer Ismail, President, Lintas Live, Mullen Lowe Lintas, delves into the critical transformations that PR companies must undergo in the era of AI, he also emphasises on data-driven strategies for measuring campaign success, as well as how Lintas Live harnesses this approach to craft impactful PR campaigns for clients globally, highlighting the network’s capabilities in navigating diverse regions.

How do you think PR companies should reinvent themselves in the age of AI?

In my long tenure in the PR industry, I have never seen a greater need for re-strategizing and reimagining our business. Every industry goes through a tipping point, technology has defined this as ours. The rapidly evolving landscape of the digital ecosystem and fast evolving newer technologies like AI are fuelling the need for reinvention. A lot of what was traditionally done by PR agencies will change, powered by the transformative capabilities of AI. In response to this paradigm shift, PR companies must undergo a metamorphosis, they will need to embrace change and technology, reimagine talent for the future to stay relevant.

PR agencies must embrace AI as integral part of processes and operations. These tools offer the ability to mine data, predict trends, and help formulate communication strategies/ content that deeply resonate with right audiences. You can already see AI being used for content creation, presentations, short digital films, press releases and much more. Clients are asking for AI-based thinking and creative solutions.

 While we have seen the PR industry evolve, we’ve only just begun to scratch the surface of what is possible with AI. All leaders in this business have been busy decoding AI and its impact on business, talent, and processes. Thankfully, adoption and usage of AI in PR has led to some clarity on its impact, and this will continue for a while. What is clear is that many will leverage AI’s predictive capabilities to carve out insights that can be critical to campaign effectiveness. Data/ technology led campaigns will get their own right of space and increased recognition.

There’s a growing emphasis on data-driven PR strategies. How is Lintas Live utilizing data and analytics to measure the success of PR campaigns and demonstrate ROI to clients? 

For some time now there has been a shift to a more data driven approach, there is a move from intuition to (data driven) insight. The vast amount of data available has been guiding decisions on the choice of media, influencers and platforms and makes the approach for PR more targeted and message delivery far more effective. We see this kind of technological developments and data driven approaches as a game-changer. At Lintas Live, we have been using tools to map conversation data and have started to use AI’s predictive capabilities to map out conversation trends. Our innovative community-based model comprises three distinct communities:

  • Trendspotters
  • Creative Architects
  • Newjackers
Each community plays a pivotal role in ensuring our clients secure an unparalleled share of attention by seamlessly integrating into current, topical, and relevant conversations, all while benefiting from data and technology usage. Most of our planners use this to define potential conversation topics for the months to come so that we know exactly what brand message to place in those conversations. The journey of data and analytics usage commences subsequent to the client brief, where we employ tools like Meltwater to monitor news and conversation data. This journey then extends to presenting results and ROI to clients through integrated dashboards.

With the rise of social media and the decline of traditional media outlets, how is the Public Relations industry adapting its strategies to reach target audiences and measure the success of campaigns?

Social media has democratised the landscape of information sharing. Everyone has a voice and can publish their views on platforms. As one navigates a huge volume of information you can just scroll on your device to access the same, but it’s the power of compelling and creative content is what makes you stop and take notice. Also, you will share with others only what you care about, this kind of dynamic fuels talkability and relevance for brands. Traditional media is still an important part of the mix, but it has become a very interconnected ecosystem of information flow with news breaking online (sometimes on social media) and then being picked up by traditional media outlets. So many millennials get their news feeds on platforms like Instagram that social media as a part of the mix just cannot be ignored. PR agencies and professionals are adapting to this landscape of social media and are orchestrating a symphony of innovative approaches to reach and captivate target audiences.

The other dynamic is the increasing power of social media influencers, brands have recognised that there could be significant positive impact by using the right influencers and PR agencies are fuelling this by helping focus on the right influencers, then forging partnerships with them to deliver authentic messages that resonate with their followers. ROI and measurement are increasingly becoming the litmus test of success, and at Lintas Live, our approach prioritizes key metrics such as Engagement Rate, Reach and Impressions, Click-Through Rate (CTR), and sentiment analysis of comments and mentions.

Additionally, we focus on analysing audience demographics and conversion rates to gain comprehensive insights into campaign performance. By closely monitoring these indicators, we ensure effective campaign evaluation and continuous improvement, enabling us to refine strategies for even greater success.

In today’s world of information overload, how can PR professionals ensure their clients' messages cut through the noise and resonate with the public?

PR professionals must stop the carpet-bombing approach. Everyone needs to understand that smartly articulated content can deliver a message powerfully and cut through the clutter. In navigating today’s sea of information overload, PR professionals face a formidable challenge: that is to ensure their clients’ messages don’t get drowned out, but rise above to captivate and resonate with their intended audience. To achieve this, a multifaceted approach is essential.

In a world where attention spans are shrinking faster than ever, PR professionals must deliver messages that are succinct, impactful, and deeply relevant. But it is not just about reaching the right people; it is also about engaging them in meaningful ways. This is where creativity and content innovation come into play. PR professionals must think outside the box, pushing the boundaries of traditional storytelling and embracing new formats and techniques to capture attention and spark engagement.

The Yezdi campaign, #NotfortheSaintHearted, was a significant achievement for Lintas Live, marking the first PR led integrated brand win since its launch. Every team member was thrilled with this success. Unlike a typical brand re-launch, Yezdi held a special place in the hearts of its loyal followers, with numerous distinctive stories among motorcycling enthusiasts. Rekindling such strong emotions and reconnecting with consumers presented an exciting challenge for the agency. Through creative storytelling, the Lintas Live team effectively conveyed the emotions of Yezdi enthusiasts, encapsulating the brand’s essence with the memorable campaign hashtag #NotfortheSaintHearted.

Looking ahead, what are some of the emerging trends you see shaping the future of PR? How is Lintas Live preparing to stay ahead of the curve in this dynamic field?

Consolidation: As digital technologies continue to transform the PR ecosystem, the traditional lines between disciplines are blurring. There will be more demand for integrated marketing communication as clients will want to declutter the number of agency partners in the mix. Lintas Live is well placed to deal with this dynamic, as a part of a well-diversified group (MullenLowe Lintas Group) we have the full suite of services and teams to take a client through an entire brand journey. This is a huge competitive advantage.

Technology: The advent of newer technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning will continue to disrupt the status quo. These technologies are compelling agencies and professionals to rethink their strategies and operations to stay future-ready. I predict a huge leap in the adoption of AI and machine learning that will enhance agencies’ capabilities to deliver quality content swiftly and all this will be fuelled by increasing client demand.

Creative: In the realm of creative, the source of innovative ideas can come from any agency or individual. There is a growing emphasis on investing in PR-led creativity and an industry push for better recognition of creative PR campaigns. There will be a continuing trend towards greater investments in creative talent for PR agencies, signalling a shift towards prioritizing creativity as an integral and critical component in PR.

At Lintas Live, we had recognized the importance of integrated and digital first creative led PR. That is the essence of our rebranded offering. I am delighted to see the power of this come alive and get recognition over the past few years. At Lintas Live, we've achieved remarkable success with clients like Bayer Consumer Health, winning 15 awards for our work on Saridon and Supradyn alone. Our impactful campaigns for Infosys during Pride Week and ongoing support for ESG initiatives have earned us widespread appreciation. Additionally, our enduring relationships with brands like Visit Victoria, Etihad, and Porsche demonstrate our commitment to long-term partnerships. With our global work for Lagos Free Zone gaining traction, our team continues to deliver standout creative content that drives results and garners attention.

The MullenLowe Lintas Group has a strong global presence. Could you share some insights on how Lintas Live leverages this network to deliver impactful PR campaigns for clients across different regions?

Being part of the MullenLowe Lintas Group in India and the MullenLowe global network has many advantages. Our vast network has helped us win large multi-market businesses such as Lagos Free Zone, a part of the Tolaram group. In some cases, we help the global network win brands, we recently helped MullenLowe PR US win the prestigious Etihad account for the US market, a brand we have represented for over 8 years in India.

When required, our teams collaborate to access to a vast resource pool and knowledge and can connect with specialized teams across various markets across the world, enabling us to execute projects with global learnings and adopt best in class practices. There are also newer ways to approach ideation or brand challenges, our teams can learn from global colleagues and adopt the latest best practices. For example, there was an excellent use of behavioural science in new business pitch, we are in the process of getting this knowledge shared.

Effective PR goes beyond press mentions. How can PR agencies utilize data and analytics to track key metrics like brand sentiment, website traffic, and social media engagement to demonstrate the return on investment (ROI)?

In today’s dynamic landscape, leveraging data and analytics is paramount for demonstrating tangible ROI to clients. Utilizing advanced tools like Konnect Insights, Sprinklr, and Meltwater can empower PR agencies to delve deep into brand sentiment, website traffic patterns, and social media engagement metrics. By harnessing these insights, we gain invaluable understanding of public perception, enabling us to fine-tune our strategies in alignment with audience sentiment.

Moreover, our approach goes beyond mere observation; we meticulously evaluate ROI by juxtaposing the costs of PR campaigns with quantifiable outcomes. Whether it is a surge in website traffic, an uplift in brand sentiment, or heightened social media engagement, we attribute these successes directly to our strategic endeavours.